‘Ladies! I know you thought I’d never get round to it but I have, and I’m just about to press ‘BOOK’. Do you trust me on this?’
The evening before, on a wine fuelled night out at the Urban Standard on The Gloucester Road, Cecily, Jilly and I all said ‘Great idea!’ when Fee suggested going away together. Sometime. Somewhere. Having tried and failed with ‘India for a month?’ ‘Sicily for a fortnight?’ ‘Bruges for the weekend?’ Fee finally had to settle upon…’Oxford. For one night’.
And so the very next day she’d booked it so that we couldn’t back out. Accommodation secured –
one night at Magdalen College, Oxford, bed and breakfast for the four of us.
One week later and we were there!
The drive from Bristol to Oxford took just one and a half hours. Once in the city, the first thing we did was to go full-tourist and do
the open-top bus tour,
price £13.50 and valid for 24 hours, complete with knowledgeable guide (an actual person) and the chance to hop on and off at key stops dotted around the city. This was an excellent start to our stay, not least because it was a beautiful day. The spires against the blue sky were breathtaking and we took in many of the key sites.
Sufficiently inspired and surprisingly moved, we got off at bus stop 10, on the High Street, and we did what any right-minded tourist to Oxford should do –
go for afternoon tea at the Grand Café.
It really was such a treat! It’s reputed to be the oldest coffee house in England, mentioned by Samuel Pepys in 1650. Although we very nearly didn’t make it over the threshold of this little piece of history as a woman pushed past us muttering ‘They charge £3 just for a glass of tap water!’ As none of us had ever visited a cafe that charges £3 for a glass of tap water before we decided to remain steadfast and channel our inner Marie Antoinettes, replacing water with champagne and eating bread AND cake. And scones. And cream. And jam.
Grand High Tea
The food was abundant. So much so that ‘Eyes bigger than your belly’ very rapidly came to mind after I’d greedily loaded up my second scone with strawberry jam and clotted cream…
Time to find our accommodation – Longwall Street refurbished double room with ensuite (Magdalen College) – and have a little nap.
Feeling decidedly sluggish we crawled to the porter’s lodge at Magdalen College, conveniently situated not five minutes away from the Grand Cafe on the opposite side of the road. Told that our rooms were not in the main building but situated a mere 3 minutes away, we went in search of them. Unfortunately, and most embarrassingly, we all turned into women not accustomed to getting out much. Clearly giddily giggly, we had all relied on each other to listen to the porter’s directions which meant that not one of us could remember how to get to where we were staying. We got lost just going round the corner and after 30 minutes walking up and down the same stretch of road and putting our keys in every keyhole along the way (not to mention -oh the ignominy – following a student through a self-locking gate only to find ourselves trapped in the grounds of one of the colleges) we had to admit that not one of us had listened to the porter when he’d told us where to go. We went back to ask him again. And this time we listened.
3 minutes away (it was true), we saw the arched door with the phone booth in front of it. Once inside we found our newly refurbished rooms. Warm , with comfortable beds, soft white towels and white cotton sheets, it really did exceed our expectations (that we were all miffed that we hadn’t packed a hot water bottle and bed socks as Fee had done gives you a clue as to what we thought the rooms might be like…). The ensuite bathroom was immaculate – light, clean and with a radiator so hot you could brand your bum on it. And Jilly did. So be careful!
Time to unpack, then a trot around ‘The Meadow‘, located near Christchurch College.
Then back to our rooms for a quick shower before eating out at ‘La Cucina‘, a family-run Italian restaurant just ten minutes walk away from Magdalen College at 39-40 St Clement’s Road.
‘La Cucina’ proved to be a great find. The food was excellent and plentiful, and the service was charming. I shared what has to be the most generous portion of vegetarian antipasti I’ve ever had, followed by a great pasta and clam dish. Given that each of us had a starter, a main and several glasses of wine the bill came in at a very reasonable £90 for 4.
Feeling pleasantly full and ready for bed it was good to know that we had a very short walk back to where we were staying.
Next morning, after a great night’s sleep in a bed more comfortable than my own, we made our way to Magdalen’s great medieval Hall.
As I tucked into my full English breakfast with my yogurt, fruit, cereal, croissant, toast, butter and jam all lined up I suddenly remembered why I’d put on two stones in weight when I had been living in catered halls as a student many years ago. But that’s where the parallels began and ended, the neon lighting strips of the canteen where I’d eaten as a student bearing no resemblance at all to the Harry Potter-esque surroundings in which I now found myself. I couldn’t help but feel a little awestruck at the very beauty and grandeur of the setting and wished I’d tried that little bit harder at school…
Our 24 hours in Oxford was passing quickly. We just had time to have a wander round Magdalen, with its cloisters, quads, past its deer park and into its chapel.
And as we did so we became more and more ecstatic. The awe that had started for me in the refectory reached its crescendo in the chapel when I took this for the original –
I was surprised, but not as much as I should have been given that I knew it was in Milan. But, after my ‘You had me at hello’ moment where I’d been robbed of all critical faculties in the refectory, I was now ready to believe that anything was possible here in this most inspiring and magical of places.
Still, the chapel was beautiful, and as the organ played, so my spirits, not to mention imagination, soared.
Our twenty-four hours were up. But what a glorious twenty-four hours they’d been.
Accommodation : Longwall Street refurbished double room with ensuite (Magdalen College) cost £105 including breakfast
Grand High Tea at the Grand Cafe £23.45
Dinner at La Cucina, St Clements £20-£35
Bus Tour of Oxford £13.50
visit the Ashmolean
try the Turl Street Kitchen for lunch and Quod for dinner