Who knew that Aylesbury was a hot bed of musical culture in the 70s and 80s? Well the 93,000 members of the Friars Music Club probably did, but it was a fact lost on me until I visited the Friars exhibition at the Buckinghamshire County Museum recently.
I decided to spend my day off having a mooch around Oxford. I’ve lived a few miles away from the city since I was seven so have become very familiar with the place; taking frequent shopping trips, nights out, catching the last bus home from St Aldates, and working in various places in the city. In the last few years I haven’t visited much, as it’s a lovely city I thought it was well worth a re-visit. My mum was also free so came along for the ride. I had a great day so thought I would flag up a few places we visited (and some we didn’t) in this mini guide.
First stop: Modern Art Oxford to view the free galleries. An exhibition of work by Jean-Luc Moulene (on until 25 November) is worth checking out, especially for his interesting glass and metal ‘knots’. The museum shop is a great place for trendy purchases and there is a cute cafe too, so, naturally, we stopped for a cup of tea. If you’re a fan of intimate local galleries that pack a punch the O3 Gallery and The Jam Factory are also well worth a visit.
After a wander through the High Street it seemed like the perfect time for lunch. The Covered Market is an Oxford Institution and packed with shops selling all manner of goods from Oxford sausages to hats. There are, of course, lots of lovely cafes so we headed to Georgina’s and devoured a huge bowl of nachos before wandering up and down the market lanes. I have been in the Covered Market so many times, but still have no idea where I will be when I emerge from one of the many exits!
Outside the Covered Market are the usual High Street shops, but it’s worth avoiding these and visiting a few of the more interesting (and sometimes hidden) gems. A great example if The Old First Station shop, whose entrance is off Gloucester Green. There’s lots of amazing stuff – I could have bought it all! Prints, cards, jewellery – all made buy independent makers, some of whom are local. Arts at The Old Fire Station is a charity and social enterprise and the building also incorporates a gallery, studio and theatre.
After lunch an afternoon of museum visiting awaited us and we headed to the Ashmolean, situated in a huge building designed by Charles Robert Cockerell and built between 1839 and 1845. The present Ashmolean was created in 1908 by combining two ancient Oxford institutions: the University Art Collection and the original Ashmolean Museum. The collection is huge and spans everything from Greek and Roman sculpture to 19th century art . The museum has recently been refurbished, looks fantastic and has a great shop so it’s well worth a visit.
We also checked out the Museum of Oxford, which has recently been downsized to just two rooms in the Town Hall. It’s small but informative and the volunteer there was delightful!
If you have more time than we did there are even more great museums to visit. Personally I love the Museum of the History of Science, which houses a gargantuan collection of early scientific instruments in – get this – the world’s oldest surviving purpose-built museum. Fact. Another all-time favourite is The Pitt Rivers Museum, which displays and cares for University of Oxford’s collection of anthropology and world archaeology.
You can’t leave Oxford without a drink in a pub – another fact. There are lots to choose from including the Eagle and Child (where J.R.R Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and many other writers would meet), and Oxford’s oldest pub The Bear Inn which dates from 1242. We ended up in The White Horse on Broad Street. This tiny pub, enveloped by the first Blackwells book shop which was opened on New Years day in 1879, dates from the 16th century and frequently showed up in episodes of Inspector Morse in the 1980s.
So there you have it, my mini guide to Oxford, I hope it’s been useful if you were planning a trip. There’s obviously so much more to do, see, eat and experience. If you have ever visited I would love to hear your suggestions.
* All the museums and galleries mentioned above are free, except for special exhibitions. So, if you can afford it, a donation, drink in the cafe or purchase in the shop will be greatly appreciated by them (and you)!
Just before Christmas I had a weekend away with my Mum in York. It was one of those weekends where you try to ram everything in and are constantly on your feet, so at the end of the trip you feel like you have been living there for months. I like trips like that. We visited some fantastic places in the city but I’m going to talk about York Art Gallery (www.yorkartgallery.org.uk) here because I thought it was wonderful.
I love visiting art galleries nowadays, but when I was young I was routinely dragged around them, staring at masterpieces but without my young brain really engaging with them. It would have been nice if I had visited York Art Gallery then. Yes there were some fantastic paintings by York-born artist William Etty, but it was all the little touches around the gallery that made it for me (and the child within).
Downstairs we had a super time with the sketchbooks and pencils trying to do justice to Venus, pretending I was an old master leaving my artistic legacy in an old sketchbook in the galley only to be discovered in hundreds of years…hmm. Mum, who seems to struggle with the idea that she is good at drawing made an absolute treasure (left) which, most importantly, has a very good face (I usually try to leave them out whenever possible). I was focusing on the bum, as you can see, which I thought may be a bit easier – but wasn’t. I havn’t tried to sketch a figure or face in years and felt very stiff and tense – which shows!
Upstairs we also found some little gems. One gallery had a small area set up like my ideal lounge with leather sofas and a coffee table, shelves of art books to read and a TV showing a little film related to the exhibits. There were a few areas set up like this with books for adults and kids. Special exhibits had ‘Hands On’ signs so you can feel the pieces – I find it hard to resist touching things that look to satisfactory, so it is wonderful to have an outlet for such cravings! I also made a face on a light box, I think it looks a little like Brian Ferry with a wig on – what do you think? One last thing to mention was a little room with an exhibition about ‘play’ – all sorts of art and artifacts relating to playtime and games. it was interesting because it was jointly curated with children from a local school. This made me smile.