There is a fabulous array of specialist tour guides and tours of Oxford, on foot and by bus. You can join a general tour, often with a smattering of interesting historical facts thrown in, or there are themed tours - based on periods of history, styles of architecture or the life of a person, real or fictional. You can even request your own tour, if you find a topic that hasn't been covered, though that might be difficult, since there are so many already on offer. And then there's the languages - many tour guides can offer more than one.
It's a good way to start exploring history, with it all laid out in front of you, and coming in small doses. And there is a lot of interesting history to be had. Oxford's had a finger in most pies and movements: religious, political and artistic. Even some longstanding Oxford residents have been known to join walking tours, coming away with their view of the familiar sights and spires altered, their eyes opened.
The best literary mention of walking tours comes in Jan Mark's collection of short stories A Can Of Worms. Called 'Crocodile Time', it's the story of two teenage boys who spend their summer holidays baiting the walking tours in Oxford, their home town. But they're growing up and apart, and it's a crocodile that comes between them. Not only is it a lovely story but it's got some nice details about Oxford locations.
- Special Interest and Ghost Tours.
- With Annetta Harvie, Blue Badge Tourist Guide. Available in Danish, English, German and French.
- Past and Present and Special Interest Tours.
- Including Morse, Architecture, Americans etc. With Bill Leonard, Blue Badge Guide, who also arranges Oxford-based Treasure Hunts.
- Hidden Oxford.
- Including: the history of the town, and of the University, specific colleges, literary tour (poets, diarists and authors of Oxford), Science, Children's authors, Children's Clue Trail, Religion in Oxford, Morse, Art & Architecture and River Tours. With Felicity Tholstrup. 21 Northmoor Road, Oxford OX2 6UW. Telephone/Fax: 01865 512650. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Eccentric Oxford
Run by Town & Gown Walking Tours. Entertaining tour revealing eccentric characters throughout Oxford's history. (100 mins approx), £5. Happens about once per month (around last Sunday in month) starting from Martyrs' Memorial, 2pm.
Well reviewed! 01865 775171, email@example.com
- The Oxford Literary Walking Tour
Run by Blackwell's Bookshop, 50 Broad Street, Oxford. See and hear where famous writers wrote, based their novels or went to College. Pay homage C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dorothy L. Sayers, Graham Greene, etc.
Tuesday at 2pm, Thursday at 11am. Enquire at Blackwells, 53 Broad St, telephone 01865 333606 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
All tours depart from Oxford Tourist Information Centre on Broad St, unless otherwise stated. New from April 2009: For individual dates for these tours, and to book, see the Tourist Information Centre website or ring 01865 252200.
The Civil War: Hear about how the University town turned into a temporary garrison at the centre of the Civil War.
- Gargoyles and Grotesques: Medieval and modern stonemasons used imagination and humour increating a wealth of amazing stone carvings. Bring your binoculars!
- John and Charles Wesley: Learn about the brothers who went to Christ Church and started the Methodist Movement.
- Oxford Children's Stories: Explore the Oxford of Alice, Lyra & Will, of Prince Caspian & Susan.
- Sciences at Oxford: Launched to celebrate Charles Darwin's anniversary. Oxford has made its Scientific mark since the work of Bacon in the 14th century, and the 17th century saw Boyle, Hooke and Halley make their respective discoveries.
Introductory Tours include:
- University and City Tour (2 hours):
- Daily at 11am and 2pm, with additional tours at busy times. Family Tour (1.5 hours); during the school holidays at 1.30pm. Please check in advance for actual dates and note that there should be at least one adult to every four children.
- Inspector Morse Tour (2 hours):
- Saturdays at 1.30pm. Please note that this a very popular tour and advance booking is strongly recommended.
- Pub Tours:
Offered by ILoveOxford Tours, Saturdays at 8pm. Meet outside the Saxon Tower on Cornmarket St.
Or from Footprints Tours on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays also from 8pm. Meet at the blue bicycle on Broad St (opposite Fudge Kitchen).
- Ghost Tour (1.5 hours):
- With Bill Spectre. Tours depart Fridays and Saturdays from June to October inclusive 31st October (Halloween) at 7.45pm.
Themed Tours run on set dates and times from February to November. Contact the Oxford Tourist Information Centre for more details (01865 252200). They include:
- Valentine's Oxford
- Sweet city with her dreaming spires: how many have visited and fallen in love with Oxford?
- Oxford Immortalised
- Oxford has inspired scriptwriters and filmmakers. Discover the sights made famous by favourite films and television programmes.
- Literary Tours
- Rich heritage of the many famous writers: poets, novelists, critics and children's authors who have studied or lived in Oxford.
- Oxford's West End
- One of the city's little known secrets, containing a late 18th Century prison (now a hotel), the remains of a Norman Castle, the sites of the first college and the original Thames. There is evidence of occupation from the Bronze Age, the Roman occupation and early Anglo Saxon settlements where friars lived and beer was brewed. The tour covers the area's long history, its ancient buildings and riveting stories.
- Stained Glass
- Almost every style and period of English glass-painting is represented, from Gothic to modern times, including beautiful 17th century windows and a wealth of 19th century glass, particularly by William Morris and Co.
- Oxford has a fine collection of religious architecture. Explore buildings from the Saxon and Norman periods, a vast domination of gothic architecture, and prime examples from Classical, Victorian and Modern periods.
- Garden Tours
- Including the vast expanse of Christ Church meadow, the oldest Botanic Garden in Britain, magnificent University Parks, containing the scientifically important hybrid garden as well as many college gardens. Beauty in all seasons.
- The Rivers and Rowing Regatta
- Christ Church Meadow, which has provided inspiration and relaxation for university members and townspeople alike. Walk beside the river Cherwell and along the Thames Path seeing the traditional annual competitive sport of colleges' bumping races.
Themed People Tours:
- J.R.R. Tolkien
- Philip Pullman
- C.S. Lewis
- Charles Wesley
- The Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian artists Holman Hunt, Rossetti, Burne-Jones and Morris all gained inspiration here, as did patron Thomas Combe and art critic John Ruskin.
- Women in Oxford - from Saints to Mistresses: legendary, historical and important women.
and more fictionally:
- Inspector Lewis, who has taken over the care of Oxford from his predecessor, Morse.
- Pottering in Harry's Footsteps: see the locations they used in the films.
OxonCarts is Oxford's very own bicycle rickshaw firm, with five two-person pedicabs available for hire, seven days a week. Discover Oxford with a tour through its beautiful streets (many of which are closed to motorised traffic) led by a fit, fun and knowledgeable guide. The OxonCarts tour provides a uniquely memorable vantage point from which to see the city.
A complete circuit lasts approximately 1 hour, and buses depart every 10 - 15 minutes from each stop. Tickets (as of 1st April 08) valid for 24 hours: £11.50, Senior/Student £9.50, Child £6 or valid for 48 hours: £13.50, Senior/Student £11.50, Child £8. Family tickets (2 adults + up to 3 children) are also available. You can get on and off at any of the 20 stops:
- Oxford Railway Station
- Park End Street
- Gloucester Green Bus Station
- New Road
- Westgate Shopping Centre
- Speedwell Street
- Pembroke Street
- Town Hall
- Lincoln College
- The Queen's College
- The Plain
- St. Cross Road
- Sheldonian Theatre
- Trinity College Gates
- Parks Road
- Banbury Road
- Woodstock Road
- Brown's Restaurant
- Magdalen Street
- Randolph Hotel
There's a helpful map of these stops on the City Sightseeing website, which also shows the colleges.
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