Friday, 2 July 2010

Dreaming Spires and Pizza...

J's school was closed to the pupils today, for a statutory teacher training day.  We decided to take advantage of this and have a day out.  Destination: Oxford.

I thought that this would be a great opportunity to explore some of Oxford, while most kids were at school and before the big flood of summer visitors really got going later in the month.  We invited J's friend, G. to come along too.

We left the car at Water Eaton, where there's a Park & Ride facility.  Oxford's P&R is really excellent - other towns could learn from it! There are buses every 20 mins during the majority of the day (and every 15 mins in the peak parts of the evening). The fare is very reasonable and under-16s travel free when accompanied by someone using the car park. It makes the journey far less stressful, as you can leave the car on the edge of the city and use the bus lanes to travel into the centre, avoiding the worst of any traffic. The bus journey took about 15 mins and I was able to look out of the window and admire the lovely old houses and buildings (especially when we got close to the centre and went through the gorgeous St. Giles).

We got off at Magdalen Street and spent a few minutes exploring the Martyrs Memorial:

This was build in 1842 and commemorates the three "Oxford Martyrs", tried for heresy by Mary Tudor and burned at the stake. They were Anglican bishops Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley and the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer.
It has the martyrs depicted in little niches near the top, and painted shields and inscriptions round the sides.
See the lovely buildings behind J's back?  The lighter coloured one is Balliol College. The memorial stands at the top of Magdalen Street, at the edge of St. Giles.
We then made haste to this cafe - my favourite in Oxford:
The News Cafe in Ship Street does a mean breakfast! I was in Oxford quite early in the day on two occasions in the last couple of years, having dropped J. at a local Primary School for a one-day course.  This place is a life-saver - scrambled eggs and fried mushrooms on toast - just what you need after a very early breakfast and a 2 1/2 hour journey, started at 7am!
Hot chocolate with whipped cream and mini-marshmallows... J. can confirm that the chocolate muffins are very good and I can testify for the newly baked croissants with honey!

How about this beautiful, ancient house, at the corner of Ship Street? So old and still going strong! It houses various shops and a cafe, but I wonder if it was once an inn.

We then went for a bit of an adventure in the Covered Market in Cornmarket Street (though it has entrances also on Market Street and High Street).
We found interesting puzzles...
...stripy pasta...
...and a leather elephant

Then it was off to a nice pizza restaurant, to meet a friend for lunch and a lovely chat about her expected baby!

After lunch we explored the castle area.  This is the old castle mound, which you can climb (for a £1 fee).
and here's the castle itself - with a couple of familiar people...
The old part is a "Castle Experience" type of museum and the newer part is now a hotel.  Visitors can sleep in rooms that were once cells in the Oxford Prison!

We then went to the Ashmolean Museum...
(Picture from

...passing some lovely little side-streets on our way... honestly, who couldn't love this City?  See why they refer to "Dreaming Spires"? There seems to be one in every view!

Saw this great little painting..

I love the style and innocence of Medieval and Early Rennaissance Art:  

  • All the lovely gold-leaf or golden paint, to make the painting glorious and valuable, to the Glory of God. 

  • The depictions of mermaids (see the evil mermaid here?), dragons and other mythical creatures, alongside "normal" animals.

  • The rather sweet faces of the women, children, madonnas and babies. Their flat, but well-proportioned bodies.  Later on, art got a bit silly with its cherubs and fussy madonnas. The drapery is so overdone and if a modern baby was as seriously fat as some late-Renaissance cherubim, the Health Visitor would be nagging the mothers to put them on a diet!

  • The glimpses into everyday life and Court life that are given in even the religious-themed paintings. Saints are depicted in every-day settings, with ordinary people, doing normal stuff, like cooking or shopping.  People are shown hunting with their horses and dogs. You see the trees and flowers of the forest, the deer, all long-legged, with smooth noses, dogs with their tails up and noses down a rabbit-hole. Ladies sit spinning or stitching, while a knight rides by the window...
This painting shows a storm being stopped by St. Nicholas: -

I love lots of things about this little painting - the detail of the ship - sails filled with a violent wind, that is tearing them, rigging stretched to breaking point, the great, dark sea with swirls and waves, frightened people on board, the ship's boat made ready for the order to abandon ship... the evil mermaid and the holy saint - his hand stretched before him in the common gesture of benediction and blessing...

...but my favourite part is the sky...

I love this blue, rich sky, with the wonderful sprinkling of golden stars!

Whenever I hear or read this poem, it is this image that I see in my mind:

Aedh wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

HAD I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet: 
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams

W.B. Yeats (1865–1939). The Wind Among the Reeds. 1899

This is one of my favourite poems. To me, the wonderful sky in this small painting perfectly depicts those "heavens' embroidered cloths" - read on to hear that they are "The blue and the dim and the dark cloths...
of night and light and the half light..."
The sky in this painting is just perfect.

There were so many, many exciting things to see at the Ashmolean.  They have recently given it a major re-vamp and introduced new displays and interactive exhibits etc.  There is a section all about conservation and display of the museum's treasures, which is really interesting. 
We saw Egyptian artefacts and mummies; Roman statues; many sculptures, paintings and other art-works from many places and cultures throughout ancient and modern history; pottery and porcelain; silver and gold items; jewellery and treasures; ordinary objects and furnishings from homes long ago; a collection of ancient and more modern musical instruments... there was far more there than we could possibly see in an hour-and-a-half on a Friday afternoon.  We came away tired out from all our looking and exploring, but I'm sure we'll go there again.

A race down the stairs at the end of the visit...

We were lucky that the bus pulled up just as we reached our bus-stop; a quick bus-ride back to the Park & Ride and a fairly straightforward 50-mile drive home, to find that D. had made a nice pasta bake for dinner.

All in all, we had a lovely day out - J. & G. both agreed it beat going to school!  Perhaps we'll do it again soon - in the Summer holidays this time.


  1. Thank you Lizzie for this wonderful post - I was watching a documentary on Wales last night - about the ancient route into Ireland - and I was thinking about all of the wonderful history you all have in the UK and Europe in general. I love seeing how close you live to all of these fabulous places and for me it is a glimpse into something I one day hope to see in real life!

  2. Great pictures and post! I have tagged you.

  3. What a lovely trip! Love the covered market

  4. love the architectural photos and sounds like you had a fun filled dayout

  5. wow what a full and interesting day you all had. i love park and ride, so much cheaper and easier to use. winchester and salisbury have g8 ones. haven't tried bath or bristol eyt but will let u know.
    i love oxford and cambridge, more so cambridge cos i lived there. oxford is g8 to walk around as the colleges are all part of the city and the shopping areas are sort of blended in.
    never been to the ashmolean but hear about it enough on inspector morse and lewis............of which i am a BIG fan
    Jo xxxx

  6. How awesome that you get to do Oxford for a day trip. I envy you! I've been there, but it took a 9 hour airplane trip to do it! Thanks for taking us along!

  7. Wow,it's lovely to see the photos of your trip.I love all of them but particularly the old beamed building on the corner,beautiful xx

  8. Apparently you had a nice day there - beautiful pictures you made there, thanks for sharing! I was surprised by the look of the castle, it is so defiant and looks so military.

  9. For anyone interested, here's a link to a History of Oxford Castle:

  10. What a lovely post! I've only been to Oxford once, and it was a flying visit, but now I feel like I've toured it with you :-)

  11. You clearly had a wonderful time! And taken wonderfully atmospheric photos!


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