Oxford and then...?
June 21, 2016 7:48 PM   Subscribe

I will possibly be in London in August, and would like to take the time to not only see Oxford, but to spend a day or two in a smaller, more peaceful town or village. What are my best options?

Work may take me to Oxford this August. While it's not completely confirmed, I'm of course taking the opportunity to start thinking about what I'd like to see when my work is finished, as I've never been in England before. I may come back here with more London-based questions after I'm done perusing my guidebook, but I thought I'd ask about some out-of-town trips.

I've been a Sayers fan from a young age, and would like to visit Oxford, which seems to be a pretty easy and popular day trip from London. But I'd also like to spend some time in a more quiet town or village and get some time in the countryside, with perhaps a bonus medieval church or two. I was thinking that perhaps basing myself in Oxford for a few days (maybe renting one of the rooms at a college?) might put some of these smaller towns more within range. I have a few ideas, but would rather hear from people more knowledgable. I'm perfectly fine riding the bus, I'd love to spend some time spotting Green Men in some quiet church, I'll be traveling alone, and I don't know how many days I'll have - less than two weeks, perhaps ten days at best, but I really can't predict it at the moment. I'm also willing to be told I should just stay in London and take a day trip to Oxford and leave it at that, but if it's possible I'd really love to soak in some peace and quiet and beautiful scenery.
posted by PussKillian to Travel & Transportation around Manchester, England (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The Cotswalds are a short jaunt from Oxford, and are the very epitome of what everything thinks of as Quaint English Villages, the sort of place where locals drop like flies whenever a fictional detective happens to be visiting.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 8:08 PM on June 21, 2016 [4 favorites]

Yes, the Cotswolds, in and around Stroud. Read Laurie Lee's Cider with Rosie before you go.
posted by rtha at 8:37 PM on June 21, 2016

Stratford-upon-Avon is about an hour north of Oxford. I think you could take the train there. Oxford is a pretty cool place, though!
posted by amanda at 8:40 PM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You can cover a surprising amount of distance on the Thames path - you can easily get to Abingdon from Oxford in a day. Dorchester (on Thames, not the one in Dorset) is lovely too, and is about a further day's walk. Stop and watch narrowboats going through Day's Lock, or walk up to the iron age fort at the top of Wittenham Clumps. Carry on to Goring the next day and catch the train home, or take an extra day and go via pretty Pangbourne to Reading.

UK hiking is not like US hiking - this is a well-marked path, with plenty of pubs and shops in villages along the way. It might get a bit muddy if it's been raining, but you don't need to take much with you aside from your wallet, phone and a waterproof. There will be plenty of other people about. It's the kind of walk people do before sunday lunch to work up an appetite. If you don't feel like walking (or if it's raining), you can get public transport very easily between all of those towns too.

There are luggage transfer companies, or you could just book a local taxi to drop your bag off at your next hotel. Most of the hotels in this area are pubs-with-rooms, the owners are usually pretty amenable to requests.
posted by tinkletown at 9:12 PM on June 21, 2016 [9 favorites]

Best answer: You can do a lot just on the outskirts of Oxford: Woodstock and Bladon, Sutton Courtney and Wytham Woods. Some of these are stereotypical southern English villages: thatched cottages, a church, a pub, a war memorial. These are easy easy in a car on the ring road, doable on a bike (which you can rent), a wee bit trickier on local buses.

Great Malvern is a good market-town gateway to the Cotswolds. Moreton-in-Marsh is also an option. Stratford is sort of meh. All of these are accessible on a direct Great Western train from Oxford.

It is very difficult to rent rooms in Oxford colleges if you are not a former student of that college, and a lot of them are already booked up for American college summer schools and/or conferences over the summer. August is slightly better than July, but don't expect any cheap accommodation in or around Oxford in the height of summer. Maybe AirBnB can sort you, or the kind of private non-college housing that's rented to students may be available short term. And the Cotswolds gets booked up too.
posted by holgate at 9:41 PM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Stratford will be mobbed with Shakespeare tourists.
posted by brujita at 10:14 PM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: holgate: it used to be difficult to rent college rooms, but not any more.

Seconding the Moreton-in-Marsh suggestion - it's picturesque, plenty of walks nearby and accessible by train from Oxford.
posted by altolinguistic at 12:22 AM on June 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I recommend avoiding renting a car and using rail or bus, especially if you will be staying in London and would need, then, to actually drive in London. That's not fun. And parking is an issue.

The downside of daytrips to little towns is that you might find there's not enough to keep you occupied for the entire day. Depends on you and your interests, and the town, of course. Still, something I've experienced.

Oxford is about an hour northwest of London by train out of Paddington. Oxford station is just a few blocks off the city center. Lots to see and do, of course. Consider taking one of the bus tours around town to get your bearings first. (If you have any interest in books, spend some time in Blackwells.)

Places like Canterbury, Cambridge, Salisbury, Bath and Winchester are all do-able daytrips by train out of London. I've done York as a daytrip, too. They will be full days. Plan to leave early and return late, after dinner. (Plan on returning on the next-to-last train in the evening, just in case.)

If you can commit to a specific travel times and days, rail tickets can be purchased online at some savings. Tickets purchased at the station at the day and time you're travelling can be surprisingly expensive, especially in the rush-hour peak times.
posted by justcorbly at 4:45 AM on June 22, 2016

Best answer: I grew up in Abingdon and still have family there!
So if you have any specific requirements I may be able to assist.

Oxford to Abingdon is about three hours walk along the banks of the Thames.
I would recommend it.
You can then get the bus or the boat back.

There are some very good churches (I believe St. Helen's is the widest church in England?) with many green mans.
There is also a fake ruined abbey that the Victorians built on the site of the actual ruined abbey.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 6:10 AM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I was in England for the past two-and-half weeks, and went to Bath, Stratford-upon-Avon, and Canterbury. Bath and Canterbury were bus tour stops, Stratford was all-day.

Those were all small towns but not, like, quaint little villages with cottages everywhere. Still very nice though. Stratford will probably be swarming with Shakespeare fans, as pointed out above. Bath Abbey was REALLY nice (and free admission!). Canterbury Cathedral was great and cost like £12 per person or so.

Can't help with Oxford or Cambridge; we totally wanted to do them, but the rail ticket prices and shaky weather dissuaded us. Speaking of rail tickets, the earlier you buy them, the better (usually). Cambridge tickets was around £80 for two round-trips three days from purchase, which... is not cheap, and this was in mid-June. So yeah, we didn't go.

I can help with London though. OMG I love it and totally miss it now 10/10 will visit again.
posted by curagea at 11:09 AM on June 22, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks, all. I love the info and more is welcome!
I know train fares are steep and was contemplating busses - is this a dumb idea?
posted by PussKillian at 11:15 AM on June 22, 2016

Cotswolds!! One of the most idyllic, amazing days we've ever had on a vacation was taking a day to hike from Bourton-on-the-Water to Upper Slaughter, then to Lower Slaughter, back to our car in Bourton. Pack a picnic lunch to eat by the extremely quaint water in Lower Slaughter. Check out the old church in Upper Slaughter. Marvel and the ridiculous beauty of the countryside.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 12:03 PM on June 22, 2016

Best answer: I know train fares are steep and was contemplating busses - is this a dumb idea?

The coach services from London to Oxford are frequent, cheaper than the train and only a little longer journey (as long as traffic's not too bad). There are local bus services that go to most bits of rural Oxfordshire, including villages with no railway line, though some services are quite slow and some routes require connections. The train is your best option for longer journeys up into the Cotswolds and beyond. Traveline is a good consolidated service for route planning; Rome2Rio is good too, though I'm not always certain it has the most up-to-date bus timetables.
posted by holgate at 1:33 PM on June 22, 2016

Best answer: Head for the hills. Oxfordshire will be hot or floody or both. You can get to Malvern by train in under two hours and stay at a great hotel from £49. It has amazing hill and narrow walks with some of the best views in Britain and you'll feel you are in the clouds in the heath but the village is sunny most days with short spell of rain. It will be a respite from dusty England below and the local tea-cake combo is amazing with good dinners and an award-winning rep. Highly recommended.
posted by parmanparman at 2:09 PM on June 22, 2016

Best answer: Yeah, probably simplest and cheapest to get the coach from London Victoria to Oxford, there are two companies, called Oxford Tube and Oxford Express. Woodstock / Blenheim palace is a good day trip from Oxford and worth seeing, and all the Cotswold villages sound like they're what you're after, plenty of good suggestions in the thread, one that hasn't been mentioned afaik is Broadway. Enjoy your trip.
posted by Ned G at 3:13 PM on June 22, 2016

Best answer: Only a small caveat on the advice you've been given so far with regards transport. You certainly don't need a car in London, or in Oxford. As advised, the bus between Oxford and London (Oxford Tube etc) is the most sensible way to move between the two. However, if you want to venture into the countryside, a car will be a big help, and will open up a lot of places to you that will either be inaccesible, or will take ages by public transport. Oxford is also quite expensive for accommodation - you might want to think about basing yourself somewhere else else for exploring elsewhere purposes. The Cotswolds are excellent, big and varied, there are a heap of medieval villages, and Norman churches, country houses etc.
posted by prentiz at 6:00 AM on June 23, 2016

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