Bicycle City

Gargoyles

We could afford a leisurely start as our tickets were valid from 9:30. In the event we reached Paddington with an hour to spare and had breakfast at Sloe Cafe Bar.

Paddington Station from Sloe Cafe Bar
Paddington Station
from Sloe Cafe Bar

We were able to take a train at 9:30 on the dot but as this was a Bristol train, we had to change at Reading. As usual, the platform was announced only 5 minutes before departure time and as this is a fairly popular train there was quite a scramble at the ticket barrier.

Because all the first-class carriages are at the station end of the train, you have to hurry a good way along the platform before you can get a seat. Watching the people hurrying and scrambling, I wondered why we put up with this, why companies who depend on our money get away with treating us so badly. Is it the British dislike of making a fuss or are we simply inured to it after generations of the same treatment?


Waiting for the train at Reading
Waiting for the train at Reading

At Reading we transferred to platform 8 for the 10:10 Manchester Piccadilly train which would take us to Oxford. Both of these trains, the first to Bristol and the second to Manchester, evoked happy memories of earlier trips and hopes of future ones too.

The train was again very busy but we found seats at a table and thus had room for our long legs.


Bicycles everywhere
Bicycles everywhere

Arriving at Oxford at 10:33, we took a taxi to the client’s address and by 10:43 the job was done. Now it was time to walk back towards the centre and start our explorations.

In case you don’t know, Oxford is extremely flat and this is why I referred to it in the title as “Bicycle City”. The only other place where I have seen so many bicycles in use is in the Netherlands. Where other cities have car parks, Oxford has massive bicycle parks. You see bicycles parked along nearly every street and in corners everywhere. It is really quite striking.

Carfax Tower clock
Carfax Tower clock

We now just started walking and taking photos. Oxford is full of beautiful and curious buildings. I cannot do justice to it in a single blog post so you will just have to go and see it for yourself! However, I can show you one or two things seen on the way.

For example, this is the ornate clock on the Carfax Tower, which is all that remains of an ancient church. We waited until 11 o’clock hoping to see the soldiers move but when they did it was a little disappointing. Although the clock chimed beautifully, the soldiers merely struck their respective bells once at the start.

Saxon Tower
Saxon Tower

This is known as the Saxon Tower of St Michael at the North Gate and it is reputed to be Oxford’s oldest building and nearly 1,000 years old. I think the clock must have been added somewhat after the time of the Saxons, however.

Our intention was to pay a visit to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, OUMNH, for short. This is really worth a visit because not only is it a top class museum but it is housed in a really beautiful building as well. Another virtue is the way it is arranged so as to be attractive to a wide range of audiences. By the way, admission is free and you can take photos without restriction for personal use.

A view of OUMNH
A view of OUMNH

There are plenty of hands-on exhibits (labelled “Please touch”) but it is refreshingly free of the mind-numbing dumbing-down that seems in fashion in Britain’s public museums today. There were several school parties all visibly enjoying themselves, thus proving that the “let’s dress up in funny clothes” approach too often used by museums today is simply not necessary and merely trivializes the information.

Cheetah
Cheetah

It might surprise you to know what my favourite exhibit is. It is this beautiful creature, a cheetah. Normally, I am against exhibits of stuffed animals because too often they were killed just to make exhibits and enhance some rich man’s empty pride. This cheetah, however, was born in a zoo and lived all his life there until he died of natural causes. Today he serves a valuable educational role because you can admire him close up and touch him.

We watched how a party of schoolboys did just that with very great interest. I would like to think they will carry away something positive from the experience and that it will encourage them to think about wildlife and the need for its conservation.

Decorative lion's head
Decorative lion’s head

From the museum, we went to the King’s Head, Holywell Street, and lunched on concrete pizza. We didn’t know it was concrete when we ordered it, of course. The topping was unremarkable and the crust solid, especially around the edge. They gave us knives and forks but a hammer and chisel would also have been useful. Guess where we won’t be lunching next time we come to Oxford. This was a pity as the pub is very old and of a curious shape with little rooms all over the place.

Museum of Oxford
Museum of Oxford

Tigger had read about the Templars Square shopping centre at Cowley, so we caught a bus there to have a look. It is a pretty dismal place, as if the designers had looked at all shopping centres and chosen the worst features of each. It didn’t help that many shops were boarded up, their tenants presumably having gone bust or moved somewhere more cheerful. It seems to me typical of centres built to make money for the developers, not for the good of the community. Predictably, all the usual suspects were there, making it a dull and boring place.

An altogether better experience was our visit to the lovely Oxford Covered Market.

Oxford Covered Market
Oxford Covered Market

The Market is well established and its “stalls” are more like small village shops. There is an impressive range of goods from food and domestic supplies, through fashion to luxury articles. I there discovered Cardews of Oxford, retailers of tea and coffee, and bought some Russian Caravan tea. They also sell by mail order and so I took their catalogue home with me. You can’t have too long a list of good tea merchants!

Oxford bull
Oxford bull

By now, although it was only around 4pm, we were feeling a bit tired, as we had done a lot of walking and exploring. We therefore made our way to the station, photographing this impressive beast on the way.

We reached the station just in time for a slightly delayed 16:31 to Paddington. The train had started its journey in Great Malden and was already full. On the platform at Oxford was a big crowd. When the train drew up, we found ourselves on a level with the first-class carriages and had to hurry along the train to reach standard class. By this time, large numbers had already boarded and there was no longer any chance of a seat. We had to stand all the way to London.

On arrival, we rested our legs and feet in the on-station pub before setting out – slowly – for the bus stop. Just as we reached it, a 205 drew up, exactly the bus to take us all the way home! A good end to an enjoyable day.

Here’s to the next trip!

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About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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2 Responses to Bicycle City

  1. Villager says:

    York has always been big on cycling because it’s so flat and a relatively small place.

    I could just imagine flying round Oxford on a pushbike with a long, black gown trailing behind; your pics. make it look very appealing.

  2. SilverTiger says:

    Oxford may have the edge over York in the sense that it is a quieter city as far as traffic is concerned. I haven’t studied the question in York but in London cycling is quite dangerous, as evidenced by the fact that those cyclists who use the roads, as opposed to those who ride illegally on the pavement, tend to wear proper cycling kit, including helmets.

    In Oxford, you see people tootling around all over the place and helmets are rare. The mortar-boarded and gowned cyclist is perhaps not so common as in days of yore but I think the presence in the city of so many young, and relatively impecunious, people is another reason for so many bikes.

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