Alice in Wonderland… and Oxford… and Llandudno

Signs in front of Alice’s Shop in Oxford

I’ve often felt an affinity with Alice, that little girl who falls down a rabbit hole into a strange Wonderland where nothing works as expected. I’ve felt like that many times: when I moved from the US to England, then again when I moved to France (especially in France). What strange worlds I have tumbled into. At times everything seemed to be topsy-turvy and running backwards. But, to be fair, I rather like wondrous adventures and not knowing what will happen next.

“Curiouser and curiouser!” cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English).

The White Rabbit is still running very late in Llandudno, North Wales.

So, feeling that Alice and I were kindred spirits, and finding out that the 4th of July (my birthday) was Alice’s day in Oxford, I was keen to go and see what it was all about. It just so happened that we were taking a road trip which was part business and part pleasure, so we decided to work Oxford into the itinerary.

The Queen of Hearts crying, “Off with her head!”

Llandudno

But before visiting Oxford, our route led us to the seaside resort in North Wales called Llandudno. Don’t ask me how to pronounce it, but the first sound is kind of like a guttural ‘k’. The town was developed during the Victorian times and has lots of lovely small hotels lining the coast.

The Mad Hatter with his teapot

As we took a walk around to acquaint ourselves with the town, we were surprised to see a large wooden rabbit statue. He was wearing a little coat and carrying a watch, so there was no doubt about who he was: He was the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland – the one who Alice followed down the rabbit hole and who was always running very late.

A very tall Alice

The plaque on the base of the statue informed us that Llandudno had an Alice Trail. We could pick up a map at the tourist office and follow it around the town to find more of these carved wooden statues representing figures from Alice in Wonderland. It was serendipity since we were on our way to Alice’s Day in Oxford.

“A land was full of wonder, mystery, and danger. Some say, to survive it, you need to be as mad as a hatter. Which, luckily, I am.” – Mad Hatter

The grinning Cheshire Cat

Why Llandudno?

I guess people everywhere love Alice in Wonderland, but I was a bit surprised to find her in Llandudno. Why was this North Wales town celebrating Lewis Carroll’s fanciful story? As it turns out, young Alice Liddell (the real-life Alice in Wonderland) used to holiday here with her family.

The town leaders surmised that Lewis Carroll might havecould have… visited them here and drawn inspiration from their town. Or maybeperhaps… Alice Liddell told him about the town or some of her experiences here. Anyway, they were convinced the town had a connection to the story and wanted to make the most of it.

Llandudno’s statue dedicated to Alice in Wonderland

So in 1933, Llandudno erected a statue celebrating its role in the Alice in Wonderland story. Even though there’s no evidence that Lewis Carroll ever visited this town, the plaque reads:

“On this very shore during happy rambles with little Alice Liddell, Lewis Carroll was inspired to write that literary treasure Alice in Wonderland which has now charmed children for generations.”

It’s a bold claim, and we may never know whether the town inspired Lewis Carroll’s story… But I’m glad they think it did, because it was such a nice surprise to find Alice in North Wales.

Oxford and 4 July

After leaving Llandudno, we had a few other stops before going on to Oxford. Oxford, of course, has a verifiable link to the story. Young Alice Liddell lived with her family at Christ Church College in Oxford where her father was a dean. Charles Dodgson, better known by his pen name, Lewis Carroll, was a mathematics tutor and his study was next door to the Liddell’s home. He became a family friend.

The tall Alice puppet and one of the flower puppets

On 4 July 1862, Lewis Carroll, along with the Reverend Duckworth, took three of the Liddell girls for a picnic and boat ride. There was Alice, age 10, Lorina 13 and Edith 8. Carroll told the girls a fantastical story about a little girl called Alice. Alice Liddell was delighted and begged him to write the story down for her. Carroll didn’t get in any hurry about putting pen to paper, and Alice kept pestering him about it. Finally in November 1864, Carroll presented her with the handwritten and illustrated manuscript, entitled Alice’s Adventures Under Ground.

Just a big white rabbit out for a stroll with his friend

The story Carroll wrote down for Alice was the beginning of the now famous Alice in Wonderland stories. So now, every July on the weekend closest to the 4th, Oxford celebrates Alice’s Day. This year the characters from Wonderland made appearances throughout the day on Broad Street.

The Red Queen on her dodo

I know the festivities were mainly aimed toward children, but I really enjoyed them. I loved seeing a big white rabbit walk down the street and the Red Queen ride out on her dodo. A 10-foot tall Alice walked among tall singing flowers…  And, strangely, I felt right at home among all those mad characters.

 “We’re all mad here,” said the Cat.  “I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice (I mean Margo).

“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”


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10 comments

  1. Great story, Margo! After reading it, my curiosity got the better of me and sent me to Google Earth. Little did I know that the University of Oxford is about an hour’s drive WNW of London. Please correct me if I’m late to the party! : )

    1. Thanks, Bill. And yes, you are exactly right, Oxford isn’t far from London. But we went north first and then to Oxford on the way back to London. 🙂

  2. You obviously enjoyed all the Alice memorabilia in both Llandudno and Oxford, Margo. I enjoyed a wonderful Alice Exhibition a few years ago at the movie museum ACMI. Such a lot on the many editions and translations of the book and the movies made. It included two corridors – one showing how it was when she was very small, the other, very tall. Altogether great fun.
    Best wishes
    Paula

    1. Hi Paula, That exhibition does sound like fun. The Alice in Wonderland stories are so great that they are timeless. Lewis Carroll created such wonderful, absurd, and silly images that they just stay in our imagination and have become part of our culture.
      All the best,
      Margo

  3. Hi Margo, and a great article. Many moons ago the wife and I took an organized tour of Wales and thoroughly enjoyed the country and the people. But somehow, sadly, we missed this town celebrating Alice’s adventures. And I agree — you do have an adventuresome spirit and, most appreciatively, are willing to share your adventures in a blog with us. May it continue.

    1. Hi James, I’m so glad you liked the article and that you enjoy reading about my adventures. I agree that Wales is very beautiful. Llandudno is a really nice resort that is just west of Liverpool. It is worth a visit if you get back to Wales sometime.
      Best, -Margo

    1. Hi Tom,
      Thanks for this information. I think there are many places that claim to be the inspiration for some of Carroll’s characters or settings. Thanks for adding these to the list. 🙂
      Here is another article I wrote about a church with a rabbit carving similar to the Wonderland rabbit – https://curiousrambler.com/bunny-with-a-bag-inspires-lewis-carrol/
      It’s all very interesting, and I love to hear about things like this. Thanks again.
      Best -Margo

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