Of Horses, Wool and Brain
Trip Start Mar 13, 2010
1Trip End Mar 17, 2010
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Where I stayed
We spent 2 nights at Becket House B&B near the train station and then at the most excellent newly built YHA hostel across the road (they do doubles).
Sadly we wasted quite some time visiting the disappointing allegedly prehistoric Uffingdon White Horse etched into a hillside and not really visible in its entirety unless you're very far away or airborne...so we arrived late in Oxford
The canteen or "mess hall" at Christ Church College was used as the great hall in Harry Potter’s Hogwarts. Students actually still take 3 meals a day in this room. Incredible! The Chapel of Christchurch Cathedral doubles as Oxford’s Anglican Cathedral. We attended the daily 18.00 Evensong service there and were blown away by the spellbinding performance of the all male choir. The Magnificat they sang was by far the most inspiring vocal/organ performance I’ve ever heard and in itself is worth a trip to Oxford
We also walked the grounds of beautiful Magdalene (pronounced “Maudlin”) college which is built around a beautiful cloister which was also used for filming Harry Potter.
Foodwise we had the most palate-pleasingly authentic Chinese food at “SoJo”. We weren’t quite sure what to order from the extensive menu so the waiter advised us very well according to our tastes. The place was packed with exclusively Chinese punters who all seemed to be drinking milk tea and eating braised marinated leg of pork (we certainly didn’t have this down as classically Chinese fare). We struck up a conversation with our lovely neighbours (exhausting the entirety of my Chinese vocabulary), 2 students, who in a loveably shy way organized 2 milk teas for us to sample. Thanks!
Next stop was Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. A sweeping estate built from the money awarded 1704 by Queen Anne to Sir John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, for his history changing victory at the Battle of Blenheim (i.e. Blindheim in Southern Germany) where he halted further French expansion to secure the stability of the European powers at the time
The Palace houses a nice general collection and a good exhibition on Winston Churchill’s life. The multimedia “Untold Story” is quite frankly a waste of time (40 minutes with no chance of escaping). Meant we missed a tour of the private rooms (Blenheim Palace is still lived in by the 11th Duke and Duchess). The grounds, designed by Lancelot ”Capability” Brown, are extensive and include a maze which we proudly solved without taking a single wrong turn. Whoopee!
Note that this year you can transfer your entry ticket to an annual ticket for free. This gives you some benefits even if you only visit the once.
This beautiful area of rolling hills, woods, meandering rivers and little hamlets has a rich heritage mainly based on the medieval wool trade (c.f. Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth). Every little town has houses traditionally built from honey-coloured local granite, often thatched.
We hamlet-hopped by taking small B-roads and stopped ever so often for strolls through the villages or the countryside. Our base was the lovely Trevone B&B in the enchantingly beautiful Bourton-on-the Water. Lyn who runs this place as well as the Mad Hatter Café was a most accommodating host. Here we also met a group of other guests who whet our appetite for Horse Racing. They used Trevone as their annual base for the Cheltenham Festival and introduced us to the concept
So off we went to Cheltenham, a grand spa town on the western edge of the Cotswolds, bought our tickets and partook in the frenzy reminiscent of, albeit on a much more spectacular scale, Charles Bukowski. Take 65.000 Irishmen, transfer them to the quaint English Countryside (last one to leave the country please switch off the lights). Add dizzying amounts of beer and lots of betting money and feel the emotions boil as everyone cheers on their horse as they jump the obstacles on sometimes very long and complicated courses. Most fascinating. We could just about hold back so only lost the grand sum of £6 (plus entry fee). Great experience!
We stayed at Michael (Fung)’s place who treated us to a tasty Thai dinner at the lavishly decorated Thai Emerald restaurant.
The next day, after some refreshing sleep on our part and a long night shift at the hospital on Michael’s part we dragged the poor chap back out into the Cotswolds to visit Snowshill (pronounced “Snozzle”) Manor, former home to the eclectically eccentric Charles Wade. Following his family motto “nunque peream” – nothing shall perish - this architect and craftsman literally piled his mansion to the rafters with artifacts from around the world including model boats and villages, bikes, 26 suits of samurai armour, clocks, looms, to name but a minute fraction of his quirky collection. You could live there and discover something new everyday. Michael declared him “God of the Messies”.
And off home we went after a very satisfying 5 days of mostly good weather packed with culture.