A March 2002 trip
to Oxford by moatway
Quote: Oxford is a great excursion base as well as an interesting site. Stratford-on-Avon and Warwick are just a short drive away.
As a teacher of Shakespeare, I enjoyed Stratford immensely, but limited our visit to the three Shakespearean houses in the town itself. I thought that it was enough.
Warwick Castle will remain one of my most memorable castle visits. Owned by the Tussaud group, it features wax figures demonstrating the castle's existance in the middle ages and in late Victorian times.
The white house sits behind an equally white wall with a rather diminutive sign (you'll need good eyes for the sign) proclaiming simply, "Pembroke House"...no indication that it is an extremely nice B&B. There are three levels of hospitality here beginning at a double-bedded room at 50 pounds and going to the Master Suite at 80 pounds. Either by luck or misadventure, we stayed in the Master Suite. Taking it as a positive omen for the rest of the trip, I couldn't have been happier.
The master suite is large and comfortable and French doors overlook a garden that must be beautiful later in the spring. Apart from a large bed and seating, it features an eating area and a fully equipped bathroom.
The host, who lived downstairs, was extremely congenial and delivered a huge breakfast in the morning and as were all our hosts on this trip, a font of information on how to get around. To see pictures and a map, go to smoothhound and go to Oxford.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 15, 2003
379 Woodstock Road
(1865) 310 782
Shakespeare was famous in his own day, and a prosperous man he became, owning good property in the area. His birthplace became a pilgimage site during the nineteenth century when famous writers and poets would scratch their names or initials on the glass in the window of the house. Scott, Carlyle and Henry Irving would all leave their mark . . . one wonders today if they weren't just young vandals or members of the literati who wanted their names associated with the great bard.
The house is as late medieval as a 16th-century home should be, and to be honest, what it may lack in "style", it makes up for in its ghosts. A lot of what you see in these places is illusion, stage management, and that is all true of this place . . . but to imagine that you are walking on floors once walked upon by the young man, that this is the room of his birth is quite "a rush".
The house is not grand. Shakespeare's father made his money in the leather trade and became an important city official . . . it was this link to city government that probably exposed the young Shakespeare to the world of the travelling theatres of the 16th century. People visit, not for the sight of riches, but for the reputation and the works of one of the greatest playwrites to ever pick up a pen.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on September 15, 2003
Stratford-Upon-Avon, England CV37 6QW
44 (0) 01789 204 016
Attraction | "Nash's House/Hall's Croft - Stratford-Upon-Avon"
Hall's Croft was the home of Shakespeare's eldest daughter, Susanna, who had married a doctor, John Hall. Of the three homes on this tour, it was the one that I personally enjoyed the most, simply because it had the most substance. The house is a pleasant tribute to life in the 17th century and to the medicine of that time.
Nash's House / Hall's Croft
Chapel St / Old Town Rd.
As we approached the site (after the ticket booth) we came upon "the archer". We had a great exhibition of the use of a longbow against a dummy with shield using the castle wall as a backdrop. I'm not sure how one hires an archer, but this one had the gift of well-rehearsed gab and kept a crowd of onlookers amused for some time.
On entry to the castle proper, the tourist discovers that he is in two castles . . . one alive and well in the medieval period and one that is gracious and gentille in 1898. The castle is owned by the Tussaud Group and they have used it to demonstrate life in the castle (using incredible wax mannikins) separated by 400 years. It really doesn't matter which you see first . . . both are brilliant.
The medieval tableau shows Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick, as he prepares to go to war in France in 1471. As one procedes through the tableaux, the story is told through the conversations of characters portrayed in wax. There are the exciting preparations, the battle and finally the death of Neville, caught on the battlefield fallen in his suit of armour, his throat slit.
The Victorian period is demonstrated in the comfortable later rooms at a week-end party held by Francis, Countess of Warwick in 1898. You will recognize some of the guests, a young Winston Churchill and a future king, who is lighting his pipe as he sits on a bench.
The Tussaud exhibitions are marvellous but the castle also contains gracious state rooms and a notable art collection. Oh yes . . . and the other things that a castle should contain, a dungeon and a torture chamber.
There are other sights in the area of Warwick town, but Warwick castle is a must-see . . . and I must add that we were able to see it in March and were able to revel in the lack of other sightseers.
center of Warwick
Oxford, England CV34 4QU
+44 (0)870 442 2000
Attraction | "Oxford Walking Tours"
Hitting a fast pace, our mixed group set off through the colleges of Oxford. Some we were to see through the gates, as they were not open to the public, some we entered. It was invaluable to be able to travel with someone who knew where they were going and who had some "privileged access" as a licensed guide. The university colleges lie within a reasonably compact area, so in a couple of hours, we were able to see a fair amount.
Christ Church and the Tom Quad we were only able to look at although we visited the chapel which has the distinction of being ordained as England's smallest cathedral.
Our most complete tour was of Merton College, which was founded in 1264 and is probably one of the premier sights at the university. Its Mob Quad is the oldest at the school and we were able to see the 14th century library (the first library to put its books on shelves), the chapel and dining hall.
I must admit that it became a bit of a blur, particularly as we were viewing exteriors for the most part. The tour ended, however with visits to the Sheldonian Theatre and the Bodleian Library. The Sheldonian was Sir Christopher Wren's first work and was designed to hold university ceremonies such as graduations. It really is an interesting building. One enters the Bodleian through the Old Schools Quadrangle (1613). In the Quadrangle is the Tower of the Five Orders, a celebration of the five classical orders of architecture. Opposite it, one can go into the divinity School which is celebrated for its vaulting.
With that, the tour ended, but the best part was the knowledge that we had gained about how Oxfordian education works--quite different from a North American campus.
After the tour it is possible to wander through some of the colleges that you have missed, but I was surprised on the number that had "Closed to the public" or "Check with the Porter" signs up. There is considerably more to see if you are not on overload already.
Tourist Information Centre
Oxford, England OX1 2DA
+44 1865 726871
Attraction | "St. Mary the Virgin Church - Oxford"
The Radcliffe Camera is closed to the public, but its Baroque styling is unique to its surroundings and the church tower offers an excellent view.
St. Mary the Virgin Church
Oxford, England OX1 4AH
Riverview, New Brunswick