The first time I was ever in Oxford I was walking between pubs with a group of guys and one of them was bending my ear about some novelist I had never heard of. I was not really listening because I was keeping an eye on a drunk that was staggering in our direction.
“He is the greatest writer of all time!” My enthusiastic companion declared.
“Ha,” the drunk snorted as he shuffled past. “His work is derivative at best.”
I love Oxford. It’s a city with more bicycles than cars, with buildings older than the records of them and with a sense of being tiny and yet connected to the whole world all at the same time. I love this miniature city so much I don’t know how to express it in a single blog post.
Yeah, so going to Oxford on the 2011 trip might have been my idea.
We arrived from London, the Oxford train station always makes me smile because the bike-racks take up as much space as the car park; and then we had our ten minute walk to the hostel.
The Oxford Backpackers is clean and in an excellent location. But it’s decorated in a way so desperate to appeal to hip backpackers that it’s mostly garish. The walls are luminous green and blues with crazy murals everywhere. The kitchen is well-stocked but a bit small given the size of the hostel and they didn’t tell us that there was a deposit when we booked, instead waiting until we arrived and had to root for ten minutes in our rucksacks for cash. Given we were already paying €22 a night it was a little annoying.
I mainly made that complaint to balance out the glowing reviews of everything else I’m about to give.
We started with the Covered Market. This was once an indoor market but the shops are mostly permanent and it’s more like a shopping arcade than a market. Bangles and the Dragon’s Den sell beautiful Indian and Kashmiri goods. Moo’s does pretty good milkshakes.
Of course the crowning glory of the indoor market is Ben’s. Ben’s sells the best cookies I have ever had in my life. They’re fresh out of the oven and practically melt in your mouth. The triple chocolate is my favourite – if you are ever in Oxford this should be your first port of call.
There is also a mouth-watering cake shop where we found this:
If you don’t mind the walk, stroll up to the Oxford Natural History Museum with the Anthropology Museum attached to it. Few museums strike the balance between catering to children without boring the adults as well as the Oxford Natural History. The Anthropology Museum has ten times as many artefacts than can actually fit into a room that size. The glass cabinets that take up most of the available floor space are over-flowing with religious statues, shrunken heads, axes, arrows and all manner of international cultural items. You will learn something. It’s also a good one for renewing the wanderlust as though there were any chance of that abating here.
Of course the amazing the about Oxford is that the streets themselves are a museum. Wander the tiny cobbled streets between the University buildings like the Bodleian Library and Christchurch College.
Find the places where Harry Potter or Hamlet was filmed. Run up stone staircases that will simultaneously make you feel like a scholar and a child. Behind Christchurch is the house where Lewis Carol lived and a series of gardens hidden away that you could imagine Alice glimpsing through a door.
Once you’ve done all that take a relaxing browse through the many, many shelves of Blackwell’s bookshop. It has a small shop front but it goes back for what feels like miles. The second hand second on the top floor has books that might have been out of print of sixty years. Even the new books are reasonably priced and they have everything. They even have a little café you can take books into to have a red before buying.
That night we went to my favourite pub in the world: The Wheatsheaf.
Go down Cornmarket Street (where there is an amazing Pret á Manger cafe in a Tudor Brothel) turn left onto High Street then cross the road and it’s the second or third lane on the right.
Don’t be put off by the narrow lane it’s in, a lot of Oxford is like that. The drinks are reasonably price, the music is good and the atmosphere is lively. The last time I was there, there was a man with a long grey beard, in a robe with a cotton-sash wrapped around his head on roller-skates sitting at the bar. I’m not kidding you kind of see him in this photo.
He’s the guy in the robe.