Oxford

Oxford is a destination not to be missed on any tour of the Cotswolds or Britain at large.  The county town’s fame extends far beyond its region; it is one of the most renowned cities in all of Europe.  Known as the “city of dreaming spires,” it is a magical place with gorgeous architecture which showcases every period in British history from the Saxons onward.  Transected by the rivers Cherwell and Thames and containing the oldest English-speaking university, it has become a cultural and academic crossroads.

Oxford was settled by the Saxons but it wasn’t chartered until 1191 when Henry II gave Oxford citizens the same rights enjoyed by the inhabitants of England’s capital.  A number of important religious houses were constructed by a variety of orders in Oxford at this time including the Cistercians, Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, Augustinians and Trinitarians.  Parliaments were frequently conducted in Oxford in the Middle Ages and it was there that the Provisions of Oxford were drafted.  These documents were a turning point in political history and are considered the first written constitution in the country.

Oxford is best known for its prestigious medieval university.  The University of Oxford is one of the most celebrated schools in the world and contains 38 colleges.  The University has more than 100 libraries including the recognizable Radcliffe Camera.  There are many museums on the campus which you can visit including the oldest museum in the UK, the Ashmolean Museum.  Also noteworthy is the Museum of Natural History which houses the unearthed prehistoric remains of dinosaurs and other creatures.  The adjacent Pitt Rivers Museum houses over 500,000 archaeological finds.

Oxford’s city centre is another very popular destination.  Shopping opportunities abound in both retail and independent forms.  Blackwell’s Bookshop boasts the largest room book store room in all of Europe known as the Norrington Room.

There are so many landmarks in Oxford that you could probably spend months in town and not see everything.  Other places to visit include gorgeous gothic churches like the St. Mary The Virgin Church and the Christ Church Cathedral.  Oxford has its own 1.8 hectares Botanical Garden containing over 8,000 species of plants.  More destinations to enjoy include the Sheldonian Theater, the Museum of the History of Science, and Modern Art Oxford.  28 nature reserves within and surrounding the city of Oxford offer peaceful, green walks for those wanting to enjoy the fresh air and some quiet.  On the west edge of town, you can visit Oxford Castle, a 14th century motte and bailey fortress with an accompanying hotel (developed from a former 18th century prison!).

Oxford has sparked the imagination of so many that it figures hugely into literature and film.  Some films you may have seen filmed in Oxford include all the Harry Potter films, Children of Men, Tomorrow Never Dies and The Scarlet Pimpernel.  Numerous writers lived in Oxford or attended the university including Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll, T.E. Lawrence, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and Philip Pullman (whose Dark Materials books, favourites in Britain, are set partly in Oxford).  If you choose to include Oxford on your Cotswold tour, the “City of Dreaming Spires” will surely inspire you as much as it inspired these writers and filmmakers!

Oxford

Witney

Witney is a medium-sized Cotswold market town in Oxfordshire with some buildings dating back to the 13th century.  While it is well known for some of its architecture it is perhaps just as well known as a center of industry.  Located on the banks of the River Windrush, it is only 10 miles from Oxford itself.  Some of the woolen products that Witney is famed for producing include gloves and blankets.

Witney’s market square is still a popular trading point.  The Butter Cross in the square is a steeply gabled structure which was used in the middle ages by women trading in dairy and produce.  This is not the original structure though; it is a refurbished version constructed in the 17th century.  Along with the shopping along the high street, you can still partake in at the market twice a week.  In the market square you will also find the historical Town Hall and the Church Green.  Much of the lovely architecture that you see was the result of the profitable trade in wool goods by the town’s craftsmen and merchants over the centuries.

The church, called The Church of St. Mary is designed in the shape of a cross.  It was originally constructed in the 13th century but was refurbished in the mid 19th century.  Other historical buildings in Witney include the Henry Box school, built in 1663, the Blue Coat School for weavers, constructed in 1723 and the Blanket Hall built in 1720.  If you are willing to travel a short distance, you may want to visit the Church of St. James in South Leigh which contains some particularly beautiful medieval wall paintings.

Witney offers a wide range of accommodations including historical bed and breakfasts, farm houses on working farms and hotels.  This is a growing town that still hangs onto its historical heritage and is a fine destination on your Cotswold tour!

Witney-Oxfordshire

 

Lechlade

Lechlade is a small market town on the southern outskirts of the Cotswolds in Gloucestershire.  The River Thames and Rivers Coln and Leach combine here and represent the highest point upstream on which larger vessels can travel on the Thames.  Due to its proximity to the rivers and their confluence, Lechlade has been a center of trade for centuries.  Stone mined in quarries in Taynton was loaded on boats at Lechlade and transported to building sites of famous structures all around England including Windsor Castle and St. Paul’s Cathedral as well as a number of Oxford Colleges.  Now the town is a center of leisure for water sport enthusiasts.

Lechlade is believed to contain the oldest bridge over the Thames anywhere outside of London.  The bridge was originally constructed in the 13th century but was rebuilt during the 19th century.  A statue of Father Thames was moved from the source of the Thames to stand next to the bridge.  Another bridge from the 18th century is situated to the south and is known as the Halfpenny Bridge.

The skyline of Lechlade is defined most prominently by the spire of St. Lawrence’s Church.  The poet Shelley wrote the famous poem Summer Evening Meditation there.  You can visit the glorious interior of the church or enjoy a view of the spire from a cruise aboard the Inglesham motorboat during the summer months.

lechlade