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DAY TRIP TO BLENHEIM PALACE AND OXFORD

You can see Blenheim Palace in Woodstock and a bit of Oxford in a very pleasant day trip. It is the best way from London to get a feel for the English countryside.

Transportation. You have two excellent choices for a trip to Oxford: the bus and the train. I think there is a "day return" ticket at a substantial cost savings, so you should come and go the same way.

The bus didn't run when I was there, but now everyone swears by it as the fastest and cheapest.

You can pick up the bus at various places. It lets you off at Gloucester Green in Oxford, right across from my old college (Worcester College). Gloucester Green is also where you catch the bus for Woodstock (where Blenheim is located).

If you take the train, take the tube to Paddington Station. Try to get one of the fastest trains to Oxford and ask for a day return ticket. Allow plenty of time to get a ticket in the station, it can be very crowded.  Ask about whether you need to change along the way (probably not). The Oxford station is just a short hop from Gloucester Green (and Worcester College), across a bridge over the river. As you approach Oxford, look for the view to your right (northeast) of the spires and towers of the city. On all buses and trains in England, keep your tickets for the whole ride until you are out of the station.

If you are going to Woodstock, I suggest doing it right away when you arrive at Oxford. I called, and here is current information.

In Bay 2 at Gloucester Green is Service 20. It goes to Woodstock. Get a day return ticket, which is about two pounds. (Obviously, confirm this when you are at Gloucester Green.) The ride is a half hour and will be pleasant. You will see the north suburbs of Oxford and a bit of the town, heading up the Woodstock Road.

Blenheim Palace is a splendid palace built by a grateful Queen Anne for the first Duke of Marlborough. This is Churchill's family, and he was born there. The palace is set in a huge park that is worth a long, quiet walk among the grazing sheep. There also is a nice garden. A tour of the palace is must. Woodstock is the tiny town where Blenheim is located. It grew up in the shadow of the medieval royal palace which preceded Blenheim Palace at that location, and still has the feel of a little town in the Cotswold Hills. Poke around in the little shops and pubs. I remember a leather store that is said to have some of the best gloves in the world.

I called Blenheim Palace (011)-441993-811-325 from the US. (Dial Woodstock 811-091 to talk to someone, but you won't need to.) The visiting hours are 10:30 am - 4:45 pm for the palace and gardens, but the park opens at 9 am. Needless to say, you will find a gift shop and places to eat. A ticket is seven pounds.

Oxford. If you have spent the whole day at Blenheim and Woodstock and there is no time for Oxford, don't worry. You have had a good day. Go back to London and put your feet up. If there still is time, here are some suggestions.

The typical reaction of the casual tourist is that Cambridge is more beautiful than Oxford. They have that impression because Cambridge is more accessible at a quick glance. Oxford is every bit as beautiful; but you must know where to look. Each college is closed off, like a medieval fortress. You must penetrate the walls and look around.

Most colleges have one entrance with a porter in a lodge. In my day, there would typically be a sign up saying no visitors, except in the afternoons. Now, some colleges have even gone further and charge admission. At any rate, the afternoon is the best time to try and you may need to pay. If nobody stops you, just walk in and keep walking. Remember, it is a very bad thing to stop on grass in any of the colleges.

The following is a series of suggestions for someone who is taking the bus back to London from Gloucester Green, starting with what's closest to that location. (Same advice if you took the train.) Cut it off at any time when you are tired and go home.

Worcester College. The entrance is right across from Gloucester Green, at the end of Beaumont Street. This is my college. Just inside the gate you will see one of the most interesting quads at Oxford. On the left are cottages built for monks sent by their monasteries to study at Oxford. Each monastery had its own staircase, and you can still see their symbols. These were built in the 1300s. My tutor's rooms -- the best at Oxford, some say -- are at the end of the building, on the second floor. He has his own private garden on top of the very thick wall.

On the right, are Queen Anne sandstone buildings from around 1700. These also are very distinguished architecturally, but thank goodness they ran out of money and they did not complete the project of tearing down all the cottages and building a complete quad in this style.

Walk through one of the gates under the old cottages and turn right toward the lake. Walk all around the lake and you are in one of the most restful places at Oxford. A ghost is said to rush through the passageway sometimes (the wife of the Earl of Essex, a courtier of Queen Elizabeth). You will enjoy the walk around the lake.

If you have time for only one thing at Oxford after a visit to Woodstock, do this. You can even pay a short visit to Worcester College while waiting for your bus to London.

St. John's College. Walk to the other end of Beaumont Street from Worcester College and turn left. Just ahead is the entrance to St. John's College. It has some of the best gardens in Oxford. Again, this is a good place to stop and return to the bus because the rest of the suggestions are farther afield.

To get a real feel for the heart of the university, walk south down St. Giles' Street and turn into Broad Street. You eventually will come upon Blackwell's Book Store on the left. On the right are famous the Sheldonian Theatre, designed by Christopher Wren, and the most ancient of the university buildings, including the Bodleian Old Library. If there is a tour of the Old Library, take it.

Broad Street leads to Holywell Street. There, you will find the entrance to New College. Walk in and see the old city walls built to repulse an attack from the French that never came in the 1300s. Also see the chapel and the gardens. Again, you have the feel of a real medieval town.

Finally, if there is time, follow Hollywell to Longacre Street to High Street for a visit to Magdalen College (pronounced Maudlin). See the cloisters and the deer park. If I could choose one place to visit at Oxford, this would be it.

Now you are very far from the bus or train station. Give yourselves a break, and try to find a taxi. If you can't, just walk another way back for variety. Walk back down High Street all the way to Cornmarket. Turn right down Cornmarket and Cornmarket to George. The Gloucester Green Bus Station is in the middle of the block before Worcester College. Or, if you took the train, walk across the bridge to the train station. (If there is time, when you are on Cornmarket, ask for directions to the Covered Market. This is one of the real hidden curiosities of the city. It is a survival straight from the medieval period and one of the signs of what an old English market town must have been like. I won't even try to tell you how to find it, but when you reach Market Street from Cornmarket, start asking.)

If you have a whole day at Oxford, the one highly touristical thing to do is to visit Christ Church College. This is both a college and a cathedral. It is the most visited college at Oxford, and the college in Brideshead Revisited. You can get into the cathedral free, but the college costs something to visit.

1999

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