The tension has been ratcheting up over the last weeks as the day approached and last week Charles and I took a couple of days out for a little bonding. We went to Oxford and despite tensions it went well. Like me Charles is into photography, especially post-processing, so were able to indulge our passions together.
Oxford of course is ‘the other place’ and I’ve always has the idea that it’s more industrial, it’s a bigger city and it doesn’t have the charm that Cambridge has with the colleges along the Backs. All true of course but that doesn’t make it any less pleasant or interesting. Just different.
We arrived in time for lunch and went to the Eagle and Child: as frequented by JRR Tokein and CS Lewis and as featured more recently on Lewis. I guess it’s a match to Cambridge’s Eagle which was the haunt of the DNA brigade of Watson and Crick. For lunch it was just right. good slightly up market pub food and an excellent selection of wines by the glass. That set us up for a long afternoon walking the streets.
We did three colleges. St John’s and Nuffield were free, the latter pleasantly modern. We paid to go into New College, my CamCard cut no ice but my relationship with the Chancellor got me a reduced rate. And with it being September there were on undergraduates around and precious few tourists. We completed the round trip by walking along the Broad Walk which I guess is Oxford’s answer to the Backs.
Oxford is more of a town with a university than Cambridge although the shops and chain restaurants are generally the same. It doesn’t have the same historic centre/narrow streets which means that it seems to have a lot more buses and these go straight through the centre. Three bus companies are in evidence; there’s no Stagecoach monopoly. And in contrast with Cambridge there are bikes but not that many.
My first idea had been to stay at the Malmaison in Oxford. I’ve stayed once before, somebody else was paying the bill, and it’s a super elegant transformation of the old prison. However it’s also rather pricey so we stayed at The Feathers in Woodstock instead.
Woodstock is just about 10 miles outside Oxford and seems to have more than its fair share of good hotels, the Feathers was first class, and restaurants, we had dinner at the King’s Arms which was also excellent.
Of course you stay at Woodstock to go to Blenheim and we did just that on day 2. We entered by the Woodstock Gate and we were the first people in at 0900. It was a super morning with a soft September sun and as you drive in and look right you’ve got a jaw dropping view at the bridge over the lake. That on its own merits the world heritage status that Blenheim Palace has.
We spent the morning there, in the grounds and the gardens, and got just a glimpse of the Ai Wei Wei exhibition. But outside was plenty and the palace itself, the grand bridge and the tower of victory and splendid trees afforded lots of photo opportunities. The overall impact is breathtaking and I saw the grounds as a sort of cross between the Masters golf course in Atlanta and Jurassic Park.
I guess Cambridge’s answer to Blenheim is Ely Cathedral and I wouldn’t suggest that it is somehow less splendid than Blenheim. But Woodstock does seem to offer more quality hotel and restaurant options!
Finally: good honest pub fare at the Woodstock Arms and we were away. Tick for the bonding and a tick for getting a better assessment of Oxford and its surroundings.