On any journey, time can become your enemy. Regardless of the length of time I have abroad, there are things that have to be cut from our list of things to see. In France, the list was long indeed and I’ve quietly promised myself that I’ll be back to do the country justice (although I’ve no idea where I’m going to find the months that I’ll need). In the United Kingdom we had to skip Northern Island completely (not to mention neighbouring Ireland. We spent a single day in the Welsh Capital of Cardiff when we could have spent days exploring the countryside, and in four days we missed more things than I can possibly imagine across England.
A perfect illustration of how much time can work against the urge to explore, on this trip, was Oxford. We arrived by train with a single afternoon free to look around, already certain that we were short changing ourselves. The next morning we would travel to Woodstock for an appointment before travelling on to London for Christmas and our flight back to Amsterdam on Boxing Day.
As we walked into town from our room near the train station, the first site we came across (apart from the atmospheric streets) was the Oxford Castle and old Prison. The Norman Motte and Bailey castle was built around 1071 after the Norman Invasion and has been used over the years for defense and control of the area, as a prison, and more recently as a hotel and tourist attraction. We spent an hour taking a tour of the site which included the tower and view over the city and the crypt (the only remains of the Norman Chapel) as well as a detailed rundown of the workings of the penitentiary. Before moving on, I took a stroll up the Motte at the entrance to the site which would have been the site of the original keep – well worth the five minute walk to stand at the top of a site that was constructed in the Middle Ages, a period that I’ve been teaching for a number of years.
The only drawback of our tour was that it left little time (or light) remaining to explore the Oxford University buildings the dot the town or anything else. Unperturbed by the loss of illumination we wandered through the streets enjoying the yellow glow of the streetlights on old stone. Our wanderings took us to Christ Church College where the security guard (in his fittingly dapper bowler hat) allowed us to peek into the main quad from Tom Tower. We walked on finding the Board walk and eventually reaching Radcliffe Camera by ways of Merton Walk, Grove Walk and the excellently creepy sounding Dead Man’s Walk. My lingering at the Castle had cost us the opportunity to explore the Camera so we instead made our way through the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin and back towards the station and our room.
A little further down High Street we found our way into The Covered Market of Oxford – a fantastic little indoor market complete with butcheries adorned with Christmas hams and turkeys hanging from the shop fronts and one of the gastronomical highlights of our short stay in the United Kingdom – Pieminister. I had wandered away from Linh and the others for a few minutes and found myself in the store looking at the brilliant range of pies. It was lucky I slipped off when I did as I arrived right on closing and was only able to grab one pie before the doors closed for the Christmas break. The pie was divine and far better than the eventual spot we ate.
There was one final surprise for me before we made it back to our room, as we left the market alleyway we came across a small pub crammed into a side street. The Crown, as it was called, was a cosy little spot that has reportedly been running for three centuries. The spot was apparently a favoured haunt of William Shakespeare during his journeys to Oxford. I would have loved to dine there (the pub was right beside a McDonalds which was an interesting juxtaposition) however the rainy weather meant that all available space was taken.
If we were able to see so much in a few short hours of listless wandering – clearly the volume of missed experiences in Oxford (and by extension England, Europe and everywhere I’ve travelled) is truly staggering. I suppose it’s about time to get back out there!