Oxford and Stratford-upon-Avon, England

Early Sunday morning, Tom and I boarded a tour bus headed for Oxford. We are touring in the UK for
the next 21 days with Insight Vacations. Although we thought about renting a car and doing this on our own, we decided against it. Tom didn’t want to drive on the “wrong” side of the road. I didn’t think I could
give him navigable directions. I have enough problem with “turn right” or “turn left” in the States. So
we decided to keep the stress low and leave the getting there to someone else. We selected the Insight
tour because it was going many of the places we wanted to go.

Dougie and Nigel and our bus

We met our tour guide, Nigel Hanay and our bus driver, Dougie, outside our hotel in London.  In addition, we started meeting the other people on our tour. There are 29 of us all together. Twenty out of the 29 people are from Australia and five are from New Zealand. The other four of us are from the United States. I was
surprised that so many people on our tour are from Australia, but Nigel said he usually has lots of
Australians on the longer tours.

Our first destination was Oxford, and Nigel pointed out things to notice along the way. We drove out of
London and into the Cotswolds. It is beautiful, rolling countryside and made us think of Ohio. Lots of
farms and sheep. It took about an hour to reach Oxford and Nigel got us oriented in town by giving a short
walking tour of some highlights.

One of the quadrangles

Oxford University was founded in 1096, making it the oldest university in the English-speaking
world and the world’s second-oldest university in continuous operation.  It grew rapidly after 1167,
when Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris.  After disputes between
students and Oxford townsfolk in 1209, some academics fled northeast to Cambridge where they
established what became the University of Cambridge.

The University of Oxford is made up of 39 semi-autonomous constituent colleges, four permanent
private halls, and a range of academic departments which are organized into four divisions.  Each college is a self-governing institution within the university, controlling its own membership and having its own internal
structure and activities. All students are members of one of the colleges.  It does not have a main campus, but its buildings and facilities are scattered throughout the city.

Bodleian Library

Undergraduate teaching at Oxford consists of lectures, small-group tutorials at the colleges and halls,
seminars, and lab work.  Postgraduate teaching is provided in a predominantly centralized fashion.
During our walking tour, we walked past ten of the different college quadrangles.

There are many beautiful, interesting and historic buildings. We walked into one quadrangle and saw the medieval titles over the different doors. Rhetoric, metaphysics, logic – the categories that made up a classical education in medieval times. Nigel mentioned many of the illustrious faculty who attended each college. Charles and John Wesley both attended Christ Church College.  John’s portrait hangs in the Great Hall. There is a memorial stone to John and Charles by the pulpit in Christ Church Cathedral.

Covered Market

After the group looked appreciatively at the architecture, Nigel pointed out the Covered Market, which is celebrating its 250th anniversary in 2024. There were lots of little shops and cafes in the Covered Market and Tom and I returned there later for a sandwich and some cookies.

Nigel released us for a couple of hours for lunch and exploration on our own. The first place Tom and I headed was Boots. Boots is the CVS of the United Kingdom. I needed a washcloth. Hotels in the UK don’t provide a washcloth. They consider it one of the personal toiletries that people bring with them. I can’t take a shower every morning without a washcloth. My hair will get too wet. Now I have one that I will pack up each day and carry with me.

Blackwell’s Bookshop

We went to the Covered Market for lunch, and then headed to Blackwell’s Bookshop.  Blackwell’s is the
largest academic bookstore in the UK.  Tom and I were unimpressed by the exterior of the store, but it is
much bigger inside than it appears from the outside. Five floors packed with all kinds of books. They even
have an Engineering section. Tom and I had intended to walk around Oxford some more, but we were in
Blackwell’s until it was time for us to board our bus. We didn’t buy anything (books are heavy) but we had a
great time looking around.

Inside Blackwell’s, just one section of one of the floors!

Once everyone returned to the bus we headed to Stratford-upon-Avon and William Shakespeare’s birthplace.  Aside from some time spent in London at the theater, Shakespeare lived all his life, from birth to death, in Stratford. His parents were well off and William was the only son. We saw the home where he was raised and the room where he was born. When his father died, William inherited the house. By then he was famous and wealthy and lived in a large house around the corner. He rented out his ancestral home.

William Shakespeare’s Birthplace

Today the house is operated by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.  They had guides in each room who
explained the items in the room.  The house has been maintained in close to its original shape. The
furnishings are from the time period, but did not belong to William. It was very interesting to walk through
the house. We were very impressed by the way the building is maintained despite all the visitors it gets each

Room where William Shakespeare was born

After touring the house, I watched a couple of actors perform a few scenes from “Hamlet” and “As You Like
It.”  The actors were fun to watch and now I can say I have watched Shakespeare’s plays being performed at his birthplace.

Shakespearean actors with authentic wrist watch

Our hotel for the night was in Stratford-upon-Avon. After we checked in, Tom and I took some time to walk
around Stratford. We walked along the Avon River and watched people boating. Then we strolled through a
street fair adjacent to our hotel. There were lots of people out enjoying a beautiful day. The food booths
were tempting and we were hungry but we had supper as a tour group later. We finished our walk by
following the footpath along the canal which was quieter and shady.

That evening we had supper at an old inn, The Blue Boar, with our tour group. It gave us a chance to enjoy a relaxed meal and get to know our fellow travelers. It looks like this will be a good tour. We like our
knowledgeable guide and are looking forward to making new friends.  Nigel will keep us hopping as we move from place to place.