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Wadham College is one of the few colleges founded by a woman - Dorothy Wadham -, who used her husband Nicholas's heritage to found the college in 1610, a year after his death, when she was 75 years old! Interestingly, despite being founded by a female, women were not allowed in the college at all, except for the laundress who had to be of "such age, condition, and reputation as to be above suspicion". Wadham only changed this in 1974 when women were allowed to be members of the college.
Wadham is a nice example for early 17th century architecture - not laden with numerous gargoyles, but rather plain and clear. Opposite the entrance, you can see the hall which is, if you're lucky enough to get a glimpse in, as beautiful a place to eat as you can imagine. On its outside, two statues commemorate Nicholas and Dorothy Wadham. To the left of the hall, hidden in a passageway, is the entrance to the chapel. In the college's early days, every student and every fellow had to visit a service twice a day: at 5am and at 8pm! Compared with other college chapels in Oxford, Wadham's is not too special, so you do good to step out again and into the wonderful college garden. Whenever you come here, there are always blooming flowers. A vast lawn stretches between numerous trees, and in summer, there are open-air theatre plays staged here. If you go to the corner diagonally opposite the passageway, you can take a look through the gate towards the Fellows' Garden. It's private like so many of the college gardens, but a very nice place to be.
For some newer architecture go to the other end of the front quad and walk through the passageway on that side. Climbing up the stairs to your left, you will come across the modernist library and next to it several dormitories which always remind me of some kind of holiday apartments in Spain or France.
While Wadham's most prominent member was Christopher Wren, the architect of London's St Paul's Cathedral, the college now has a reputation to be a left-wing college, sometimes called "The People's Republic of Wadham". Among its more recent well-known members was Michael Foot, former leader of the Labour Party.
Updated Apr 10, 2013
Address: Parks Road
For a very nice view over Oxford you might want to visit South Park (ca. 20min away from the city centre). This park stretches up on a hill between Headington Road and Morrell Avenue and thus provides a great and unhindered view over the "city of dreaming spires" as Oxford is often called. You can see Magdalen College, St. Mary the Virgin, Radcliffe Camera and many more of the city's towers and landmarks. The view should be especially beautiful at sunset when the sun sets just behind the silhouette of the city centre.
Updated Apr 10, 2013
Address: Headington Road / Morrell Avenue
I don't mean the wonderful architecture of the Medieval colleages, nor the classic architecture of later university buildings such as the Radcliffe Camera.
I just mean the ordinary architecture of Oxford' city centre. Not the modern stuff..I'm afraid some of that is truly horrible. Town planners too often have little taste and less vision. But some of Oxford's buildings from the 1700s and 1800s, and some from even earlier, still remain.....though you'll often have to look above the plate-glass frontages of businesses below.
Cornmarket is a good example of this. Look above KFC and The Works and all the other busy shops and cafes and you'll see a hugely variable roofline, with buildings from many different periods.
Or walk the narrow side-streets, away from the crowds.
There is more to central historical Oxford than its colleges.
Written Mar 10, 2013
Address: Central historical area.
While the architecture of Oxfordshire provide a great source of fascination, don't forget to look around you for quirky things. Inside the Oxford town market just along High Street, there is a butcher's shop (called Brown's, I think) that displays the world's oldest piece of meat, still intact and somewhat gruesome at the grand old age of 100+ years. It is only so well preserved because the piece of meat became infected with a certain disease-- the finer details escape me.
I think I was too busy gaping at the meat itself...
Updated Mar 8, 2013
We had a quick look of the city, with most of our short time dedicated to the university. That gave us the idea that the city lives to and around the university.
Wrong idea? Maybe, but only a less pressed visit will allow to check.
Updated Oct 27, 2011
One of the main reasons why I love Oxford is the fact that the city is so green. Not only does every college have its quad and garden(s), not only are there several beautiful parks scattered all over the city, but there are also many nature reserves that are just lovely if you are looking for a quiet place to relax and watch the clouds pass by. Iffley Meadows is my favourite for this pastime - a huge unkempt meadow dotted with hundreds of thousands of buttercups in spring, surrounded by old windswept willows. Aston's Eyot, on the other side of the Thames just opposite one of the boathouses, is an even wilder strip of nature. A few paths lead through this wasteland which is a habitat for birds and other animals (even deer!), partly overgrown by shrubs and trees. You can find many a tranquil place here in case Oxford's more touristy parts start to annoy you. I very much enjoy grabbing a good book and finding a place next to the river where I'm not disturbed by anybody.
Updated Jul 10, 2011
We took a 2-hour guided walking tour of Oxford on our first day there. Several companies and individuals offer such tours, and we chose the one organized by the Oxford Tourist Information Centre (TIC) because we felt more confident booking the tour at the official tourist information bureau.
The group was not too big (about 15) and multi-national. The guide was a very nice lady who was very knowledgeable about every building and every piece of history, an Oxford resident who could also give us her personal perspective, which was interesting. In somewhat over two hours we got a good grasp of central Oxford, its history, its architecture, but also about university rules and traditions and the social life of the colleges.
During most of the tour we only saw the buildings' exterior, but we also entered two colleges, St John's and Wadham, and toured them at a leisurely, enjoyable pace.
This was a very good introduction to Oxford.
Updated Jun 25, 2011
Address: Oxford TIC, 15-16 Broad St., Oxford OX1 3AS
This might not be something that the average Oxford visitor does, but it's definitely worth it: see one of the world's most beautiful cities from above. Really high above - from a hot-air balloon! My wife and I were given a voucher for a flight for our wedding, and it turned out to be one of the best presents ever. Our flight took place in mid-April on a beautiful sunny day. We left the ground in a small village south of Oxford after unfolding the giant balloon, filling it with hot air and being briefed by John, the pilot. Soon the fields and meadows, the villages and church spires, the streets and forests were way beneath us and we enjoyed a marvellous 360° vista. The rape fields were in full bloom, the sun illuminated the south English countryside which I have come to like so much - it really was a dream come true. Some kilometres away we could see Oxford. The "City of Dreaming Spires" looked as lovely from above as it does from ground level - but we could see everything at once. The huge spire of St. Mary the Virgin was easily discernible, around it the numerous college buildings with Christ Church's Tom Tower another well-known sight. Even my own college, Exeter, could be seen. Unfortunately, due to lack of wind we didn't actually move very far. Only 1.5 km away from where we started did we go down again. We landed on a pasture only to find that its gate was locked. The rest of the balloon team started to ask the village inhabitants if they had the key for the lock and eventually were lucky. We folded the balloon together and stuffed it into its box. Incredibly, it did fit in. Back to the meadow we started from, a glass of champagne and a certificate that we had done our balloon flight, and a great day was over.
Several balloon companies operate around Oxford, but we chose Oxford Balloon. They use a balloon for 6 people which ensures that it's not as crowded as in larger balloons that can transport up to 16 people. Prices range from £125 to £145 per person, depending on how many people book at the same time. The way the balloon takes is entirely dependent on the wind strength and direction. Despite our wish to "really" see Oxford from above, we could only see it from some kilometres away (which, thanks to my 420mm zoom, was not so much of a problem). But the flight was nonetheless one of the best experiences in my life!
See more pictures in my travelogue!
Updated May 8, 2011
Address: 97 Whitecross, Wootton, Nr Abingdon, Oxon OX13 6BS
Phone: 01235 537429
Despite being born near Oxford I've never been on a guided tour of the city ...until now. I chose 'Oxford Walking Tours' because they have a clear, easily accessible webpage of information and also have hourly tours at the weekend. 'Oxford Walking Tours' are not run by the Tourist Information Office, but by a dapper guy called Stuart. Each tour takes about 1 and half hours and the price includes admission to a few Oxford colleges (dependant on which ones are open on that date/time).
My tour was on a busy Saturday lunchtime but we soon found ourselves in the quiet, leafy back streets. We were taken into New College (not new at all, includes some very intact medieval city walls) and University College (the oldest college, not open to the general public). Stuart was certainly very interesting, knew a great deal about the Oxford college system and also seemed to know more about Harry Potter than was healthy for a man of his age!!
All in all I was not disappointed. If I had one criticism it would be that the tour group was quite large (28) and would have been more enjoyable if a bit smaller and more manageable. Avoid busy bank holiday weekends!
But as Stuart pointed out, vehicles are not allowed into the oldest parts, certainly not double-decker tour buses; walking the old streets of Oxford is the best way to see the city!
Written Apr 26, 2011
Address: Meet outside the blue gates in Broad Street.
This is a tip-top centre for exhibitions of 'cutting edge' modern art. It has been in existence for 40 years and I have been visiting for at least 25 of them! The exhibitions are generally of national and international standard. Several large galleries on various levels, plus a large shop for books, magazines and souvenirs. And a pleasant coffee shop in the basement.
Check their website to see what is on.
FREE ADMISSION. GENERALLY OPEN 10am to 5pm (to 7pm weekends). CLOSED MONDAYS.
Updated Apr 26, 2011
Address: 30 Pembroke Street, Oxford
Phone: 01865 722733
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