Thursday, 26 February 2015

A day out in Oxford

Oxford, from Oxenaforda, which literally means Ford of the Oxen, is a city about an hour out of London. You may have heard of it before?

It’s a little bit famous. The name is derived from its positioning at the low point of where the rivers meet and the oxen could cross. Today one of the most well known universities in the world is based here. That’s right, the University of Oxford. Academia has been housed at this site for over 1000 years and this interests me a little, seeing as I work in the university circuit and all.

On Saturday, a group of us met at Paddington train station (just a fraction behind schedule), bleary eyed, coffee deprived and ready for breakfast. Ahead of us was an hour on the train which, in getting to know those I didn’t know and catching up with those I did, passed in a flash.

First stop: Breakfast. Holly, Kelly, Hien and I swooped upon the Tourist information stand the second it opened, to be confronted by a sour and largely unhelpful woman. She did give us a map, though, and between the four of us we sort of managed to work out how to read it. Down a little alley way, we saw a sign for a cafe called Cafe Puccino’s. I probably wouldn’t have mentioned food this time, however, this little cafe intrigued me (and it was cheap!) so I recommend you stop by and read the writing on the wall.

Time passed as we gossiped heartily, and then we realised it was almost time for the walking tour. Where did it start? Actually, what was the name of the company? A quick google search and we were on the look out for the lovely green bicycle opposite Fudge Kitchen from which the tour would begin. Kelly, as we discovered is wont to do, approached a man that she thought was the tour guide (ok, admittedly, we all thought it, Kelly simply took the rap for talking to him..). Upon discovering he wasn’t, we retreated into the ever growing crowd gathering around the lovely green bicycle. [NB, it was indeed lovely.]

A mildly distressed looking gentleman approached with wild hair and a rainbow scarf and shouted, “Are you all here for the walking tour?”, in his Oxfordshire accent, and ran his hand through this hair. “Would any of you like to come back for the 12.30 tour? 12.30? You’re a very large group. The tour guide at 12.30 is a very sexy man. 12.30? Are you sure? Ok, everyone gather in close, no muttering. Where are you all from?”

And so the tour began. A quick round table showed a very culturally diverse crowd with visitors from all over the globe. And here is where I began to learn facts, some I knew and many that I feel I should have known.

Interesting things of note in Oxford

  • The university is made up of 38 separate colleges. Students can either apply to a specific college or enter the pool to go to any of them. Each college has it’s own personality and often offers a certain set of subjects which attracts a specific type of student. At the end of the degree, however, everyone receives their parchment with the University of Oxford, and no college specified.
  • Christ Church College has had a building of academia on that spot for 1000 years. That is a pretty long time.
  • Christ Church was also used as a location set for Harry Potter.
  • There’s a bricked square, about half a metre squared that marks the exact spot that people (usually protestants) were burned alive.
  • Many, many impressive people came through Oxford. Our guide was keen on literature, and spoke at length about Tolkien and Oscar Wilde, two amazing literary geniuses. If you google Oxford graduates, there’s a name or two you might recognise.
And much more. If you do make a visit, I highly suggest joining a Footprints Tour. Our tour guide, Tom, was enthusiastic and funny and my face was sore from smiling.

Pinched from the Footprints Tour Facebook page
Please ignore me looking like a dag.

At the conclusion of the tour, the troupe was ready for a toilet stop, a lunch break and a sit down. We found a little pub that was able to cater to all of these necessities. By the by, and here I go talking about food again, we had absolutely delicious nachos and a sharing platter from the Three Goats Heads, while a resident dog kept us company at our feet.

Lunch under a map of Oxford

What to do next? We had a few things on our list: Have a look at the library, see the exam room, see inside at least one of the Colleges. Some Colleges are free to enter while others had a small fee - students do live there, after all, and we are traipsing our significantly less intelligent feet around their homes, per say.

Intricate ceiling with carving initials

The examination hall. We had seen the imposing, prison-like thorny exterior where in days of old, one single student at a time sat within to present to a panel of academics. We paid our £1 to see inside (and touch the centuries old stone walls). Moving on, we passed the Radcliffe Camera (more than once, as the day would have it…). From here we made our way to Christ Church College. A little over 600 undergraduate and postgraduate students live at Christ Church, and once inside the walls we were privy to the ancient hallways, courtyards, centuries old cathedral and more.

Recognise it?

Our last stop was of course the gift shop (as one is always herded through!) and I found it ironic that one quarter was dedicated to the church and cathedral merchandise, directly besides the Harry Potter merchandise. Cashing in, me thinks?

It was awe inspiring, to think of this place of learning. As I was leaving Christ Church College, I turned to the others and said, “I understand why students of Oxford are so smug. They have every right to be. Hell, I’d be smug if I went here.”

But then again, I like being smug.


It's a tandem bike.

It was a lovely day trip out and well worth a visit. I would consider going back to explore the little off-the-beaten-track places, and possibly see what kind of debauchery descends on a Saturday night. It was fascinating watching the students roam the streets, friends in their shorts besides others in a full suit and bow-tie - anything goes. The students are not allowed to drive here, and so it is a city of bikes - bold and brash these riders are and the prices, in comparison to London town, are nice and cheap.

Go on, feel the poshness for yourself.

The lovely Christ Church College