Day 19 – Saturday, December 28, 2019
I remember reading about Oxford in Thomas Hardy’s Jude The Obscure – although the less said about that book the better; it was too bleak and hope-less for me, but for all that it’s been a book that has stayed with me over the years.
Not that Oxford is in Jude – the university town Jude aspires to is the fictional Christminster, although it is based on Oxford. Jude idealises the place as a city of light – the very idea of it symbolises all his hopes and ideals. By the end of the book though, it comes to represent the loss of those very same dreams #spoiler alert.
Those “dreaming spires,” as they were referred to in a poem by Matthew Arnold in 1865 have long fascinated me:
“And that sweet city with her dreaming spires
She needs not June for beauty’s heightening”Matthew arnold
Over the years I’ve watched Oxford as a lead character in the Inspector Morse series; and I’ve watched (and re-watched) every episode of Lewis. I’ve fantasised about actually studying there – I’d read something like English literature or languages (you don’t study a subject in Oxford, you “read” it) and cycle around (even though I don’t like cycling) and drink in the Morse and Lewis pubs.
So yes, I wanted to go and from Wyck Rissington it was only about 40kms, so go we did. As with all major cities it’s far better to drive to the park and rides outside of town and catch the bus in – which deposited us right in the city centre.
I would have liked to have had the time to do one of the walking tours, a Morse/Lewis pub tour or a guided tour of the Bodleian or Ashmolean, take my time wandering through the second-hand book stores, but we didn’t, and it didn’t really matter – we went to Oxford. Next time…and there will be a next time.
It goes without saying that the buildings are everything I thought they’d be – even on this drizzly grey day.
We wandered up the high street and through the covered markets – not that much was open on the Saturday after Christmas.
All of which led us to what we’d come to see. First up was the University Church of St Mary…
and then the Radcliffe Camera
and the Bodleian.
Then we wandered about taking pics of anything that looked remotely college-like.
After taking photos of the Radcliffe Camera and the Bridge of Sighs and any other important building that we could we stopped at The White Horse for a pint. The pub has connections with Morse and Lewis. It also has other more witchy connections. When the kitchen burned down a number of years ago they found a broom bricked up in the wall – and subsequently left it there…just in case.
We walked down to have a look at what remains of Oxford Castle – a waste of time in my humble opinion; the walk was more interesting than the ruins.
and then walked down to the river to have lunch at a pub called The Head of the River. Excellent pies.
By mid-afternoon the light was fading and the cold drizzle was setting in, but we’d been advised to go home via Bicester Shopping Village. If you’ve ever watched the TV show Lucifer, hell is depicted as this place where the thing that causes you the most pain is played on loop. This place on the Saturday after Christmas in the height of the Boxing Day sales was literally my idea of hell. I can’t begin to tell you how claustrophobic I found it and how much I hated the experience.
The only redeeming feature was that all the shops were in little semi-detached cottage type structures and they were all outside – in other words, it wasn’t a covered mall. It was all high-end brands and there was, a 5pm, wall to wall people.
We went for the Timberland sale – I wanted a new pair of boots, so really one could say that this was self-inflicted – and at £79 (down from £189) they were possibly worth the inconvenience.
Dinner tonight was in Burford, at a favourite from our 2015 trip, The Mermaid. Sares and I had pork belly slow braised in cider, served with caramelised apples, dauphinoise potato, broccoli & some sort of jus (£13.95) and Grant had a massive plate of barbecue pork ribs with the trimmings for the same price.
This was an excerpt from my travel diary. You can access other posts in this series here.