I loved the contrast of the busy town with the open green spaces. Everywhere, within minutes of the main routes, were parks and river walks. We enjoyed watching the many grey squirrels at play, they were so tame. They were even in the car parks!
Not being a city person, it was lovely to just turn off the roads and enjoy the lovely, rural aspects of Oxford. The fact that Oxford sits on two rivers, the Isis (Thames) and the Cherwell. Water all around. There is always something to watch on the rivers, whether it's rowers in training or barges moving about or just a lone swan passing.
Go punting! (If it's summer)....
Go punting! (If it's summer). It's a fabulous local tradition (OK so they have it at Cambridge too but they stand on the Wrong End there). It's not exactly cheap but if there are 6 of you it doesn't work out too bad for a couple of hours. Take plenty of Pimms & Lemonade - it's the essential Oxford summer drink - but do NOT fall in or splash people (rumour has it the Cherwell harbours Viles' disease) and don't mess with the swans (they've been made vicious by stupid prats taunting them with sarnies).
There are punts for hire at Magdalen Bridge (High Street, Cherwell river), Folly Bridge (bottom of St Aldates, River Thames) and Cherwell Boathouse (north-east of the University Parks, Cherwell river). I think the Cherwell is best for punting as it is smaller, has no mad rowers to get entangled with & it doesn't get too deep, however it is still possible to lose your quant (pole) in the sticky mud (which is why you are also supplied with a paddle). If you forget your own Pimms, punt upstream from the Cherwell boathouse & you'll soon reach the Victoria Arms whose garden conveniently stretches down to the river...
Bicycling Around Town
Something that is quite remarkable, is of how many people travel everywhere by bicycle! Quite normal, you might say, since this is a university town. Yes, but the North American in me would tell you that even though many do the same at home, it is far from being in such great amounts. So definitely something to look up to! Something else that is quite remarkable is that they do not seem to be needing cadnesses...Something I would never dream of in my home city!
Visitors to Oxford may notice a rather high proportion of young people wandering the streets dressed very formally. If you see them early in the morning, it is likely they are returning from one of Oxford's numerous college balls, though they could possibly be on their way to exams - Oxford students still have to dress up in formal wear, called Sub-Fusc, to take exams. Very uncomfortable!
Cycling in Oxford (II) - Sandford and Wolvercote
For a nice little bike trip along the Thames I would recommend either going up the river to Wolvercote or down to Sandford. The former tour is a little longer (ca. 12km), the latter not as long (ca. 8km). Both tours start at Folly Bridge.
For Wolvercote cycle upstream. You will first pass a nice Oxford neighbourhood with many houses just next to the river (which are probably incredibly expensive). Later you will pass Osney Mill Marina where you can check out the yachts of rich Oxonians. Cross Botley Road and soon after you will find yourself in a tranquil inner-city river landscape. You can listen to the birds singing or watch the hippies living on some of the house boats. After 1km you'll have to cross another bridge and now Oxford gives way to nature completely. Along the river banks anglers sit silently while across the river, on Port Meadow, dogs chase birds or children chase dogs... This scenery goes on for the next 4km until you reach Godstow Nunnery, the remains of a monastery. There's not much to see, though, only some walls. Follow the little road behind it to the right, and you will reach a very popular pub (Trout Inn) which is great for a quick drink and a break. Just behind the pub is Wolvercote, from where you can go back to Oxford along the Oxford Canal. There are even more house boats here, swaying softly on its shores. Behind the boats are the gardens of Summertown and Jericho - it must be great to own one of them. The path along the canal will take you back to central Oxford.
The tour to Sandford takes you downstream along the Thames. To your left you will see Christchurch Meadow and the boat houses of the college's rowing teams. To your right you will pass Iffley Meadow, a nice place for a picknick or a little break. The meadows are a nature protection area, so refrain from picking flowers even if they grow in abundance. A little further on there is Iffley Lock (see another tip), but instead of ending your tour here, you just follow the Thames. After the huge bridge where the Ring Road crosses the Thames, you'll find yourself in peaceful nature: meadows, anglers, boats swaying on the river, many birds of all kinds. Go on for another 2km or so and you will reach Sandford Lock where there is a very nice pub (The King's Arms) which is the end of your tour. Unlike in the first tour you will have to go the same way back.
For more pictures see my Thames travelogue.