The Retirees Go Abroad
Oxford and Cambridge – An Education at Oxford
We had a long standing arrangement to meet our good friends and erstwhile neighbours Rod and Kerry at Oxford. They were touring in Somerset and on the way to Spain we agreed to meet half way (well sort of half way). We had planned to meet in Oxford and travel together to Cambridge where Rod and Kerry would catch their flight to Madrid from Stansted Airport. We in turn planned to arrive in Oxford a day earlier to make the most of our visit.
Packed on the Sunday ready to travel on Monday September 8, we rose early and were on the road by 8.30am. Tommy was slow to wake up and we were half way to the M1 when he clicked in. Suddenly I was in a panic. My wallet was not in my pocket and I had left it at home. So instead of exiting at the first exit we upset Tommy by going all the way around the roundabout and home again. As we did so Kerry remembered we had forgotten our accommodation vouchers.
It is now approaching 9.00 am – school drop off time – and travel back to the flat was slow. I collected all the forgotten items (not quite later on I was to realise I had not picked the spare battery for the camera) returned to the car and we tried again. I had planned that we would go to the White Horse Hill south of Oxford and join our Morse and Lewis foot tour at 1.30 pm. Not to be unfortunately. The forgotten essentials and traffic jams at road works in Northamptonshire meant we travelled directly to our B&B in Oxford.
On arriving in Oxford I was surprised to find the city was ringed with Park and Ride facilities. We had been advised against driving in the city itself and I would wholly endorse this. We found the bus service efficient and cheap both from our B&B and later from the Park and Ride. Our accommodation was well located and near a bus stop which meant we arrived into the city well in time before the walking tour. There seemed to be some controversy around the tours offered by the Information Centre with other guides promoting their free tours (the Information Centre charge 10 pound per person for their official tour) directly outside the Centre. I don’t know the quality of the free tour but it would bear investigating and don’t be in a rush to use the services of the Information centre which charged for every service (including the basic street map of the city).
Our guide arrived a little after the appointed time (she had just finished the Harry Potter tour) and she seemed somewhat disorganised when she stepped in front of a bus. Fortunately no one was hurt but she had forgotten that there was a Fair in town and buses were diverted up Broad St (we were standing in the middle of that very street as the Information Centre is located on the old city side of the street.).
We are both interested viewers of Morse and Lewis (both programmes are on English TV continuously) but I was astounded at how seriously others on the tour took the show (mainly Americans). So this was about seeing some of the sites of the city with a slant towards those parts of the city where the programme had been filmed.
Firstly I will get the big question answered. Where is Oxford University? Answer – everywhere!
The University is made up of 38 Colleges which are scattered among the streets of the old city and the extended old city (outside the walls). Many of the shows are set in the forecourts and buildings of the colleges and pubs of Oxford and this tour was going to show us these special places.
Broad St represents one of the boundaries of the old city. The street is broad because that is where Oxfordians threw their rubbish. Oxford gets its name from the ford across the Cherwell and the Thames at this point. Many of the colleges were founded by religious orders and it is believed the Augustinians were the first to do so in the 12th century. By the 13th century many friars of most of the prominent orders of the day were studying in Oxford. Our first look at the front gate of one of these colleges was Balliol College (founded 1263 was for many years reserved for the poorer scholars) a regular set for Morse episodes (apparently) but we did not get past the front door. Beside Balliol is Trinity College with its’ tell – tale blue gates. From there we proceeded down Turl St and turned into Market St and the city markets (apparently there have been a few chase scenes through these markets) then across the High St into Alfred St and the intersection with Blue Boar St where we find one of Morse’s drinking holes (and the oldest pub in Oxford), the Bear. A small two level pub with crooked windows tiny rooms and narrow staircases it claims establishment from 1249 (not as old as Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem in Nottingham 1141). We return to the scene of this crime later on.
We walk down Blue Boar St and into Oriel St and the front door of Oriel College, where again we see inside the door but entry is not allowed. Again some misadventure had taken place here in one of the series but the best was yet to come. Into Merton St and we arrive at Corpus Christi College. Our guide has a quiet word with the porter (all the gate keepers are called porters) and we are in despite the “No entry to Public” signs. I think there may have been some graft and corruption here as most colleges will for the right fee allow entry and I think our guide has a deal which she has been unable to swing with the other colleges.
The fore court of the college is very interesting. Unlike the others there is no grass and in the centre of the court is a sundial (handy when there is sun). Graffiti adorns the walls but this is to do with successful rowing teams crowing about their victories. We are taken to the chapel and told more “secrets” from the shows. The chapel is typical but probably the smallest as this is the smallest college with accommodation for only 300 students. Typically there are 20,000 students per year shared among 38 colleges, 8 of which is for graduates and one only All Souls for Fellows (no it is not sexist – these are senior academics). We walked through the garden to see all that remains of one of the Saxon walls that enclosed Oxford, spied on the students using Merton field and viewed the spires of Christ’s College before making our way out to look at the front door of Merton College the third oldest in Oxford (1264 – University College 1249 being the oldest). Once again bloody cobbled streets. Merton St is the only remaining cobbled street and therefore distinguishable in any Morse or Lewis episode.
We then back tracked to Magpie Lane, once again crossing High St, and into Catte St passed St Mary the Virgin Church(interesting how many churches are dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin) and the precinct of the Bodleian Library and the Radcliffe Camera (this is connected to the library through underground tunnels). This is an enormous Library with miles of underground tunnels (although it is only three storeys high it has 8 floors underground) housing tens of thousands of books. It is a copyright library and therefore entitled to receive a copy of every book published in Britain. We could not get inside as it is a working library but tours are available and even tours which include the tunnels (if you know what to ask for and where to look).
From there we moved into New College Lane (the New College was founded in the 13th century) under the Oxford imitation of the Bridge of Sighs as seen in Venice (actually it is nothing like it – the genuine bridge in Venice connects part of the old palace to the goal cells and when a prisoner passed over that bridge he sighed with resignation over his fate). Then we turned suddenly left into a small lane distinguished by a sign saying “To the Turf”. Following the lane the guide shows us the other remaining section of the original Saxon wall and the entrance to Oxford oldest pub (Yes this one also claims that title and I think the dispute has been settled by the one person buying both hotels and sharing the claim). This pub is squeezed in between other buildings and you have the distinct feeling of being underneath. We visit the scene of this crime a little later on also.
There is another exit out to Hollywell St where we pass another pub this time part of the Young’s Chain and into Broad St once again. We duck back into the Bodleian to view the door through which every student who matriculates passes on their way to the Sheldonian Theatre (a Christopher Wren building) to receive the awarding of their degree. Across the road from the Sheldonian is Blackwell’s bookshop which often features in the Morse and Lewis episodes. Reportedly the bookshop has 2.5 miles of shelving. Alongside is another Morse favourite the White Horse Pub.
There our tour finished. I felt that our guide just ran out of enthusiasm and her audience the same. Whilst I enjoyed it thoroughly I don’t think it was well organised or as well presented as the opportunities to do it better seem endless to me.
In need of something to wet the whistle Kerry and I returned to the Turf to soak up the atmosphere and an ale or two. The building is clearly old with bits and pieces everywhere very low ceilings small rooms and higgledy piggledy patios all of which gave it an intimate atmosphere. Here they made the best Pimms – not just cucumber or lemon or lime but all of those plus strawberry and apple.
We ended our day and caught the bus back to the B&B where we found that Rod and Kerry had arrived. After settling in we returned to the Turf where we did in a couple of burgers, and a bottle of wine. My photos follow.