A reader who won’t let me quit

The Carpenters on the Curbar Edge.
The Carpenters on the Curbar Edge.

I had an idea that I would do one more post on this blog about our last day in London and then close it out. But Judy V. made the sensible comment that the logical follow to my post on my favorite rugby matches would be the top five favorites in my other categories that I used to cheat on the question “What were the trip’s five best things?”

So Kathy and I have divided up the task of fulfilling Judy’s suggestion; I’ll do hikes and museums and Kathy will do plays and colleges/cathedrals/abbeys (that last category is further evidence of cheating).

So for hikes:

  1. Has to be the Curbar Edge. It’s in the Peak District of north England and goes along an edge overlooking two villages, woodlands, pastures and other farmlands. You share the trail with cattle, rock climbers and other hikers. It helped that we had clear, sunny weather.

    A narrow boat on the Oxford Canal.
    A narrow boat on the Oxford Canal.
  2. The walk along the Oxford Canal to Kidlington. One of our first walks after we arrived in Oxford. The route came out of a book that detailed the path all the way to Banbury. The eight miles to Kidlington and a stop at a pub gave us enough of the flavor of the canal to feel OK about not going farther. But we often walked along the canal to get into the central part of Oxford.
  3. Avebury stone circle. An ancient place with a stone circle around a rural village and a processional between more stones that leads to an mound built by unknowns, probably thousands of years ago.
  4. Oxford’s Port Meadows: The maps we had of Oxford showed that this meadow was near our flat. We made a loop out of it by walking back along the Thames River and we found one of our favorite pubs, The Perch in Binsey.
  5. To the Victoria Arms pub: Another walk in Oxfordshire, this one in the opposite direction of the Port Meadows but of course leading us to a pub, the Victoria Arms. Before you get there you pass through Oxofrd’s Univeristy Parks, past college playing fields and through the village of Old Marston.

These paths are made for walking and we average five or six miles a day, with our longest day the sprint marathon in London. A great way to see things and to stay in shape (sort of — we both gained a couple of pounds; too much Guinness and tea cakes).

Bridge over the Cherwell River on the way to the Victoria Arms pub.
Bridge over the Cherwell River on the way to the Victoria Arms pub.

Making good use of our last day in Oxford

We have moved into London for the last two games in the Rugby World Cup 2015. The Bronze Final game on Friday night was not the wide open running game we had hoped for from the Argentina Pumas and the South African Springboks. The South Africans won 24-13 with Argentina collecting a converted try with time run out. The Pumas had possession much of the time but the South African defense kept them from gaining much yardage until right at the end when it didn’t matter much.

Kathy at high tea.
Kathy at high tea.

We are hoping for more from the Final today between New Zealand and Australia.

But more about the games later. Let’s go back to Thursday, our last full day in Oxford. We wanted to do some of the things we had not got to before heading into London on Friday.

That included a musical event at the Holywell Music Hall. It so happened on Thursday that meant listening to a mezzo soprano and a soprano singing selections from Shubert. No complaints.

Before getting to the concert, we had a light lunch at the Jericho Cafe, a popular spot near our flat that didn’t get the attention from us that it probably should have in the eight weeks we were in Oxford.

One more picture of the Bodleian Library.
One more picture of the Bodleian Library.

After the concert, it was off to Brown’s Brassiere for high tea. A bit of shopping in the central part of the city and then a farewell meal at the Brassiere Blanc, also near our apartment in the Jericho area of Oxford.

What with wandering between events and taking some more photographs, it was a proper goodbye to a place that we loved from the moment we arrived. And we left plenty undone for a return visit.

Some days you just want to take a walk. So we did

Bridge over the Cherwell River.
Bridge over the Cherwell River.

After a weekend that included two train trips into and out of London, a visit to the Churchill Museum and War Rooms (more on that later) and two semi final matches in the Rugby World Cup, a quiet day was called for.

The Victoria Arms pub.
The Victoria Arms pub.

Up late. Coffee. Read The Guardian. Peruse maps and guidebooks. Ponder the weather outside and decide if it would be a good day for a quiet walk.

It was.

We’ve had this one on the wish list for some time, waiting for today, the right day. So off we went through the University Park in North Oxford, across the Cherwell River, past some of the colleges’ athletic fields, through Old Marston village and up to the Victoria Arms pub, the turnaround point for the walk.Victoria Sign

Of course, Kathy had to have a pint of Corvus Stout and I had to have my tea. The weather was nice enough we could sit outside on the deck.

After the proper amount of languishing, we set off along the Cherwell until we returned to the foot bridge back into University Parks.

A nice day.

Kathy on the deck of the Victoria Arms pub.
Kathy on the deck of the Victoria Arms pub.

The rest of Walton Street: Where we live

Walton Street and the Jericho Cafe.
Walton Street and the Jericho Cafe.

We have three choices for walking into Oxford’s city center or the train station: Woodstock Road (very busy), along the Oxford Canal (very serene) or Walton Street (just about right).

The Cooperative where we do most of our grocery shopping.
The Cooperative where we do most of our grocery shopping. The covered boxes on the lower left are for the daily newspapers: A choice of 12 each day, a newspaper addict’s heaven.

As reflected above, we usually choose to go back and forth on Walton. We do our everyday shopping there, visit the Post Office, stop for an occasional lunch or see a movie.

We live in the Jericho area of Oxford, a quiet residential sliver between Woodstock and the Canal, north of the main part of the city. It seems to have a large student population but also an established number of homes with children. Our building is across the street from a school.

Many bicycle riders use Walton Street, which I would prefer to Woodstock if I were riding. Truth is there are bicycles all over this university city. Wish I had brought mine.

It would be a longer walk to a supermarket where we could do all our food shopping in one place. Besides it being a longer walk, we have found that we enjoy the rare-in-America way of shopping where you buy bread in one place, coffee in another, vegetables and meat at a third. It makes for a more interesting neighborhood and shopping experience.

So here are some photos of where we have been living for the past six weeks and where we will be for the next two.

The friendly clerk at the deli where we buy our bread. You need to get there in the morning before they sell out.
The friendly clerk at the deli where we buy our bread. You need to get there in the morning before they sell out.
The closest shop for getting a newspaper, milk, Guinness and other essentials.
The closest shop for getting a newspaper, milk, Guinness and other essentials.
We live on the fourth floor of this building.
We live on the fourth floor of this building.

“Oxford is a town of private spaces obscured by walls”

Along the walk through the grounds of Worcester College in Oxford.
Along the walk through the grounds of Worcester College in Oxford.

“The big thing to remember is Oxford is a town of private spaces obscured by walls that were built to defend the students and dons,” Casey wrote to us before we started our visit here.

He had spent a term here back in his college days. How many years ago, Casey?

Let’s skip the carbon dating of Casey and go to the truth of his advice to us.

We have walked down Walton Street dozens of times on our way to the train station or just into the city center. Each time we have passed by the entrance to Worcester College, stopped to check on the hours it was open to the public and then gone on by as the hours never seemed to correspond with our walks.

Worcester College Chapel.
Worcester College Chapel.

Finally, the opening times and our walks aligned, and we went in for a visit. I expected some old buildings, a sward of vibrant green grass (which you could see from the street through the open doors) and a YAC (Yet Another Chapel). I had no idea there would be so much more obscured by its walls.

All of the above was there, plus a lake, centuries-old trees, gardens, a rugby pitch I envied and a circuitous walk that eventually led us back to the college entrance where we read about its history.

Founded in 1714 (which makes it young compared to other Oxford colleges) on the site of Gloucester College, which started in 1283 as a “place of study for 13 monks.” Monasteries ended in 1539 (Can you say Henry VIII?), and so did Gloucester College. The buildings served as palace and then entered 150 years of “chequered history” and decline. An endowment came to their rescue in 1714. Sir Thomas Cookes, a Worcestershire baronet, left the money for the founding of a college.

All the rail carvings in the chapel are of animals.
All the rail carvings in the chapel are of animals, including this serpent.

The college, now near the center of town, was once at the edge of the city, which is how it came to have enough land to incorporate its athletic fields and gardens within its walls.

All of which supports something else Casey told us: “Oxford is steeped in history.”

Thanks, Casey, for the help in introducing us to Oxford.

Kathy and Eddie stand in front of a massive tree trunk in the Worcester College gardens.
Kathy and Eddie stand in front of a massive tree trunk in the Worcester College gardens.

To learn a little more English history, look it up

Angels are definitely on high in the Cardiff Castle banqueting hall.
Angels are definitely on high in the Cardiff Castle banqueting hall.

by Kathy

An old, sexist joke relates the tale of the long-married couple who’ve just finished a round of perfunctory sex. The wife, lying back in the “afterglow,” stares thoughtfully up at the ceiling and declares, “Beige. I think we should paint the ceiling beige.”

Or, maybe she and he should move to England and seek to make life a little more interesting. Surely the ceilings would be more interesting. The variety, the artistry, the engineering and sheer work of it all are enough to hold your attention for a lot longer than an afternoon delight or two.

So, the ceilings: We’ve visited more than a half-dozen of Oxford’s colleges now, plus an array of castles, cathedrals, abbeys and assorted other grand spaces in which the ceilings alone have been worth the price of admission. I’ll mention just a few:

The massive carved masterpiece of Cardiff Castle’s Banqueting Hall is one of my most recent favorites. Giant beams are supported on elegant pillars that spread out like so many Egyptian fans to help support all that weight up top. Here, the weight is wood. A heavenly host of angels hovers along the grand central arch, drawing your view through overlapping rows of intricate smaller arches carved within it. Forget the feast on the table! For once I might be inclined to enjoy the feast for the eyes more than the food.

Simply stately, that's Bath Abbey.
Simply lovely, that’s Bath Abbey.

For a different kind of feast on high, throw your head way, way back to take in the upper reaches of Bath Abbey. This ceiling gives new definition to the meaning of soaring. Here you’ll find more of those practical-as-they-are-lovely fanned pillars (this time supporting stone). They’re all over the country. But Bath’s are so high, so elegant in their simplicity. And of course they form the perfect arching anchor for the equally ubiquitous stained-glass windows. Still, they thrill.

Oxford Divinity School: And you think you have too many bosses? This place has 455.
Oxford Divinity School: And you think you have too many bosses? This place has 455.

Others worth a sore neck:

The Oxford Divinity School, ensconced on the grounds of the Bodleian Library, is rightly called “a masterpiece of English Gothic architecture.” Completed in 1488, it has been used for teaching, lectures and student exams  — as well as the ballroom set in one of the Harry Potter films. University literature says the vaulted ceiling includes 455 “bosses,” the carved knobs where the joints of the vaulting ribs intersect.

The ceiling at Queen's College Chapel.
The ceiling at Queen’s College Chapel.

During Open Colleges Day in September, we had a chance to visit The Queen’s College Upper Library, closed to tourists most of the time. The library, which dates to the late 17th century, is a reading room for students. Items from the college’s large collection of rare books (about 100,000 of them) are often on display here. The ceiling’s fine plaster-work was carefully cleaned and the flat surfaces repainted in 2013-2014.

The plaster-work in the college’s chapel is even more elaborate, including a gilt ring of flowers and foliage around a glowing painting of The Ascension.

And at Exeter College, where J.R.R. Tolkien studied, the striking timber arches towering over the long tables in the dining hall help create the stately, time-honored atmosphere of this impressive room, which dates from 1618.

The Exeter Dining Hall hosts lavish banquets and other events.
The Exeter Dining Hall hosts lavish banquets and other events.

Sadly, I have no pictures of the grandest ceiling of all — the one in the Banqueting Room of the Royal Pavilion at Brighton. Talk about lavish! The “pleasure palace” of King George IV, it takes the cake — and eats it, along with the 70 or so other dishes that would have been served when the gluttonous, adulterous king was showing off for his pals in the 1820s. The ceiling is a vast dome covered in colorful, intricate inlaid patterns all drawing the viewer into the central feature: a 3-dimensional arrangement of palm fronds from which emerges a huge, writhing dragon, red tongue flicking, silver claws extending and, from them, a spectacular 30-foot-tall crystal chandelier. The opulence of this ceiling and this room is really too much to comprehend. This is one you have to see in person to believe.

The exterior of Brighton's Royal Pavilion gives some clue to the magical magnificence inside.
The exterior of Brighton’s Royal Pavilion gives some clue to the magical magnificence inside.

Punting with Ben on the Cherwell River

Ben punts while the rest of us enjoy the ride
Ben punts while the rest of us enjoy the ride

Sometimes when traveling you make some bad decisions: a turn on the wrong road, a ticket to a sight not worth the price of admission, an awful meal in a bad restaurant.

So it’s nice to look back on a good decision: Putting off a day of punting on the Cherwell River until our friends the Carpenters arrived in Oxford.

We made the decision based on cost. It was 20 pounds to rent a punt for an hour. We decided it would be best to share that with more people in the boat — up to five could take out a single vessel.

But the best part of having the Carpenters included was that they brought along their own punter: 23-year-old son Ben, who got the knack of guiding the boat down the river in no time and took us around an island in less than the 45 minutes the concessionaire said it would take.

Given the right hat, Ben could find work on the canals of Venice.

Ben tries on a hat meant for punting.
Ben tries on a hat meant for punting.

It’s “Open Door” weekend at Oxford

“Open Door” weekend at Oxford means just that: All those doors you have been peeking through are thrown open for free visits to the colleges, the Town Hall, the castle and on and on.

Carving at the Lincoln College chapel.
Carving at the Lincoln College chapel.

For us, that meant 6.6 miles of walking and visits to Exeter, Lincoln, Queen’s and Magdalen Colleges with a quick walk through Mansfield College on the way home.

Stained glass detail: Jonah and the whale.
Stained glass detail: Jonah and the whale.

Maybe it’s because it was the first one we visited, but the chapel at Exeter (in video above) stood out to me as the most ornate and beautiful. Stained glass, arched ceiling, wonderful wood carvings and music playing, which helped set the mood. Choral Evensong on Tuesdays and Fridays is open to the public until term starts on Oct. 10. Then, a docent told us, all is chaos.

The Lincoln College quad. Stay off the grass is the rule at all the colleges, but what a wonderful spot for croquet.
The Lincoln College quad. Stay off the grass is the rule at all the colleges, but what a wonderful spot for croquet.

Next stop, Lincoln College, and who should pop up from my childhood but old chums Charles and John Wesley, founders of Methodism. They were undergraduates at Christ Church College, and John became a fellow at Lincoln College later. From the brochure, “The Wesleys’ Oxford:” “It was at Oxford that their group was first called ‘Methodists’ because of their ‘methodical’ approach to Christianity . . . they attended chapel frequently, met for prayer and bible study and visited the prisons and the workhouse.”

They headed for America in 1735, and my boyhood image of the two of them was on horseback, bent over reading the Bible on their way to the next place to preach. No idea if this had any truth to it, but it suited my fancy. They came back to England in 1738, had an evangelical conversion that, the brochure says, “fired them for their lives in the service of God.”

The Upper Library at Queens College, purported to be one of the best rooms at Oxford.
The Upper Library at Queens College, purported to be one of the best rooms at Oxford.

On to Queens College where the Upper Library is packed with books, including a first folio of Shakespeare’s works, a globe that has the Pacific Northwest marked as “Nova Albion” and an orrery, a mechanical device that when cranked shows the positions of the Sun and planets. Trouble is, only two people are allowed to crank it, and one of them, the Queen Mother, is dead. That leaves a professor in one of the scientific fields, and he was not on duty today.

Ornery with the orrery at Queens College.
Ornery with the orrery at Queens College.

Magdalen College has its doors open every day, but today was free. So we wandered the grounds there, visited the chapel, walked along the college deer park and checked out the Riverside Cafe, which overlooks a punting concessionaire where boats were in chaos today. Looking forward to poling down the Cherwell on another sunny day, but I can see that steering a boat with something more appropriate for pole vaulting might not be an easy task. Several of the boats below the cafe were bow to bow and making little progress up or down the river. Just wait til I get out there and do my Mike Fink imitation (I think Mike transported the Wesley brothers when horses gave out. Could have that wrong though).

Wandered home, put up our feet and ate leftovers. Didn’t add a favorite pub today. Probably because of the Wesley influence.

What could be more English: flowers, a red phone box, ancient walls inside Magdalen College at Oxford.
What could be more English: flowers, a red phone box, ancient walls inside Magdalen College at Oxford.

Meadow, river, pub and a window

Two dog walkers crossing Port Meadow.
Two dog walkers crossing Port Meadow.

Port Meadow is not far from our apartment in Oxford and has been a draw for a walk since I started looking at maps while still in Seattle. On Friday, we made the walk around the meadow, covering more than seven miles for the day.

One of the signs along the way told us that the meadow may have been grazed for 4,000 years, never touched by plow, pesticides or fertilizers (not counting four millennia of cow pies). The hay from the meadow is highly prized.

What we like is the quick escape to open space it gives us. We even found a new pub that’s an easy walk from the apartment and puts us in a country atmosphere. We seem to get a new favorite pub every day.

The return trip on our walk today was along the Thames Path, which, as you might guess, follows the river. We met a couple of guys with crawdad traps and a bucket of plump specimens. They told us the American crawdad has crowded out the native Thames variety and that the rule is that you never throw back the American kind, even if it is too small to eat. Invasive species travel both ways. The two young men reported making a crawdad curry the night before.

Coquettish nuns still haunt the Godstow Nunnery.
Coquettish nuns still haunt the Godstow Nunnery.

Soon after we made the turn for home, we came across the remains of the Godstow Nunnery, founded in 1133. It seems an unlikely place for this, but a sign nearby says Henry II met his mistress, Rosamund Clifford, there. Like I said in an earlier post, it seems to be a regular spot on the royal payroll (Inquire within). Click on the link to Rosamund and you’ll see the meeting at the nunnery may or may not be true, but apparently the place did later become “notorious for its ‘hospitality’ toward young monks from Oxford.”

The party stopped in 1541 when Henry VIII, on a tear to stamp out Catholicism in favor of his brand of religion and marriage equality, had the place destroyed. So much for girls just wanna have fun.

Our new favorite pub is The Perch in the village of Bisney, just a stroll across the Rainbow Bridge, up along the Thames and through the bower into a warm. low-beamed interior and an outside space filled with picnic tables.

An uninvited guest sneaks up on our picnic.
An uninvited guest sneaks up on our picnic.

Speaking of picnics, we took one with us today and ate at the Wolvercote Bathing Place. Some uninvited guests showed up for lunch, but we left them to wing it. No free lunch here. You know how Canada geese dirty up Seattle golf courses? Same here.

The Thames Path is a wide trail along the river with several gates, probably to control where cattle can roam. The trees along the bank are huge, the waters plied by narrow boats and the trail shared by bicyclists, walkers, baby strollers and lots of dogs.

We chatted with dog walkers, crawdad catchers and inn keepers. We nodded hellos to several others and exchanged smiles with all we passed. All and all, a friendly place.

But there’s also division in the country over what to do about the refugees pouring into Europe from Syria and other Mideast and African nations. The plight of these people has been in the papers daily and what to do about them, how many to take, what effect they would have on housing and health care are questions that have generated a full deck of answers. Some say there is no room here. Others, like the person in an apartment near us, are happy to put out the welcome.

Sign in a window near our apartment.
Sign in a window near our apartment.

A garden, a pub and a meadow

The Botanic Garden with Magdalen College in the background.
The Botanic Garden with Magdalen College in the background.

It was in the 70s in Oxford on Thursday (and again today) and we decided to spend it walking through the University of Oxford Botanic Garden and around the Christ Church meadow.

The “healing garden” was founded in 1621, according to the Fodor’s travel guide we are using. It still has exhibits of medicinal plants among its 6,000 species on display, and is the oldest such garden in Britain.

I love looking at flowers, but to me they are slashes of color among green leaves. Even when I learn their names, my recall of them will be gone long before the flowers wilt. But Kathy? She seemed able to identify 5,999 of the species.

A pitcher plant
A pitcher plant

My favs were the pitcher plants, or “insectiverous” species, as Fodor’s calls them. They were in one of the glass greenhouses, the one that was free of bugs.

A flower in one of the greenhouses.
A flower in one of the greenhouses.

We were admittedly poor reporters during our walk through the garden, rarely recording the names of the occasional flowers or plants that Kathy didn’t know. Besides, most of the signs identifying the plants gave the Latin names, and my two years of Latin more than 50 years ago failed me.

A very odd flower
A very odd flower

From the garden, we wandered back (OK, we got lost) to the Turf Tavern, which we had passed through on our walking tour last week. Besides a wide selection of ales and spirits, the pub features good grub and signs to entertain you in the outdoor eating areas. The most photographed  while we were there was the one identifying the Turf as the place where Bill Clinton “did not inhale” while a Rhodes scholar at Oxford. Another one pointed out that the Turf makes an appearance in Thomas Hardy’s “Jude the Obscure,” yet another book to read.

Kathy orders an
Kathy orders an “Old Gold” with our lunches. It’s a Scottish ale fermented in whiskey barrels.

After lunch it was on to the Christ Church meadows, a lovely walk along the Cherwell River. Boaters were punting on the river, a team was practicing rugby on the opposite bank and cattle were grazing in the meadow — a rural and pastoral atmosphere just a ways off tourist-clotted High Street. Coming from a city that feels increasingly overrun, we are struck daily by the calming, civilizing effect that Oxford’s many green, open spaces give to its bustling byways. (Take note, Seattle City Council.)

We hope to get into Christ Church College during “Open Door Weekend” tomorrow. The college was built in 1546 (back to Fodor’s now), founded by Cardinal Wolsey and has the largest quad in Oxford. Lewis Carroll, author of “Alice in Wonderland,” taught math there and we visited the Alice Shop across the street to buy a postcard (hope you like it, Beanne).

The walk in the Christ Church meadow along the Cherwell River.
The walk in the Christ Church meadow along the Cherwell River.