OXFORD is the city of tall towers, dreaming spires and ancient colleges and has long been a strategic point on the western routes to London. The town probably got its name from the convenient River Thames crossing point where Folly Bridge now stands, which was just a ford where oxen were driven across, and the settlement became known as Ox Ford. The river is actually known as the Isis in this area from its Latin name Thamesis.
The Head of the River pub alongside Folly Bridge reminds us that students like messing about on the river. During Eights Week in May, the spirited 'bump races' take place when crews from the different colleges compete. The object is to catch and bump the boat ahead and the winners of this knock out competition are declared Head of the River
The long narrow pole propelled punts, seen everywhere on the river, originated as work vessel's for ferrying, dredging, fishing and other light river transport, and subsequently lighter punts were built for pleasure boating
During the English Civil War, Charles 1 moved his Court to Oxford which was the last outpost of the absolute rule of Monarchy. In 1645 he surrendered the garrison to the Roundheads.
There has been a castle at Oxford since Roman times but it fell into disuse in the 14th century. The site subsequently became the seat of local government and law courts. but later the county gaol took over the site, finally closing down in 1996. The buildings have now been regenerated as a heritage complex and shopping centre.
The best way to view the city is from the top of one of the many towers open to the public, such as the Saxon Tower of St Michael's Church at Northgate, which is Oxford's oldest building.
or Carfax Tower which is the only remains of the 14th century St Martin's Church and where the clocks Jacks strike quarter hours. Carfax, from the French quatre voies or four ways, is the town's central crossroads.
The Martyr's Memorial stands proudly at the end of Magdalen Street.
This Gothic spire was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott and commemorates the Martyrs Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley & Thomas Cranmer who were burned at the stake in 1555-6 because of their adherence to the Protestant Church of England during the reign of Roman Catholic Mary Tudor. It was erected in 1841-3, by public subscription, close to the place of the execution in
Broad Street, where a cross set into the roadway marks the exact spot.
It has been likened to the spire of a sunken cathedral and there is an urban legend which says that generations of Oxford students have duped tourists into believing that there is in fact a church beneath the spire, offering tours at a price, and then directing their victims to nearby stairs which in fact lead to public toilets.
The street scene in Oxford is charming with lovely buildings (and bikes) everywhere
The Ashmolean Museum, the first purpose built museum in England, is one of the finest in the country.
The Radcliffe Camera is one of Oxford's most distinctive buildings. Originally one of the buildings of the Bodleian Library, it is now a reading room.
The University Colleges are everywhere. Many of the 39 individual colleges were founded between the 13th and 16th centuries with their quadrangles, cloisters and chapels often open to the public.
The 15th century bell tower at Magdalen College comes to life on May Day when at 6am the college choristers sing from the top of the tower, to be followed by bell ringing and Morris Dancing in the High Street.
Christ Church College was founded by Cardinal Wolsey in 1525 as Cardinal College, and re-founded by Henry V111 as Christ Church following Wolsey's downfall. Tom Tower above the main gate, was built by Sir Christopher Wren and when its bell, Great Tom, named after Thomas of Canterbury, was hung in 1648 the college had 101 students. The bell was, and still is, rung 101 times every evening at 9.05pm to mark the curfew for students, but it has not been enforced since 1963. This college has produced 13 British Prime Ministers over the last 200 years.
Christ Church Cathedral, which serves as Oxford Cathedral, is one of the smallest in the country.
Britain's oldest botanical garden, founded in 1621, can be found at the end of the High Street opposite Magdalen College.
There are nine glasshouses and a rose garden.
Inspector Morse fans will soon recognise his stamping around Oxford. A plaque outside the police headquarters reminds us that the building was used in the series as well as some of the colleges.