A tour guide’s all-time favourite UK places.
This September, Visit Britain, the marketing arm of the British tourist industry, is launching its ‘Great British Staycation Campaign’ to encourage people to holiday in the UK.
Soul City Wanderer (aka Frank Molloy) is one of the UK’s most accredited and experienced tour guides. Over three decades he has visited nearly every part of the country, touring many of the places that Great Britain and Ireland has to offer.
In a new blog series, he will list his all-time favourite five places by area (spiralling out from London*). These are personal choices, some obvious, some obscure.
This week, the area north-west of London that includes the counties of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire & Berkshire.
A city famous throughout the world as an ancient seat of learning, and still renowned as a university centre.
With over 40 colleges, and numerous university buildings spanning the medieval to Georgian architectural spectrum, the city is stunningly picturesque. The poet Matthew Arnold famously described it as ‘That sweet city with her dreaming spires’.
You can usually choose from a number of colleges to visit, where you can find out about some of the mysterious traditions of the college system, which sets it apart from other centres of academia, and the real world! Harry Potter aficionados will recognize the great hall at the famous Christchurch College, while fans of Alice in Wonderland will find a number of references here too.
There is a variety of museums to visit in Oxford, including the renowned Bodleian Library, the Pitt-Rivers Museum, and the famous Ashmolean Museum.
For a place to relax, there are many watering holes, including the famous Eagle & Child pub, where J. R. R. Tolkein, creator of the Lord of the Rings series, and C. S. Lewis, author of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe would often meet for inspiration. Another option is the hidden Turf Tavern, the pub where former US President Bill Clinton allegedly ‘didn’t inhale’!
There are often complaints about the academic haughtiness towards visitors, but a little forewarning will help you to smile at the bumptious attitudes, rather than let it spoil your visit. And to this day, Oxford still has its disputes between ‘town’ and ‘gown’, which have been going on since medieval times. The town side, let’s not forget, is quite industrial. The Mini, which sells in its millions all over the world, is built at the Cowley plant on the outskirts of the city. For my money, this kind of social tension stuff makes Oxford a more intriguing place to visit.
But if the vagaries of the academic world set your mind into a spin, then how about an afternoon of designer shopping? Bicester Village, on the other side of the M40 is a neat complex of outlets specialising in the very best designer brands. All the great international names have their own store here: Aquascutum, Armani, Boss, Burberry, Choo, DKNY, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Hilfiger, Klein, Lauren, Millen, Prada, St Laurent, Versace, Westwood. And all offer discounts on their top ranges.
Oxford: a huge throbbing brain wearing a medieval hat and an industrial coat.
Note: All sites mentioned were operating pre-lockdown. Please check relevant websites before embarking on any potential visit. Another recommendation will appear next tomorrow.
For the very best in guided private tours of the UK visit www.yourlondontours.com
*Operators in the UK tour industry often separate the areas of the country according to what touring can be achieved in a region in one day. As a London-based operator, my ‘map’ spirals outwards from the capital and is separated thus:
- Northern Home Counties (Beds/Herts/Cambs)
- Eastern Home Counties (Essex/Suffolk)
- Southern Home Counties (Kent, Surrey, Sussex)
- Western Home Counties (Ox/Berks/Bucks)
- South coast (Hants/Dorset)
- Western England (Somerset/Gloucs/Wilts)
- South West England (Devon & Cornwall)
- Wales (north & south)
- Welsh Borders (Herefordshire/Shropshire/Cheshire)
- Western Midlands (Brum/Worcs/Warks/Staffs)
- Eastern Midlands (Northants/Leics/Rutland/Hunts)
- Northern Midlands (Notts/Derbys)
- East coast (Norfolk/Lincs)
- Yorks (all ridings)
- North West (Manchester/Merseyside/Lancs/Lakes/Cumbria)
- North East (Durham/Tyne & Wear/Northumberland)
- Southern Scotland (Borders/Lowlands)
- Northern Scotland (Highlands/Islands)
- Ireland (Northern/Southern)