Although Sunday might seem ideal for a day trip for some people, others find it rather inconvenient to travel the day after a big night out. That was the predicament my friend Amy found herself in when I suggested visiting Oxford on a Sunday. As much excited as she was about getting to see a famous British city for the first time, Amy wasn’t about to sacrifice her lively social life on a Saturday night, and thus, a massive hangover was in order.
“Well, you know what’s the best hangover cure,” I said. “Just keep drinking.”
What I didn’t know is that my little joke would actually set the tone for our entire journey, and what’s more, I would have never suspected that the view of Oxford is never finer than from a howdah positioned on a pink elephant’s back.
If you’re travelling from London to Oxford, it might be useful to know you can get a round-trip ticket for £16.90 when you travel in groups of three or more. As my friend Pauline was also in the mix, we requested group discount rates and open return tickets. Over the course of the hour it takes from London to Oxford, we met a student from the latter who showed himself eager to give us some local insight. While I tend to rely on my friend Dr. Google for travel advice, I decided to amuse our new-found companion with the sole purpose of ticking off an item on my bucket list. As you probably know by now, meeting an Oxford student was part of my travel itinerary, right under paying a visit to the University of Oxford.
Our – because now we own him – Oxford student rightly suggested that taking a stroll around the historic centre was enough to delight any seasoned traveller. Since we didn’t come under that category and instead suffered from a serious case of dehydration, he recommended visiting a pub named The Eagle and Child, famous for housing “The Inklings” literary group, whose members included J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. That information was enough for me to picture the pub as a portal to Middle Earth and Narnia. Getting travel advice from posh locals is not so bad after all, I thought, until he suggested that Lewis Carroll was part of “The Inklings” literary group. Whoa! Whoa!
What! In the afterlife?
“Didn’t Lewis Carrol live in a previous century?”
“I actually study science so I don’t know much about those writers,” he said.
Classic! And I thought Oxford students were superhumans.
The Eagle and Child
I wish I could say this was the first stop in our boozy route, but there was a bar right outside the station – the chain Werherspoons, which may have nothing to do with Oxford in terms of culture but they were hosting a beer festival, and according to Wikipedia, a festival is an event celebrated by a community focusing on some characteristics that define that community. Now then, I bet Oxonians drink beer, so that’s cultural enough for me.
Whether you want to embrace your inner alcoholic or not, the Bird and Baby – as Tolkien and Lewis referred to the pub – is an unmissable stop in Oxford. With delectable meat pies, a hip ambience, and historically significant installations, The Eagle and Child won’t disappoint. In the very least, you shouldn’t miss the spot which sparked great writers’ imagination and influenced the development of 20th century English literature. Ohh and have I mentioned affordable gin and tonic?
Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Shop: The Old Sheep Shop
Entering this shop is like falling down the rabbit hole for both shopaholics and fantasy lovers alike. In the case of my friend Pauline, who fits into the former category, the psychedelic effect of the drug lasted a whole hour, while the endless Alice in Wonderland’s souvenirs didn’t get me higher but triggered a seizure in my head instead. Meanwhile, Amy skipped the mentally deranging experience altogether and resumed her drug shopping in Tesco where she came back loaded up with cans of Pimm’s and Ginny Weasley. This proves gin and tonic can grow to be a central character in literature.
Named after the Old Sheep Shop described in Alice in Wonderland‘s sequel Through the Looking-glass, this fascinating gift shop appears to be designed by time lords as it’s bigger on the inside. From memorabilia, souvenirs and gifts, Alice’s shop is “full of all manner of curious things” linked to the Alice in Wonderland stories.
I’m going to echo Alice by saying, “Well, this is the very queerest shop I ever saw!”
Radcliffe Camera & the Red Leaves of Autumn
Boasting aesthetically impressive architecture with colourful ivy creeping up the walls, Oxford is a joy to the senses all year round. It’s in autumn, however, when the city blooms into multiple shades of red, yellow, purple, orange, and magenta.
On our expedition through the city, we walked by the Radcliffe Camera, which is a neo-classical building that houses the science library of the university, and walked around campus. There I discovered that Oxford students like to walk around wearing nothing but their pyjamas and slippers. So next time somebody criticises for wearing my Harry Potter PJ’s around Notting Hill, I’ll remind those haters that Richard Curtis is an Oxonian alumnus and he wrote a film named after the neighbourhood so now he owns it.
Upon justifying my wandering son my nightwear based on bookworms’ fashion choices, we made our way to the Oxford Castle. Although we didn’t enter, we climbed up a hill near the castle from where you get a breathtaking view of the city.
Past the botanic gardens and a green area where we laid down for a while, we headed to the river with every intention of renting a boat. As it was already getting late, however, we opted for having our last drinks in a park by the river. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go punting if you get the chance. It’s a great opportunity to see the city from a different perspective.