Why did we come to Oxford? It is a beautiful city and it describes itself as a place of learning and culture – it is a great place for those interested in such pursuits. However, this is also the place where my father grew up and I wanted to discover the Oxford he described to me as a little girl living in faraway Sydney.
Dad grew up in a house on Banbury Road and I have walked up and down this road a few times and found the house! He attended the local Dragon School. During his summer breaks as a boy he had to keep a diary for school. We have four volumes of these diaries and they capture the life of an eleven year old boy living in Oxford.
They are dominated by descriptions of walks along the river and his cycling trips out of town. Dad was a keen cyclist and he explored his world by bike and had much freedom to travel miles and miles.
Keith and I promised ourselves a day on wheels, but were waiting for the perfect clear blue sky day to arrive. Last Thursday we awoke to such a day and could not see a single cloud. We hired bikes from up the road, with helmets and set off – firstly skirting around the outskirts of the city to make our way to Woodstock and Blenheim Palace. (We were on the south side of the city and needed to get around to the northern side – and avoid the busy city centre.) The cycle ways are marked by number and we followed the number 51 which took us out of the city but in the direction of Biccester (prounounced bister) so we were slightly off course.
I am a slow and somewhat inexperienced cycler and after a couple of hours, Keith asked me if I wanted to keep going. I responded “of course I want to keep going!” He then reminded me that we would at some stage have to turn around and retrace our steps. I said “we have only just started riding in the countryside and there is so much to see and I want to see what is around the next corner and Dad might have cycled here!” Keith looked at me and said “Sarah your imagination is always bigger than your body”.
I was not going to turn around yet! We finally came to a small B road with a signpost to Woodstock and left the cycleway 51 to follow this road – it was narrow and windy and took us down a magnificent hill to cross a river but then there was an uphill climb – I was very glad we had decided to spend more money and hire bikes with gears.
We made it to Woodstock and I have to confess I was feeling sore and tired and in need of food. We found a pub with a courtyard garden and sat in the sun and replenished our hunger and thirst. To be honest, I was happy to sit and not move. But Blenheim Palace beckoned – just around the corner.
We had been told about a back entrance to the Palace” “look for the dark green fence with a door in it, you go through this door and turn left through another door” it was a bit like returning to the world of Alice and Keith was not at all convinced that we should open a gate with a number 98 on it that looked like it was the entrance to a private house.
However, behind this door lay the grounds of Blenheim – palatial! It seemed like we cycled for hours around – it wasn’t, but my body was not used to cycling for hour after hour. We barely passed any people out walking. They were all in the Palace as the car parks were packed with cars and buses and more buses. It is grand and extravagant – it costs a fortune to enter its doors to explore. We decided not to this time. We made our way brazenly out the front gates without paying a penny and set off for home.
It is a very gentle downhill ride from Woodstock to Oxford and you would only notice if you were on two wheels and very tired, but I made use of gentle coasting and rested my pedal weary legs.
Those clouds returned with a vengeance – and by the time we reached the outskirts of Oxford it was grey and raining steadily. We cycled along a canal path to Wolverton, found Woodstock Road and then cycled through the suburb of Jericho to reach the centre of town – it seemed like a long way. We made our way along Holywell Street which is where Tolkein lived but at that point, I was beyond caring and out onto High Street and this is one very busy road. I joined double-decker buses and cars and pretended I was a pro and cycled my way across Magdalen Bridge, holding my breath and hoping I would survive.
We reached home intact but I made Keith promise me that he would listen to my body not my imagination, if I ever suggested a day of cycling again. I was in bed and asleep by 8pm. Sleep is such a reviver – on returning our bikes to the shop the next morning, I turned to my beloved and said “When can we go cycling again?”