A September 2001 trip
to Oxfordshire by zabelle
Quote: The second week of our trip was centered in Oxfordshire. The heart of England has something to offer everyone, art, antiquity,
antiquing and adventure.
From our rental cottage in Great Milton , 10 miles south of Oxford, we were able to visit not only that most venerable of college towns, but the Cotswolds, Stratford on Avon, and Jason even took the train to Bath. ALL of central England was within our reach.
This is a diverse area that includes the quiet of the rolling countryside and the speed of the motorway which can take you from Great Milton to Stratford in under an hour. For a more leisurely pace you can drive along the A roads through villages and towns.
There are many ways to entertain yourself in the Heart of England. Some of the Houses which I discussed in Lifestyles of the Rich and Richer are in this area. Waddesdon Manor, Blenheim and Woburn are an easy drive from Great Milton. There are also many lovely homes of a smaller scale that give another glimpse into the English Life of Privelege. This is an area steeped in history and I hope to be able to share a bit of what we found.
"Rye" was our Cottage, it consisted of 2 floors, with a living room with 2 chairs, dining area with 4 chairs, buffet and end table. there were several lamps but lighting in the living room was a gripe we had. There was loads of information in 2 looseleaf notebooks about things to see in the area, including market days in the adjacent towns. We also had a telephone and tv which, since we arrived there on Sept. 8 and stayed to the 15th, was very important to us.
The kitchen was small but well equipped. We had a fridge, stove, microwave, mixer, french press, electric teapot, plenty of dishes, cutlery, pots and pans. Sugar, salt and teabags, dish soap, dish towels and one garbage bag.
Upstairs we had a bathroom and 2 bedrooms. We took the Rye Cottage because it slept 3, one room was a single and one was a double. All the linen was provided, sheets, towels and even a blow dryer. Electricity was also included in the price.
Our friends had "Clover" which was all on one floor and slept 4 adults. The Peers supplied a cot for Will and a highchair.
Also on the premises were 2 washers and 2 dryers. These take a little getting used to. They are much smaller and take a lot longer than ours in the states and we spent quite a lot of time running back and forth to the laundry room.
There was also a room with a pingpong table which we didn''t find until our last day there.
The owners are very nice and checked in with us to make sure everthing was going well. They even offered to allow us to stay beyond our rental if we were not able to get flights back to the States.
The price for our unit was 300pds per week and for our friends 310. Renting gives us a lot more freedom than staying at a B&B. We can eat when we feel like it, sleep as late as we want and watch tv til all hours. We also save a lot of money by cooking dinner and breakfast at home.
I use Self Catering Holiday Homes which is put out every year by the English Tourism Council. Houses are rated on a key system and also a quality grading. View Farm has 4 keys and is highly commended.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 15, 2001
Views Farm Barns
What a charming inn it was. It was Whitewashed and black timbered, very English looking. When we walked in, we were the only ones there. Since it was a glorious sunny day we were a little taken aback. Maybe the food wasn't any good here, where were the customers?
One thing we learned very quickly, they weren't slow because the food wasn't good. On the contrary the food was excellent. The menu called it a Fine English Country Public House and indeed it was just that.
They were offering a carvery buffet for 7.25pds. This included roast beef, lamb, turkey, lasagna, roasted potatoes, cabbage, carrots, brocolli, yorkshire pudding, gravy, mint sauce, cranberry sauce, horseradish sauce, etc. It took a few minutes for them to get everything prepared to serve us but it was worth the wait.
I love lamb and I was not disappointed by the flavorful and tender offering here. With the fresh mint sauce it was just delicious. Al and Joe as usual ate their fill of roast beef and yorkshire pudding.
Even the vegetables which can really suffer on a buffet were nice and fresh, not all watery and wilted.
For dessert we had a blackberry and apple tart with cups of hot tea. We left fortified for our afternoon of sightseeing.
I almost wished that it had been a cold rainy day because there was a wonderful fireplace in the room where we ate and I can't imagine a cozier place to be. The hunt prints on the wall added to the country ambience.
The Cock Inn
28 High Street
We decided that each of us would get a different one and this way we could taste them all. So with my usual pot of tea I ordered the walnut and coffee cake, which had great coffee tasting frosting with large pieces of walnuts. Al had Belgian Chocolate cake which was intensly chocolate, as a matter of fact too chocolate for him, he traded Joe for his orange and rosemary cake. Now that is an unusual combination. I would never put Rosemary in a dessert, but it worked. This is a nice little restaurant, service was good and the atmosphere is appealing.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 17, 2001
The Ashmolean Cafe
Beaumont St Lower Level
Attraction | "Eleanor Cross"
In 1290 she was stricken ill in Harby, near Lincoln and died before her husband could reach her from Scotland. He was inconsolable and ordered her body to be embalmed and her entrails buried at Lincoln Cathedral. He then began the sad trip to bring her home to London for her final rest at Westminster Abbey.
At every place where her body rested along the route he built a cross in her honor, thus there were originally 12 crosses built. The most famous was Charing Cross in London. The original no longer exists, but 3 originals do. The one in Geddington, Northhamptonshire was on our route between Lincolnshire and Oxfordshire and I was delighted to be able to stop and see it.
As it turns out this is the finest of the crosses still in existance. It is a beautiful stone monument decorated with carving and statues and it sits right down the hill from the Church of St Mary Magdalene where her body spent the night.
It is a tribute to the love between a husband and a wife and a national treasure. That it ever existed is amazing enough but that it still exists is truly astounding.
Attraction | "Ascott House"
Ascott House was purchased by Mayer de Rothchild in 1873. In 1874 Leopold de Rothchilde took it over as a hunting box and converted it from a Jacobean farmshouse into a mock tutor mansion. There are extensive formal gardens but for me the main draw was the lovely art collection.
I fell in love with the portrait of a dreamy looking woman. She has a faraway ethereal look. There is a Gainsborough, a Reynolds and a Stubbs as well in the Hall.
In the Dining Room there is an outstanding Dutch painting by Cuyp "Dordrect on the Maas". The whole dining room is filled with Dutch paintings. One small one is very nice Itinerant Musicians by Jan Steen. To compliment the art collections there is French and Chippendale furniture.
The Library is dominated by a full length portait of the Duchess of Richmond by Gainsborough.
For the lover of Chinese porcelain, there are shelves in the Porcelain Room that resemble bamboo filled with the Ming and K'ang Hsi dynasty in China. Anthony de Rothchild's collection of over 400 pieces was given to the National Trust in 1949. There is a wonderful painting of the Virgin and Child with St John by Andrea del Sarto also in the Porcelain Room.
All of this is placed in only 5 or 6 rooms mixed with comfortable sofas, bright cushions and family pictures. The best of both worlds.
The only problem with Ascott House is that it is only open about 8 weeks a year. We were lucky to have been able to visit here. Also they don't have a guide book. Very frustrating.
There is quite a long walk in from the parking lot. The visit is covered on the British Heritage Pass even though it is not listed in the booklet. I asked about it and was told I was the first visitor from America that year who had asked about the pass. If you don't have the pass entrance is 5.6pds.
Ascott House and Gardens
Rt A413, Wing near Leighton Buzzard
In Room 2 the Minster Lovell Jewel is a superb example of 9th century craftsmanship and a rare example of enameling from this period. Also in the same room there are some beautiful examples of Anglo Saxon gold work. There is also a magnificent Limoges Reliquary of St Thomas Becket.
Among the oddities of this museum are the death mask of Oliver Cromwell and a pair of gloves presented to Queen Elizabeth I which are obviously too big to have ever fit her hands.
As an American, I found Powhatan's mantle of particular interest. He was Pocahantas' father.
One of the treasures of the Ashmolean is the Alfred Jewel. It is in a case by itself. It is made of gold and closonne enamel covered in rock crystal. Written on it is "Alfred ordered me to be made".
There are rooms filled with a wonderful collection of clocks, some shaped like a cross, one made of shells. There are cases of rings done in sections by purpose, bethrothal, ecclesiastic, etc.
I loved the collection of Italian ceramic plates from the 15th century. Lots of blues and yellows with religious and mythological scenes.
Among the art works on display are 2 Van Dykes, one of Queen Henrietta Maria and an Allan Ramsey of Flora McDonald. Also on display were some exquisite Raphael drawings.
For lovers of Egyptology there are wall fragments from El Amarna the home of Tuttenkhaman's father Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti, it shows 2 daughters Neferure and Nefernefeuaten.
The Ashmolean is open Tuesday-Saturday 10-5. Sunday 12-5. There is a cafe and a gift shop. Parking in Oxford can be a problem which is why we came in on Sunday. There are communter parking lots outside the city.
There is no entrance fee.
Attraction | "Rollright Stones"
Unlike the more popular Stonehenge, here you are able to walk among the stones, to touch their pitted surface, to interact with them. Especially if you are visiting with children, this will be a welcome relief. No need to stay behind the ropes and keep your hands off.
This site is actually three distinct areas, The Circle, The Kings Stone and The Whispering Knights. The King Stone is a Monolith which stands across the road from the other site. The Whispering Knights is a prehistoric burial chamber down the road about 1,000 feet.
The strange shape of the King's Stone is the result of tourism in the 19th century. Pieces were chipped off to be taken as lucky charms to ward off witches(maybe witches from Long Compton?)
This site is off the beaten tracks. You will need a good map and some luck to find it. It is worth the try however. It is much easier to place yourself with the Druids when you can actually walk among the stones. The cost of entrance is 50p. There is a honor box where you leave your money. As we were leaving a bus load of seniors pulled up. This is not an unpopular site. There was however, a sign warning of the need to lock your car against break-ins so keep that in mind. It is isolated and you have to park along the road.
Rollright Stones, Long Compton, Rollright, Oxfordshire OX7 5
Off the A3400
Long Compton, Rollright, Oxfordshire, England OX7 5
Station Mills is one I have visited before. This is a large shop with over 6,000 square feet of display area. There are several rooms on 2 floors. As we walked in there was another American who I believe must have been a dealer, because he had bought a large number of items and they were talking about how often he comes here. I can believe it. Considering that Chipping Norton is just over the Oxfordshire Border from the Cotswolds it has very reasonable prices. I saw everything in the shop from ancient coins and medieval rings, to Chinese import china and lovely majolica.
What I particularly like here is the way everything is displayed. There are some glass cases but everything else is out where you can look and touch it. Be as wary as you would be at home and try to handle any item you plan to buy. It is always buyer beware. There are plenty of vintage clothing and lots of 50's kitsch. I picked up a nice pair of Wedgewood candlesticks for about $30 and also a Mason porcelain egg cup with a small under tray. I couldn't resist a book about the English Aristocracy for 5pds. . I was very interested in a budgie wall pocket but it had a crack so I passed. One thing they have in abundance is Quimper, both old and new. This is a fun stop, not at all stuffy, the staff is friendly and will open any case you wish and answer any questions you may have.
The second antique market is The Antique Center on the Oxford Rd. As we walked in my husband spotted a watercolor of Warwick Castle that he thought was very attractive. Little did he know that Joe was hoping to find just such a watercolor. It was however priced out of his range. He examined it for quite a while and as it happened the dealer was in the shop. He came over to talk to me and ask me if I was the one who was interested and I said no and pointed out Joe. To make a long story short he cut the price from 425pds to 295pds and Joe now owns a beautiful watercolor to add to his collection. Always ask what the best price they can do is, you might be surprised at how well you can do.
The mansion was most likely built between 1431 and 1442. There are licences granted during this period to Sir William Lovell to impark a parcel of land called Minsterwoods adjacent to his manor at Minsterlovell. The fact that he was making a park may indicate that he was enlarging his home.
The last and most famous of the Lovells was Francis, Vicount Lovell a close friend of King Richard III. He fought with him at Bosworth Field and after Richard's defeat he escaped to Flanders. He returned 2 years later to take part in Lambert Simnel's Rebellion. He is generally thought to have died at the Battle of Stoke but there is a story from the 1700's when the Duke of Rutland is quoted as saying Minster Lovell Hall was having a repair done to a chiminey when they came across a hidden room in which sat the entire skeleton of a man dressed in the period of Richard III. Did Lord Francis come to a sad end? No one will even know. I looked the chinimey area over quite carefully and could see no evidence of a room.
Today Minster Lovell Hall is a beautiful and romantic ruin set in the Oxfordshire countryside. There is no charge to walk among the remains. It is sad that it was let go and yet it is much more interesting in its own way than just another country home.
As we walked through the walls we could hear the doves cooing from the round dovecote on the property. It was a haunting sound.
The property was purchased by Edward Coke and there is reason to believe he resided there. Thomas Coke even spent his honeymoon here. After Holkham was completed parts of it were demolished and the stones quarried, the rest was just abandoned. Today it belongs to English Heritage. Entrance is free and parking is at the beginning of the road beyond the church.
The Church or Minster is dedicated to St Kenelm and quite interesting it its own right. It is over 500 years old and has a very interesting effigy of a Knight on a grace which I assume is one of the Lovells. There is also a 15th century baptismal font. It spent some time in the church yard reading the tombstones, always an interesting pastime.
Minster Lovell Hall
off Akeman Street
Tuesday is market day in Thame and the on street parking was all taken by the time we arrived. It looked like everyone from miles around was heading there. There are several parking lots around town so don't worry about where to park.
The Farm Market is a combination Flea Market and Produce Market. We started out by buying some jars of jam from one of the ladies. It was all delicious looking and some odd combinations of fruit that you can't find at home. We especially love gooseberry and also rhubarb mixed with just about any other fruit.
I bought myself a container of fresh raspberries to have for lunch and had to wait behind all the local ladies as they bought their produce for the week.
There were the usual flea market things, tee shirts, tools, cheap luggage (which we later wish we had bought) and some very strange things like pigs ears dryed I assume as a chewy for your dog???
There is a wonderful little alley-way called Swan Walk where we found a small jewlery shop. Joe bought a watch and I have to admit I give in to temptation and bought a peridot ring with 10 carat gold which ended up costing only $74. The owners were very friendly and they sized the ring within 10 minutes for free.
Thame is a very pretty little town and I'm sure that it is very like many others in the area. I also bought a Lilliput in another cute little shop we found. It is a very relaxing and fun way to get to meet some locals and to just watch them go about their usual business.
Thame Farm Market
We began our visit with lunch in their restaurant. Leek, ham and potato pie and vegetable soup followed by cake. I tried the lemonade again, another mistake but the cake with coffee frosting and walnuts was delicious.
Basildon has very much the look of a family home. The Library looks well worn with floral couch covers and red walls. There is a table full of family pictures. I particularly liked the mirror over the fireplace and I took a picture of it. It is gilt in a fan design with gilt swags.
Off the other side of the Entrance Hall is a room with Graham Sutherlands sketches of the tapestry at Coventry Cathedral, in this room also are the chair that Lord and Lady Iliffe sat on at the coronation.
The walls in the Entrance Way and the Grand Staircase look like Wedgewood Jasperware with a medallion and a griffin.
The dining room has a table set for 14 with pale green walls and jasperware panels. It also has a lovely ceiling with gilt and plaster. The original fireplace in this room went to the Waldorf in London.
There isn't much that is original to the house but there is some Chinese porcelein that is original. It took 2 years to make the famial rose with crest. It had been sold but Lady Iliffe and the National Trust together bought it back.
The Octagon Room has 7 of Batoni's Apostles. It has 2 large mirrors that make the room look even larger than it is.
The Green Drawing Room has 2 very interesting Imari bowls and 2 etchings of Marie Antoinette and Louis XIV.
We also visited several bedrooms including Lady Iliffe's which has a canopy that hangs from the ceiling making a bed alcove.
The Chinz Room was closed the day we were there because of a lack of volunteers.
The house is covered on the Great British Heritage Pass and has an interesting National Trust Gift Shop. I bought my grandson a piece of Fools Gold which he loved.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 21, 2001
The Dutch Room is of particular note. It has gorgeous green wallpaper and a plaster ceiling and freize in the Adams style. The room includes a beautiful Rembrandt of a young blond man and a Van Dyke. There is also a Rubens of Marchesa Veronica Spinola Doria. The furniture in the room is a combination Sheriden and Chippendale, the mantle is early 19th century with marble carved with fans and urns. There is a Sheriden satinwood fire screen and in that beautiful ceiling they have introduced recessed lighting without spoiling the look.
The dining room is magnificent with red wallpaper and a mahogany table and leather-covered chairs. There is Imari and Ch'ien Lung porcelein and also some 18th century Chinese import bearing the arms of Stephen Sullivan, an ancestor of Lord Faringdon. The chimney piece has a central placque of Diana which was bought from a demolished London mansion. The leather dining chairs are from Clumber Park, former seat of the Duke of Newcastle dmeolished in 1938.
One nice thing about Buscot is that even though they don't have a headphone tour they provide you with wooden tablets to read in each room.
The saloon is all gold, with a hint of pink in the furniture. It is a perfect backdrop for the Legend of Briar Rose Panels that cover the wall. It is really quite extraordinary, the ceiling has a fan design in the corners and a medalion in the center.
The drawing room has a very pretty case with miniatures, boxes, a watch and a bracelet. There is also a collection of majolica on a table in the center of the room. There is a very pretty 18th century long case clock with floral marquetry in the hall.
The Normanton room is mostly made up of paintings by living artists. There are three windows looking out toward the fountain; it is a light airy room with a carpet with vine pattern. There is a spooky 18th century state bed and an Italian or French Chausible on display. A room of contrasts.
This is an interesting house with a good variety of items to view.
Check opening times before you visit as they are limited. Closed on Monday and Tuesday.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 20, 2001
0845 345 3387