Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (also shortened to Alice in Wonderland) is an 1865 novel written by English author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. The book was published in 1865, three years after Charles Dodgson and the Reverend Robinson Duckworth rowed in a boat up the Isis (River Thames) with the three young daughters of Henry Liddell (Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University and Dean of Christ Church College): Lorina Charlotte Liddell (“Prima” in the book); Alice Pleasance Liddell (“Secunda” in the book) and Edith Mary Liddell (“Tertia” in the book). They started from Folly Bridge in Oxford for the village of Gostow five miles upriver. Charles Dodgson entranced the girls with a story of a bored little girl named Alice who looked for an adventure. Alice Liddell asked Dodgson to write it down for her.
Oxford River Cruises
Oxford River Cruises offers sightseeing tours, Picnic and Dining River trips or private boat hire from historic Oxford. Departure are usually at 12.30pm and 6pm. The cruise lasts approximately 2.5 hours. Advance booking is essential.
This trip operates between April and October.
We booked on ‘The Spirit of Oxford Cruise’, which costs £29 for adults and £15 for children under 16 years. It follows most of the journey that Alice and her sisters did more than 150 years ago.
If you wish, a picnic lunch is provided by riverside restaurant, The Folly, and typically includes:
- Selection of Finger Sandwiches
- Homemade Quiche or Tart-of-the-Day
- Homemade Scones with Strawberry Jam and Clotted Cream
- Elderflower Presse
- Served in a traditional picnic basket with napkins, crockery and glasses
The picnic cruise costs £45 per adult and £30 for children under 16 years.
Like us, you can eschew the picnic but still pre-order a bottle of wine for the journey.
First you have to find The Folly Restaurant which is also where you board the boat at No.1 Folly Bridge, Oxford OX1 4JU, UK. Be careful as there is a rival boat company on the opposite side of Folly Bridge.
We had an Edwardian style river launch with teak interior evoking a bygone age of slow paced life. Our craft was eerily silent because of its zero emission fully electric propulsion; we could hear the skipper talking and there were no combustion smells.
Departing Folly Bridge in Oxford city centre, we cruised upstream passing higgledy-piggledy residential suburbs and allotment gardens before reaching Binsey and majestic Port Meadow. These areas of great natural beauty have inspired the work of Oxford’s best loved literary icons including Lewis Carroll, C.S. Lewis, Evelyn Waugh and Gerard Manly Hopkins.
Our skipper gave a running commentary on the outbound journey about the history of these famous reaches of the river and cheerfully answered our questions.
As railways and automobiles took over from rivers and canals for transportation, numerous bridges were built across the Thames Valley by the Victorians and Edwardians. We thought they are infinitely prettier than modern equivalents.
There are 45 locks on the River Thames but this short journey only required passing through Osney Lock on both outward and return journey. This was quite an adventure in its own right as the immense power of water lifted our boat before the gates were opened and we could proceed on our way.
Today, it’s all done with electric remote control, which is a whole lot easier than manpower.
Savagery on the River
We enquired about the savagely pruned willow trees on the river bank and discovered that it was a deliberate forestry management programme by Thames River Authority. If willow trees are left growing wild, they overhang the river and interfere with navigation.
The cutting back of trees in rotation encourages stronger roots to preserve the river banks and reducing flotsam downriver.
In uncharateristic autumnal sunshine, the relaxing sights of our languid cruise, off the tourist trail, revealed some of Oxford’s most beautiful and intriguing scenery. Suddenly, round a bend, a vast area of common land – Port Meadow – loomed into view. It has remained unchanged since prehistoric times and is a habitat for abundant flora and fauna, especially birds. Young geese were practising ‘touch and go’ manoeuvres in formation before their big migration for winter.
Although the sun had its hat on – hip hip hip hooray, the wind-chill conditions and flowing wine made for full bladders. We needed a toilet pit stop!
The Perch Pub
The boat moors at The Perch Pub at Binsey village overlooking Port Meadow for a brief stop before the return journey. Take advantage of the restroom facilities if you’ve partaken of a bottle of wine during the cruise.
Binsey Lane, Binsey, Oxford OX2 0NG
Some of us had time to take on a swift pint of beer and possibly the best sausage rolls and scotch eggs in Oxford.
Please note that the pub is currently closed for refurbishment but expected to re-open after 21st February 2019.
The Return Journey via Port Meadow
Casting off from The Perch Pub moorings, we proceed a little further upriver so as to see Gostow in the distance at the edge of Port Meadow before turning back for Oxford. Port Meadow is one of the largest common land parcels that allows free men to graze their animals.
Gostow was the ultimate destination of Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell during the first telling of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’. It is also the site of Trout Island that inspired stories of the Land of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.
For our return to Oxford, the downstream route took us past iconic Oxford scenery including Christchurch Meadows and College, the University Regatta Course, the College Boat Houses, the Head of the River and Folly Bridge Island.
As we approach the end of the cruise, we circumnavigate Folly Bridge Island situated in the middle of the River Thames. Originally known as North Hinksey House, this building was erected in 1849 for Joseph Caudwell, an eccentric Oxford accountant who perhaps planned it as a folly to match the name of the bridge.
‘Caudwell’s Castle’ soon attracted unwanted attention from high-spirited undergraduates, one of whom was shot and seriously hurt by Caudwell in 1851 while trying to drag one of the cannons that sat on the forecourt into the river. At his subsequent trial Caudwell was found not guilty after his lawyer made much of the malicious intent of the students who “…after luxuriating at a cricket club supper at the Maidenhead, smoking cigars and drinking beer, sallied forth, and in order to fill up or rather to kill time, proceeded to this man’s house for wanton mischief, and to despoil his premises, for the sake of gratifying a morbid and wicked disposition.”
The building features an interesting variety of windows and a number of plaster statues, including ‘Atlas’, who has unfortunately lost his globe, on the roof of the roadside façade.
After a couple of hectic days of trampling around as tourists in Oxford, quite frankly, we were exhausted, so this Lazing Languidly up the Isis jaunt was a refreshing break. Although we passed some famous, albeit unfamiliar, college views from the river, it was one of our favourite excursions in the ‘city of dreaming spires’.
Other Grazing and Lazing articles from Oxford
Author’s Biography: Melvyn Teillol-Foo (MTF)
Dr Melvyn Teillol-Foo is a contributor on AlphaLuxe web magazine. He was former CEO of PuristSPro.com horology discussion fora. He blends his scientific medical objectivity from the pharmaceutical industry with purist passion, in his musings about watches, travel, wine, food and other epicurean delights.
His travelogue ‘Lazing’ and feasting ‘Grazing’ series of articles have now passed into “mythic legend” on the original ‘ThePuristS.com’ website. Those were the halcyon days when he was “rich and famous” that he remembers with bittersweet fondness.
Dr Teillol-Foo is a quoted enthusiast on the watch industry, appearing in feature articles and interviews by Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune, Sunday Times (London), Chronos (Japan), Citizen Hedonist (France) and other publications. He has authored articles for magazines like International Watch (iW) – both U.S. & Chinese editions, ICON (Singapore), August Man (Singapore), Comfort (China) and The Watch (Hong Kong).