I had a temp job starting on Monday and as such to celebrate (sort of) my last days of freedom before gainful employment* (sort of) my girl and I decided to head to Oxford for the day.
It’s … really very close to London. So close, in fact, we’d deliberately left it off our road trip.
I’d visited Oxford once before, with my family when I was 11. My one memory of it is of an audiobook of The Witches by Roald Dahl – which my family quoted for years afterward.
We only really decided the night before. In that kind of “oh why not?” kind of way we sort of excel at. I downloaded an app, bought tickets, and we were set for the very next morning. No reserving a seat, no special coach station. We went to a bus stop just down from Madame Tussauds and flagged down the next bus to Oxford.
My favourite moment from the drive was when I realised we were driving through a suburb called Headington. Just outside Oxford, I’d kind of written off seeing the Headington Shark and there we were, driving right past the street! We didn’t stop so I didn’t get a photo, but we saw it and that’s good enough for me.
Actually called “Untitled 1986” the Headington Shark is a sculpture intended to express someone feeling totally impotent, angry, and desperate. Created by sculptor John Buckley, the shark was erected, without planning permission, on the 41st anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki and only received permission to remain in 1992.
I love it.
Given we’d only really decided to go to Oxford the night before, we had absolutely no idea what it was we wanted to do. Thankfully Oxford is teeny tiny so getting from place to place wasn’t a problem. And also thankfully, the town itself is absolutely beautiful so just wandering the streets was almost enough.
There’s a strange air in Oxford. Unless they’re on their way to exams in dress robes, you can’t really tell students from most of the tourists and there are a lot of souvenir shops but, given most of the attractions are also, you know, a working university, it doesn’t feel touristy at all. It’s unnerving, like you’re in a town where everyone is just a little bit lost.
We picked the Ashmolean museum because we are inveterately curious about the world. It’s a great collection and I think the first time I’ve been in a museum which has a room dedicated to the history of said museum. So very meta.
Oxford has, unsurprisingly, one of the biggest book stores in the world. Blackwell’s. We visited and I wanted to buy oh so many books. But I made that mistake last time I lived in the United Kingdom and I shan’t be repeating it – I find it too too hard to divest myself of books. It’s easier to just try and not buy them in the first place.
Then everything fell apart a bit. We tried to visit the Bodleian library but their tours were sporadic, and expensive. Or maybe the audio guide would have been fine? But again, they don’t really promote it all that much so we just kind of wandered away and around past the Radcliffe Camera – largest reading room in the world. But, because of exams, closed to the public. Damn.
And it was totally worth it. The college buildings and the quad, even without the Great Hall, are beautiful, but the Cathedral – oh the Cathedral is lovely. It’s a teeny little church turned Cathedral by Henry VIII but it’s richly decorated – with stained glass by Edward Burne-Jones, one of my favourite artists.
Then, because we’re us and we’re beautifully predictable, we found a pub with just enough time for a pint before our bus home (unrelated to Oxford, I’m sure, but our bus took for-ever to get back to London).
Basically, it was great and I think we love day trips now. We’re thinking of heading to Whitstable and Brighton and Cambridge and Windsor and Kingston, and those are just the few I can think of right here right now.