Thursday, 10 September 2009


OxfordThose who have never visited Oxford may expect to find the ancient university town with dreaming spires pictured in guidebooks, but Oxford is a bustling industrial city with a serious traffic problem. Happily, that doesn't stop the historic centre retaining much orginal charm and some of England's finest medieval buildings.

They (with others constructed in subsequent centuries) are home to the English-speaking world's oldest university - though Oxford was a prestigioius town with important religious houses and a charter from Henry II, before the first college was founded in 1249, Since then, Parliaments have been held, martyrs burned, Charles I was based here dring the English civil war and his son came during London's Great Plague in the 1660s.

The imprint of such events may be found on Oxford's historic fabric - go by train or use Park and Ride from the edge of town to enjoy exploring on foot. Look out for Christ Church Cathedral (both Cathedral and college chapel), the Radcliffe Camera (a circular Palladian library building); Wren's Sheldonian Theatre; University Church of St Mary the Virgin (13th century); Magdalen College; Tom Tower; The Bridge of signs; the Covered Market (opened in 1774).

Of course there's a whole lot more to discover, including all those locations for Inspector Morse's investigations, but that's the joy of the place - get a wonderful view of everything from Carfax Tower in the centre of town, all that remains of 13th-century St Martin's Church.

One unmissable highlight of an Oxford visit is the Ashmolean Museum with its eclectic collections, ranging from antiquities of Ancient Greece and Egypt to Picasso paintings. Look out for curiosities like the lantern carried by gunpowder plotter Guy Fawkes, Oliver Cromwell's death mask and Lawrence of Arabia's ceremonial Arab outfit. Surely such cultural delights are worh half a day!

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