Oxford offers historic mixture of culture and academia

By Karen Felsch

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

An invitation to participate in the Oxford Round Table Discussions in Oxford, England, in July was the beginning of a great adventure for Diane Trisko and me.

Oxford is a city full of history and architectural opulence. A blend of town and country, Oxford chronicles Neolithic settlements, with its real beginnings in the eighth-century Saxon period. Since then, Oxford has weathered many changes to become the home of a world-renowned university. The city’s rich architecture reflects a past inspired by its many battles, romances, industry and poetry. A stroll down the ancient cobblestone streets displays the wonderful architectural design and melding of cultures and academia.

The University of Oxford is comprised of 39 independent colleges under one federal system. With a population of 100,000, Oxford swells to 300,000 when all colleges are in session. A very popular European tourist spot, people of all ages and nationalities swarm to Oxford. Many American universities have ties with the city and send students to benefit from the inspirational academia; former president Bill Clinton was an Oxford Rhoades Scholar.


The many colleges are popular sites to visit and individual tours of each attraction are options to explore. Of these, some highlights were Christ Church, Keble College, St. Johns College, Trinity College and the University Museum of Natural History, all of which hold their individual enticements. Since 1032, St. Martin’s Tower has been a landmark at the heart of Oxford. The tower and castle remains, a Norman legacy, are engaging sites to visit.

English pubs are well known tourist sites and popular gathering spots for locals. Here, one can try fish and chips or meat pies and get a feel of the English lifestyle. Among the more popular sites are Turf’s Tavern, an often visited watering spot for Bill Clinton, and The King’s Arms, a favorite with academics and travelers since 1607.

Oxford also has a literary legacy. At The Eagle and Child Pub, poet Charles Williams, J.R.R. Tolkien, who wrote "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings," and C.S. Lewis, who wrote "The Chronicles of Narnia," are but a sampling of authors who shared ideas and hatched book plots while meeting for a cold beverage.

It is easy to arrange transportation, chauffeur provided, to visit sites beyond Oxford such as Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill, which still is occupied. Stratford-on-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare, is an hour from Oxford and has many literary sites to visit. The breathtaking Salisbury Cathedral, Old Sarum Village, Stonehenge and the stones of Avebury easily can occupy another day of touring and provide a look into the village lifestyle and architecture.

Access to train and bus transportation is easy, and, with even more history to explore, London is only an hour bus ride from Oxford. Planning several days to absorb all of London’s sites is advised. Touring in a double-decker bus gives an overall view of London in a short time.

Whether it is the history, many art and music attractions, fabulous architecture, open markets or the peace and tranquility of its many gardens, parks and rivers, Oxford is an enthralling place to visit and a highly recommended tourist attraction.

About the writer: Karen Felsch retired in June from Rochester public schools after 21 years of service, the last 11 as office manager at Elton Hills Elementary School. She owns and operates a professional photography business in Rochester.

Getting there: Daily flights are offered to London’s Heathrow airport. The flight takes about eight hours. Oxford is a 70- to 80-minute bus ride from Heathrow.


Where you stayed: The majority of Felsch’s six-day stay was at Manchester College, the smallest college of Oxford University. On their final evening of the trip, they stayed at the Grosvenor Hotel in central London, which provided convenient access to many popular sites.

Where to eat: The Grapes, a local pub in downtown Oxford, is a highly recommended site for popular English fare such as meat pies and chips accompanied with a drink of Pims or ale.

Side trips: Stonehenge, The Stones of Avebury, Old Sarum, Salisbury Cathedral and Village, Stratford-upon-Avon and the several Shakespearean locations surrounding the site, and Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill and present home of the Duke of Wellington.

Travel tip: Pack light! Walking was their main form of transportation, so excellent walking shoes are needed.

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