On the 27th of September, 38 excited Meonwara met in The Meon Hall at 8am ready for our trip. Whilst we waited for everyone to arrive we ate croissants and drank coffee provided by Tessa Briggs’ McMillan coffee morning. What a great way to start the day! Our coach driver arrived on time and we all grabbed our seats and away we went. Well we went the wrong way, but it all added to the excitement and buzz on the coach – no village trip would be the same without a slight detour through Hedge End! We weaved our way in and out of the commuter traffic, pleased to be on an adventure and not on our way to an office!
On our arrival at Reading Museum we were excited to be able to view close up one of the most remarkable, and well-kept secrets of our Saxon heritage – an authentic replica of the Bayeux Tapestry. Well it was stunning. We were allowed to wander around and have a really good look at this tapestry – all the time daydreaming about the day we all cycle over to France to see the real thing whilst eating warm baguettes and drinking white wine! (Watch this space for trip details!).
But back to reality! After a look around the Museum shop, and treated by Peter to a guide each, we had a quick tea break and all hurried back to our seats on the coach and were whisked off to Oxford. Less than 30 minutes later we were in the buzzing City of Oxford. All keen to find out what wonders the rest of the afternoon would hold and ready with rumbling tummies for our free lunch!
We were dropped off outside the gorgeous Oxford Town Hall and were greeted with a buffet lunch in a magnificent room with stunning feature fireplaces, wood panelling and chandeliers. During lunch we were entertained and enthralled by the Professor John Blair – an eminent Saxon era historian. What a speech! He certainly knew his stuff and made us eager to see the treasures awaiting us.
After listening to and questioning the Professor we broke into groups and walked over at a leisurely pace to the Ashmolean Museum. Libby and I were in Group 1 and we were met by the charismatic and entertaining Dr Eleanor Standby a lecturer in Saxon history and the curator of the Saxon collection at the Museum.
She enthusiastically talked us through the Saxon collection and introduced us to the amazing ‘Alfred Jewel’ – the museum’s greatest treasure (and possibly the most precious discovered artefact of the Saxon era). The Ashmolean’s Saxon collection is part of a larger collection covering England from 400 to 1600 (The Saxon era was from 4th to 11th centuries and later).
After an hour with Dr Eleanor we passed her over to Group 2 and Group 1 had the pleasure of wandering around the Museum at our own pace, distracted only by tea and flapjacks!
By 4:15pm we were all tired but happy from our eventful day and met back up with our cheerful coach driver who took us swiftly home to our lovely villages. Sustained by Humbugs and Jelly Babies, we were entertained by Peter O’Sullivan’s dulcet tones on the microphone. Thankfully we were saved from Peter singing Beowulf as luckily his IPhone ran out of charge and he could not remember the words! Another time maybe…..
Villagers chatted and commented on how much they had enjoyed the trip. ‘It was a great day and good to meet other villagers. I feel this project is really bringing the community together and feel inspired to learn more about our Anglo Saxon past’, commented a villager from Meonstoke.
On our return we found out that John Blair is the author of an excellent short introduction to the Anglos Saxons – “The Anglo-Saxon Age: A Very Short Introduction; available from Amazon for about £5! What a bargain. After reading this Libby and I were inspired to organise another event and we are now working with Peter and other keen volunteers planning our Saxon Yuletide celebration on 7th December! Check the other pages on this website or The Bridge for more details on how to attend or get involved with the planning.