Saturday, August 3, 2013

Trekking in Woodstock and Witney, Oxfordshire

Friday, August 2, 2013

Tearing All Over Oxfordshire:
            Today was quite extraordinary indeed! For one thing, I have set an all-time walking record having covered 12 miles in a single day! And I never expected my day would shape the way it did but then that’s what being spontaneous and ‘in the moment’ is all about, isn’t it?
            So I awoke at 7.00 am, showered, dressed and breakfasted at Sue’s generous table with muesli and yoghurt and bread and marmalade and coffee and then blogged a bit. At 9. 40am, I began my walk from Grandpont to Oxford City Center to meet Tony at Blackwell’s at 10.00 am. Being a retired don (a professor of Oxford), he has privileges that allow him to take visitors into New College (where he taught Chemistry for 20 years) which reputedly has one of the prettiest Oxford campuses and was the site of many of the Harry Potter film locations.

A Tour of New College, Oxford, with Tony:
            Indeed, New College is marvelous and historic and although all the Oxford Colleges are, this one is special because it is constructed on the ancient walls of the City of Oxford which are preserved and inspected each year by Oxford’s Lord Mayor to ensure that they are in good repair! Indeed a scaffolding a ladder are installed with much pomp and circumstance to enable him to climb to the top to make his pronouncement! This custom derives from the purchase of land by the founder of the college Robert Pope, who was informed by the City of Oxford that he could have the land to found a college provided he maintained the walls “in perpetuity”. He agreed! Hence, this unique custom.
            Tony was a fantastic guide—indeed he is an insider who took me through the chapel with its fabulous carved stone figures on the reredos and its stained glass window designed by the 18th century’s Joshua Reynolds. We were unable to see the Dining Hall which is under renovation but we were able to access the gorgeous gardens with their perennial flower beds that feature in many a movie. We also saw the huge mound that was built after the moat was dug out for New College has an amazing sunken lawn. To access the mound, there is a steep flight of stairs and up those we went. Yes, we did see the famous quadrangle with its cloisters which is the scene of a famous episode in the Harry Potter film that has to do with the breaking of a wand. We walked through them and enjoyed the views from all the angles of the university’s many towers and turrets and spires. It was fabulous and I felt very privileged to enjoy this amazing tour and I was grateful to Tony for making the time to guide me and provide so many entertaining tidbits.

Off on a Walking Tour of Oxford:
            Tony said goodbye to me and I sauntered off to see the Tourist Information Center when I discovered that free two-hour tours of Oxford were being offered by young guides. I have taken these tours in Berlin and Amsterdam and I can say that they are fascinating. How could I forego the opportunity of taking one of them?
            So off we went and, of course, there were so many new things I discovered. For example:
1. The exact spot at which the three martyrs, Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley were burned at the stake for heresy by Bloody Mary was not where the Martyrs Memorial currently stands but on Broad Street near the entrance to Balliol College. It is marked by a few stones in a cross-like pattern.
2. The five floors that comprise the tallest building in the quadrangle of the Bodleian Library are in the following patterns: Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and Composite.
3. The Bridge of Sighs was built in Oxford simply because there happened to be one in Cambridge and Oxford fancied it.           
4. All Souls College only admits people who are already specialists in their fields. They must hold graduate degrees and come there to do research.
5. Pubs in Oxford were divided among those frequented by Town Versus Gown. The King’s Arms is a Gown Pub.
6. Sir Christopher Wren, one of Britain’s greatest architects, invented the system of Insurance after the Great Fire of London, before he rebuilt the city.
7. It costs 9000 pounds for a year’s study at Oxford today.

And so it went. I enjoyed the tour immensely and when it ended, poked my head into Brasenose College where most of the early episodes of Morse were shot. Graduation celebrations were in progress, so I made myself scarce having taken a few pictures. Indeed, I was fortunate to see a typical Oxford scene with graduates in their black gowns and their mortar board caps which allowed me to take a few interesting pictures.
            I then popped into the Wheatsheaf Passage to find out who had taken over the premises that belonged to the hardware store called Gill & Co, which was had closed, four years ago, after 500 years—and I discovered, to my horror, that a Nail Salon called Oxford Nails had been installed there! Horrors!

A Bus Ride to Woodstock:
            It wasn’t the last bus to Woodstock (the name of the first Colin Dexter Inspector Morse novel which became an episode of the same name) but it was an afternoon one that was filled with young Asian students off to see Blenheim Palace (which is in Woodstock). Since I had seen the palace twice before and merely wanted to wander around Woodstock, Sue, my friend, had instructed me on the existence of a small nondescript gate. This allowed access on to the Blenheim Estate to the townspeople. It would allow me to walk on the grounds by the lake without needing to pay the hefty entry fee for the palace
            I bought a day pass (7.50 pounds) for the bus and took the S3 Stagecoach Bus to Woodstock (it was headed to Chipping Norton in the Cotswolds—which I felt strongly tempted to reach!). I was informed by a resident on the bus that it was not a village but a town—indeed, he said, it is the smallest Town in the United Kingdom by royal charter. He told me the townspeople feel very offended if you call Woodstock a village. Well, well, well. Live and learn, eh?

Wandering about the Blenheim Estate:
            I wandered around the town at will and enjoyed its lovely shops, Council Hall, Parish Church and cobbled lanes before I followed Sue’s instructions and found my way on to the Blenheim Estate together with joggers, walkers, babies in strollers, dog walkers, etc. I was already pretty beat by this time but pressed on in order to walk over John Vanbrugh’s famous Bridge over the river Glyme that flows through the estate. Soon the beautiful outline of the palace came into view as did a multitude of sheep. It is very bucolic indeed just as its landscape designer Capability Brown had intended it to be. I rested on a bench for a bit, did a few stretches and after five minutes, continued on my walk to the bridge. I got into conversation with a lovely lady who told me that she walked on the estate every single day—all the way to the entrance of the Palace. Finally the tall monument came into sight and a little later, I was on the Bridge taking a few pictures of the gorgeous building behind me—the work of the great John Vanbrugh who also designed Castle Howard in Yorkshire.
            I did not linger longer than a couple of hours (during most of which I walked)  as I had a long way to go. You see, in the morning, I had finally managed to make contact with Austin Fuller, the son of my Hall Stewart Stan Fuller who had mentioned to me that my old friend, now 81, was in a Care Home for the Aged in Witney. He was doing poorly and I felt that having the opportunity to meet him, I should try to do so.

On a Mission of Mercy to Witney:
            So, when I felt I had enough of Blenheim and because the sun was much too oppressively hot anyway, I made my way back to the town, found the bus stop and a bus that went directly from Woodstock to Witney and with the instructions and directions given me by Austin, off I went in search of Stan.
            I hopped on a bus going from Woodstock to Witney and, on making inquiries inside the bus, discovered that there was a young chap who was headed exactly to Madeley Park on which estate my friend Stan was resident in a home for the aged. I asked if I could follow him there and he readily agreed. The bus ride took about 25 minutes and just before we got to Witney Town Center, we hopped off.
            Then began another long walk of 25 minutes to get to the Home. It was hot and there wasn’t a bit of shade. I felt as if I was in the midst of nowhere and was grateful for the company of the sweet guy whose name was Leigh. We kept up a cheerful conversation until we reached the venue where my jumping over hoops seemed so worthwhile. All I have to remember is the look on Stan’s face when he saw me because he had no inkling that I would be arriving to see him. It was, therefore, a mission of mercy. I was pleased to see that my friend was mobile, not in pain, still his smiling self and although a bit forgetful, still very much in control of his faculties. He is not happy about being in the place and preferred to be at home, but he also told me that he had recently fallen from the bed at 2. 00 am and lay on the ground for 2 hours in the middle of the night before help arrived. He had to be hoisted from the ground in a mechanical hoist. Ever after that he has slept in an armchair out of fear. Old age is no fun, for sure.
            I stayed with Stan for almost an hour, then started the long trek back to the Town Center for the bus. I got lost and that added to my walk but at least I had a chance to see some of the factories that produced the famous Witney woolen blankets of which Stan was so proud. At that point (about 5. 30 pm), I realized that I hadn’t stopped for lunch and that I was starving. Needing something mobile, I found a vast shopping mall which contained a Marks and Spencer place from where I bought two sets of sandwiches. I wolfed them down in the bus that came trundling by in about 10 minutes and just before 7.00 pm, I was back in Oxford again after what had been a truly tiring day.

Back on the Coach to London:

I bid goodbye to my friends Sue and Tony in whose home I had been so comfortable. Although they urged me to eat dinner before leaving, I did not want to reach London too late—so I left at 7. 20, rode the Stagecoach bus to the Gloucester Green bus station in Oxford, hopped on to the 8.00 pm X-90 coach to London and arrived in Victoria at. 9. 45pm. I did not get a 44 bus to Battersea until 10. 10 but by 10. 30 pm, I was with my friend Roz who had cheese and leek quiche and salad ready for me with a lovely cold lemonade Perrier.
            Whew! I was knackered, let me tell you, and ready to collapse. But at the end of the day, it was worth the time and trouble I took to see an old friend who was extremely kind to me so many years ago. 
            Until tomorrow, cheerio!   

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