Outstanding Oxford

I have a soft spot for Oxford. I had been taken there as a kid on a number of occasions. In 2014 a friend and I walked the Thames path in 9 days. The first few days were somewhat boring and then….. Oxford. The ‘dreaming spires’, the curious colleges, the stunning architecture, the plethora of push bikes, the pubs – surely this is a poet’s dream. Publishing brands of renown, well known industrial brands, history etched all over, museums, etc. Perhaps most tourists are drawn to its filming locations as used in the Harry Potter films or sit and muse over Morse, Lewis and now Endeavour episodes-so far, I haven’t been tempted in.

Oxford must surely be one of the jewels in the English crown, and along with Bath is one of my favourite places in this extraordinary country of my birth. I made it my intention to visit this place when I completed that Thames path odyssey, and ever since that time I’ve always thought why it was that I didn’t discover this place earlier.

My normal route to the city seems to be on a bus these days, although arriving by train and foot has been ticked off! To use the bus is very unlike me. Enjoying the view as I am carried along, the excitement builds as I travel up the Woodstock Road, past St Giles church and see through the tree lined St Giles Avenue the Martyrs memorial. The sight of this structure is the realisation that I have arrived at the heart of this wonderful city. Oxford delivers so much by way of diversity. It is apparent in that first glimpse as religion, pubs, museums, colleges all meet at that one site.

The Martyrs memorial requires some research. I find out that the 3 people commemorated on it were from Tudor times. Bishops Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer were all burnt at the stake for their beliefs. This statue wasn’t raised until 300 years after their brutal deaths. It is claimed that the road level cross in the middle of Broad Street tarmac marks the actual spot rather than the site of the memorial.

Oxford captivates my curiosity; its prestigious pedigree as a leading educational institute has been built up over many a century.  One wonders why I’m so fascinated with this as I never had an interest in higher education. I’m not going to bore you in this blog with the individual beauty and splendour of these colleges, but challenge you to explore it for yourself, for it will truly blow your mind. This aspect is probably worthy of its own blog…. watch this space.

Oxford and its surrounding areas boast the most delightful pubs, full of charm and character, and deliver local brews. It’s not surprising to see why they have made it into so many episodes of Morse, Endeavour, etc. The Trout Inn, The Eagle and Child, Turf and Tavern, Lamb and Flag, and White Horse are among those that have been blessed with celebrity visits, used as TV sets or provided inspiration for writers. As pubs become a part of yesteryear, (they are closing at an alarming rate over here), one cannot beat an evening after work just pub crawling around the many quaint pubs. It could be argued that this is one of the best ways to explore Oxford.

Opposite the White Flag pub is perhaps one of my favourite areas of Oxford and includes the Sheldonian Theatre, Bodleian Library and Radcliffe camera sandwich. These iconic buildings are surrounded on all sides by a number of the university’s colleges. These beautiful buildings are one of my favourite views in this country.

Another fascinating part of Oxford is the number of museums it possesses. The Ashmolean is best described as Oxford’s answer to the British Museum and probably deserves its own blog. The River Pitts museum is madness. The building itself is tremendous was filled with excited children and perhaps they were slightly off putting as regards this curious and quirky collection. Granted I visited both museums on a wet and wild day in the school holidays. The calm and peace of the Ashmolean meant I was able to study and challenge my limited knowledge. The crazy Arthur Pitts was manic.

Perhaps Oxford’s best view is from above. It led the Victorian poet to describe it as ‘a city of dreaming spires’. I’m still trying to find my favourite to enjoy the view (perhaps Carfax Tower is a candidate) but one cannot argue with this description.

As I keep returning to this wonderful place I discover somewhere new and intriguing each time. This blog has only scratched the surface of this incredible place. Until next time Oxford – I cannot wait.

Oxford, England, United Kingdom

Brunel’s Bristol

Bristol has been a huge part of my life, and it saddens me that it has only taken me until now to fully explore it. Probably not best to be explored by foot as its sights are widespread and it is hilly as well, I did so anyway. Racking up the kilometres I managed to visit all of Brunel’s masterpieces.


Bristol’s location is a puzzle to me as it is a long way from the Bristol Channel. Surely a port at the edge of the land would have been an ideal location for ships and transportation links. Why bring all the ships up to the harbour in the city centre? This route is a glorious passage up through the Avon gorge, as it meanders its way from the Bristol channel to Bristol’s city centre. Presumably the river is deep and wide enough to allow the size of ships that obtained in the nineteenth century to float up to the city centre when Bristol saw much traffic. This could only be achieved by the lock system. The gorge towers up on either side, and when the tide goes out leaves nothing but a mucky mud view. One of Brunel’s engineering creations is the stunning suspension bridge that crosses high above the gorge with more modern advancements meaning that lower bridges and roads have been put in place. Upon crossing these it was fascinating to discover that Brunel had built a swivel bridge and wonder at how much of the docks he built.

The suspension bridge may be viewed from a number of surrounding locations. Certainly, the Clifton side is the best viewing spot. If you can manage to drag yourself away from this wonderful view, wander through this posh neighbourhood of Bristol. I did exactly that as I went in search of Cabot’s tower. Not so keen on Cabot’s tower (some bad memories and all that) I was tour guide for my dad the day we visited, so I felt it had to be included. On arriving and passing a number of elegant buildings I was surprised to find that one could walk up the tower for free! What a shock, when just about everything else touristy in this country has a charge associated with it. Well done Bristol!

Upon leaving the park, we were in front of the SS Great Britain. What was once the largest steamship ever to be built and the first to cross the Atlantic looks nothing compared to the ships that travel the oceans these days. Its amazing to think of the number of times that I have been in Bristol and have never visited this iconic ship. Another piece of work by Brunel, but perhaps I have not visited being put off by the price to visit this ship. The ship is moored in the floating harbour, a walk around here is well worth the views on a summer’s evening. At the western end of the harbour a few charming pubs exist alongside the locks; in the centre is the massive M Shed, guarded by 4 former ship cranes. This harbour lacks the volume of boats you would normally associate with most harbours probably due to its awkward entry and exit to the channel. Perhaps the larger ships use Avonmouth. During one weekend in the summer months this place turns into a harbour fest. The city, which I deem pleasant to visit at any time, becomes a hive of activity then and really buzzes.

A short walk from the harbour in either direction is the cathedral or city centre I am not one for shopping so I avoid the shops – just like the rest of the country seems to be doing but, no doubt, for other reasons! Instead I take a visit to the city’s cathedral. Amazingly this place is free to enter as well! Double bonus points, Bristol. So many of the English cathedrals seem to charge an exorbitant entrance fee. I believe this cathedral to be one of the larger in the country and a visit inside does little to contradict that. A visit to this wonderful piece of architecture is a must for anyone. One thing that surprised me was that the stained glass windows in most of the building weren’t the normal religious depictions that one would expect. This as a result of the bombings in the war which meant that most of the windows were blown out. The church decided to replace them with memories of those who helped Bristol during the war.

Drag myself away from here and across the college green and make a way up Park Street. Normally I make my way down it in a drunken state, but this time I was drawn to what I thought was another church on top of the hill. On closer inspection I was proved wrong. This is in fact a part of the university.

After finally looking at what Bristol has to offer, rather than what has always been for previous family visits or nights of drinking this place has blown my mind. If I had more time then I would like to look at one of Brunel’s great engineering feats, the railway. There are many other wonderful places yet to discover in this fascinating city.

Bristol, England, United Kingdom

Beautiful Bath

I don’t quite know how to go about my second blog but I decided to write about a place that seems to be capturing more of my heart every time I visit. To my way of thinking I haven’t been to a more charming, peaceful or romantic place in all of England or the world. Perhaps I ought to get out more.

I had been to Bath as a youngster but just cannot remember anything about family visits. My memory of my first visit as an adult is of being distinctly underwhelmed by any beauty that the place possessed, but, slowly, mostly as a result of time spent with those who have graced me with their company when visiting, or even when exploring on my own, I have been captivated by its (unique?) charm.

The town’s small and compact footprint is appreciated best of all by standing on one of the surrounding hills which provide a stunning backdrop to this delightful town. Alternatively, a climb to the top of the abbey gives the view from the other direction. It is, without doubt, best explored by foot, allowing one to feel the energy that flows through its streets, its wonderful squares creating a sense of calm amid the excitement popping up elsewhere, usually associated with street performers of various energies and abilities. Every square is surrounded by cafes and restaurants which are normally full, have outside seating for one to feel the buzz in a detached and inactive way. Sit back, and soak up the atmosphere as the world passes by, those pockets of excitement coming from some street entertainment, more often than not a musical player or singer.

My favourite of the many is the main square though finding a suitable place to sit is often a challenge as these popular hotspots can’t cope with the demand. Seating is provided outside, but taking a place means to rely heavily on the British weather which, as Britons often remark, is unpredictable. When the sun is shining, though, it’s great to sit back and appreciate the view of the Abbey and the atmosphere it creates. This results in it becoming the main hub of activity as people flock to admire this fantastic building and the Roman Baths which are located on the edges of this square. I sit, admire the architectural lines and wonder how these buildings were ever created; how much time went into building them; the levels of dedication and devotion required; how they have managed to stand the test of time, etc. By this I mean that some people must have spent their whole lives just building them. As we all marvel at the architecture around us we are joined by street artists and buskers, trying to earn their living from the obliging tourists. They add something very special to this electric atmosphere as these musicians are generally more talented than the wannabees you see on TV. Then there is the bird man; he captures the rats in the sky; and manages to coax them down, his targets being those people so determined to have the perfect Instagram photo.

Drag yourself away from the square and wander towards the river. It is here that the only part of Bath that disappointments – I refer to the iniquity that one is forced to pay to enter Parade Gardens – a travesty. I can’t understand the need to pay to enter, so as a matter of principle I’m left to enjoy the view from the walkway above. After appreciating the gardens on a five minute elevated walk, one follows the path around to get a first view of the famous Pulteney bridge. This iconic bridge, unique and famous just adds to the romance of the town or is it a city? When one walks across it one is blissfully unaware that there is water 15m or so below such is the abundance of shops and cafes to distract. Armed with a camera means that a different view is recorded by shifting a few metres each time and then clicking. Try to freeze the water in the photo as it cascades down the semi-circular weir or, conversely, try to capture moving water by an adjustment to the settings – what joy loaded with a single regret in that a tripod has been left at home. The bridge connects the main town to the Great Pulteney Road, a superb street packed with Georgian buildings, in a straight formation leading to the Holburn museum. The beauty of this house parade is, sadly, spoiled by the large number of cars parked on either side of the street – surely there is another way? Cars are such an important part of modern life but ruin the appearance of this historic and wonderful street.

As mentioned the Holburn Museum sits at the end of the street. Free entry is claimed by the literature although, understandably, a small donation is requested and best to pay as the frowns are palpable. Paying up front was a mistake as, sadly the museum, was wasted on me. I don’t understand art! The museum is situated in Sydney gardens, a small park with not much going for it. On walking through the park, I’m not drawn to anything else other than the fact there is a closed down and abandoned bowls club, a painful reminder of the current issues facing grass roots sport. If this country has more and more elderly people living in it and is struggling to run a bowls club, how are other sports going to survive? We have more and more older people – they can’t all be sitting at home playing computer games.

Upon leaving the park and crossing the railway line, I pick up part of the canal path – well worth the walk -giving spectacular views across the town dominated by the Abbey. Again, only as a result of visiting with someone, was I introduced to this pathway; it weaves its way around the edge of the town and furnishes brilliant views. There are many locks on this canal as it climbs out of the town through the surrounding hills, further evidence of this being a relatively modern town. I leave the path and follow the signs for Prior Park. I had high expectations for Prior Park gardens (National Trust), all the pictures I had seen had portrayed a mirror lake, rare bridge and gardens. Maybe it’s the long and steep climb to get there or the dingy lake (were those pictures photoshopped?) but I was not impressed and the walk did not seem worth it (800 metres at 1 in 10). I appreciate the work that goes in to preserve these places for us to enjoy but it appeared that green algae had troubled the efforts this year.

After completing this part, I return to the Abbey and main square. It’s here that I plan my next route which is to head towards Victoria Park via the circus. As one leaves the square and wander along the high street, I’m drawn to the alarming number of ‘to let’ signs in abandoned stores. Is it a sign of the ever-changing society in which we live? Are commercial juggernauts and the internet taking over and killing this country? How many pubs and shops cannot survive anymore due to a lack of business? One only has to walk along the high street and everyone is glued to a phone, blissfully ignorant of all the beauty around them, whether it be people, shops, pubs, etc. The ability to only communicate through a phone deprives many of the beauty of both people and places that surround us as we live in a cyber world.

The high street is short enough that I don’t have to worry about it for too long before arriving at ‘the Circus’. Not formed in a square, this circular masterpiece is a gem. Houses surround a circular middle green all looking at each other like numbers on a clock face. Cars are the only caveat. Removing myself away from this circular wonder and making the final walk to Royal Victoria

Park, I am fascinated by the view of the ‘most majestic street in the UK’, the Royal Crescent. It is hard not to argue with this statement. This is the masterpiece of the younger of the John Wood architects that had such a influence on this town’s design. Sit on the green and marvel at the view in front of you and let your mind wander through yesteryear (ignore the cars).

In my opinion no visit to Bath is complete without some time spent in Alexander park, a free beauty spot which is known to the locals but not to many outsiders. It provides exquisite views of the town. I would recommend driving up to it, but walking up would be worth the not inconsiderable effort.

Perhaps its location has meant that no one has wanted to fight over it and why it has become a place for relaxation and pleasure seeking. All that is needed is for folks to wrench themselves from their phones to lift eyes, move their legs and see what is around them.