Tag Archives: University

Oxford, England – Impressions

If you were to draw a triangle with points on Bristol, Birmingham and London, somewhere near the middle would be Oxford. At 90km west of London, Oxford is best known for its university, the oldest in the English-speaking world. The town and university are so similar to Cambridge that the pair often group under the name Oxbridge.

oxford-2021-07-10-20-06.png

Oxford was first settled around 900AD at a ford in the river, which the Saxons used to cross oxen. Like Cambridge, the city is very much a student city, with college buildings dominating the landscape. Oxford has a reputation as a party town, and soon after my arrival midday on Saturday, I noted many girls in their 20s were all dressed up to party. All afternoon, in various parts of the central city, I noticed more of them in different stages of drunkenness, but not so many guys.

img_77211-2021-07-10-20-06.jpeg

My first stop in the city was the Oxford Castle and Prison, which I’d booked ahead to ensure a spot. Unlike other castles in the UK, Oxford Castle has very much been integrated into the surrounding buildings and is not as grand as others I’ve visited.

img_7660-2021-07-10-20-06.jpeg

The hour-long tour took us to the top of the remaining watchtower, giving expansive views across the city and surrounding landscape.

img_7670-2021-07-10-20-06.jpeg

As the tour dove next into the lower chambers, I learned that the military value of the castle waned during the 12th and 13th centuries, after which it became more of a prison. And while digging the prison, they discovered an old chapel crypt thought to be from the original structure.

img_7672-2021-07-10-20-06.jpeg

During the Victorian era, authorities discovered that the prisoners were better fed and sheltered than many in the city, so they introduced a series of hardships. There were tales of up to sixty prisoners jammed into a single room and forced to sleep standing in ankle-deep human waste. Others were forced to turn great wheels that pushed water up to the top of the tower, only to trickle back down again. However, for those who could afford it, exclusive rooms were available with great fineries and clothing to help them enjoy their stays.

There are plenty of architecturally impressive buildings throughout central Oxford, but in my mind, not as many as Cambridge. Indeed, the central city felt less majestic than that other city, Cambridge. There are still some fine pieces, such as the Tom Tower – a bell tower that stands above the main entrance to the Christ Church,

img_7680-2021-07-10-20-06.jpeg

Or the Town Hall, which is currently closed to the public.

img_7678-2021-07-10-20-06.jpeg

Then there is the Carfax Tower, the only remaining part of St. Martin’s church, demolished in 1896 due to increasing traffic problems in the city.

img_7676-2021-07-10-20-06.jpeg

It is the tallest building in the centre and an excellent place to get a bird’s eye view of the city, which, of course, I did.

img_7697-2021-07-10-20-06.jpeg

Past the University Church of St Mary the Virgin is the Radcliffe Camera, perhaps the most distinctive building in Oxford with its round shape. The word ‘camera’ in Latin means room or space; the Radcliffe room is a part of the Bodleian library and houses the Radcliffe Science Library.

img_7704-2021-07-10-20-06.jpeg

The Bodleian Library is the second largest library in the UK, holding 11 million volumes on 190km of shelving, with 5km more being added each year. It’s a legal deposit library and can request a free copy of every book published in the UK.

img_7708-2021-07-10-20-06.jpeg

On Sunday, I had pre-booked a couple of museums after missing out in Cambridge. After scouring the city for a full English breakfast, I headed to the Ashmolean Museum.

img_7725-2021-07-10-20-06.jpeg

The Ashmolean is a classic art and archaeology museum with many exhibits and tens of thousands of items on show over several floors. From ancient Egypt, Persia, to the Roman Empire, from mummies to silver platters, to exquisitely carved blocks of marble. I wiled away 90 minutes skimming many items, and I still didn’t see everything.

collage2-2021-07-10-20-06.jpg

Then after a quick lunch, I headed to the Museum of Science History. Compared to the vast space of the Ashmolean, the MSH is but three medium-sized rooms, with various exhibits such as a collection of Islamic astrolabes, a collection of watches that tell stories, and the history of typhoid, to name a few.

img_7713-2021-07-10-20-06.jpeg

Once done, I headed to a pub for a cider and to wait for my train back to London.

img_7658-2021-07-10-20-06.jpeg

Overall Impressions,
After visiting Cambridge first, I expected to see more similarities between the two cities. Yes, there are colleges in both, grand architecture, and plenty of students. But Oxford reminded me more of York than Cambridge, more of a party town than a Mecca of education, even though it’s that too. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy my time in Oxford. I was more prepared and got to see more that it had to offer. Well worth the visit.

Until next time,

The World Wanderer

Cambridge, England – Impressions

Less than 100km north of London in Cambridgeshire is the small city of Cambridge well known for its prestigious university. With the UK summer packing up after only 3 weeks of sunshine, I headed out of London for the weekend to explore this piece of England’s history.

cambridgemapengland-2021-06-22-17-22.jpg

Cambridge is very much a student city with 20% of its population attending one of the two collegiate universities in the city. Young people swarm like well educated flies all over the city, whether playing sport in the myriad of parks, flying past on scooters or bikes, hanging in groups around the central city, or later in the evening, in lines trying to get into bars.

img_7607-2021-06-22-17-22.jpeg

One of the first thing you notice about the city is the architecture, but it’s not just the grand gothic style of King’s college or the myriad of churches around the city. Cambridge has a modern style mixed in with the more classic ones.

cambridgearchitecture-2021-06-22-17-22.jpg

As my visit was only for the weekend, I spent much of Saturday exploring the various locations of the city with the intention of taking in some of the museums prior to my Sunday return train.

img_7595-2021-06-22-17-22.jpeg

The collegiate University of Cambridge, founded in 1209, consists of 31 separate colleges. It’s the second oldest university in the English-speaking world, with Oxford University the oldest. Each of the colleges have multiple grand buildings spread through the central city. The building above is the King’s College Chapel.

img_7602-2021-06-22-17-22.jpeg

Across from the college is Great St Mary’s, a small 15th-century church with a climbable tower and a viewing platform offering panoramas of the city, including this view down onto Cambridge Market Square. The market had many different food stalls, most with lines of eager people waiting to sample their delights.

img_7631-2021-06-22-17-22.jpeg

North of Great Saint Mary’s is Trinity Street, running alongside Trinity college, an architecturally pleasing span of road leading to the north of the central city, and St John’s college.

img_7641-2021-06-22-17-22.jpeg

The street ends at the Round Church, a landmark church built in 1130 and only one of four remaining medieval round churches still operating in England.

img_7643-2021-06-22-17-22.jpeg

Not far from the Round Church is the River Cam, a place popular for punting tours. A punt is a flat bottom boat pushed through shallow slow moving rivers with a punt pole. The River Cam cuts its way along the west and north sides of the central city, most of it used for punting.

img_7574-2021-06-22-17-22.jpeg

A walk along the river led to one of the many parks littering Cambridge central city, some with interesting names. This one is Parker’s Piece, while others are called Christ’s Pieces, Midsummer Green and Jesus Green.

img_7623-2021-06-22-17-22.jpeg

The river leads past various bridges, many unique in their build, such as this one, called the Mathematical Bridge. Its a footbridge crossing into Trinity College, built from straight beams in a mathematical precise shape.

img_7627-2021-06-22-17-22.jpeg

On my wanders through the city I discovered an odd clock in the wall near King’s College. It’s called the Corpus Clock and is also known as the Grasshopper Clock due to the mechanical grasshopper that walks along the top, ‘eating time’. The clock’s time is only correct every 5 minutes and is supposed to reflect life’s irregularity.

img_7588-2021-06-22-17-22.jpeg

On the second day of my stay in Cambridge, the rain was supposed to come, so I intended to take in some of the free museums around the city, such as the Fitzwilliam Museum above. Unfortunately, due to COVID, to maintain social distancing there is limited space in each, and pre-booking is required. Unfortunately, they were all booked out, so after a relaxing morning, I found my way to a cafe serving a full English breakfast, before heading back to London.

img_7629-2021-06-22-17-22.jpeg

Overall Impressions
Cambridge is a wondrous city to wander around with eye catching architecture at every turn. It felt small wandering around the central city, but with plenty to see. It’s a shame many indoor attractions were booked out, but it will inspire me to book ahead on my next trip, to Oxford in a couple of weeks.

The World Wanderer.