One city I never been to until my adult years on my home island is the university city of Oxford. I was curious but at the same time, I wasn’t expecting much. How wrong I was. I love old architecture and this city is full of it. However it is not just colleges and universities to have a look at, Oxford as a grand city centre with a vibrant restaurant and bar scene as well as other sights to see. On a very long summer day trip (with a car) Olga and I discovered as much of Oxford as possible as well as some nearby sights near the city.
To get to Oxford, the best option (especially if traveling from London) is to take the train from London Marylebone with Chiltern Railways or London Paddington with First Great Western (Chiltern is faster and also has the Bicester Village Outlet Centre two stops away from central Oxford). There are also coach services from Baker Street and Victoria in London direct to Oxford and maybe is the cheaper option. If like me you have a car, drive to Oxford via the M40 and then park at the many ‘park and ride’ car parks on the outskirts of the city, then take the bus to the centre. The city centre is not designed for cars and there are not many car parking spaces.
We took on a walking tour when we arrived in the centre and there are plenty to choose from. Some of them are even free. So do some research before you visit Oxford so you know which tour you want to take in. Most of them offer the same routes etc. However, we didn’t actually plan to go on a walking tour and thought about doing a self-guided tour. But we were stopped by a guy outside their offices on Broad Street (no.5) and was told there was a free walking tour within a few minutes and we thought, well, we didn’t know Oxford so let’s do it. The tour company we used is Footprint Tours. On the tour we experienced the following (and if visiting Oxford and can’t get onto a tour, try and do these by yourself, you will not regret it) and would totally recommend Footprint Tours for making the tour interesting and informative.
Known as the Rad Cam, the Radcliffe Camera is one of the most photographed buildings in Oxford which was built in the 1700s. This is the main icon of Oxford (for me) but people ask me what the Rad Cam is. Well, it is a library housed in a round building. This is one of the oldest examples of a round library in the country, so this a must visit!
Next door to the Rad Cam is the Bodleian Library which was founded in 1598. One of the oldest libraries in Europe and to get in as a tourist, book in advance with a tour company. Usually visitors would have to book two weeks in advance. Wish we knew that as we would have gone in as we are bookworms! I hear that there is a medieval map of the islands inside which is almost 800 years old, now that I want to see.
The Bridge of Sighs is located very close to the Rad Cam as well (well, all the best photographic opportunities are found in this area). There are only a few Bridge of Sighs in the world, Venice and Cambridge which come to my mind straight away. The one in Oxford is called Hertford Bridge, however the nickname, The Bridge of Sighs got its name because of the students sighing when walking to their exams. (Not like the one in Venice when prisoners were being transferred from a courtroom to the prison and all you could hear was the prisoners crying when they walked across the bridge).
One of my favourite buildings is the Sheldonian Theatre (again, near the Rad Cam). Not because of the actual building itself but because of all the statues outside. This sort of thing I see in European cities like Krakow in Poland but I can’t think of many on top of head like this in the UK. The Sheldonian Theatre was used many times in the hit television series, Inspector Morse as well as being filmed in the nearby libraries and the White Horse Pub. Talking about movies being filmed in Oxford, Narnia, in which a lot of scenes were filmed in New Zealand, the wooden door to one of Oxford University entrances was filmed here. And last off, Harry Potter, as well as scenes filmed at Christ Church College, where Hogwarts Sanatorium was filmed at Bodleian Library.
There are many colleges and university buildings here to check out. We didn’t do the main one I wanted to do, Christ Church College (as it was used in the Harry Potter films, maybe on my next visit here), but one which we did do on the walking tour is Wadham College. Founded in 1610 when King James I was ruling the islands (over four hundred years ago…gosh!). Nicholas and Dorothy Wadham were a member of a rich family from Somerset, a county in southwest England. When Nicholas died in 1609, he left his fortune to start up a college in Oxford. Dorothy, his wife who was 75 at the time, made sure this happened. She fought battles with her family who were trying to claim the fortune but she got her way. The college was built and set up. However she died in 1618 and never visited Oxford from her home in Devon (a county even further away than Somerset). I just love walking around checking out the decor as well as taking in the musty smell in certain rooms.
Another college we checked out was Jesus College on Turl Street. Again, totally loving the inside decor of the buildings and I could feel the history, the grandeur whilst walking around. But for me it has to be the outside lawn surrounded by the buildings. What fine grass they have here in Oxford.
We manage to check out the Covered Market which is known for its small eateries and quaint shops. I didn’t plan to come here and spend the cash but I did love looking through the windows and seeing the displays. Just admiring one should say. This is also a good place to get a cheap lunch to take away and find somewhere nice nearby to eat it. There are some real gems here and I’m really glad we came here, as we don’t usually come across these sorts of places on our travels. A real gem. The covered market is located on Market Street.
Oxford is also a great base to explore the local area. There is Stonehenge, Bath, Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwick for instance, however, we went to the smaller, lesser known places. If visitors have a car, then all of these are in easy reach of Oxford.
North Leigh Roman Villa – located north-west of Oxford (30 minutes drive, 20km-12 miles away), is the ruins of an Ancient Roman Villa located near the village of North Leigh. After excavations, the site was probably first occupied during the Late Iron Age and that at the villa was built around the 1st-2nd century AD. one part of the villa was a bath-house. By the time the 4th century came around, the villa had sixty rooms built and surrounded a courtyard. Walking around the site today, we could see some of the parts of the ruins and where the rooms were meant to be but the biggest find was the mosaic floor which was constructed in the third century. The mosaic is located in a shed which visitors can go inside and see.
Minster Lovell Hall – located forty minutes west of Oxford in a village called Minster Lovell near the small town of Witney, the Minster Lovell Hall was built around 1440 by William Lovell. The ruins of the hall itself was basically a manor house. The house remained in the Lovell family for many years before changing hands with other notable families who were close to the Royal Family. However in the 1700s, the house was abandoned and parts of the buildings were dismantled and what we saw today, is how the building was left since the 1700s.
Rollright Stones – located forty minutes drive north-west of Oxford, north of the small town of Chipping Norton, is the Rollright Stones which is the site of three Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments. The three monuments (all made out of limestone) are known as the King’s Men and the Whispering Knights. When the monument was erected there was a tradition of ritual behaviour on sacred ground. This took place between 4BC-2BC. The first set of stones to be erected was the Whispering Knights, which dates back to the early Neolithic period. It probably was used as a place of burial.
Then there is the King’s Men, a stone circle to check out which was erected around the late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age. This circle is like the other circles located further north on the island, which makes researchers think this stone has a ritual connection with the other ones. The stone circle is thirty-three meters (108ft) in diameter and has seventy-seven stones forming it.
The third monument is the King Stone which is a single monolith. No date has been given on when it was constructed and erected but archaeologists think this was put up in the Bronze Age. To this day, researchers are still not sure what the King Stone was used. Even though we didn’t learn much about the stones, it was still thrilling to see a bit of history out in the fields.
There you have it guys, I hope this blog post will make you think about spending some time in Oxford and checking out some other places in the county. It’s a great place to spend the day away from London also. There are a lot of places we still haven’t seen so we hope to be back one day very soon.