Wednesday 27 April 2016

Seeking the red Jaguar

The Easter holiday came and the family came and went and we could manage a short break, with the weather forecast indifferent and no advance tickets bought. Where to go was the big question, and "not the coast" was the reply that came swiftly to mind, followed remarkably soon by a prompt, "how about Oxford?" from a friend who had once lived there for a while. Not too far, one easy change at Birmingham New Street, reasonable standard class seating available lots to see and a place we've never explored, having only ever been there for specific occasions before. I booked a room at the only really central hotel in Oxford, the MacDonald Randolph, and some standard class open return rail tickets with reserved seats.

So we strolled down to Stamford station on a Tuesday morning for the 10:05 departure to Birmingham. The platform was quite full of waiting people: train travel from Stamford really is becoming very popular, but the train was only two coaches long. We did all get seats (ours were reserved anyway), but one or two passengers were standing later in the journey, although never for long. Longer trains, more trains (or both!) are needed on this route.

At New Street we had over half an hour between trains and we took the opportunity to have a coffee break. This was the first time we had changed trains here since the rebuilding of the station, although I had been here a couple of times before and could't help noticing that helpful signs had now appeared on the platforms advising that changing trains is best done at the "B" end of the platforms (that is, I happen to know, via the "red lounge", which serves all the platforms), but I did not notice it until we had left at the "A" end, which involves a lot of going through ticket barriers ... The coffee was good, though, and we had plenty of time, but not too much time, to get our connection to Oxford. This was a through train to Bournemouth (mental note made that this is probably the easiest way to Bournemouth if we ever decide to go there...) and was a four-coach Voyager unit.

Towpath walk, peaceful and interesting, with pubs

Again we found our reserved seats but as usual with Voyagers had difficulty stowing our modest baggage - more modest than ever: we only had one wheeled case between us instead of one each, so short a break was it - so our case had to be placed onthe rack at the end of the coach rather than overhead as usual. The time passed quickly and we were soon in Oxford. I had memorised the simple route to our hotel and we checked in and went to our room: no view but a spacious and well-equipped room with which we were very happy. On the way there we had noticed a canal-side walk and decided that we would do that straight away, as the weather was suitable. Along the way we stopped for a snack at the Anchor pub which was very pleasant and relaxing. An attempt to enjoy a pint at another pub later was disappointing for in spite of a prominent notice declaring that it was open from noon to late at night it was not open mid-afternoon.

Crossing the canal
The walk along the canal was great, scene of many a body-discovery in the Morse TV series, but we just saw boats. We walked across to the Woodstock Road (as in Last Bus To Woodstock*) and caught a city-bound bus back to our hotel. For our evening meal we discovered The Nosebag (yes, that is its name!), a quirky, studenty upstairs place with a menu roughly half vegetarian. We enjoyed our meal there so much that we returned the second evening as well, the menu at the Randolph looking decidedly uninspiring, although we did enjoy cocktails in the Morse Bar (can't see Morse with anything but whisky or a pint of ale, really) at the hotel on our second evening.

The Wednesday saw us walk along the river (Thames, or Isis as some prefer to call it) and then get the bus back and visit the unique Pitt Rivers Museum, which really has to be seen to be believed: I have been an officiating chaplain to the forces but do not think I have ever seen so many firearms in one place as I did at this museum, which covers every aspect of human life all over the world and through the ages. Well worth a visit.

The Eagle and Child
On Thursday after checking out we crossed the road to the Ashmolean Museum, the oldest museum in the UK, which was riveting. We tore ourselves away and after collecting our luggage from the hotel concierge had lunch - ale with fish and chips - at The Eagle and Child pub where The Inklings, CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien's group of writers, used to meet. Again, all very good.

And so it was time to return home and we set off to the station via the back streets of Oxford, unfortunately through the rain, and awaited our train to Birmingham where another simple change took us home to Stamford. We had a few moment longer for the change this time and spent it looking at the shops in the new Grand Central shopping centre above the station - worth a visit itself.

We must return to Oxford, as we so often say of many places we visit. I have some country walks in mind - they have been on "the list" for some time - but they need better weather.

We never did find a dead body, nor a red Jaguar**.

*The Morse novels were written by Colin Dexter, a native of Stamford where nearly all of my adventures begin. As it happens, I read Last Bus to Woodstock as we returned from our first adventure in Switzerland.
** The red Jaguar was introduced by the TV series. In the novels, Morse drives a Lancia. We didn't see many of those, either!

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