An Oxford weekend of Egyptian mummies, ghosts, gargoyles and curses!

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of visiting Oxford.  Primarily the trip was to visit the Discovering Tutankhamun exhibition at the Ashmolean Musueum, but my husband, friend and myself were determined to pack in as much as we could in the 2 days we had there.

First experience of the weekend was our accommodation.  We decided to stay at Keble College, which is conveniently placed right opposite the Pitt Rivers Museum.  Hubby and I asked for a quad facing room and when we walked into the Porter's Lodge, we were delighted with the view.  Impressive facades, rolling green lawns and plenty of gargoyles to lend a gothic touch to the scene.  Then we saw our room….
Keble College
Mummy at the Pitt Rivers
…the word 'tired' comes to mind but perhaps that does't quite cut it.  'Exhausted' is perhaps a better description!  Stark bare walls, dark brown furniture and a carpets that I was reluctant to walk on barefooted in case I stuck to it.  And as to the bathroom…a good dollop of bleach would have been a nice touch.  My friend Caroline had been disappointed that she was in the newer building accommodation and hadn't got a quad facing view…until she saw our room.  It took her a full 5 minutes to stop laughing!  The view was good though, and we had our own gargoyle facing us for good measure.  It is certainly an experience to stay here but be warned, it is very basic!

Being so close to the Pitt Rivers, I couldn't resist  going in, despite visiting only a few months ago.  I had more time here than my last visit, so enjoyed wandering around the National History Museum and touching exhibits (you are allowed to with some of the exhibits before anyone writes in to complain — in fact you are positively encouraged to).  Then entering into the Pitt Rivers museum, I was transported into a world of the gentleman collector - eclectic and crowded displays that are full of wonderful objects!  I love this place - if you are ever in Oxford, you should go.  It is an experience which will have you gasping with pleasure.

Bill Spectre and his tour group
The evening was equally fun!  For years I have wanted to do a ghost walk in Oxford and we chose Bill Spectre as our host for the night.  We were a mixed bunch - we 3 were joined by a couple in their thirties, a dad with his 2 young sons and a mom with five 13 year-old girls on a birthday party.  Meeting at Oxford Castle Unlocked, we spent two hours exploring part of Oxford that is rarely known, under the guidance of our most entertaining host.  We all laughed, gasped and were enthralled  (I won't spoil the ending but it was GOOD!)  The best £8 I have spent in a long while.

After a night on a surprisingly comfortable bed (basic but clean) and a brilliant breakfast in a Harry Potter style hall, we set off - tickets in hand - for the Ashmolean Museum.

The Discovering Tutankhamun exhibition presents visitors with a fresh look at the Tutankhamun story, using many of Howard Carter's original records and drawings taken from the archives of the Griffith Institute - upon Carter's death in 1939, his records were bequeathed to his niece who later gave them to the Griffith Institute.  Carter's documents provide exquisite detail about the excavation - they include diaries, excavation plans, conservation cards and many many pages of notes.  Carter's detailed plans of the site are especially beautifully, as are the large blow-up photos of the excavation taken by Harry Burton. I especially loved the detailed watercolours done by Winifred Brunton which are beautifully executed on ivory!  Another display favourite of mine were the letters sent to Carter and Carnarvon after the tomb had been found - the request for a souvenir from the tomb, complete with postal order should the sender be lucky enough to obtain an object, is especially captivating!  There is also a room dedicated to Egyptomania from the 1920s where items such as clothing, music sheets and jewellery -  all inspired by the Tutankhamun find - are all on display.  I took special delight in spotting the name of my friend, Dr Jasmine Day, on the labels highlighting her lovely Egyptian revival memorabilia and jewellery.

The exhibition is very interactive - there is a video to watch, audio and music to listen to and things to play with!   It takes the visitor through the whole of Tutankhamun's story -  from his place in history, to the initial search by Theodore Davis and Edward Ayrton; the partnership of Carnarvon and Carter, the find and excavation and the effect of the discovery on popular culture.  Overall, it is a must see exhibition!!!  I cannot speak more highly of it.  It is well worth the money and is very well curated.  The exhibition brochure is also a must to buy, as photographs are not permitted within the exhibition.  The publication is well worth the £15 cost (£15 if you have a ticket; £20 if you don't).

After visiting the exhibition and spending rather too much in the exhibition shop (I can recommend the King Tut lemon curd by the way!), we had time to kill before attending a lecture by Joyce Tyldesley on Tutankhamum's Curse back at the Ashmolean.  That was when things got a bit hairy.  Eating outside a a lovely cafe - right by the scene of an execution (I learnt that titbit from the previous night!) - a wasp got into hubby's sandwich and he bit in.  The wasp stung his tongue before he could spit it out.  Two antihistamines and a trip to a pharmacist later, he was at the lecture sipping ice and mumbling about Tutankhamun's curse being real! Hmmmmm…..a later cancelled train and an accidental sitting on an ant's nest while waiting for the next train made us think he might possibly have had a point!

Site of the execution cross, taken just before that sting!

The Discovering Tutankhamun exhibition runs until 2 November 2014 (not on Mondays).  For details see their web-site here:


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