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Seven Hills

Boston-area exploration, travel notes, crafty things, and other Somervillainy.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Oxford Revisited

Hmm, so what was I saying would be "next up" about that trip to England we took more than six weeks ago? Without further ado, let's finish that thought with the aid of many pictures plus a few words ...

The shopping scene in Oxford is evolving, slowly but surely. My favorite new (to me) store was Northlight on the High Street, which specializes in bright Scandinavian home items and sported this happy, bicycle-centric window display.

I also enjoyed a quick stop in Port Meadow Design on Walton Street, a boutique with some nice yarns and textiles, as well as jewelry made by local designers. And, while it doesn't have an actual storefront, I came across the web site for an Oxford-based, one-woman natural yarn-dyeing business aptly named Oxford Kitchen Yarns. Her blog provides a delightful peek into the crafty life in Oxford.

One place I'd always heard about but never visited is the Cherwell Boathouse, a restaurant on the Cherwell River that also rents punts. Our landlady told us how to get there, so one afternoon we got some sandwiches and made our way up through North Oxford, past a game of cricket at the Dragon School (its real name), and down a narrow lane to this bucolic scene:

It was getting a little late in the day by that point, so we decided not to take to the river ourselves this time around, but we did find our way through the grounds of neighboring Wolfson College and across that arching bridge pictured above to an ancient meadow across the water, and still more riverside footpaths -- Oxford is a great place for riverside footpaths.

Walking back into town, we cut through University Parks and ended up at a place I've seen referenced in many an Oxford guidebook, Parson's Pleasure, once a popular retreat for men's skinny dipping. But no more ... now it was rather flooded and quite abandoned, except for a perilous amount of duck scat in the grass and two young Middle Eastern women in veils, running around taking photos of each other and giggling.

From Parson's Pleasure we passed the island path with the scholarly name of "Mesopotamia," then came to yet another meadow path, this one ornamented with incongruent wrought-iron lampposts, which put me in mind of a similar scene in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, perhaps already in my thoughts because of C.S. Lewis's connection to Oxford.

After all that tramping, we took a load off at The Star pub in East Oxford on Rectory Road, a place that looks much like any other traditional English pub from the street, but which, once inside, had a refreshingly laid-back atmosphere: not quite a student pub, nor a fusty historical watering hole, but a punkish (but not pretentiously so) neighborhood place that seemed well suited to the bohemian aesthetic of this side of Oxford. Even better, it had a large beer garden out back.

Finally, I know you've been dying to know the answer to the question I asked so many weeks ago: What IS an alternative tuck shop? In Oxford's case, it is the Alternative Tuck Shop, a little corner food store on Holywell Street where one might "tuck in" to snack cakes with intriguing (at least to American ears) names like "tiffin" and "millionaire shortbread," as well as Cornish pasty pies and delicious curried things. It is presumably an "alternative" to the much less enticing-looking (mainly because it lacks the window display of baked goods), non-alternative Tuck Shop just down the street.

I've made a bunch of visits to Oxford over the years, and while it's really not that big, somehow there's always something left to discover there. Unsuspected worlds and enchanted pathways open up in the most unlikely places; whimsical goings-on abound. When I first read a line in "Brideshead Revisited" describing, of an unnamed Oxford, a quest for "that low door in the wall ... which opened on an enclosed and enchanted garden, which was somewhere, not overlooked by any window, in that heart of that grey city," I knew exactly what the author meant.

While the low doors in the wall that we found on this particular visit weren't anything others hadn't discovered many times in the past, for us they were, as each time before, all unexpected delights.

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At 8/17/2008 6:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Chrissa, I have friends in Oxford. Next time you go, won't you let me know so I can crash your holiday? Love, Jan


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