How to leave Oxford (other than graduating)
July 6, 2010 11:35 AM   Subscribe

Side trips from Oxford (England): one or two day jaunts needed

I will be in Oxford on business for a month this summer; no car or even bicycle. It has been years since I was there. Any suggestions for side trips, ideally managed by train or bus, that could be managed as a day trip or a Friday evening-Sunday evening jaunt? (I suppose I can rent, or "hire," a car, and would gladly do so if that's the only means of getting someplace cool.)

I like historical sites, natural splendor (so attainable spots in the Cotswolds or Wales would be great, as would be anything on the coast), but sheer novelty and freakiness are welcome too. Thanks!

Bonus question: what must a traveling Yank not forget at home?
posted by Clyde Mnestra to Travel & Transportation around Oxford, England (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Avebury - one of the largest stone circles in Europe (larger than Stonehenge), dating back to around 3-4000 BC. It's about 40 miles away from Oxford.

You can get there by public transport (Google gives several plausible results), but you'd find it easier to drive.
posted by siskin at 11:44 AM on July 6, 2010

If you like natural splendor, I highly recommend the Lake District which is about 4 hours from Oxford, though you'll probably want a car. You can take the train there and there are some bus tours, but it's a lot of small villages, so hard to get from A to B once you are there without a vehicle.

Bath is about a two hour train ride--beautiful Georgian architecture and, of course, the Roman Baths. Very walkable and small enough to make it doable as a day trip.
posted by HonoriaGlossop at 11:46 AM on July 6, 2010

Are you already in Britain?
Have you looked at ? It looks like Canterbury is doable with a few changes as is Portsmouth which have hostorical sites to visit.
posted by pointystick at 11:59 AM on July 6, 2010

Oh, and for novelty and freakiness - stay in Oxford and go to the Pitt Rivers Museum. It's a fantastic anthropology museum - bizarre cultural items from all around the world. Real shrunken heads, a witch in a bottle, musical instruments, guns, tattooing equipment, and drawers and drawers full of strange and wonderful things. It's attached to the Natural History museum, which is worth a visit in itself just for the modern Gothic architecture.
posted by siskin at 12:00 PM on July 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Blenheim Palace is full of historical relevance and definitely cool, as is the town of Woodstock that it is in. Pretty much quintessentially English through and through.

However, with a month in Oxford, a day trip or weekend trip to London (if you have't done it before) is obvious, as is all the great things to see in Oxford itself. There are more ways to get between London and Oxford than you can shake a stick at. As for Oxford itself:

Go punting on the river if you can find some friends and a picnic basket to go with (Cherwell Boathouse is a good one, but anything on the river near a pub will have a place to rent them).

A more sedate (and less effort) would be any kind of river cruise (like these) would be pretty, especially on the Thames south to Radley and Abingdon etc.

Visit the University Parks if you are interested in Botany, or even if you just want somewhere to wander around and look at. You can walk through there and loop around through Christchurch Meadows and end up at Magdalene Bridge for a very pretty path view of some superb Oxford Uni buildings.

The Pitts River Museum in the Museum of Natural History is on the same road and is well worth a trip if you like that sort of thing - Tyrannosaurus Rex Skeleton and all kinds of Shrunken heads and the like are in there and even as an unimpressed teenager it was great to look around.

Honestly, there is so much of truly epic historical significance you could fill every weekend in either London or Oxford and be not in the slightest bit shortchanged, so don't think you necessarily need to travel while you are there to see anything. If you plan too many trips away in just a month, you may end up spending too much time travelling. Don't be so keen to look farther afield until you've investigated the more local stuff. However if you do, the following Cities/Areas are worth looking at:

Bristol (coach trips several times daily from Oxford)

Bath (gorgeous, but a car is best when you get there)

Anywhere on the South Coast, although Devon and Dorset are easiest to get to. Consider The New Forest, Bournemouth, Poole, Weymouth, Worthing and many large towns on that coast, but even more so the smaller fishing villages for a true feel of England - a drive along the coast will be fun.

The Cotswolds generally - hire a car for a weekend, drive down the A40 through Burford, Cirencester to Stroud or Gloucester or on to Bath, Bristol whichever takes your fancy but you HAVE to drive through at least 5 of the little villages down some twisty country roads to get a true feel for the Cotswolds as us locals know them. It's not all about the towns and cities. The triangle between Cheltenham, Stroud and Cirencester has some great out of the way places, including Arlington Row in Bibury. If you hire a car and like driving, the road B4425 from Burford to Cirencester is awesome fun and very pretty. It was part of my commute at one stage and it's a wonder I still have my license...

Seriously, you can't go wrong with a leisurely drive through the Cotswolds even if it's raining. And you could stay within 10 miles of Oxford and see so much you wondered how you managed to fit it all in.
posted by Brockles at 12:26 PM on July 6, 2010

I assume you've sorted out the major tourist traps like Blenheim Palace. There are bus tours. There are a good few other great houses in the vicinity if your interest runs to that--just in case you find yourself able to manage a car (Blenheim would probably be practicable by bike from Oxford). Garsington Manor (I've not been there myself) has history (connections with Bertrand Russell etc), a garden, and a semi-professional opera company. Stowe, in the other direction, has a famous landscape garden. But the region is not that great for wild natural beauty--it's been too closely settled for too long, and it's too flat, although some bits are hilly and quite pretty. Really, what the Oxford region excels at is culture. Stratford is not too far away and is certainly accessible by train--Chiltern Railways used to run a service from Stratford to London timed to catch the end of the performance, but getting to Oxford at that time of night might be tricky--I could just about do it without a car as as a semi-local but I wouldn't recommend it to a visitor unless he/she was adventurous and had a high tolerance for changes of mode of transport. Staying overnight would be better, but IMHO, except for the RSC Stratford pretty much sucks. On the other hand, if a weekend is a possibility, and you fancy some excellent symphonic music, check the website for Town Hall/Symphony Hall in Birmingham--not much more than an hour by train and a first-rate symphony orchestra in one of the most stunning concert halls in England. You could even go to Banbury and see the cross--pity it's not the original.
posted by Logophiliac at 12:26 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Winchester is pleasant - cathedral, etc. An hour by train.

But why not be brave and rent a car? Really isn't so scary and you will find it much easier to get to places in the countryside.
posted by A189Nut at 1:01 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

First of all, what to do in summer in Oxford: get yourself up to Port Meadow on a hot day and have a swim. Wonderful. No tourists. Light current. Shallow, warm water. Oxford's last great little known delight IMHO.

If you want to head west into the Cotswolds and have lunch in an archetypal, chocolate box English country pub then you could do worse than go to the Swan at Swinbrook. It has a lovely location. Arguably the prettitest (and heavily visited) villages in the Cotswolds are Chipping Campden and Broadway, btw.

What else hasn't been mentioned so far? Waddesdon Manor is a good day trip. You could go and see the White Horse at Uffington.

If you draw a 2 hour ring around Oxford you can get to a lot of places, but Bath is the pick of the places more than an hour away. If you head to the south coast it will be busy in summer. You might want to think about hiring a canal boat in Oxford with some mates if you can.

BUT - if you want an out of Oxford experience to beat all others trace the route of Three Men in a Boat. It's not cheap, unfortunately. But you can still hire camping skiffs. Have fun.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:30 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

You have to apply for a permit to "walk" in Wytham Wood but it's an easy process and the wood it incredibly awesomely beautiful. If I were you I would selectively rent a bike, too, and ride along the Isis.
posted by xueexueg at 1:36 PM on July 6, 2010

Get a train to Malvern and walk up the Malvern Hills, a long, prominent ridge that hugs the west side of the town. Gustav Holst was inspired by the hills I believe.
posted by Deor at 2:27 PM on July 6, 2010

Have you read all the Inspector Morse books? They make just walking around the city (and visiting all his pubs) much more rewarding.

Speaking of beer, take the bus to Witney and take the Wychwood Brewery tour. Be sure you don't follow the President's advice and drink the Hobgoblin cold.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 2:40 PM on July 6, 2010

Frankly, you're very unlikely to get asked for your permit if you want to go for a stroll in Wytham Woods; we lost ours years ago.

We have been asked, but only once in a decade.

Anyway the OP has asked for trips away from Oxford. Obviously London is only an hour away by train & brings with it all the attractions that entails. If the weather is nice and the seaside sounds like a good idea then Bournemouth is a couple of hours away by train (direct, about one train an hour).

You could take the bus out to Wantage and walk the western end of the Ridgeway for a few days if walking is your kind of thing, ending up at Avebury.
posted by pharm at 3:23 PM on July 6, 2010

Bath is a very doable day trip from Oxford, even by British standards, where a journey of more than an hour is an expedition. You could conceivably combine it with a trip to Bristol, especially if you have a rail pass or travel budget that isn't too constrained. Trains or buses get you so far into the Cotswolds and up towards Stratford, though it can be limiting.

On the near edge of that area, just near Chipping Norton, you have the Rollright Stones, where if you're lucky and go at the right time, you'll be the only person there; it's worth the trip just for the view.

Blenheim would probably be practicable by bike from Oxford

I've done it, and it's really not a bad ride at all, especially once you get past the ring road: there's something about biking to Woodstock that seems to liberate you from the tourist trudge. You can nip off to Bladon and see Winston in repose. At a similar distance to the south, Sutton Courtney is also bikeable from town, if you want to say hello to George Orwell.

(If you can rent a bike, do: it's usually tourist hell in Oxford this time of the year, but cycling across Port Meadow or up Binsey Lane for a cheeky pint at the Perch is what summer was made for.)

Best seaside visit? I'm going to be throw out something slightly different and say "go to Swansea": it's three hours, though you can conceivably break your trip, and then you can either go 'seaside resort' with the Mumbles, or enjoy the Gower.
posted by holgate at 5:11 PM on July 6, 2010

Response by poster: Wonderful suggestions, everyone -- very much appreciated. To answer a couple of the questions, I am not there yet. And I am not averse to renting a car to make a special trip; it's more that I won't have one at the ready, favor mass transit, and fear that it might get a little expensive. Other suggestions welcomed!
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 7:40 AM on July 7, 2010

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