I've always had a soft spot for North Parade - bizarrely south of South Parade: endearingly narrow and almost always covered with flowers. In fact as a street, it's so narrow that I've often felt it would be entirely better without cars. And so it was when I went down to visit North Parade Market (every 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month) where although the pavements are still as tiny, the cars are replaced by stalls, sellers and the hubbub of a busy street market.
The market fills the street from the Woodstock Road end by Brew Coffee, to the Gardeners Arms at the other and has a busy, almost Parisian feel to it. Perhaps it's the juxtaposition of interesting open-air stalls flanked on both sides by interesting - independent - shops that makes it so.
Fresh produce was represented by a fine local fruit & veg stall, and another selling fresh wild venison. Ready-made food options came in the form of the paella stall, the ever-delicious steamed dumplings, empanadas and steamed buns from SimplyFoods2Go and a very well-stocked cake-and-brownie stand. Fresh bread - something that I feel marks out a market as really worth visiting - was represented by local natural/hand-made/long-fermentation bakers Degustibus.
Also available were fresh plants and flowers (including whole trays of pansies - £6), a selection of cloth purses and shopping bags, and even a furniture upholsterer.
My co-market-shopper and I were most taken on the day by the pottery stand and actually bought a decent-sized blue earthenware casserole dish for £32. Initially, that might seem like quite a lot - but for a hand-made, lovely object that (the gods of oven-paws and washing-up being willing) will last a lifetime, I feel it's pretty reasonable. There's something very satisfying in using an item that has been thoughtfully made by one human for another - and buying from the person that made it. From the weight of the lid to the design (both aesthetic and practical) of the handles - it transcends anything that even the finest, and most expensive, luxury mass-manufactured brand can offer.
All that pottery-choosing made us hungry, and we fell for the paella.
All that pottery-choosing made us hungry, and we fell for the paella - trying both the chicken and the seafood options (£3.50 and £4 respectively for small boxes). The chicken was excellent - hearty, flavoursome and filling, the seafood generously scattered with whole mussels and the odd entire prawn.
Entertainment is promised on the market's website and it certainly delivered on that front - a pianist playing flapper-era standards on a full-size upright piano while also singing them through an old-fashioned non-electric megaphone was great.
Having a 6-month-old baby with us, we decided that we should find somewhere to sit down and have some coffee. This sadly precluded the otherwise excellent Brew, whose wares are served from a very tiny, and thus largely seating-free venue. There were tables outside (presumably put there to enjoy cakes and coffee at the same time - genius!) but we needed somewhere a little more sheltered. We instead ventured across the road to the delightful, and very friendly, Cotswold Lodge Hotel, where we had a very decent cafetière for two.
In all, we had a very pleasant morning and I feel the market is a worthwhile addition to the shopping options as well as the general feeling of North Parade. It's worth mentioning the excellent shops that are there all week long - including fresh produce store 2 North Parade and the ever-tempting Oxford Yarn Store. I hope to go back to the market and have a bit more time to browse both the stalls and the shops along the street and maybe sneak in a pint (of beer and nuts) at the Rose and Crown or Gardeners Arms along the way, and late lunch at the ever-tasty Jee Saheb.