My first morning at Oxford was an early one, getting up around 5 am so that I would have plenty of time to catch the 8:20 bus to Bampton. The weather was beautiful; sunny and clear, crisp but not too cold. The bus stop was only a short walk away and I was there with plenty of time to spare…but it didn’t matter. As someone with basically no bus experience other than taking buses that ran directly to and from my high school from down my block and hopping buses to get around campus while in college, I didn’t realise that you actually have to essentially flag down your bus or it will just keep on going if no one on board has requested that stop. So, the 8:20 Number 18 bus sailed right by me and wouldn’t come around again until 10:05. Since I had quite a bit of time to kill until then, I wandered down the block to a café and had some tea and toast…some really good sourdough toast. I then slowly wandered back to the bus stop where Number 18 finally came back around at 10:30 and I made sure to wave this time. After paying my £6.30, I was on my way to Bampton and the bus ride there was quite thrilling, since I wasn’t the one driving. That bus driver was made of sterner stuff than I’ll ever be, that’s for sure.
Since I was paranoid about getting lost and had no real idea where I was going, I tracked our little blue dot on Google Maps and managed to hop off at the right stop. It was a quiet day in Bampton with the only sounds being an assortment of bird songs. It was just a quick walk around the block and then there was Saint Mary’s church, which is used as the village church in Downton Abbey (at least the exterior is, anyway). Directly next to the church, is the house that’s used as Crawley House and directly next to that, is the Bampton Library, the outside of which is used as the village hospital (although I don’t think you ever get the sense that they’re all directly next to each other when watching the show). I felt a bit weird about entering the church grounds, although I know that they welcome visitors, so I just wandered around outside of the churchyard, enjoying the peaceful atmosphere and taking lots of pictures of the church and the house…and trying not to be freaked out by these enormous wood pigeons, which I see everywhere over here and which seem freakishly big compared to any doves or pigeons I see at home.
I then wandered past the library and noticed that the sign outside announced that there was a Downton Abbey exhibition inside. Obviously, I couldn’t pass that up, so I shyly went inside and spent the next hour chatting with a very friendly local resident who also happens to have appeared as an extra in the show. As we were talking, a family from the States briefly stopped in, followed by two gentlemen. I believe they’d also worked with the show as drivers and it was fun to chat with them as well. One of them told me that the reason that they film so much of the show in Bampton, besides it being very beautiful, is that the stone used in Bampton’s buildings matches much of the stone in Yorkshire, which is where the show takes place and where other bits are filmed. So, I learned even more Downton trivia.
During our conversation, I noticed that the two dudes were sort of looking at me strangely. It wasn’t in a bad way or anything but more like they were trying to figure something out. Finally one of them said, “I can’t work it out, so I just have to ask: Where exactly are you from?” When I told them Northern California, they seemed both surprised and not. Apparently, my west coast accent, which Californians consider to be defined by its lack of any other detectable accent, made it difficult for them to pinpoint exactly where I’m from. They actually found it quite interesting and then we got to talking about the many regional accents in England and Scotland and the dialectal field trip that I’ll essentially be taking as I travel. We also talked of driving. They all commended me on trying my hand at driving over here, especially where I did (she said she knew that multi-lane roundabout well and that it’s a nightmare) and were just completely blown away by the size of California and how long it takes to drive from one end to the other. They said that they consider 3.5 hours to be a long drive. I told them I don’t. Not at all.
And since this was another Downton fangirl pilgrimage, and my favourite character is the housekeeper, the keeper of the keys, I wore an appropriate scarf on my little adventure.
Eventually I wandered to the Market Square where I waited for my bus. I was soon joined by the family from the States as they, too, were catching the bus back to Oxford; they’re visiting from Maine. After another thrilling bus ride through the country, I grabbed a quick bite to take back to my room and then set off for Marks & Spencer to get a necklace I’d seen the day before. So, of course, I also picked up a scarf. A stop in their food hall for a salad and some fruit and then I walked back to my room, where I’ve spent a quiet evening typing, writing postcards home, and packing, since I leave lovely Oxford tomorrow and head for Bath.