Sunday, 3 July 2016

No deaths in Oxford

Yesterday I visited Oxford for the first time and had a truly glorious day (even if I didn't get caught up in any crime-solving or murder mystery).

As is my habit when visiting a new place, I did some research on the train to inform how our day would be spent. Pubs, towers, churches and of course the university colleges were on the agenda.

The first thing that surprised me was how small Oxford felt. Cambridge is small too but perhaps as I've become more familiar with it over time, I've ventured further afield so Oxford actually felt smaller even though I was expecting it to be larger (not sure why). A mere 5 minute walk from the station and we were in O'Neill's enjoying brunch / breakfast. Fuelled for the day we then headed straight to the first tourist attraction, Carfax Tower, to admire our first view over the city.

We withstood as much blowing about as we could to feel that we'd got value for money, then retreated back down the teeny tiny spiral staircase to the ground. From here we took to slightly aimless wandering, easily distracted as always by little nooks and crannies that looked interesting. There was another tower I had on my list but as there was some ceremony or another happening and the bells were therefore being rung, it was closed until they had finished. Here I drew parallels to the Carillon in Belgium where we had been totally deafened by bells in a bell tower. Us Brits are far too health and safety conscious.

Having taken in a few more of the tourist sights along our wander, we took a rest in a pub on an incredibly comfy sofa and spent time people watching and apparently sheltering from the rain as we discovered when the ground outside was wet upon our leaving.  

Perhaps not in the right frame of mind or body to climb another tower in the immediate future, we instead wandered on to Christ Church Meadow where we strolled around enjoying sunshine, punting mishaps, long grass and cows.

Having had food when we first arrived, we hadn't really thought about lunch but after walking such a long way we decided it was time. It was here that we encountered my first small criticism of Oxford; there are a) not enough food places for b) the number of tourists and c) the number of places to sit. In fact, there really is nowhere much to sit outside apart from in the meadow where we'd just been. Nevertheless, we eventually found a cute little tea-shop with lots of empty tables so it was here that we frequented and I enjoyed finger sandwiches with an 'Oxford rose' tea.

As we had been trying to find somewhere for lunch, we had stumbled upon one of the film locations for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (the cloisters at New College). Too hungry to go in before, we decided to return and were totally blown away by the gardens enclosed by the old city wall and the beautiful chapel where rehearsals for evensong were taking place.

In the end, it was a good job that we'd waited to climb the second tower as by this part of the day, the sun was truly shining and the sky was nothing but blue. I decided that the views from University Church of St Mary the Virgin were the best ones as the church sits nestled amongst some of the prettiest buildings in the city and the bird's eye view of them was gorgeous.

Always surprised in different places by how early everything closes (at least in comparison with London), we had no choice but to end the day in another pub. This time we chose to visit the Eagle and Child where CS Lewis and JR Tolkien amongst other authors ('The Inklings') met every Tuesday for several years to discuss the books they were writing. Good stout, more great people watching, it was a lovely place to end our visit before we made our way back to the station.

I'm very glad to have finally been to Oxford. Historically, I think it definitely had a lot more to offer than Cambridge but I think architecturally (and let's be honest, for the shopping), Cambridge definitely has my heart.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Two very different parts of English coast

Only two weeks into the final term of the year and it's still safe to say that the past two weekends of coastal escapism have been very much needed. This weekend was spent at home in Norfolk while last I was taken sailing around the South coast.

Gosport to Poole was my very first sailing experience and it was absolutely glorious! Fortunately not too much was expected of me in terms of knowing what to do with ropes or technically-termed bits of boat but I did enjoy pulling or releasing things and wandering about with a float to 'fend off'. I think most of my enjoyment though of course came in the form of basking in sunshine (when there was some) and revelling in so much sea. There really is no better place for head-space than on a boat in the middle of water.

Breakfast with a view.

The first day we travelled to Poole on extraordinarily calm and still sea. Sadly the lack of wind meant that not much actual sailing occurred but I was more than happy to sit and admire the view as we pootled along for 11 hours at about 3 knots. The sun truly shone in the evening so we sat on deck to enjoy celebratory champagne and chilli.

The next day was rather different to the first weather-wise. This time, it took 6 hours as we sailed along (this time with sail) at an average of 6 or 7 knots. We awoke to higher winds and choppier seas and I must say that cooking a Full English in such conditions is an experience that will never be forgotten. As for eating it... well getting food from plate to mouth has never been such an entertaining challenge! All in all, a weekend spent on a boat in excellent company enjoying good food, drink and music was truly a luxury and something I would definitely not pass up the opportunity to do again (it put quite a shadow over my summers spent in a topper on Snettisham beach).

This weekend by contrast has been everything that an outsider to Norfolk might expect and more. We really did experience all eccentricities that the Norfolk coast has to offer and it was marvellous! Today has been spent pottering in the garden enjoying intermittent sunshine and no showers (at last). There is dirt under my fingernails and I feel the ultimate balance of relaxed and productive.

Yesterday we took the magical mystery tour of the Norfolk coastline and the day definitely began as it meant to go on. Avid 'Normal for Norfolk' viewers, it was decided that we would begin the day with a venture to Wiveton Hall for tea and a spot of Desmond spotting. Well we were not disappointed as upon arrival the first fellow customer we spied was his 100 year old mother Chloe enjoying her elevenses and it was then not long before Lord of the Manor himself came to join her.

Want this wall.

We stayed a little while after our tea to investigate the gift shop (where you could purchase Desmond's eyebrows (and I do realise this is totally lost on anyone who has not watched the documentary series on BBC)) and were then treated to guests arriving by helicopter. Back in our Ford Fiesta, we made our way along to Blakeney.

With many places we stopped at throughout the day totally unchanged since my last visits 5 or 6 years ago, all of the childhood memories came flooding back. We lunched in Blakeney in a small church café run by the friendliest, most talkative little old ladies then visited Wells-Next-the-Sea where we meandered along the old high-street and popped in and out of antique and second-hand book shops. We stopped for hot chocolate from the seafood stand on Brancaster Staithe which we drank in the car admiring the view.

Norfolk crab sandwiches. Had to be done!

Our final stop was Hunstanton where we sat a while longer in the car listening to jazz and enjoying yet another view before finally stretching our legs in the direction of Fisher's for a fish and chip tea. After food we walked down to the prom and my wellies finally came into their own as I had  a paddle and walked along the water's edge for a while, enjoying the drama of the crashing waves with the sun's rays streaming through the clouds above.

It will probably be a while now before I'm back at the coast which saddens me because I do love it so. Bring on the summer!