The scholarly city of Oxford was a brief stop on our whirlwind tour of as much of the United Kingdom as we could possibly manage in 10 days, fortunately, it took no time at all to make an impression.
Directly off the train our group of seven, luggage all in tow, hoofed it down the street to the car rental spot. On yet another occasion for this trip I was thrilled with my decision to roll with a carry-on backpack (dubbed The Ambassador at roughly this point in the trip) instead of a roller bag — cobbles galore. The brief jaunt was a riot of crisp air, classic architecture and the earliest hints of fall color. Glorious.
Our numbers merited two cars, which is interesting enough to report here for two reasons: 1. One of my friends had sufficient clout that they updated both cars to Mercedes. 2. This meant we had to navigate seven people and two Mercedes around a foreign country where every instinct we had about driving was wrong. Yay? Actually, very much yay, those Mercedes were really nice. But, our immediate move was to drive about three minutes down the road, stash them in a car park and drop them like a bad habit.
Back on foot we elected to wander in the direction of the Covered Market by way of Oxford Castle. This was our first non-London castle and the experience was quite different. As much as looking in Buckingham Palace and seeing it as a functional location was like seeing living history, the crowds did rob a bit of the majesty. In Oxford, and even more so in later locations, coming on a castle had this magical quality of discovery. And, if like us, you were among the few wandering about the place, there was no real need to imagine anything. The exterior of Oxford Castle was dotted periodically with wooden stocks. None of us went so far as to embrace the photo op, but seeing the things made quite real how miserable a state that must have been, for any stretch of time, much less days on end.
Pulling away from the scenery we pressed on, occasionally stating our intentions to move here immediately, and after a few point of interest pauses and photo ops we found ourselves at the Covered Market. Now, I love a good farmer’s market, so I was on board anyway, but upon getting there, I realized there was rather something more to the Covered Market. Apart from having quite a long history — the building dates to sometime in the 1770s — the Covered Market stands out for feeling almost like a city within a city. There are permanent stands and stalls, but also full stores and eateries you step into, as if off a street. This places has all manner of fine and bespoke foods for sale, it would be a chef’s dream. There are also bakeries and an ice cream shop, as well as specialty shops and restaurants. The ice cream shop looked a treat and turned up some mouth watering varieties, but plan though we did to attend, our eventual lunch choice filled us too full of delicious foods to even contemplate that happy eventuality.
Given our rather intimidating number and the relative size of most of the restaurants we decided to split off so as not to overwhelm any one place. That worked great for about five minutes, until all of our factions wound up in Pieminister. It was one of those terrible sitcom scenarios where we split off and two-by-two walked in and made surprised-to-see-you-here gestures. Cue the canned laughter. Fortunately, Pieminister had a table sufficient for our heat up for grabs, and more importantly, savory pies that were game-changing delicious. It should have tipped us off to a degree when a lot of the pies available for in store eating were sold out, but the food was still stunningly good. And, as it was a Tuesday, we walked into a glorious deal that allowed us to “mothership” our food — add mashed potatoes, peas, onion gravy, crunchy fried onions and delicious English cheddar and a beverage — for 6 pounds. I had an offering that combined, ham, chicken and cheese and it was one of the greatest things I’ve ever tasted. Once again, the end result was all of us, beyond full and not even a little mad about it. A thousand times yes, Pieminister. Come to Colorado and I will indulge my obsession on the regular.
Somewhat disheartened that we couldn’t find it in ourselves to eat some wacky and delicious ice cream, we wandered the rest of the Covered Market and set off, back to the waiting Mercedes before our parking expired. Of course, we took a winding route that led us through some of the Oxford University grounds, there was no way a bunch of nerds were going to Oxford and not breathing in that rarified air. It was absolutely gorgeous, the kind of place that makes you want to learn about The Rise and Fall of Ancient Rome in an 8 a.m. lecture because to not learn those things would be a shame. Memo to Oxford, if you have room for a verbose nerd with a penchant for conversational storytelling and a knack for The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, call me. I’ll come running. I’ll even bring you a bouquet of sharpened pencils.
Away from Oxford we went and on to The Cotswolds. Stay tuned for tales of advanced British driving, gorgeous country estates, quaint villages and scenery so beautiful it breaks your heart to look at it.