Here’s an idea.
If you’re visiting London and intend to take our walk why not spend the day paying a visit to Oxford?
The “City of Dreaming Spires” is around an hour away by train and the cost of an off-peak day return ticket is £22.50. It is, therefore, possible to leave London on the 9.50am train, spend a leisurely day exploring the Oxford colleges return on the 4.01pm train and arrive in London for 5pm, giving you two hours to have a spot of dinner and get to our tour at 7pm.
So head for Paddington Station, aiming to arrive at 9.35am buy your ticket from the self-service machine and then take the 9.50am train (it will either be an Oxford or Moreton- in-the Marsh train. It’s the only way to travel. Go by coach or car and there’s a good chance you’re going to get stuck in traffic. By train you zoom through the lovely countryside and should arrive in Oxford a little before 11am.
Time is of the essence to begin with at first for reasons that will become apparent in a moment.
So put your best foot forward, turn right out of Oxford Station, go left at the traffic lights and start walking at a reasonable pace. Just before the bridge over the canal cross the road by the crossing, veer left and then right along the short stretch of canal. Go left and walk to the next crossing. Go right over the crossing, bear right on the other side, then go first left. Ahead of you is the imposing bulk of St George’s Tower of Oxford Castle (the castle was built by Robert d’ Oilly in 1071. Go in to the Castle compound and you’ll be surrounded by the buildings of Oxford Prison which closed in 1996.
Turn left and pass the Castle Mound on your left. On arrival at the main road go right. The building opposite is Nuffield College named for and founded by Lord Nuffield who, as William Morris, founded the car empire that bears his name. This building dates from the mid 1950’s.
Cross to the opposite side of the road and go left along Queen Street, a very busy shopping street. At its end on the left is the Carfax Tower, the towns church and the tower to which Oxford officials would retreat to in the long ago battles of town against gown.
Go right along St Aldates, cross to its left side and ahead of you is the distinctive and domed Tom Tower designed by Sir Christopher Wren in the 1681. Keeep ahead past the tower and turn left through the second set of gates and suddenly you’ll feel like you’ve been transported into the countryside. Ahead of you is Christchurch Meadow a lovely and idyllic place set on the banks of the rivers Thames and Cherwell. Keep an eye out for the Aberdeen Angus cattle that graze here.
Keep ahead along the gravel path and go left to enter Christchurch itself. It costs £8.50. Hurry to view the Great Hall which closes at 11.40am (that’s why you had to walk briskly!). Christchurch is unique in that it’s both an Oxford College and a Cathedral.
It was founded by Cardinal Wolsey in 1524 but when he fell from Henry V111’s favour it was re-founded by Henry in 1546 and eventually became The House of Christ in Oxford. As a result Christchurch is often referred to as “The House.”
The Hall is spectacular and was the model for the Hogwarts dining hall in the Harry Potter films.
Once you’ve visited the hall, pay a visit to the Cathedral. This was originally a monastic foundation where the shrine of Oxford’s patron saint St Frideswide was located. Although the shrine was broken up at the Reformation a small part of it has been re-assembled to give an idea of what a grand shrine it was.
Exit Christchurch and keep ahead along Merton Street. Pause on the right to admire the particularly fine grotesques that seem to have punched or even head-butted their way out of the wall of Merton College chapel.
Backtrack and go right along Magpie Lane then right along the High Street. The college you’ll pass on the right is University College, which was attended by Bill Clinton. Cross to the left side of the road, passing Queen’s College and go left along Queen’s Lane.
A little way along is the entrance to one of the smallest colleges St Edmund Hall, known usually as “Teddy Hall.” This is the only surviving example of the medieval halls in which scholars were originally tutored. It’s free to go inside and it’s truly charming.
Continue along Queen’s Lane and, when it turns sharply right, on the right is the entrance (admission £3) to New College, which was founded in 1379 and thus is anything but new!
The cloisters featured in a Harry Potter film and you can see photos of the cast beneath a tree on the lawn of the cloisters. The chapel is truly impressive. Keep an eye out for the window which was designed by Sir Joshua Reynolds. It shows the nativity at which Reynolds himself makes a guest appearance as one of the Shepherds!
Be sure to visit New College Gardens enclosed by one of the best preserved sections of the medieval city walls.
By this time your thoughts will be turning towards lunch. So continue along Queen’s Lane, passing the former home of Sir Edmund Halley – and the place where he predicted the return of the comet that now bears his name – and go next right along the very narrow alleyway that looks anything but inviting.
Don’t be put off by its shabby appearance because tucked away down this alley is one of Oxford’s most hidden pubs the 16th Century Turf Tavern, and an excellent place to rest your weary feet and enjoy a spot of lunch.
After lunch you will be exploring more of Oxford before catching the 4.01pm train back to London. But we’ll post the afternoon section of the Oxford Day trip tomorrow.
Till then, sit back and take a thirst quenching sip of that beer you’ve just bought! See you tomorrow.