Wander beneath dreaming spires
Oxford is a wonderful place to wander: the oldest colleges date back to the 13th century, and little has changed inside the hallowed walls since. But along with the rich history, tradition and energetic academic life, there is a busy, lively world beyond the college walls, and the city’s nonuniversity majority far outnumber the academic elite. Just as in Cambridge, the existence of ‘town’ beside ‘gown’ makes Oxford more than simply a bookish place of learning.
We recently (March 2018) visited the wonderful city of Oxford, having wanted to visit for quite a few years now and finally booked in January for a 3 night stay, very exciting…
Having found a very convenient travel lodge in Pear Tree we were really looking forward to going, what we didn’t know though when we booked is that Britain would be under 6ft of snow in some of the worst weather in 50 years. We kept an eye on the weather early in the week, but the forcasts were bad and had clearly said that come Thursday we would be in for some terrible weather. Sure enough Thursday morning in Cornwall it started snowing heavily. But not to be outdone by the weather we studied the satellite images and knew if we could get out of Cornwall we would have a 5 hour window to get to Oxford.
The Beast from the East
On the road out of Cornwall it snowed heavily but as soon as we got through Cornwall and on to the M5 things settled down, after a couple of stops for refreshment we made it to Oxford Pear Tree, and not soon after the predicted snow in the south east corridor hit and hit hard – but it didn’t matter as we had made it. Looking back now we were very lucky as for the next 24/48 hrs the country experienced unprecedented snow with blizzards, gale force winds and snow drifts cutting off communities and travel completely.
One of the world’s most famous university cities, Oxford is a beautiful, privileged place. It is steeped in history and studded with august buildings, yet maintains the feel of a young city, thanks to its large student population. The elegant honey-toned buildings of the university’s colleges, scattered throughout the city, wrap around tranquil courtyards along narrow cobbled lanes, and, inside their grounds, a studious calm reigns. The city’s famed spires twirl into the sky above.
Oxford is famed for so many things, Oxford Universities, the boat race, Ashmoleum, Bodleian Library, Inspector Morse, Harry Potter, CS Lewis, Lewis Carol, JRR Tolkien, the list just goes on, expecting to see and visit everything in Oxford and it’s surrounding areas is simply impossible on a short trip you need to pick and choose and for me personally I wanted to capture the essence of Oxford in photography and to see some of the architecture.
With the weather so bad I was half expecting to be stranded in the Travel Lodge but as it turned out the public transport especially the buses are literally amazing, the snow didn’t deter any of the services and we were lucky enough to be able to come and go freely into Oxford for the whole trip despite the silly amounts of snow on offer and the slippery roads.
A quick afternoon trip around the famous university quarter, castle and parks with a few stops for refreshment along the way, I managed to get some great photos of the famous landmakrs in the snow, probably very unlikely that this will happen again in my lifetime so I needed to make the most of it. Unfortunately the church towers and universities were all closed due to safety reasons, so it was simply an outside sightseeing and picture taking exercise.
It’s always good to go to a landmark place out of season, summer is never good if you want spectacular images without the people, what with the snow and term time we were lucky enough to grab some images and see the sites without too many interruptions, well apart from the obligatory Japanese tourist stopping us for a picture by a phonebox!
More of a laid back day and time for a few more images, a few museums, a few beers and less walking, well that’s what I had hoped, it’s inevitable that whilst in a city you walk far more than you expect, and that’s what we did – walked too much and got tired quite quickly, the snow and the wind chill factor didn’t help (-9 to -13 apparently) at -5 out of the wind it’s hard to stay outside for too long without your fingers and face freezing over.
Walking around Oxford in the snow was eery and a little strange, very atmospheric I grant you and the parks and the canal especially were spectacular.
Inspector Morse Pub Crawl
When in Oxford you have to visit a few of the local drinking establishments, not just because it’s relaxing but because in the wind, snow and cold weather you have to get off the streets pretty quickly. Inspector Morse, Lewis and Endeavour are and have all been filmed in Oxford and many of the pubs have had the cast in them drinking and parts of the episodes filmed within. Although we simply couldn’t see all of them, we did visit the Turf Tavern, Eagle and Child, Head of the River, and the Crown (no to mention several Wetherspoons for lunch and unlimited coffee). If your interested there is a fabulous article here on the pubs used in the programmes.
Today the snow held off a little (well until the evening) so we decided to visit a few of the museums, free of course just like London there is so much to see, first on the agenda was the Ashmolean a huge museum, recently re-furbished and modernised you could spend hours in here getting lost within all the exhibits, I won’t go into detail too much as it’s better you look a the website and decide what you would like to see and do, some highlights though ancient Egypt, China and Greece, plus the 19th – 21st century art, lots of talking points here.
Next we hot footed it over to the University Museum of Natural History which houses Dinosaurs! yes there was a T-Rex in there, that aside there is so much to see on 2 floors here, bones, skeletons, taxidermy, prehistoric the list goes on.
The Pitt River Museum was our last stop for the morning – quite enough to take in! – attached to the Natural History museum it houses the famous Shruken Heads collection and vast arrays of display cases which contain objects collected by General Pitt Rivers. It is a wonder to see and although we didn’t spend hours in there you certainly could.
Snow melted, time to go home, you know though we enjoyed our trip so much, and Oxford is high on my itinerary to go back, not just to take images but to take in all the things you just cannot do in 3 days.