Sunday, August 24, 2008

Visiting Oxford City and University

Two recent JinC Churchill Series posts focused on events in Churchill’s life which occurred in Oxford and at his birth place, Blenheim Palace, eight miles from “the city of dreaming spires.”

In a post yesterday I encouraged Series readers to consider a stay in Oxford for at least a few days, perhaps more.

I had to interrupt that post in order to save my marriage and keep the friendship of the most wonderful person I know.

Now what follows here is first, the part of the post I completed yesterday; and second, below the star line, its completion.

I hope others besides Series readers give the post a look.


I’ll walk you through a “virtual trip" there which begins with an arrival at Heathrow Airport. The "trip" is arranged so that you can do a great deal of visiting in and about Oxford without having to rent a car.

At Heathrow there’s a frequent, 24 hr. per day express motor coach service to Oxford.

The trip takes about 1:30. You travel on a modern motorway through attractive countryside on a comfortable coach. It enters Oxford on the High Street and makes frequent stops alone the street before the final one at the coach terminal.

If you look at this map (all those red areas are college buildings) you’ll see at the bottom right-hand corner the railroad station. The coach station is some few blocks to the right as you look at the map.

The map I’ve linked to is for overview purposes. There are many maps of Oxford and the surrounding area available on the Net. Particular places such as restaurants and hotels now almost always provide good maps at their sites as well.

That brings me to where to stay.

The guide books are available, including Michelin Red for Great Britain and Ireland.

Some people have great success searching the Net.

Let me offer an alternative to a hotel or B&B stay. Consider a self-catering short-stay apartment.

When we’re in Oxford we stay here. It’s very clean, comfortable, quiet and well-located. The rooms, while well- appointed, are on the smallish side. Also, there are no king size beds.

That said, you can save a good deal of money self-catering by cooking many of your meals; even packing a carry-along lunch as you head out for the day.

There’s something else that makes a self-catering stay in Oxford fun. You get to shop for food at the historic Cornmarket.

I should say here I’ve no financial interest in the apartments I’m recommending and if you tell them “John in Carolina sent me,” they won’t know what you’re talking about.

I’m simply trying to do you a good turn by suggesting that option.

Now I must break off this post or lose my best friend and the world’s greatest wife, all in one person.

Suppose we have special post Sunday in which I’ll finish our “trip.”

Look for a post around 3 PM ET with a title like “Visiting Oxford.”

See you then.


Back today, are you? Good! Let’s resume.

I’ll assume you’ve chosen a place to stay within easy reach of the rail and coach stations. (Both, btw, are in safe areas frequented by many pedestrians throughout the day and up through about midnight.)

At the rail station (small, clean and pleasant, with two news agents, a book store and a number of coffee and snack stalls, kiosks, tables and chairs), I’ve always found the ticket and gate agents informed and friendly.

You may have bought some type of rail pass before you left your home country or you may wish to just buy the lowest priced round-trip ticket you can get for your day trip. (The Brits call that kind of ticket, priced lower than most others, “a cheap, one-day return.” )

You’ll have lots of choices of where to visit by rail from Oxford.

Windsor is just an hour journey and its Castle is just a few minutes easy walk from Windsor Station. Near the Castle and along the Thames are some lovely pubs for lunch. There’s also a convenient footbridge that crosses the river to Eton and the College.

But you might instead choose to go to Bath. That’s about a 1:30 ride.

London? The trains from/to Oxford and Paddington Station leave/return very frequently during the day (average about every 15 minutes at peak times) and into the evening hours (average about every 30 minutes about 10, 11, and midnight.).

Travel time? Express about 1:15; a “slow train” about 1:45.

Using this National Railway site you can explore for yourself what’s available from Oxford, etc. I’ve set the link so you can enter places and times but you know you can click to the home page and explore as you please.

I hope you do.

There’s frequent Coach service from Oxford out to Blenhein and to towns in the Cotswolds, Manchester City and Stratford-upon-Avon. You’ll find the Coach links at this Wikipedia site.

There you’ll also find many links to theatres, historic sites and other interesting venues in and around Oxford.

Final Oxford item: Some of the world greatest choral music is regularly performed there in beautiful chapel settings.

You can attend performances of choral Masses, Eucharists and Evensongs at a number of colleges during the university terms which you’ll find at this site.

Three of the greatest choirs, in order of my untutored preference, are:

New College


Christ Church

If you wish to attend a service, remember to check there’ll be one during your visit.

There’s a lot more I’d like to say to tempt you to visit Oxford.

But I’ve said enough for now.

I hope it’s been helpful.