Lonely Planet review for Magdalen College
Set amid 40 hectares of lawns, woodlands, river walks and deer park, Magdalen (mawd-len), founded in 1458, is one of the wealthiest and most beautiful of Oxford’s colleges.
An elegant Victorian gateway leads into a medieval chapel, with its glorious 15th-century tower, and on to the remarkable cloisters – with strange animals perching on the buttresses – some of the finest in Oxford. The fantastic gargoyles and grotesques along the frontage here are said to have inspired CS Lewis’ stone statues in The Chronicles of Narnia. Behind the cloisters, the lovely Addison’s Walk leads through the grounds and along the banks of the River Cherwell for just under a mile. Were you here in the mid-1870s, you would have encountered Oscar Wilde taking his pet lobster for a walk.
Magdalen has a reputation as an artistic college, and some of its other famous students and fellows have included TE Lawrence ‘of Arabia’, Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman, Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney and explorer Wilfred Thesiger, not to mention seven other Nobel Prize winners.
The college also has a fine choir that sings Hymnus Eucharisticus at 6am on May Day (1 May) from the top of the 42m bell tower. The event now marks the culmination of a solid night of drinking for most students as they gather in their glad rags on Magdalen Bridge to listen to the dawn chorus.
Opposite the college and sweeping along the banks of the River Cherwell is the beautiful Botanic Garden, founded in 1621 for the study of medicinal plants. The bench that Lyra and her extra-universal lover Will intend to haunt in Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials is usually well-attended by mooning adolescents.