We were very kindly invited to the 20th birthday of a friend of mine in Reading, Berkshire, so we happily accepted and made plans to make our way down by train. During the process we found out that the train went through Oxford, which is where another friend of mine lives, so we though we might as well leave nice and early to get to Oxford at a decent time so we could have an afternoon looking around the city.
Status: City of Oxford, Oxfordshire, City, England
Travel: Merseyrail (Southport – Liverpool Lime Street via Liverpool Central), London Midland (Liverpool Lime Street – Birmingham New Street), Cross Country (Birmingham New Street – Reading via Oxford), First Great Western (Reading – Windsor via Slough), Virgin Trains (Birmingham New Street – Wigan North Western), Northern Rail (Wigan Wallgate – Southport)
Eating & Sleeping: The Nosebag, Mortons Cafe
Attractions: Christ Church Cathedral, Radcliffe Camera, Tom Tower, Carfax Tower, Christ Church College, Bridge of Sighs, Ashmolean Museum, Bodleian Library, Radcliffe Camera, Town Hall, River Thames, River Cherwell etc
We left the train station, and met my friend who subsequently took us around the city. We started mainly at the pedestrianised section, and immediately came across one of the most visited towers in the city.
Carfax Tower is the only surviving section of St Martins Church from the 12th century. It stands proudly at the meeting of four main roads in the city, namely St Aldates, Cornmarket Street, Queen Street and High Street. Because of its relative position, it is known locally as the centre of the city.
Between 1122 and 1896, the church was the official City Church, but traffic was growing in the area so this status was moved to All Saints Church which sits on the high street. The original church was demolished, but the tower survived. It stands 74 feet tall, and the Carfax Heights Policy states that no new buildings should exceed the height of the tower. It is open to the public for tours, and we did have time to ascend one tower during our visit but as you will see later, we decided upon one of the others, further into the city.
There is a clock on the side of the building, which has small Roman figures stood on either side.
The centre of Oxford is similar to a lot of other historic towns and cities in England, with a plethora of old buildings typically made out of stone. Older timber buildings are also present at regular intervals, and the main pedestrianised section allows you to walk in the space where the road would have been, to get better views back at the street.
Our next major stop was Oxford Town Hall, a majestic building just up from one of the main colleges, Christ Church. A Guidhall and the first Town Hall all previously stood on this spot, the Town Hall from 1752 until 1893, when the current building was built, to a design by Henry Hare (1861 – 1921, architect from Scarborough, North Yorkshire).
Just down the road from the Town Hall, Tom Tower marks the entrance to Christ Church College. At the top of the tower a bell is hung, that weights over 6 tonnes. It has sounded every night since World War II (aside from one night in 2002 when a student prang silenced it temporarily) and is known as Great Tom, the loudest bell in Oxford. The bell first hung in Osney Abbey in Osney, Oxfordshire from the 12th century, and in 1545 it moved to St Frideswide Church.
Completed around 1680, the bell and the tower used to be very important in Oxford. The bell still sounds 101 times (for the 100 original scholars, with number 101 being added in 1664) every night starting at 21:30 GMT, but originally when it sounded it was the signal for all the colleges in Oxford to lock their gates for the night.
After admiring the main tower, we moved into the courtyard of Christ Church College, one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford.
At the back of the college buildings you can see the spire of Christ Church Cathedral. 13 different British Prime Ministers have been through Christ Church, which is more than the other 45 colleges in Oxford put together.
The Cathedral acts as both the Cathedral for the diocese of Oxford (containing Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire) as well as the Chapel of Christ Church college. Inside it is finely decorated, and although it is one of the smallest Cathedrals in England it is more intricate and beautiful than most others.
Originally the Priory of St Frideswide, and in 1525 Thomas Wolsey, Lord Chancellor of England had it suppressed and founded the college around it, of which it became part and the surviving sections of the Priory became part of the new Cathedral.
Just across from the Cathedral, in the courtyard, is the Great Hall, which has become famous through it’s use in the Harry Potter film series. It is open to the public to visit, as long as you don’t touch any of the furniture. It is a bit smaller than in the films, for which it is enhanced with CGI but it still looks fantastic, and we posed for a picture together in the hall, as well as on the steps leading up to it which were also used in Harry Potter & The Philosophers Stone.
From Christ Church, we left through the “back door” and walked down to the River Thames, which flows through Oxford, on to Reading, then Windsor and finally through Central London. It’s a pleasant walk, and we were surprised to find a large amount of squirrels by the side of the path, as they are so used to people in Oxford they happily run up and down as you go past.
There are a few tributaries of the Thames in Oxford, including the river Cherwell which we walked around on our way back into the city centre.
We passed through a number of colleges on the way back into the city centre, and we made our way to the University Church of St Mary the Virgin. This was the tower I mentioned earlier that we dediced to climb, for 2 reasons:
1) It is opposite the above building, the Radcliffe Camera, my personal favourite building in the city.
2) You get the best views of Oxford from here, which Carfax Tower can’t quite match.
On the way up to the tower we passed through the clock chamber which showed the mechanism of the clock as well as the bell ringing area. Plaques on this floor give a history of the clock and its manufacturer.
The Radcliffe Camera is part of the University of Oxford, which is the oldest English speaking University in the world, as well as the 2nd oldest overall University in the world. Construction began in 1737, and was completed by 1748, however it only opened the following year in 1749. It was used as the University Library until it also became a main reading room for the Bodleian Library. In 1912 an underground book store was completed beneath it, a full 2 floors with space for 600,000 books, and an underground passageway links the Bodleian and the Radcliffe Camera.
This is one of the views we got from the top of the tower, looking out across Oxford itself. Every direction you look you see the various colleges spread throughout the city. It is no surprise that Oxford is considered one of England’s most historic city, and indeed during World War II Adolf Hitler liked the city so much he ordered it be saved from bombings during the aerials raids of the Britain by the Germans, and if Germany had ever successfully invaded the UK he wanted to make Oxford his new capital.
When we ascended the tower it was still light but it went progressively darker while we were up there until we got a full night view over the city. As the shops began to light up we got a perfect view around the city.
We finished up the tower, and began to explore night time Oxford, looking round some of the old pubs. Oxford is quite famous as the filming location for the TV series Inspector Morse and there is even a Morse trail that fans of the series can follow around the city to see the filming locations. We looked around some more colleges, all of which have impressive buildings, some old and stone, and some newer Victorian brick. We visited a few of the halls and then made our way to one of the other landmarks of the city.
The Bridge of Sighs is similar to the Rialto Bridge in Venice (even though it is supposedly supposed to look like the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, it looks more like the Rialto), and it joins two buildings that are part of Hertford College. Completed in 1914, it was designed by Sir Thomas Jackson (1835 – 1924, English Architect).
This, along with the adjacent Sheldonian Theatre from the 1660’s, which houses concerts, lectures and University ceremonies.
So that was our day around the city of Oxford. There are many museums in the city, such as the Ashmolean Museum, the Museum of Oxford the Oxfordshire Museum, and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, amongst others.
Oxford is connected to London, Reading, Birmingham, Stratford-upon-Avon, Manchester, Newcastle, and Milton Keynes along with many others, by direct train services. The M40 runs close to the city, and connects up with the M25 ring road around London itself. Heading the other way, it connects to the M42 near Birmingham, as well as the M5 for Exeter and South. THe M4 is quite close in a southerly direction to Oxford, and it runs from London past Bristol into South Wales around Newport, Cardiff and Swansea. The London Airports of Heathrow, City, Gatwick and Bristol Airport are all reasonably close to Oxford.
Oxford is a great city, and there is plenty to explore that will keep you going for days, there is more than we could see in a day and we will go back one day to explore even more. From Oxford we got a train on to Reading to see my friend, who we were staying with for the next few days…