Oxford weekend…

Hampton by Hilton, Oxford

After leaving Burford behind, it was time to head to Oxford and the Hampton By Hilton next to Oxford United’s home ground.

Well, the theory that it would be easy to find was great as we were following the route card we’d got from the AA’s route planning software (we don’t use rat nav…), but there were one or two problems as we approached and ended up in the wrong place…

Fortunately, Caroline has an app on her phone to deal with such matters and after a while we found the hotel, got the bags from the boot and headed to the check-in desk.

Now we’d booked directly with Hilton (£110 for two nights) and knew what the post-lockdown breakfast would be – continental style, in a paper bag.

Unfortunately, not everyone had got the message. One bloke in front of us was adamant that he wanted a cooked breakfast and only a cooked breakfast as it had said on a third-party booking site that cooked breakfasts were available…

Our check-in was easier as we joked about the unhappy eater before getting our keys and heading to our home for the next two nights. 

We’d asked about places to get an evening meal when we checked in and as luck would have it, there was an open Chinese buffet restaurant on the leisure park behind the hotel and also a good selection of local takeaway leaflets in the reception area.

As we hadn’t eaten out for a while, we headed to the buffet and embraced the new norm by getting our temperatures taken, leaving names and contact details and slathering our hands in hand gel before we could get a table.

Drinks were easily ordered, but instead of putting our own food onto the plates at the buffet, a full-face covered member of staff asked what we wanted from each section and served it onto our plates as we went mask clad around the one-way system.

Yes, the food went down well, as did the second round of drinks before it was time for desserts – fruit for Caroline and a slice of a seventies favourite for me – Black Forest Gateau with cream…

With the place slowly emptying, it was time to call it a night and we headed back for coffee and a good night’s sleep before heading into Oxford the following morning.

Which started with a very good pot of Taylor’s Rich Italian coffee made in our own stainless coffee presses as a means of getting caffeine into the system just in case there wasn’t any at breakfast.

But there was – the usual Hampton By Hilton coffee machines were sparked up and ready to roll, so the usual methodology was used to fill the disposable cups – three pushes of the espresso button for me and two presses of the same button plus some hot water for Caroline as a means of getting something approaching the coffee we had in the room.

Our breakfast bags contained the milk pots, bread rolls, butter or spread, jam, yoghurt and disposable cutlery as a means of providing some sustenance to start the day. Yes, I’d have rather had the usual breakfast buffet selection, but unlike the unhappy eater, I could live without it until things opened up and changed once more.

With breakfast done, it was back to the room to pick up the day bags and then go in search of a taxi to get us into the centre of Oxford

We could have used our car, but with last night’s navigating and the potential cost of car parking in the city centre, we lashed out a bit (£12) for a cab ride into town in a posh for us Mercedes.

With no map or guidebook on us, getting around the centre of Oxford on foot was quite easy as we used the maps on street signs, finger posts and a couple of ideas scribbled on a Post It Note to find places of interest.

As the UK had only opened up for travel purposes the week before, we weren’t expecting to do much in the way of indoor sightseeing. 

One open venue that we did come across was Oxford Jail. Yes, I’m a bit of a heathen when it comes to visiting museums and historical sites, so it’s usually down to Caroline to head off and take a look around such places whilst I head off with a camera in search of interesting places or buildings to photograph or to find a cup of coffee, beer or whatever instead.

My mission on this occasion though was to find the location of a café that I’d seen reviews of whilst doing the day of research for this trip. After finding it and then doing some book shopping at the nearby Waterstones, I headed back to find Caroline as it was approaching lunchtime.

Which was spent in a very leisurely way outside the The Handle Bar café. The adjacent bike shop may have been closed, but the café was very much open for business with a good menu selection that allowed me to have a full English a little later than usual. 

Although we’d had drinks with our lunch, we decided to find somewhere else to have coffee and cake, but I will admit we wished we had stayed put at the The Handle Bar rather than move and indulge at the café we found later…

We did wander around the shopping centre, but many shops were not open for business, so spending was kept to a minimum. What was a delight was wandering around the Covered Market and spotting various characters from Alice In Wonderland looking down at us from above.

One thing I wasn’t expecting was my knees playing up, something that hadn’t happened for a few years, so I plonked myself down on a seat for a while and Caroline wandered off to do some exploring on her own around the colleges and the Cherwell.

Once recovered and with Caroline back, we headed off into parts unknown by just following our noses and ending up by Radcliffe Camera, The Bridge of Sighs and Trinity College before heading back to the main shopping streets to hit M&S food department.

Trinity College, Oxford

As we’d had a full lunch then coffee and cake, a picnic style evening meal was declared and bought along with beer and cider to wash it all down with.

Although we had a card from the taxi company, we decided to bus it rather than lash out on another cab ride. Although I had plenty of cash on me, the buses were only accepting contactless payments, so Caroline came to the rescue with her debit card and I just handed over the cash to her instead…

With this being one of the few full days we’d had in the open air since the start of UK Lockdown 1, eating and drinking the contents of the M&S bag were the highlights of that particular Saturday night as there wasn’t much on TV and the cinema at the leisure park remained closed to one and all.

Sunday started in much the same way as Saturday, but whilst we had intended to bite the bullet and drive into Oxford, park up and have another wander around, we reckoned without the Road Signs of Oxford.

Yes, we got lost and the road we were on was the one out of the city. 

So we decided to do a bit of exploring by car, top up with petrol, seek lunch and then head in a homeward direction…

So we’d done it – our first weekend away since UK Lockdown 1.

The second one started just four days later…

But we will return to both The Cotswold and Oxford!

About Keith Rickaby

I’m a writer and photographer who has worked in the tailoring trade and the outdoor/travel clothing, equipment and footwear game. Past lives include working as an outdoor instructor, managing three bands and doing PR work through an agency or my own contacts. Was a student in the mid-90s and I'm originally from the North East, but now based in Yorkshire and back to home life after three years with a travel and outdoor activity based retailer.
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