From Oxford to Gwaenysgor: some thoughts on The Eagle and Child

June 11, 2015

Two weeks ago we were in North Wales for a few days. Returning from a little jaunt to Mostyn and Holywell, our host and guide, John Bryn, showed us the short cut from Prestatyn to Trelawnyd. It was an extremely steep and windy road which took us past a disused observatory – its green dome was still evident – and afforded wonderful views of the Dee Estuary, Colwyn Bay and the mountains.


We passed through a village called Gwaenysgor and noticed signs for a pub called The Eagle and Child. It was a very evocative name for a pub. About five years ago, my wife and I spent a weekend in Oxford, to celebrate our wedding anniversary. On an evening stroll we decided to have a drink in a pub called The Eagle and Child.


I wrote about our visit a couple of days after:

The Eagle and Child, St Giles, Oxford. This was the favoured meeting place, from the 1930s to the 1950s, of ‘The Inklings’, a literary group which included CS Lewis (of Narnia fame), JRR Tolkien (Lord of the Rings), Charles Williams (War in Heaven), and others. We were here the evening before. A couple of American tourists went in, with some hesitation – ‘I’m looking for somewhere historic, not a hole in the wall’ – they walked out within a minute. Not ‘historic’ enough? It dates to about 1650.


As we passed out of Gwaenysgor on to the main road I realised just how close to The Gop and Trelawnyd we actually were. Indeed, as the crow (the eagle?) flies, The Eagle and Child in Gwaenysgor is about a mile from the Gop Cairn and Cave (which I’ve written of here). As I’ve said, it’s a very evocative name, reminding me of the occasion of my ascent up The Gop a couple of evenings before, and thoughts on the loss of a child. On our last night I went up the hill on my own, but didn’t get to the Cairn or the Cave this time, intimidated by the inquisitiveness of the roaming ponies. I concluded that, perhaps, I was not meant to get to these places. I note that pony auctions were held in the rear courtyard of The Eagle and Child in Oxford.


The main reason for our stay in North Wales – apart from catching up with an old friend – was to see the Leonora Carrington exhibition at the Liverpool Tate before it finished that week. In the absence of an exhibition catalogue, I bought Elena Poniatowska’s novelised biography of Carrington and I’ve been gradually reading it since. I’m still immersed in her relationship with the ‘Superior Bird’, Max Ernst. I look back at her first meeting with him in 1936, where he tells her, “I emerged from the egg my mother laid in her eagle’s nest on the 2nd April, forty-six years ago.” (Poniatowska 2015: 59). In fact, the Oxford pub’s name is said to derive from the crest of the Earl of Derby; its sign is said to refer to a story of a noble-born baby having been found in an eagle’s nest (see here).

Today it was announced that the actor, Christopher Lee, died on Sunday morning. I found out a little while after getting in from work this afternoon (having already heard that Ron Moody had died as well). Amongst all the tributes, his role as Saruman in the film dramatisation of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings has been mentioned, as well as the observation that out of all the members of the cast of the film trilogy, Christopher Lee was the only one who had actually met Tolkien. What were the circumstances of this meeting? Lee was drinking with friends in The Eagle and Child in Oxford, when Tolkien walked in: “I nearly fell off my chair” (see here).


Elena Poniatowska 2015 Leonora: A Novel. London: Serpent’s Tail

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