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South East Oxford

Mention Oxford to most people and they will immediately think of the University, the oldest in the English speaking world, dating from around the C12th. Student numbers grew and there was a decree that all students had to live in approved halls. This was the start of the collegiate system still in existence today with University College, Balliol and Merton being the oldest.

Now there are nearly 40 colleges scattered around the city, many tucked away on the network of narrow medieval streets. Most of the colleges are open for visitors. Popular colleges like Christ Church and Magdalene charge for entry.

The Hall of Christ Church was used as the dining room of Hogwart’s School in the Harry Potter films. The college chapel with Tom tower, also doubles up as the cathedral for the diocese of Oxford.

Magdalene College has some of the most extensive grounds of any Oxford College, complete with a Deer Park. The Old Kitchen Bar offers light meals and drinks to visitors when the college is open to the public. On May Morning, the college choir sings madrigals from the top the college tower to welcome summer and bless the city. The tradition is over 500 years old and a popular event for both town and gown.

Three colleges which are free and worth visiting are Worcester College with its very pleasant gardens and a stunning chapel with a William Burgess interior.

Exeter College (open 2-5) has a wonderful chapel designed by Gilbert Scott.

Exeter college.jpg

Exeter College Chapel.jpg

St John’s College is a large college on St Giles which was originally a Cistercian Monastery which provided a supply of priests. The chapel is almost insignificant from the outside but is impressive inside with its whitewashed walls and beamed ceiling.

St John's College Chapel.jpg

The Bridge of Sighs is a popular photo shot for tourists and links the two parts of Hertford College across New College Lane.

Bridge of Sighs.jpg

St Mary the Virgin with its splendid spire, is the University Church and has a very good cafe. Dating from the C13th, it was used for lectures and also awarding degrees. It was the University Court and the Oxford Martyrs were tried here for heresy in 1555, before being burnt at the stake in Broad Street.

St Mary the Virgin.jpg

St Mary the Virgin.jpg

They are commemorated by the Martyr Memorial at the intersection of St Giles, Magdalen Street and Beaumont Street.

Martyrs Memorial.jpg

Although each of the colleges has its own library, the Bodleian Library is still at the heart of University life and is one of the oldest libraries in Europe.

Bodleian Library.jpg

It is one of the few libraries in Britain which receives a copy of every book and magazine published in Britain. It is very much a working library, although it is also popular with film makers. Duke Humphrey’s Library was used in the Harry Potter films.

There is free entry to the outside of the buildings but there is a small charge to enter the Divinity school with its wonderful fan vaulted ceiling.

Divinity School.jpg

The rest of the buildings, including the Radcliffe Camera, can only be visited as part of a guided tour, which is well worth doing.

Radcliffe Camera.jpg

Culture is important with a wide choice of theatres and cinemas to choose from. There are also museums catering for every different interest from modern art to musical instruments.

The Ashmolean Museum was the world’s first university museum and is in a stunning late C17th building. It has recently been refurbished and covers art and archaeology with objects dating from 8000BC to the present day. It contains an equally stunning collection and should be on everyone’s tick list.

Opposite is the splendid Victorian Gothic Randolph Hotel, which featured in the Inspector Morse and Lewis TV programmes. It even has a Morse Bar. Named after an C18th university benefactor this is still THE place to stay in Oxford or for afternoon tea.

The Pitt Rivers Museum is accessed across the ground floor of the Natural History Museum (don’t miss the dodo) is an eclectic collection of anthropological artefacts collected in the C19th by the ethnologist Augustus Pitt Rivers during postings around the British Empire. The collection has grown exponentially since then as more items have been donated by other travellers, scholars and missionaries. It is an Aladdin’s cave with a very old fashioned approach and completely different to other museums. There is everything from shrunken heads to totem poles.

Oxford Castle dates from the C11th although most of it was destroyed during the Civil War. By the C18th it was the town prison until 1996. It is now a new tourist attraction with costumed guides leading tours to reveal the history of the castle, visiting the prison cells and climbing St George’s tower.

St Michael at the Northgate has a Saxon tower, which is one of the oldest surviving structures in the city.

St Michael at the Northgate.jpg

This is the easiest towers to climb if wanting views across the city, as it has a modern wooden staircase.

Oxford skyline.jpg

This is also the city church and the Mayor and Corporation attend Civic Services here several times a year.

St Michael at the Northgate.jpg

Carfax Tower in the centre of Oxford is all that is left of the Church of St Martin. It still has its bells and a clock that strikes the quarter hours.

Carfax Tower.jpg

Oxford is lucky as there are plenty of green spaces within the city. Christ Church Meadow bounded by the River Thames and River Cherwell, is a great palace to watch the ducks and punts on the river as well as squirrels. Port Meadow is an area of ancient grazing land, still with ponies grazing, that has never been ploughed. South Park is the largest park within the city with views across to the spires. This is a venue for many summer activities.

The Botanic Gardens are one of the oldest scientific gardens in the world and is one of the best with colourful herbaceous borders, rock and bog gardens and glasshouses. You can also join a guided tour and it also has a cafe.

The HOHO Sightseeing bus is a good way to get around Oxford with good views of the colleges. There are many different walking tours, including an Inspector Morse tour or you can explore by yourself.

There are boat trips or you could try your hand at punting, complete with a 'chauffeur' if you don’t want to punt yourself...
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