Oxford Special – Ancient footprints, a retired fox and having carrot cake with a big spider (Part 4)
Let There Be Dinosaurs!
On this rainy day your first glance doesn’t fall on the lawn you are crossing but on the entrance of Oxford University Museum of Natural Science, the OUM, which is your friends’ favourite museum in Oxford and surroundings. They ardently assure you that there are few better ways to spend a day in Oxford than a visit to the OUM. Its holdings – which run into millions of specimens – include a gigantic Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton and a stuffed imitation DODO which provided some of the inspiration for Oxford’s most famous child and book, namely Alice in Wonderland. But right now, your friends somewhat hesitate as if they were waiting for some kind of emotional reaction from you. What am I supposed to do, you think, and follow their eyes’ direction. You see them staring purposefully at the lawn and, politely you, too, turn your attention to the grassy visiting card of the famed museum. Well, the grass is green, even today, and all in all, the turf looks well-groomed which is exactly what you expect from such a prominent British lawn. But then you gasp in horror – one, two, no, a legion of irregular, large mud-holes are meandering across the turf right towards you. What the heck has happened here? Has OUM sacked the gardener and he took a cruel revenge?
Instantly you are set right! To talk of mud-holes when you actually, eh, at least spiritually, watch a dinosaur striding across OUM’s lawn – blasphemy! What you really see are the giant footprints of Megalosaurus, Oxford’s very own and very special dinosaur!
The fossils, including the Megalosaurus jaw, which is also held in the Museum’s collection, were found in a quaint quarry just outside Oxford. The ancient prints which today span the lawn in front of the museum are modern casts from the fossilised trackway that Megalosaurus bucklandii, a three-toed carnivore, left some 166-168 million years ago when he roamed the lagoons of Jurassic Oxfordshire! You immediately fall in love with the muddy footsteps and enter the museum in high spirits.
Dinosaurs in Ironwork Jungle
The architecture of the place is breathtaking. Entering the main court, you first notice how very high and light the structure is, like the nave of an enormous gothic church, but relieved from the weight of stony pillars. Instead, the vaulted glass roof is held aloft by an elaborate system of cast and wrought ironwork, the modern building material of the 19th century. The slender pillars are artfully decorated with botanical ornamentation – a fanciful iron jungle for Megalosaurus and his relatives!
It is reported that John Ruskin, famous builder of the Museum of Natural History, was so taken with the neo-gothic, ironwork architecture that he visited the new OUM every day just to admire the beauty of the place – such as people have done since then unto nowadays.
There are fierce animals and lovable ones! The OUM is free of charge and offers fabulous educational programmes, no wonder that the main court is brimming with voices and happy activities of children and parents. Similarly, the outstanding touch-and-feel areas are enjoyed by children and adults alike. Right at the entrance desk a ‘retired’ fox is so adorable that you want to stroke it as much as all the kids do! My friend relates the story of a girl who came for weeks and months just to give this fox his daily cuddle. Surprising, that the soft and silky coat isn’t worn down by all the petting.
Spiders and columns with your carrot cake
The museum cafe is situated on the upper gallery which is overlooking the dinosaurs in the main court and which lifts your body and mind up into the spheres of pure bliss. Take a seat at one of the wooden tables along the stonework of the first-floor gallery and admire the neo-gothic arcade and the column chiseled from decorative rock that is right next to you. Each of these columns, which are surrounding the court on the ground floor as well as the first-floor galleries, was made from a different kind of British rock. Each of their capitals and corbels are intricately carved with flora and fauna, beautiful lessons in geology, botany, masonry, art, history… and in inspiration. You could spend hours of inspecting the stones if there were not the big spider right next to your coffee pot. Don’t worry, she just wants to watch, I am assured, and I happily share the delicious coating of the carrot cake with my human friends, only!