An Afternoon on C.S. Lewis’ Headington Hill

On Hallowe’en I posted about some Oxford graveyard visitations I attempted on a sunny Friday in October. I also spent part of that day knocking about Headington Hill, the community where C.S. Lewis and his brother lived (and where Hermione is from). I won’t go inside the Kilns on our pictorial tour today, but I thought I would share my autumnal wanderings in Headington. I am no photographer, and yet this old cell phone seems to catch some nice light from time to time.

My tour begins in an alley. While on my North American continent, alleys can be terrifying zones, shrouded in violence. In the UK, however, I have found that alleys are quite lovely places, verdant and welcoming. This is one of the many alleys I have chanced in my UK travels, as it cuts through Headington away from the traffic.

This alley led through various winding ways to an area I had never visited before, the euphonic “Quarry Hollow” I talked about on Hallowe’en.

Around the corner from this harbinger of creepiness is a little sign for C.S. Lewis’ church.

This little opening led to a nice lovely walk down to the church that Jack and Warnie Lewis attended from the early 30s until their life’s end.

The Lewises went to a quaint early Victorian church–not old to most Brits, but pretty cool for me coming from a country where our churches are rarely more than 15o years old.

The Holy Trinity Headington Hill cemetery has the famous Lewis memorial.

Since I have already haunted this graveyard, and though my camera clearly prefers natural light, I thought I would take you inside the church. I just happened to catch someone leaving, so Holy Trinity Headington Quarry was open to me. There are little hints that this is C.S. Lewis’ church, including a number of Narnia copies in the free library, and this little alcove, where they keep a picture of Lewis, some colouring pencils, and the holy grail:

There is also, of course, the quietly famous Narnia window. It is such a soft light, and such a nice touch, that I’m pleased that it will never interrupt the church’s worship. Unfortunately, my pictures at late afternoon are terrible–though perhaps google can accentuate what I have left in outline here:

Holy Trinity also has a lovely crucifixion window that was really hard to capture (but you can see better pictures here).

Here is a picture of Lewis’ pew at the back of the church. What was interesting for me was to sit in that pew and imagine what Lewis could see.

In one way, it is the perfect seat for C.S. Lewis. Looking from that seat, you can the crucifixion window above. He could also see, generally, this angle toward the front of the church:

Basically, Lewis could see the pulpit. He can attend church and see the sermon but not be seen by most of the congregation. Intriguingly, he cannot see the gorgeous altar window and communion table beneath.

But it also means that C.S. Lewis would not have to see the organ–perhaps his least favourite part of church life (other than squeaky boots).

Ah well, apart from sitting in church with Lewis, I will have to content myself with reading Letters to Malcolm and Screwtape Letters.

Walking across what is now a highway with a pedestrian crossing under repair, I found my way to Lewis’ street in Headington.

I won’t go inside the Kilns this time, where I have had tea with researchers and heard people like Will Vaus and Walter Hooper speak to visitors. But there are some nice sneaky shots from the street.

Intriguingly, a neighbour has claimed that Narnia is on their property.

(yes, that’s me trespassing–I also ate an apple from their tree in case, you know, it was the tree)

And, walking beside the Kilns, I found my way once again into the woods behind the old Lewis residence. This was a wildness that the Lewis brothers and their household slowly tamed and replanted beginning in the early 1930s. The 6 or 7 acres behind the Kilns makes up the C.S. Lewis Nature Reserve, a fitting living memory of Lewis’ love of living things.

I am also told that it is home to Enchanter’s Nightshade, Pendulous Sedge, the Whirligig Beetle, and Kingfishers. I took the time to walk the entire reserve, which moves up into farmland at a height far above Kiln Lane. These are the pictures I took, mostly struck by natural beauty more than any particular thing I wanted to capture.

And so we never lose our imagination, it is good to think of the fantasy elements hidden in the park. One is some sort of fairy realm that Lewis would no doubt dismiss out of hand.

And, I must admit, I’m more than curious and a little afraid to know what creature lives in this hole under this hill. This was my afternoon on Headington Hill.

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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51 Responses to An Afternoon on C.S. Lewis’ Headington Hill

  1. Wayne Stauffer says:

    So wonderful!! Thanks for sharing

    wayno sent from my phone

    On Tue, Nov 6, 2018, 8:23 AM A Pilgrim in Narnia Brenton Dickieson posted: “On Hallowe’en I posted about some Oxford > graveyard visitations I attempted on a sunny Friday in October. I also > spent part of that day knocking about Headington Hill, the community where > C.S. Lewis and his brother lived (and where Hermione is from). I won” >


  2. rogerwhite4 says:

    Wrong! You ARE a photographer! Well done you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Don Rhodes says:

    Beautiful tour… have an eye for natural splendor, even through an iPhone’s eyes!! Thank you.
    I felt I was there again. Don Rhodes

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Brenton, I thoroughly enjoyed rambling through your photos, every one of them. They made a nice break from our obsession with the election. I will take the tour again periodically when I want refreshment of spirit! (For some reason what I just wrote made me think of our 14-year old granddaughter, exhausted in her first year of high school by endless hours of geometry, science, English, Chinese and water polo: she told her mother last night, “I’m going to go put myself on the charger.”)

    When Jerry and I were at the Kilns (2007) the pond was covered with scum and and everything around it was just a tangle of dead trees and overgrowth. I don’t think there was even a path then; at least we didn’t see one. It’s all more verdant and healthy in your pictures. I remember Lewis’ quote following this introduction “Until his physical ailments prevented it, Jack swam daily, sometimes naked, in ponds: ‘I wish you could join me as I board the punt in the before-breakfast solitude and push out from under the dark shadow of the trees onto the full glare of the open water, usually sending the moor hens and their chicks scudding away into the reeds. . . with a delicious flurry of silver drops. Then I tie up to the projecting stump in the middle and dive off the stern of the punt” (from my essay for the Taylor University Colloquium, The Passions of C.S. Lewis as seen in his Collected Letters; this passion was “Swimming”)

    I remember his church and cemetery well, I, too, sat where Jack sat. Somewhere he speaks (or Warnie speaks for him) about.that choice–he could hear the service but he felt hidden and could leave easily, is what I recall him saying about it.

    The possible effects of the apple you ate does sound intriguing–is there a Narnia growing inside you now, a world bigger than one would think to look at you?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Well, Narnia is inside of me in certain ways!
      Thanks for this nice response. I guess they have done a good job cleaning up the reserve because the path was mostly discernable and not a lot of rotted vegetation. I would not, I’m afraid, swim in that pond!
      Best wishes on election night. I am watching the results while I catch up on email. Charge well.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. danaames says:

    Thanks for the pictures; I concur that you have a good eye. I hope to see those places someday.

    It looked like there was something made out of stone or concrete under the water in the pond. Is that the site of the old quarry, or is it elsewhere?

    Look up the apples from the garden of the monastery of St Irene Chrysovolantou in Greece, and what they are said to do. I actually know a Greek-American woman who was granted the gift the apples are said to bestow 🙂


    Liked by 1 person

  6. Yewtree says:

    Thank you so much for posting this — the C.S. Lewis Nature Reserve was one of my favourite places. I’ve often wondered if it was the inspiration for the Wood Between the Worlds.

    My husband and I were handfasted in the garden of the Masons’ Arms (Lewis used to nip in there for a pint after church).

    Happy memories of our handfasting.


    • Oh, I wondered about the Masons’ Arms. I should have popped in. That seems to be a nice memory for you.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yewtree says:

        It certainly is a very happy memory. (A handfasting is a Pagan wedding, in case you were unfamiliar with the term.) My husband enjoyed looking at your photos too.

        I think I got the thing about Lewis popping over to the Mason’s Arms for a pint after church from Alister McGrath’s biography.


        • I probably don’t attend enough to the biographies, leaning on Lewis’ own work. I don’t mean to close myself off, but there is a lot to learn!
          I do know about handfasting. I was once asked if I could officiate–wrong word?–one, since I am a registered clergy and have done a couple of hundred weddings. I couldn’t in good conscience, as my weddings are Christian blessings (and I am anxious about appropriating other traditions, even pagan ones which are so important to Christian western history).

          Liked by 1 person

          • Yewtree says:

            McGrath’s biography is good. He writes well. I heartily recommend Grevel Lindop’s biography of Williams too (a lot of people complained about the detailed exploration of Williams’s kinky side, but I thought it was fascinating). And Garett Knight’s book, The Magical World of the Inklings, is excellent too.

            Thank you for being concerned about appropriating our rituals — I think you’re right. It doesn’t make sense to do a ritual involving entities you don’t have a relationship with.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Yes, that’s how I feel.

              Liked by 1 person

            • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

              I’ll second the Williams bio recommendation, and, more mixedly, the ‘Gareth Knight’ (I haven’t seen the revised edition, but the first as I recall it seemed to me sometimes full of insight and sometimes quite implausible).

              Liked by 2 people

              • Yewtree says:

                It’s clear from the way Grevel’s biography of Williams is written that he likes Williams.

                Also Grevel’s writing is awesome (I’m biased because he’s a friend of mine).

                Liked by 1 person

              • Some biases are better than others! It is a strong book.


              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                It’s really good to have the reactions of real poets, like Grevel or Sørina, to Williams’s poetry, too – though having finally read the 1964 collection of Lewis’s poems right through, I am the more impressed with his evaluation of Williams as poet, too (not that you have to be a poet to read and talk about a poet – a big point in A Preface to Paradise Lost – but it has its distinctive value, too, I think).

                Liked by 1 person

              • That’s an interesting point, David. I quite like Williams’ poetry (though I don’t always “get it”). But Lewis’ poetry is quite different. That Hideous Strength is Williamsian, but not Lewis’ poetry.


              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                There is one or another where I wonder if Lewis is deliberately earnestly-playfully using a sort of late-Williams style (I think of “The Turn of the Tide” as one such), but it’s more just the fact that, after his early poetic ambitions, he relaxed into a regular production – and publication! – of poems in varied, appealing styles, that makes me think his experience as a practicing poet must distinctly inform his appreciation and evaluation of others’ work – as poetry and not just ‘a friend’s poetry’ – including Williams’s.


              • I will check it out!


    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Oddly enough, I don’t think I’ve ever been to the Masons’ Arms, though I have been drinking with Parish folk at the Ampleforth Arms, which this note says “became the local of C. S. Lewis” (!: ‘C.S.Lewis drank here’ would no doubt produce a long list, for a series of wide-ranging pub-crawls…):

      As I’ve probably mentioned before, I helped Dr. Clive Tolley make (for personal consumption) various sorts of Kilns wines, e.g., with grapes from the garden, and elder berries and elder flowers from hedges nearby, as well as a sort of ‘fruits of the forest’ wine with local brambles and elderberries mixed (and odder experiments like (instant) coffee-flavoured wine, and using the toughest sherry yeast and mere sugar water and repeatedly freezing the results, thus attempting to concentrate whatever didn’t freeze into something stronger – without much success, alas).

      (By the way, there’s an article giving the background to that upper-right-hand shark animation, not unrelated to the one on the Headington Cinema (where, I take it, the Lewises say and enjoyed King Kong on 1 September 1933).)

      Liked by 1 person

  7. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    “And, I must admit, I’m more than curious and a little afraid to know what creature lives in this hole under this hill.” A good question! It looks like there’s some leeway for various sorts getting in and out – we sometimes saw foxes ranging around the close (could one squeeze in there, I wonder?), and bats hunting along the streetlights (might any think the ceiling there worth hanging from?). That was, so far as I recall, the bomb shelter – though I don’t recall how much occasion there was to use it, during the War (a homeward-bound German bomber did once dump some ‘superfluous’ bombs, I think further along the hill than that meadow at the top of the woods).

    Lovely, evocative photos, giving a good sense of place – and places – all round!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Are the eighth and ninth reserve photos the little pond, uphill on the right?


  9. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    By the way, that “No Coaches” is a sensible development: I have looked up from my breakfast in The Kilns to see 45 people streaming across the lawn from their coach, all unheralded… time for a mid-breakfast tour (or was it, quick series of them?)!


    • Oh, interesting! I didn’t know that. I presume that people can book ahead and have seen it happen.


      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Yes indeed – and I don’t suppose they’d have much success just turning up, as in the wild and woolly days of yore, which is sensible for anyone resident getting on with their responsibilities, and maybe even protecting the tenderhearted and enthusiastic from themselves. (I’ve paused to give a very quick tour, when I should already have been on my way to the airport, so as not to disappoint an unexpected visitor.) But the frontiers of restoration were fun!

        Liked by 1 person

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