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To Oxford and prehistoric sites

Home -> Europe -> United Kingdom -> Travelogue United Kingdom -> 10 September 2005

Saturday 10 September, to Oxford and prehistoric sites

The day starts very sunny, but when we drive to Oxford, our main destination today, the sky suddenly turns black and a heavy thunderstorm breaks. The downpour slows down all traffic and we can drive no faster than 30 kilometers an hour on the highway. This is not what we ahve planned!
Mailboxes in OxfordWe park the car on a park+ride parking place on the edge of the city, since we have read it can be quite busy in the town itself. We are glad we brought an umbrella since we needit most of the time. But it is mainly a light drizzle and not a thunderstorm like we had on our way here.
Christ Church College, Oxford OxfordOxford is known best for its colleges and as a university town and we see old college buildings with lots of decorations and clock towers everywhere in the center. It still gives you a good prestige when you have studied at Oxford (Einstein and Clinton were two of its famous pupils). Christ Church is one of the most famous colleges and can partly be visited.
In the 12th century, English students who studied at the university of Paris, were called back to England and the first English colleges were formed. Many students came to Oxford, but there was a lot of rivalry between different groups and now and then a real uproar broke out. Part of the students then disappeared to Cambridge to found there a new university. From that time originates the rivalry between both university cities, which is now mainly fought out in the annual rwoing competition.
All colleges had their own rules and laws and to the outside world they must have looked like closed and snobby communities and very hard to become part of. In fact, the colleges still are presented a bit like that in movies and for example in the detective series with inspector Morse (we like that series) in which the colleges regularly play a part. But the drizzly weather prevents us from seeing the beautiful scenes as we know them of tv, everything now looks rather grey.
Gargoyle in OxfordBut there is no shortage of old and nice buildings here and sometimes we see a nice detail, like this very small balcony on the back of a gargoyle.
In the center we visit the Oxford Experience, a trip in a carriage through an old building and the history of Oxford. We have probably said it before, the English are masters in presenting tours like this taking you through a building with an audiovisual show.
OxfordThe colleges are quite different from each other, in size and styles, but there is one thing they all have in common: an entrance gate and after it a rectangular inner court, often with a lawn. The students still live and study inside the college, but they all fall under the supervision of the university which also draw up the study plans and examinations, so every student is treated equally and the level of education is the same. And all colleges now have to offer all disciplines, which was quite different in medieval times, when colleges specialised in a certain branch.
The bridge of Sighs, OxfordThe 'bridge of sighs' attracts a lot of attention from bypassers, we don't know exactly why. It was build in 1913 and called after the Ponte dei Sospiri in Venice, but we think it rather looks like the Rialto bridge, also in Venice.
Balliol College, OxfordThe Balliol College is one of the oldest in town and for one pound we can enter and look around inside. Of course, most of the buildings are closed to the public, but it stills gives a good idea what a college is, a closed community within society where students and teachers live, eat and sport together.
MarlboroughAt the end of the afternoon we have seen enough of Oxford and we take another route to drive back to the campsite. Again we have a few thunderstorm and we are glad we have them now and not when we were walking through Oxford. At Marlborough we stop for a meal. Somewhere around this place the wizard Merlin should be buried.
West Kennett Long BarrowWe have also some time left to visit West Kennet Long Barrow, one of the largest and best preserved tombs from the Stone Age. The cairn is 107 meters long, but we can not go very far in it, since a couple of men are singing mantra's inside and block the entrance for other visitors.
This area attracts a lot of people who believe there is still some mysterious energy hanging around and it sometimes happens that people have processions, clothed as witches, wizards or druids, for example near the Avebury stone circles. It is true that many remains from prehistoric times have survived in this area, but maybe there are so many because this was a fertile region and therefore attracted many people. And even so fertile that the people had the time and luxury to plan building projects as Stonehenge. When the land is not fertile enough you will need all people and all of your time to grow enough food to support a community. Teije confesses he has been walking around here with a dowsing rod also, a very long time ago, but he tells me he has never disturbed or hindered other people with that (and I think I believe him).
Avebury stone circle Avebury stone circleHad the stone circles at Avebury still been complete, it would have been much bigger than Stonehenge. Stonehenge has a ring wall with a diameter of 100 meters, here at Avebury the outer stone circle already has a diameter of more than 400 meters and a ring wall of more than a kilometer. It is a very impressive monument and we can only imagine how difficult it must have been in those days to perform a colossal project as this.
Just before it gets dark we are back at the campsite, and we notice that the tent is only slightly wet, so not much rain has fallen here. The ground is very dry and we see the sun still above the horizon. We have walked a lot today and feel rather tired. Time to turn on the light and get a good book.


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