Oxford – Nearly 40 colleges scattered around the city

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June, 2016

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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”:http://www.ox.ac.uk/visitors/visiting-oxford/visiting-the-colleges?wssl=1 for visitors. Popular colleges like “Christ Church”:http://www.chch.ox.ac.uk/plan-your-visit and “Magdalene”:http://www.magd.ox.ac.uk/discover-magdalen/visiting-magdalen/ 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”:http://www.magd.ox.ac.uk/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Magdalen-Grounds-and-Meadows-Map-Feb-2016.pdf 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,”:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZ1gUcKMHlo 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.

Two colleges which are free and worth visiting are “Worcester College”:http://www.worc.ox.ac.uk/visiting/location-and-opening-times with its very pleasant gardens and a stunning chapel with a William Burges interior and “Exeter College”:http://www.exeter.ox.ac.uk/node/162.html which has a wonderful “chapel”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/churches/england/cotswolds/oxfordshire/oxfordcity/exeter/index.html designed by Gilbert Scott. The Bridge of Sighs is a popular photo shot for tourists and links the two parts of Hertford College across New College Lane.

“St Mary the Virgin”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/churches/england/cotswolds/oxfordshire/oxfordcity/st_mary_virgin/index.html with its splendid spire, is the University Church. 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. It also has a very good cafe.

Although each of the colleges has its own library, the “Bodlean Library”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/presocialhistory/socialhistory/social/social/bodleian/index.html 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 charge to enter the Divinity school with its wonderful fan vaulted ceiling. The rest of the buildings, including the Radcliffe Camera, can only be visited as part of a “guided tour”:http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/whatson/visit/tours which is well worth doing.

Culture is important with a wide choice of “theatres”:https://www.oxfordcityguide.com/frmInfoCategory.aspx?acId=10 and cimemas to choose from. There are also “museums”:http://www.oxfordcityguide.com/ee2/index.php?/SeeDo/museums/ catering for every different interest from “modern art”:http://www.oxfordcityguide.com/ee2/index.php?/SeeDo/museums/ to “musical instruments”:http://www.bate.ox.ac.uk/ The “Ashmolean Museum”:http://www.ashmolean.org/ 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 is a stunning collection and should be on everyone’s tick list.

“Pitt River’s Museum”:https://www.prm.ox.ac.uk/ is accessed across the ground floor of the “Natural History Museum”:http://www.oum.ox.ac.uk/ (don’t moss 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 are shrunken heads to totem poles.

“Oxford Castle”:http://www.oxfordcastleunlocked.co.uk 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”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/churches/england/cotswolds/oxfordshire/oxfordcity/st_michael/index.html has a Saxon tower, which is one of the oldest surviving structures in the city. It is also one of the easiest towers to climb if wanting views across the city with a modern wooden staircase. This is also the city church and the Mayor and Corporation attend Civic Services here several times a year.

Oxford is lucky as there are plenty of green spaces within the city. Christ Church Meadows 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 and the venue for many summer activities. The “Botanic Gardens”:https://www.botanic-garden.ox.ac.uk/ is 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.

The “HOHO sightseeing bus”:http://www.city-sightseeing.com/tours/united-kingdom/oxford.htm is a good way to get around Oxford with good views of the colleges. There are many different “walking tours”:http://www.oxfordwalkingtours.com or you can “explore”:http://www.oxstreets.org.uk/index.php/on-foot-in-oxford by yourself.

There are “boat trips”:http://www.salterssteamers.co.uk/ or you could try your hand at “punting.”:https://www.dailyinfo.co.uk/guide/punting


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