Day 1: Getting to Oxford
We arrive at Paddington, well before our evening train is due to depart, so we have a quick dinner at the (surprisingly good) Italian restaurant in the station. The train is late, and we languish ineffectually in the waiting room, where it’s warm. The quiet lull explodes into a mad liquid rush when the train pulls in as passengers clamber on board, grumpy because now they have missed their connections/seats/buses/daughter’s birthday party. 3 days in Oxford is the perfect getaway – just a short hour’s journey by fast train from London Paddington, the city is easily accessible, with lots to see and do.
We stay at the Tilbury Lodge B&B, an establishment with a lovely lush backyard, glass covered conservatory, great English breakfasts, warm hosts and ten comfortable rooms. Because we are the last guests to register for the night, our double room has been upgraded to the king sized room, complete with hot water bottle (in its own snug little woollen jumper – bliss!), plasma screen telly, foot massager, and in-room refrigerator. As a B&B the Tilbury surpassed all expectations.
Day 2: Exploring Oxford
The next morning dawned bright and cheerful. After an incredibly hearty English breakfast we set off to catch a bus into Oxford town. The town itself is quaint, old, beautiful and compact. Our first stop was the University and City Tour, with Oxford’s Official Tourist Office. Excellent for those interested in a detailed, rather academic tour of Oxford and its history, though personally I found it a little dry.
My favourites were the old Oxford colleges, with their lovely quadrangles and musty, gothic architecture, the adjacent chapels and the spires of all the churches in and around the city. We also passed by the Divinity School, where a scene from Harry Potter was shot on location, and Sir Christopher Wren’s very first building, the Sheldonian Theatre. There is the famous round library called the Radcliffe Camera, dignified museums, the perfect harmony of the architecture of All Souls College, the amazing Bodleian Library where a copy of every book ever published passes by at least once, and lots and lots of churches. The college is a very, very old university, and Oxford predates a number of mind boggling events, including the founding of America, the Aztec civilization and the Magna Carta.
After the tour, we nipped into the Covered Market to escape the cold, a lovely old building with stalls selling jewelry, artisan products, cheeses, hams, fresh veggies, fresh meat, gloves, scarves, shoes… and not one high street store in sight. We elbowed our way onto the counter of a cafe and drowned our cold and frigid sorrows in a steaming mug of minestrone soup, accompanied by fresh baguettes. Locals stocked up on groceries and vendors called out bargains on everything from fresh fruit to discounts on craft products.
No trip to Oxford is complete without a visit to Christchurch College, the most famous of all Oxford colleges. It is one of the best colleges here, academically, the only college in Oxford to have its own cathedral, and the dining room is where the Great Hall in Harry Potter movies were filmed. The dining halls of all colleges are still in use; when we arrived in the afternoon after 2pm (the hall is closed to visitors till this time so that the students can eat in peace), there were lingering smells of lunch in the air, some oranges leftover on the sideboard, and new place settings set out for dinner.
All Oxford colleges are working institutions, and visitors are reminded that they are visiting a private place; so we kept quite strictly to the paths and adhered to the “Private” signs obediently. Everywhere you go in Oxford though, you will see heavy wooden gates with old keyholes in a high brick wall, and as a student turns the key and slips in or out, you might just catch a glimpse of the inner quad and wonder about what lies beyond the walls.
Day 3: By the River Isis
On our last day in Oxford there was snow on the ground as we ate breakfast; after checking out, we dropped out bags at a backpackers near the train station for £1 a bag, then set off for a walk along the river Isis, which is a tributary to the Thames in London. On our wander we passed by the last remnants of medieval Oxford – the ruins of the fort that once stood along the walled city. We then headed around to Magdalen College for a small exploration. The College backs onto the river, and we could see the soggy and rather sorry looking punts stowed away waiting for spring as we walked along the grounds. Magdalen also has a deer park – we spotted quite a few of them from a distance.
In the wet, cold afternoon, we stopped by a cafe for cucumber sandwiches and tea, honouring the quintessential British tradition of afternoon tea. The warm, just-baked scones and fresh cream and jam were also welcome treats. For the rest of the day, we let our feet take us around the streets, by now familiar friends, and then waited for our train to be called before leaving for home and London.