We only spent one night in Oxford, between Windsor and Stowe, but I wish it could have been longer. No sessions were planned for this stop so we had an evening and half a day free to explore.
Although I had expected that Oxford would have incredible history, I wasn’t looking forward to it any more than some of our other stops. But it completely exceeded my expectations. It felt like somewhere I could happily live, which is always exciting to find, not just somewhere I enjoy visiting but somewhere I could see myself.
Disclaimer: this may have been down to one bookshop. Blackwells was a bibliophile’s dream. I could’ve spent hours in there, and happily forgotten all about the incredible Ashmolean and Pitt Rivers Museums, not to mention the world renowned Bodleian Library.
Because we’ve been spending so much time at heritage sites for the programme, I find myself being drawn to bookshops and good coffee in our down time. In Oxford, Jericho Coffee Traders were the providers of the good coffee. I also like the way that these (usually) independent cafes and bookstores can feel like you’re getting to experience what locals do in a new place, rather than a museum or castle that are the stomping ground of tourists and out of town visitors. In fact, both places were recommended to me by a friend who grew up in Oxford.
Another highlight of Oxford was an evening walk shortly after we’d arrived. It didn’t matter that it was late and nothing was open, there was so much to see just walking around the historic university buildings. I was with two girls from Auckland I met on the course (basically anything I’ve described doing in spare time has been with them). We wandered into the courtyard of the Bodeleian Library, past ‘silence please’ signs, and looked up at hilarious/ridiculous/historical gargoyles popping out from the stone above various doorways.
We stumbled upon the famous Turf Tavern after seeing a tiny alleyway with the sign: ’12th Century Turf Tavern – An Education in Intoxication’. Obviously we had to investigate.
Turning the corner in the alley we came across an incredibly low-ceilinged pub, with several different spacious outdoor seating areas to make up for the small interior. Signs outside informed us that the likes of Oscar Wilde and Thomas Hardy had once visited, that there was a resident ghost called Rosie (who threw herself into the moat which used to be on the site of the pub after her love failed to return from the Civil War) and that it was here that Bill Clinton did NOT inhale. Strangely enough, on the way in (before I read the sign) I was sure I’d seen Bill’s doppelganger. We sat outside with our appropriate drinks: Pimms for English summer time and a cider called Old Rosie after the aforementioned ghost.
Later we emerged back onto the main streets, near the Bridge of Sighs, feeling pleased with ourselves for finding what we could have so easily missed. We headed back to our accommodation, the beautiful red-bricked Keble College.
The following morning we were served breakfast in the huge dining hall that looked like a scene from Harry Potter, where boys in ties poured us tea and coffee. It all felt very Oxford.
I did go to the Pitt Rivers and Ashmolean museums, but I’ll save writing about them for another time. What I was left with after Oxford was an appreciation for being in the centre of all that history and the thrill of seeing tangible reminders of it at every turn.