Oxford is a place I’d passed through but not really explored, over half term we caught a First Great Western train from Bristol to Oxford. I’m a huge fan of travelling by train, I love the views of the countryside and the glimpses of back-gardens. I love that I can travel, drink tea and read a book. Catching the train as a family was combination of chatting, games, reading and a very relaxing way to start our break. We discussed our plans for the next couple of days, things to do, things to see.
From the railway station it is a short walk into the city. We easily found the Information Centre on Broad Street and armed with a map began exploring. There are numerous walking tours of Oxford, some are free, having a 7-year-old with us, it seemed better to go our own way, at our own pace. The centre of Oxford is relatively small, some of it has limited or no traffic, except for bicycles, many, many bicycles. It is very easy to wander, the architecture is old and beautiful with ornate stone masonry. There are gargoyles, people and creatures to spot, an imaginative 7-year-old was as interested as his parents.
Oxford University is the oldest university in the English-speaking world and has been a place of learning since the 11th Century, it is made up of a number of historic colleges, each with an individual identity. There is a familiarity about the colleges; All Souls, Magdalen, Corpus Christi, the names evoke a sense of history and other worldliness. Each college and their gardens or quadrants are immaculately kept and visiting, at least one, while in Oxford is a ‘must do’. Opening hours vary and the colleges make a charge for visiting. We paid £2.00 per adult to visit Balliol, children free.
Balliol claims to be one of the oldest colleges, graduates include four Nobel Prize wining scientists, three Prime Ministers. Lord Beveridge architect of the Welfare State and Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, it is a prestigious list.
The city receives a huge number of tourists and is crammed with students, places to eat are plentiful. The covered market on the High Street came recommended, it has food to take-away and a variety of great places to eat. Sasi Thai and the Alpha bar had long queues at lunch time, my son recommends the sausage rolls from Nash’s bakery.
The Vaults Cafe on Radcliffe Square has a seasonal lunch menu, that looked fantastic, the location is wonderful, eat in the gardens overlooking the Radcliffe Camera or inside in the vaults of the congregational house, the menu was just a bit too grown-up and it was just a bit too busy to meet our needs as a family.
My favourite was the Bodelian cafe. It sits the vast modern entrance to the Weston Library, where you can also view pieces of the Magna Carta. The cafe offers glimpses of the modern library. Big windows over look the historic Bodelian Library, perfect for people watching on busy Broad St. The cafe has a fantastic selection of cakes, pots of tea and great coffee, definitely my favourite. It is just around the corner from tourist stop off; the beguiling Bridge of Sighs. Despite the choices of places to eat, we chose to picnic and Oxford isn’t short of lovely places to stop, eat and watch the world go by.
Meadows and Rivers
What struck me most about Oxford was the amount of green that circles the city centre, I expected the rivers but the meadows were unexpected. Our hotel was little out-of-town and we were able to walk in and out via the Thames tow path. In the evening we watched rowers training, whilst a ‘coach’ (probably the wrong term) urgently shouted instructions from a bicycle. The cycling coaches whizz along the tow path and take no-prisoners. Keep out of their way. Fast moving, shouty cyclists aside there is a tranquility in being by the river, away from traffic.
From the tow path, we crossed Folly bridge and found our way into the city via Christ Church Meadow, ancient pastures, home to a herd of beautiful long horn cattle and affords long views across wild flowers. Oxford has a number of meadows, on the other side of the city horses graze on Port Meadow and it offers a lovely view of spires and colleges. The combination of city centre buzz and being able to quickly escape to the peace of untamed green open spaces is a joy on a sunny day.
Merton College and its field.
Oxford won my heart, as a family we all loved it. There was unexpectedly more to do for children than I’d initially thought and I’ll share some things to do in Oxford with kids in the near future, because as a city Oxford is definitely worth revisiting.
Disclosure: Our trip to Oxford was supported by First Great Western Trains. All words and opinions are my own.