Two Weeks in the UK- Part 3 (Cotswolds & Oxford)

 
Having enjoyed a nice relaxed
welcome to England at Reading, it was time to push on the gas pedal, and we
took it literally. Driving in a foreign land had been one of the top listed
items in my travel checklist for a while now. So when I found that you do not
need any international license or permit to drive in England up to 1 year from
the date of arrival, my joy knew no bounds. 
 
A few taps on the  keyboard and
comparisons on http://www.autoeurope.eu/ later, I settled on Europcar
(https://www.europcar.com/) where I could rent a nice, reliable car at a good
price. The hiring process was a breeze. They took a copy of my passport, Indian
driving license, explained the rules, got a couple of signatures done, went
through the motions of trying to upsell extra insurance etc, and moments later
I had the keys to a shiny Vauxhall Corsa. 
 
Unfortunately, I was there on
Saturday and the next couple of days were Bank Holidays in the UK, meaning all
the business establishments were to stay closed. So no one would be there when
we wanted to return the car the next day. And self parking the car and dropping
the keys in a pre-designated box would cost me 20 Pounds extra. And there went
the chirpy feeling of my special online price. However, when the wind is
blowing, you run, or drive right with it. We picked our car, which had a built
in Navigation system (generally charged for separately), and was larger than
the Mini we had booked. Lady luck was still by our side. 
 
Renting a Car Tips:
1. It’s good to check the prices online
as well as by calling the centre; you never know when lady luck manifests
herself as deals or discounts. 
2. Also returning the car at the
same centre costs lesser than returning it in some other city or another
centre. The latter may be convenient but adds a return charge to the centre of
origin. So plan as per your needs 
 
Armed with beaming smiles, our
luggage safely tucked in the trunk, seatbelts fastened, and a wee bit of
nervousness, I put the right gear in, released the clutch, took a slow turn
that felt like eternity, and drove on, like an Englishman would. 

 

 
  
Assured that I belonged behind the wheels, we
lowered the glasses to let in some fresh, cool, unpolluted breeze, filling us
with expectant energy, excitement and exploratory zeal. Here’s our Car.                                                            
 
 As soon as we
exited Reading, we were at the doorsteps of one of the most beautiful
landscapes in the UK- the Cotswolds. Lush green all around, with interspersed
brown or red farms in the distance, some foliage in the far, and scores of
cattle- cute little sheep, peaceful cows, and magnificent horses, farm
machinery as toys brought from some alien world, and stacks or rather cylinders
of Hay like giant rolling wheels; all placed delicately on a canvas just to
please the eyes and play a gentle game of hide & seek, which the sun and
clouds with light showers had made their own. A rainbow moment now, and gasping
moment gaping at the sudden upswing in the already high beauty quotient then,
would lead to multiple breaks on the road to Oxford; our shutters buzzing, and
us basking in the glory of our good fortune. Yes, we were in the English
countryside.
 
 
While meandering through
the Cotswolds, which is a designated AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty)
in England, we came across numerous little hamlets, streams, farms &
cottages. We stopped over for some sightseeing at Bibury, a quaint little
village in a gorgeous scenery and a large farm and tea shop. 

 

 
 

Our spirits lifted, we reached
the outskirts of Oxford.
“I wonder anybody does anything at Oxford but
dream and remember, the place is so beautiful. One almost expects the people to
sing instead of speaking. It is all—the colleges I mean—like an opera.” –
Yeats
It
sure was Opera. But you need to park before you are escorted into the magical
world of Opera.
It
would be a sharp pain in the behind if not plain blasphemy if you take your car
inside Oxford and ruin your perfectly poised day which would otherwise be spent
nursing your mouth kept wide agape marveling at the insane grandeur and air of
accomplishment.
Oxford Parking Tip: On all the roads
leading into Oxford (from four sides), there’s a large paid Park & Ride
each. You simply need to park your car, come to the parking ticket vending
machine, purchase a 24 hour ticket for 2 Pounds by cash; and then either board
the bus into the town centre for 3.60 Pounds a person for a return ticket
within 24 hours, or rent a cycle at 1.60 Pounds per hour, whatever catches your
fancy. I recommend taking the bus for a first timer. It’s an eminently walkable
town with pretty sights all around, which you would want to stand and admire
from anywhere and everywhere. More information can be had here:
https://www.oxford.gov.uk/directory/8/car_parks_in_oxford/category/56/categoryInfo/13
 
Those who study here accomplish in life we
believe, but when walking the boulevards and vistas of Oxford, you feel a sense
of accomplishment for having seen this great university town. Arguably the most
famous university in the world, and the second oldest continually surviving university,
Oxford lays a fair share of claim in the development of modern sciences, art,
humanities and allied disciplines. The colleges have a sense of calm excitement
about them, as we felt when we visited the Christchurch, Queens or Trinity
Colleges. With buildings in Norman, Baroque, Victorian, Georgian, Gothic,
Classical Roman or classical Greek styles of architecture, Oxford presents a
study of classical and medieval European architecture in itself. For an
introduction to the architectural styles of major landmarks in Oxford, one may
visit:
https://www.oxford.gov.uk/info/20013/about_oxford/507/discover_oxfords_architecture.
 
Just as we got down from the bus at the city
centre, before we could start getting shutter happy, the rain gods decided to
spray. So we dashed into the first shop (Primark- you can never go wrong with
Primark in the UK), and bought a 5 pound umbrella, esp. since we had forgotten
the one we had in the car. This second one would keep us in good stead through
our entire UK trip.
As soon as you get down from the bus from the
Redbridge car park side, you witness the grandeur of Christchurch Cathedral
& College. The cathedral itself was founded in 1122, and the college which
it is now a part of was founded in 1525. We had a glimpse of the outer
buildings in the lavish compound like the Christchurch Meadow and the Cathedral,
which are masterpieces in themselves. We were told that the interiors are even
more impressive with a mix of gothic, and classic English (Georgian &
Victorian) architectural motifs. A student of architecture or History could
actually pick a magnifying glass and revel in the layers of  history, styles & aesthetics through the
ages. The internet is full of outstanding photographs; however this is what we
captured on a wet, rainy day; in our single umbrella. The setting was somewhat
like this.

 

 
The Tower of Christchurch
But we were no teenagers, and the moment was
quickly captured & cherished deep within, while we moved our gazes to the
monuments built with love. That’s what we captured of the meadow and the tower
of the Christ-Church.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Christchurch Meadow. 
Paid entry to the premises is from here.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Right next to Christchurch is the Oxford Town
Hall- a pretty Victorian building opened in 1897. It hosts multiple events,
most notably offering a grand backdrop to lovely weddings inside its gorgeous
halls. However there’s something really cute here- the little Oxford City
Museum. Yes, it told us about the history of Oxford. But it was a lot of fun
too. Because Oxford is where ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is based at. And they have
some really cute paraphernalia associated with it. Also there’s some nice old
accessories like hats and stuff kept in a corner for you to try on. We went
berserk, as if it were a trial room at a busy high street fashion brand with
SALE on.

 

 
Kumars in Wonderland!


 

 

 
 
 

 While roaming around the streets in itself was
like like living through history, art and architecture, we did go inside a few
monumental buildings, none more riveting than the Radcliffe Camera (
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radcliffe_Camera). Built in early 18th century in
neo-classical style. It was designed as a library, and is used today as the
Reading Room of the much larger library down the path. Camera means ‘room’ in
Latin, as it does in varied forms in many Indo-European languages. Doesn’t it
ring a bell for speakers of Hindi and other North Indian languages? It’s so
much fun to figure out the roots and relationships between languages. So much
commonality, amidst such rich diversity our world encompasses- it’s enchanting.

 

 
Fun with ‘Camera’
 
Next up for us wandering souls was the famous
Trinity College on Broad Street. Founded in the 16
th century as “a
training house for Catholic Priests”, Trinity has an illustrious past and an
exquisite present, at least from the looks of it. Entry to the external gardens
set us back by 2 Pounds each, and we took a stroll, shutter happy.

 

 
 
 
 
 
Museum of the History of Science
Coming out of Trinity College, the first thing that caught
my attention was heads of people on the walls around a building with a flight
of stairs. Wow, that was the Museum of the History of Science.  It couldn’t sound more amazing, could it? The
Museum’s website (http://www.mhs.ox.ac.uk/)
says “The Museum of the History of Science houses an unrivalled collection of
early scientific instruments in the world’s oldest surviving purpose-built
museum building (1683), the Old Ashmolean on Broad Street, Oxford
.” That ought to be visited, and we were
on that flight in a jiffy. But, let’s just turn back a little and look at the
heads with no shoulders. They look wise for all the Science they have seen.
Similar heads are also found on the fence wall of the famous Sheldonian Theatre
nearby, which houses the Graduation and other ceremonies.
 
 
The Sheldonian Theatre
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Turning our attention back to the museum, it has an
exquisite collection of scientific instruments from the middle ages to the 19th
century, sundials, telescopes, the earliest photography cameras, clocks, Marconi’s
transistors, Einstein’s blackboard, models of the universe, chemistry lab
apparatus and many more. Have a look here.
 
 
 
Famished as we came out from centuries of Science, we had
some really good coffee, hot dogs and bagels at a street-side café, which can
be found aplenty here. Content, we moved to the next gorgeous thing walking
through equally gorgeous streets. Here’s a final glimpse at Oxford before we
move out and about to our next stop, 

 

University Church of St Mary the Virgin
Cheltenham, or was it?

 

 
 
 

They call it the Nostalgia Bus
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
Broad Street


Oxford Castle, since 1071 AD
 
 
 
Closing with some GIFfy fun. Was I posing or was I reading?
 

 

Having ‘studied’ Oxford, we went on to the next stop- here’s where the things went not exactly as expected, but that was fun too. More on that tomorrow..
 
Do watch this space.

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