Oxford, England: Walking With a Vengeance
By Mridula Dwivedi
I went to Oxford in June 2008 for work, but that has never stopped me from exploring a place. It also helped that this was my second trip to Oxford, so the city was a little familiar to me.
What I like most about Oxford is that I can walk to my heart’s content. Try doing that in Delhi and you will realize the difference.
I along with my five colleagues arrived at Oxford on Sunday night and sleep was the most dominant thought. While the taxi took us to our accommodations, I could recognize some areas of the town. Given my sense of direction that is surprising. I can get lost even in a telephone booth if it has two exits.
On Monday I was busy with work till 5:30 in the evening. A colleague and I came back to the city center and went in to the Pizza Hut (don’t ask, his choice) for dinner. Then he wished to go back.
I tried to play the guide and drop him to the relevant bus stop. Then the fun began. I knew there was a stop in the city center but try as I might I could not locate it!
Anyway, we managed to find another stop (opposite Said Business School) and my colleague went back to catch up on much needed sleep. I decided to walk around the city center for a while.
The last bus (or was it last but one?) was at 10.27 and twilight would remain at least till ten. What more could I ask for?
Carfax Tower- The Focal Point
Many consider the Carfax Tower as the focal point of the city center, and I heartily concur. From there one road takes you towards the famous Christ Church College, another to the High Street and the Magdalen College and the bridge with a lot of punts parked on the river.
The third, called Cornmarket Road, after a few turns, takes you to the Gloucester Green bus stop. The fourth road, Queen Street, takes you to more shops. My bus stop was on the high street.
With this much orientation, I survived fine on my own in Oxford. Carfax Tower is itself the remaining part of the St. Martin’s Church that had to go to make way for increasing traffic in 1896!
The Oxford Colleges and Ashmolean Museum
The University of Oxford has more than 40 colleges and halls affiliated with it and these are scattered all over the city. To be honest I would not be able to name all the colleges nor have I seen all in my two visits in the past seven months. But I can definitely talk a little about some of the most spectacular ones.
Also, I am more of a nature buff than a history buff, so my biases may reflect in what I discuss about the city of Oxford.
However, there is an easy way to become familiar with the city, and that is by taking the hop-on-hop-off Red Bus Tour. This bus would take you around the city for 11.50 pounds and you can listen to the commentary on the headphones or sometimes there is a live guide too.
The tickets are valid for 24 hours from the date of purchase and you can get to any place you fancy and take the bus again later.
The bus makes a prominent stop at The Ashmolean Museum. If you are a history buff you can probably spend an entire day here. I was quite impressed by Monet’s painting and a Stradivarius violin I saw there.
Pitts River Museum was also highly recommended to me but I could not see it this time. I hope there will be a next time.
Arrows and Signposts
However, Oxford is a small town and I find walking around on my own much more to my liking though there are walking tours available too.
Initially, due to my pathetic sense of direction, I was quite scared to walk alone but I gradually realized that there are sufficient arrow marks and signposts on the street and whichever road I would take sooner or later an arrow would point me towards the city center and the Carfax Tower again.
I can assure you if I did not get lost in the city chances of anyone else getting lost are really really slim. Here are some of my favorite places in Oxford.
Oxford’s Christ Church Cathedral and the Meadows
The Christ Church College is one of the most famous colleges in Oxford with an alumnus list that is really dazzling. The dining hall of the college has been used in the Harry Potter movies as the Hogwarts Dining Hall. There is an entrance fee to get inside.
However, equally impressive are the Christ Church Meadows. If you start walking towards the tree lined roads, at the end of it you will find the Thames River and boats on it.
Geese flock the river and they are so used to tourists that they will chase you for bread crumbs. This summer some people were hard at rowing in the river and this circular walk I did more than once!
The Radcliffe Square
If you ask me, I consider the Radcliffe Square is the most beautiful area in the entire Oxford. It is right in the center of the town. Walk on the High street towards the Magdalen Bridge and take a turn on your left near the St. Mary’s Church and there you are!
It is a small square but walking around it is such a pleasure. Or just sit on the sidewalks and see others hurrying past!
At the front of the square is the St. Mary’s Church. The church is beautiful to see from the outside, but if you want a lot of peace and quiet all you have to do is to get inside. Entrance is free, but they charge three pounds if you wish climb to the top of the Church, which I did this time.
Walk a few stairs and sit in the pews, preferably in a corner. Suddenly there is a lot of peace around you, disturbed only occasionally by other tourists. I sat inside the church at least twice and it was cool and beautiful.
Then of course you can go to the top and admire the uninterrupted view of the city. Another very beautiful building in this square is the All Souls College. And Brasenose College is also quite beautiful.
Right next to the HertfordCollege is the Bridge of Sighs, all beautiful places crammed in one square. Bodlein Library, another landmark, is also close by.
Thames Walk, Oxford to Sandford
I decided to explore the Thames Walk starting near the Folly Bridge on Saturday and was pleasantly surprised. I had explored part of it earlier on Wednesday but I was in a hurry as I had a train to take to Leeds later.
On Saturday I had no such compulsions. From the afternoon I devoted myself completely to the walk. There was no endpoint in my mind and I decided that I would walk for two hours in one direction and then walThe k back for two hours! I love walking that much.
Soon enough I came across the Iffle Meadows which had huge fields of mustard and horses and cows grazing serenely. I decided to venture further and within the two hours reached the Sandford Lock (3.5 miles one way, 7 miles or 11.2 km in all).
It was only after coming back and searching on the Internet I realized that the walk goes all the way to London. A better aim could be to walk to Abingdon (8.5 miles, 13.6 km) and probably take a bus back to Oxford from there.
However, it had rained heavily earlier in the week and a few people who were cycling told me that there was too much water on the path ahead. I walked up to that spot saw the water and decided that was the end of this walk.
The only problem on this walk and the other one I took was dogs that were left off the leash. (Read about them doggies on Mridula’s blog Travel Tales From India.)
Walking for so long left me hungry. I had tried a few fine restaurants during my stay like Chiang Mai (Thai), Qumins (Indian), Noodle Bar and The Oriental Candor (Chinese), Pizza Hut and Que Pasa (Pizza).
So this time I decided to try the roadside vans and I loved the mashed potatoes and the veg burger I bought from the Van near the Christ Church College and which I ate sitting in the lovely Radcliffe Square.
The next day I was heading to Heathrow after lunch to take the flight back to India.