Oxford Centre - Day 1

JUN 16,2016 - JUN 16,2016 (1 DAYS)

United Kingdom

1 DAYS

Citywalk

Oxford Centre - Part 1- circular route around Carfax Square.

Main Attractions: Carfax Square, Carfax Tower, Town Hall, Blue Boar Street, Christ Church College, Christ Church Meadow, War Memorial Gardens, Broad Walk, Poplar Walk, Thames river bank, Bate Collection of Musical Instruments, Martyrs' Memorial, Macdonald Randolph Hotel.

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Duration: 1/2 day. The other half of the day can be devoted to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford Centre. This 1/2 day route ends, exactly, in the Ashmolean Museum gates (see our blog "Oxford - Day 1 - The Ashmolean Museum".

Start and Finish: Carfax Square. Weather: This route is suitable for any type of weather. Distance: 3-4 km.

Accommodation: I stayed in a private apartment (through AirBnb) in the north of Oxford - a few metres from the Oxford Canal. Walking along the canal is beautiful and peaceful. The place is surrounded by the green and the enchanting song of the birds. Not too many people, but just enough to make you feel safe, plus lovely boats anchored alongside and a view of nature. The lovely river is framed by the very old houses and some boats which bring an atmosphere of simplicity and joy. It took 10-15 minutes walking to the town centre. To catch the bus to the Blenheim Palace Blenheim Castle) - it is a 5 minutes walk to the Woodstock Road - where you catch the S3 bus line, direct to the palace gates. It's just wonderful to be walking outside along the canal and countryside. The paths along the canal (you can walk only along one side of the canal) are asphalted or are tramac ones. No mud and no problem to carry your trolley as well with you...)

Introduction: Oxford was a center for learning as early as the 12th century. Today, its namesake university is a centralized collective of 38 self-governing and financially independent colleges.


We start at the Carfax Square. It is the ancient heart of the City, where the four roads from the north, south, east and west gates met: St Aldate's (south), Cornmarket Street (north), Queen Street (west) and the High Street (east). It is considered to be the centre of the city. The name "Carfax" derives from the French "carrefour", or "crossroads".

Carfax Square (south-west corner) - St. Aldate's x Queen Streets:

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Carfax Square (south-west corner) - Cornmarket x Queen Streets:

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Carfax Square (east corner)- High Street:

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Dominating the Carfax square scene is Carfax Tower. Carfax Tower is located at the north-west corner of Carfax. It is all that remains of the 12th-century St. Martin's Church. It is now owned by the Oxford City Council. It was the official City Church of Oxford. In  1896 the main part of the church was demolished to make more room for road traffic.  You will notice the impressive clock and quarterboys (the 16th century originals are in the Museum of Oxford, adjacent to the Town Hall on St Aldate’s). The tower still has a ring of six bells. There is also a clock that chimes the quarter hours:

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You can climb to the top of the tower for a view of the Oxford skyline. The tower is open:  Daily. APR - OCT 10.00 - 17.30 (16.30 in October). NOV-MAR 10.00 - 15.00 (16.00 in March). Adults, Seniors, Students: £2.20,  Children £1.10. You only need a few minutes at the top of the tower, but the view is worth the climb. Keep in mind that the climb is restricted to very few visitors. There is no much place on top of the tower and it takes several minutes to stay there. There are, approx., 100 narrow, tight winding stairs to climb up. You have to be patient and polite and allow people to pass you either going up or coming down. Worthwhile. Alternatively, climb the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, to get a panoramic view of Oxford roofs (see our "Oxford - Day 2" blog).

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Cross the road at the lights to the Cashmere Wool Shop at the top of St Aldate’s (nothing interesting to see there) and proceed down to St Aldate’s Town Hall (on your left) (there are accessible toilets in the Town Hall). It is a centre of local government in the city and also houses the municipal Museum of Oxford. Oxford's Town Hall or Guildhall was built on this site in 1292. It was replaced by the first Town Hall in 1752. The  building was demolished in 1893 and the current building was completed in 1897. The new building originally housed the public library and police station as well as the city council. During the First World War, the building was converted into an hospital. From 1916, it specialized in treating soldiers suffering from malaria. In 1936 Oxford City Police moved to a new police station further down St Aldate's. The central public library is now in the Westgate Centre in Queen Street. Not much to see inside, but it is worth to take some 10-15 minutes there...:

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Its door is surmounted by the City’s coat of arms. ; enter by the level entrance at the top of St Aldate's). If time allows the Town Hall is mostly accessible and there is a computer terminal in reception where you can take a look at virtual tours of the views from the top of Carfax Tower, parts of the Town Hall and the Museum of Oxford:

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The Assembly Rooms, Oxford Town Hall with its ornate stone fireplace decorated with William Morris tiles and oak-paneled walls. This room, the Main Hall and a number of other areas in the Town Hall became hospital wards which contained a total of 205 beds. In the Town Hall today, there is a certificate recording the appreciation of the Army Council for the use of the building as a military hospital 1914-19:

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I recommend of visiting the small gallery inside the town hall ground floor (free entrance) with exhibits of local Oxford artists like Yvone Mebs Francis:

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Immediately, beyond the Town Hall, on your left (along St. Aldate stree) - turn left to the Blue Boar Street. In the corner is the Museum of Oxford. Open: MON-SAT 10.00 - 17.00, SUN 11.00 - 15.00. It tells the history of Oxford, and show the results of recent excavations (Oxford was a walled town...). Very small. Two rooms only. Free:

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Continue along the Blue Boar Street until it meets the Alfred Street. It is one of the oldest pubs in Oxford, England, dating back to 1242. Do not miss the Bear Inn with its fascinating collection of ancient ties. There are over 4,500 snippets of club ties placed in glass showcases that cover the walls and the ceiling. The collection started in 1952 by the landlord, Alan Course, who has worked as cartoonist at the Oxford Mail. Tie ends were clipped with a pair of scissors in exchange for half a pint of beer. The ties mostly indicate membership of clubs, sports teams, schools and colleges, etc'. THe pub is closed in the mornings and the place is humming with conversation (more of the upper class...) from the early evenings:

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Return to St. Aldate Street and continue down to the main entrance of Christ Church College. Impressive but expensive and busy. The space for tourists to walk around is very limited. Open: MON-SAT: 10.00 - 17.00, SUN: 14.00 - 17.00. Last entry: 16.15. The Hall is frequently closed between 12.00 and 14.00 (students (in term) or resident guests (in vacation periods) have lunch). Last entry into the Hall or Cathedral will be 15-30 minutes prior to the closure time detailed above. Note: July and August (particularly ,weekends) are very busy. Expect queuing up for entry into Christ Church. Tickets sold either in the online shop www.visitoxfordandoxfordshire.com or in the Oxford Visitor Information Centre. Prices (standard Rates, (Hall and Cathedral Open): 1 April - 30 June: adult - £8, concessions - £7. 1 July - 31 August: adult - £9, concessions - £8. 1 September - 31 December: June: adult - £7, concessions - £6. The self-guided tour takes you through the Cathedral and through the Dining Hall. Many other parts are closed to most of the visitors. No need for maps. You easily flow with herds of visitors along well-signed route along two floors of the main complex building. The entrance is quite expensive, but, nevertheless, both the Grand Dining Hall (the inspiration for Hogwarts) and the Cathedral are sights to behold. Staff was always polite, friendly and efficient.

Christ Church is Oxford’s grandest and largest historic college. It's easily the most visited college in Oxford. It is formally, called 'Christ Church' only, or informally, ‘The House’. No other college has produced more British prime ministers than Christ College. 13 PMs had emerged from this college ! It is considered to be the most aristocratic college of the University of Oxford in England. It is the second wealthiest Oxford college by financial means. The college got, recently, worldwide reputation for being the main site for filming of the movies of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. With fans of the teenage wizard flocking to see film locations, visitor numbers at the CCC Cathedral have risen to 350,000 a year. The Christ Church's high-ceiling Dining Hall was a model for the one scene throughout the films (with the weightless candles and flaming braziers)...but the actual filming happened on a set at the Leavesden studios. The city of Christchurch in New Zealand is named after Christ Church College in Oxford. Lewis Carroll, author of the Alice in Wonderland books. He wrote "Alice" for Alice Liddell, daughter of the Dean of Christ Church. His real name was Charles Dodgson, and he, was also a student and then a lecturer at Christ College. Although he is most famous as a novelist, he was also an exceptional mathematician. Dodgson was a student in Mathematics at Christ Church for 48 years. The New Library of Christ Church houses the best collection of Lewis Carroll's work anywhere in the world.

The Meadow Building (main building entrance):

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No entry from Tom Gate:

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Main entrance:

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Christ Church College Meadows - opposite the main entrance:

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The famous ‘Tom Tower’, over the entrance to the college, was designed by the architect and ex-student of the college, Sir Christopher Wren in 1681. Wren completed the structure, dubbed Tom Tower, in 1682. It is now one of the most famous of Oxford's "dreaming spires". The 7 ton bell in the tower is known as ‘Great Tom’, and it chimes 101 times every evening at 21.05, once for each of the original 101 students of Christ Church. This is nine o’clock Oxford time, the City being five minutes west of Greenwich. People in wheelchairs are permitted to enter the college here, passing under Tom Tower:

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Take a turn around Tom Quad, the largest quadrangle in Oxford, at the centre of which is a pond, originally created partly as a reservoir for the college. The present statue of Mercury replaces an earlier one, damaged in 1817. The inner court is, most of the time, closed. Please DO NOT interrupt the silence of the students and other dwellers:

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Inside a inner courtyard of Christ Church:

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It is the only college in the world which is also a cathedral. The Cathedral can be entered by a ramp built with the entrance lobby. It is the smallest cathedral in England and contains the Shrine of St Frideswide. The Cathedral was built in the 12th and 13th centuries, before the college was founded, and has Romanesque and Gothic architecture. This shrine was built in 1289, and it houses the relics of the 8th century nun, Frideswide, the patron saint of Oxford. The college was founded in 1525 by the powerful Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and was originally called ‘Cardinal College’. Wolsey was himself a former member of Magdalen College. He became Master of Magdalen in 1500, but that was merely a brief stopover on his meteoric rise to power as chief advisor and chaplain to Henry VIII. In 1525 Wolsey, also founder of Hampton Court Palace near London, acquired the Augustinian priory on the site of St. Frideswide's abbey. Wolsey had the site cleared, and began construction of a grandiose complex of buildings around a green quadrangle (now known as Tom Quad - see below). However, Wolsey lost favor with King Henry VIII, because he refused to support the King’s plan to marry his second wife, Anne Boleyn. By the time of Wolsey's death in 1529 the college was still incomplete - not surprising considering the scope of Wolsey's project. King Henry VIII re-founded the college in 1532 as ‘King Henry VIII’s College’ and then renamed it ‘Christ Church’ in 1546. This was after he had separated from the Church of Rome and created the Church of England. The royal connection with Christ Church continued during the English Civil War (1642-1646). King Charles chose Christ Church as his residence (his army kept their cattle in the Great Quad and kept hay for the cattle in the Cathedral), while his wife, Henrietta Maria, with her court or household lived in the nearby Merton College. Charles I court sat in the Deanery, and the royalist "Parliament" convened in the Great Hall. The king attended service in the church daily, sitting in the Vice-Chancellor's stall:

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Nave of Christ Church Cathedral looking to the altar:

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Choir and organ of Christ Church Cathedral. The organ is a 43-rank, four-manual and pedal instrument built in 1979 by Austrian firm Rieger Orgelbau:

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Stained-glass windows inside the Cathedral. The St. Frideswide Window - St. Frideswide Shrine (the most ancient chapel in the Cathedral):

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A large rose window of the ten-part:

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The Nowers Monument - statue of giant knight, 2m. height from the 14th century:

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The finest surviving section of Christ Church original foundation is The Hall (the Dining Hall). It is this Renaissance splendor of the Grand Hall that attracted the makers of the Harry Potter films to build a replica of the Hall in their London studios. Actual scenes from the movies were filmed here, and on the grand stairs leading to the Hall. The dining halls at the University of Chicago and Cornell University are both reproductions of the splendid dining hall at Christ Church. It shows the Renaissance magnificence of the original Cardinal College, and suggests the scale it might have reached had it not been for Wolsey’s fall. Until the 1870s this was the largest Hall in Oxford, but then the newly-founded Keble College ensured that their hall was slightly larger (legend has it by only a single metre). Built in the mid-1500s, the hall itself was not used during Harry Potter filming.

Stairs leading to the 2nd floor, to the famous Dining Hall (on which Professor McGonagall welcomes the first-year students in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone):

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Be sure to admire the ceiling of the Dining Hall, a wonderful example of sixteenth-century built by Humphrey Coke, Henry VIII’s chief carpenter. The walls are adorned with a number of portraits, each celebrating famous members of the college from Queen Elizabeth to W. H. Auden. At the far end, the founder of Christ Church, Henry VIII, is portrayed above a bust of the current queen, Elizabeth II. The table at the far end of the Hall is known as High Table and it is here that senior members of the college dine. Academic fellows or Deans of the college are known as Students, always with a capital S to distinguish them from undergraduate students:

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On your immediate right upon entering the Hall, is a portrait of Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll - famed author of Alice in Wonderland - see above). It was painted by Hubert von Herkomer, based on photographs. Upon exiting the Dining Hall, keep your eyes on this portrait - he'll surely be keeping his eyes on you:

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Look for the large stained glass window, featuring characters from Alice above the fireplace as well as brass characters in the fireplace itself.

The Christ Church Picture Gallery contains a modest collection of Renaissance art, the most notable of which features the bibilical Judith holding the severed head of Holofernes. For visitors who wish to see the entire college, the entrance is at Meadow Gate. If you start from there, the Picture Gallery is located in the last quadrangle, known as Canterbury Quad, designed by the British architect James Wyatt (1746 - 1813). To visit the Picture Gallery without visiting the rest of the college, enter through Canterbury Gate off Oriel Square (from King Edward Street), only a couple of minutes walk from the High Street. The staff member(s) at the gate will direct you to the Picture Gallery. Open: JUL-SEP, daily, MON - SAT: 10.30 - 17.00, SUN: 14.00 - 17.00. OCT - MAY,  closed Tuesdays, MON, WED - SAT: 10.30 - 13.00, 14.00 - 16.30, SUN: 14.00 - 16.30, JUN, closed Tuesdays, MON, WED - SAT: 10.30 - 17.00, SUN: 14.00 - 17.00. Prices: Adults - £4.00 Concessions - £2.00. The Picture Gallery is independent of the admission charge to the rest of the Christ Church College. Visitors who have bought a ticket to visit Christ Church are entitled to a 50% reduction of the Gallery ticket. Every Monday at 14.30 visitors can join a tour through the Gallery with tour guides. The Picture Gallery is especially strong on Italian art from the 14th to 18th centuries. The collection includes paintings by Annibale Carracci (The Butcher's Shop), Duccio, Fra Angelico, Hugo van der Goes, Giovanni di Paolo, Filippino Lippi (The Wounded Centaur), Sano di Pietro, Frans Hals, Salvator Rosa, Tintoretto, Anthony van Dyck and Paolo Veronese, and drawings by Leonardo de's Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, Albrecht Dürer and Peter Paul Rubens and a great range of other artists, especially Italians:

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Filippino Lippi's - The Wounded Centaur:

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The Butcher's Shop by Annibale Carracci, c. 1580-1590:

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Leonardo da Vinci - Grotesque Head:

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Generally spoken, I think the Christ Church College is a VERY beautiful site and immaculately kept. Lovely British History and a wonderful sense of going back in time and seeing how it was once used in the past. Excellent experience with much to see and enjoy plus many photo opportunities.

If you have time a visit to the grounds is pleasant and is possible to as far as the river on accessible paths. The landscaped areas, actually, The Meadow (at the south of the Central Building), the War Memorial garden (at the west of the Central Building) - are an experience in its own. The exceptional conservation area (Grade 1 registration) extends to the east bank of the Cherwell river. The only disabled access is from St Aldate's, through the war memorial garden. Christ Church Meadow is a rare open space at the heart of Oxford, open to the public all year round. Though seemingly tranquil, the meadow is highly used as a site for sport, entertainment and recreation. During the Civil War it proved invaluable as a defense against the Parliamentarian forces. It was the location for some of the earliest balloon flights in England: in 1784 James Sadler, ‘the first English aeronaut’ rose from Christ Church meadow, landing six miles away after a half-hour flight. In May 1785 Sadler again ascended from the meadow, this time with the statesman William Windham as a passenger. The meadow is enclosed by the rivers Cherwell and Thames. The Thames is known as the Isis whilst flowing through the city. The Isis is home to the college boathouses where rowing teams gather to train and compete. Every summer the major intercollegiate regatta takes place (better known as Summer VIIIs) as it has done since the competition’s inauguration in 1815. Crews from across the university descend annually on the Cherwell to compete in a four-day competition. Fittingly, Christ Church has been the most successful men’s crew, with 32 victories:

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The War Memorial Gardens, in memory of members of Christ Church, Oxford, is located east off St Aldate's at the western end of Broad Walk, which leads along the northern edge of Christ Church Meadows.

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We leave the CCC and continue walking along the tarmac, the Broad Walk path, which separates the Christ Church College from The Meadow. Broad Walk is wide walkway running east-west on the north side of Christ Church Meadow and south of Merton Field. The walkway starts at St Aldate's Street though the Christ Church War Memorial Garden at the western end of the College premises. The River Cherwell is to the east at the southern end of the University of Oxford Botanic Gardens (see below):

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You'll pass, on your left - the entrance way to Merton College. The tower of Merton College Chapel dominates the view north from Broad Walk across Merton Field, beyond Dead Man's Walk and the old city wall which run parallel to Broad Walk, connected via Merton Walk. Along the Broad Walk - there are fantastic views of Christ Church and the Cathedral. You can follow the Broad Walk over toward Merton College and head up the Merton Walk up to Merton Street, or remain on the Broad Walk all the way to the Oxford Botanic Gardens (if the route is not blocked):

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Your way to the east might be blocked (due to reconstruction works). So, we return to the Christ Church College main entrance and start walking southward along a tarmac path which leads from the CCC southern gate to the Thames river. Opposite to the main entrance, the tree-lined Poplar Walk, (or New Walk) laid out in 1872 by Henry Liddell, Dean of Christ Church, leads down (south) to the River Thames. It is a very pleasant walk until we reach the Thames river:

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The Poplar Walk is, approx. 5-10 minutes walk from the north to the south. The large path meets the Thames river near Folly Bridge to the south. At this point, the river is known as "The Isis" and is the location of the end of rowing races for Oxford University events such as Eights Week in the summer and Torpids in the spring. Now, there are boathouses a little further down (more to the west) the Thames river meets with the River Cherwell.

The Poplar (New) Walk ends in the Thames river:

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With our back to the Poplar Walk and our face to the Thames River (south) - we turn RIGHT (west) and walk along a (muddy) path (Christ Church Meadow Walk), on the Thames river bank, leading, back east to St. Aldate Street. After 5 minutes walk west along the Thames  - we arrive to the Salters' family basin and boats' letting business and the 'Head of the River' pub and cafe':

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From 'The Head of the River' pub - return to St. Aldate's Street and turn RIGHT, heading along the St. Aldate's back to the Carfax Square. You'll pass, on your right, the Bate Collection of Musical Instruments. Open: MON - FRI afternoons from 14.00 - 17.00 throughout the year. Closed: SAT-SUN and during the dates 19-31 AUG 2016. One of the largest collections of musical instruments in the world. The Bate has over 1000 instruments (mainly for Western classical music), on display, from the Renaissance, through the Baroque, Classical, Romantic and up to modern times. The collection is named after Philip Bate, who gave his collection of musical instruments to the University of Oxford in 1968 for teaching and academic uses only:

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We continue walking northward, crossing the Carfax and continuing along the Cornmarket Street which starts as a pedestrians-only road. On our left the Mcdonald's restaurant. We cross the Broad Street (on our right) and George Street (on our left) and Cornmarket street continues as Magdalen Street with Hotel Randolph on our left. The Martyrs' Memorial, on our right, is a stone monument positioned at the intersection of St Giles', Magdalen Street and Beaumont Street, just outside Balliol College. It commemorates the 16th-century Oxford Martyrs - three Anglican bishops who were burned at the stake under Queen Mary in the 1550s: Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, and Hugh Latimer. The actual site of the execution is close by in Broad Street, just outside the line of the old city walls. The site is marked by a cross sunk in the road. Designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, the monument was completed in 1843. The inscription on the base of the Martyrs' Memorial reads: "To the Glory of God, and in grateful commemoration of His servants, Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer, Prelates of the Church of England, who near this spot yielded their bodies to be burned, bearing witness to the sacred truths which they had affirmed and maintained against the errors of the Church of Rome, and rejoicing that to them it was given not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for His sake; this monument was erected by public subscription in the year of our Lord God, MDCCCXLI".

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Behind the Memorial Monument is the Balliol College. Opposite, on our left is the Ashmolean Museum:

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We turn left to Beaumont Street. We can visit the leading 5-star hotel in Oxford: the Macdonald Randolph Hotel. Hotel is full of old English charm.  It is a landmark building with elegance and charm. The hotel has played host to prime ministers and presidents, and its renowned Morse Bar (just inside the front door) is instantly recognizable as the watering hole of the famous detective, Inspector Morse:

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Now, turn to the next route for the rest of day (at least 3-4 hours) - the "Oxford - Day 1 - The Ashmolean Museum" blog.



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