A university city of international renown, here’s how Modern Traveller spent a day strolling the streets of beautiful Oxford.
What better way to start the day than with a coffee outside the University’s official church, that of St Mary The Virgin, taking a cappuccino and scones at Vaults & Garden.
Cosily tucked away in the church itself – which dates back to the 14th century – space beneath the magnificent vaulted arches was at a premium, but service was efficient and the cake selection swell for those of a sweet-toothed disposition.
After a spot of sunbathing in front of the magnificent church tower, it was time to wander, and, having weaved through streets styled as if from fiction – passing by the captivating, circular Radcliffe Camera – we arrived at the Weston Library, a wing of the Bodleian Library (one of Europe’s oldest).
Why? To appreciate an exhibition titled “Treasures: 24 Pairs“, featuring unique articles from the Bodleian collection, put together and displayed along intriguing themes. From a pencil-marked Wilfred Owen draft to an original re-issue of the Magna Carta, this was history made real in the most magical of fashions.
Having had our fill, we tore ourselves away from the treasures to totter by the Weston’s cafe – complete with its enticing cakes – and stroll through the centre. Peering through the gates of Trinity College as regular buses rumbled by, it wasn’t hard to understand Oxford’s popularity with tourists – beyond its academic reputation.
Even with its requisite new-builds and busy roads, Oxford is a place where the observant visitor can quench their thirst for times past, traversing routes once trodden by famous figures – from John Donne to J R R Tolkein – feeling as if, with surroundings unchanged, they might be waiting around a corner.
Peeping complete, we moved through the ancient avenues – pausing to snap a photograph of yet more arresting architecture, of which there is no dearth – to the Ashmolean, Oxford’s museum of art and archaeology. Strikingly designed, both inside and out, it’s easy to while away an afternoon investigating its countless exhibits.
Sadly, with so little time at our disposal, it was shortly onwards for a bite to eat – and George Street Social was the ideal spot. An urban-chic retreat in the heart of the city, the upstairs eatery offers laptop sockets, a book swap and a quirky setting that’s superb for some lunchtime inspiration.
Having polished off a plate of delicious poached eggs and a homemade lemonade, we swung by 3 New Inn Hall Street to peruse the selection of cards and books, remembering to pick up something for our mothers.
Feeling the need to walk off our midday nibbles, we shortly decided to investigate the doorways and doorknobs of Brasenose Lane, dodging bicycles and rain clouds as we wondered at the centuries-old architecture of the colleges which hide behind high walls down this – and almost every other – unassuming side street.
Whether spotting a statue of St Edmund of Abingdon perching in the garden of the college which bears his name, or spying students darting across the Bridge of Sighs, there are secrets and discoveries to be made throughout this enchanting city, which, although larger in feel than somewhere like Cambridge, remains an eminently walkable destination.
After a quick Canton Chai Tea stop at Turl Street Kitchen – good, also, for a bite to eat – it was time for some retail therapy, something easily undertaken along Oxford’s High Street, whilst admiring the spires and rooftops of this age-old conurbation.
Having nipped into Podarok – a quirky gift and fashion shop – for some left-field goodies, the day was almost gone before we knew it – though not before a brief visit to the Botanic Gardens, a stunning oasis of flora that happens to be the oldest of its type in Britain.
Waiting a moment on Magdalen Bridge to observe the punters and puntees making merry upon the River Cherwell, there was just enough time in the bank to toddle out to the Pitt Rivers.
This archaeological and anthropological museum gives the Natural History Museum a run for its money, replete with majestic sculptures and fascinating displays, housed beneath a soaring skeleton of a structure that in itself is worth a visit. This is a place sure to set minds of all ages alight – a fact to which many open-mouthed visitors attested.
Finally, with the rain clouds rolling in, we just squeezed in a second to sample the sticky delights of Fudge Kitchen, happily taking free tasters before deciding on a slab of sea salt and dark chocolate to take as sustenance for our journey.
And then, there we were – our delightful day of roaming and reflecting in this frequently breathtaking city was over, leaving us with tired legs and happy minds. Oxford? At once bustling, introspective, forward-looking and imposing: we can’t wait to go back.
WORDS & IMAGES BY CHRIS ROWLANDS
Content correct at time of publication. A changing world is one of the joys of travelling!