My bus rolls into Oxford on a rainy evening. There is a cold breeze sweeping across the university-town, quite now, because term has just ended. I am escorted into the warmth of a local coffee shop, one of many that populates Oxford. The coffee is excellent. The atmosphere is warm and welcoming. The same can be said of most of the cafes I visited over the course of the next day. Being a small town, people know each other well, which adds to the sustenance of the friendly air that hangs around these joints.
So, equipped with a cup of coffee, where do you begin as you set out? Being an university town, it goes without saying that you must take a stroll around the colleges that populate the area. Make a visit to the famous Bodleian Library, locally referred to as 'The Bod'. It is one of the oldest in Europe, established by Sir Thomas Bodley early in the seventeenth century. His statue now stands guard near the building. Though one has to be a member to enter, you can stroll around the quadrangle, visit the well-stocked gift shop, and, if you are an ardent Harry Potter fan, visit the sites were portions of the films were shot.
Resume your walk and head down to the Ashmolean Museum. Its Western art collection includes the works of Botticelli, Breughel, Boudin, Modigliani, Van Gough among other masters.
But the star attraction of the museums in Oxford is the Shrunken Heads collection at the Pitts River museum. But a word of advice, it is most certainly not for the faint-hearted, and should not be seen on an empty stomach.
Parks and meadows are sprawled across the town. Little islands, closed off from the bustle of the usually bust streets. The largest, the University Park, provides the visitor the option to walk or cycle through its tree-lined lanes. Walking down such a path in another park, I chanced across a park bench dedicated to J.R.R.Tolkein. A small plaque on the bench, located between two trees, read: "In memory of J.R.R. Tolkein 1892-1973", and below it, "This bench and two trees nearby representing Telperion and Laurelin were donated by the Tolkein Centenary Conference 1992." Most park benches have such dedications on them. Lovers, partners, friends, families have put down their feelings on a plaque in a park bench. I remember seeing one in the Russel Square Garden in London which was dedicated to a man by his wife. The plaque said that the man loved to sit there. A fond memory on an empty park bench.
As you walk across town, from The Bod to the Ashmolean, to a park, to a pub for a quick lunch, take a moment to look down at the road. Rest assured, this is not a philosophical instruction. Because what you'll find, often, is a cobble stone streak right down the middle of an otherwise grey street. A sign of Oxford's medieval roots. Bits and pieces of history.