Tag Archives: Oxfordshire

A new year, a new(ish) adventure

A new year, a new(ish) adventure
A new year, a new(ish) adventure

Red kite (bird of prey) in a blue sky

I completely dropped this blog in the last quarter of the year, so thank you for waiting out the drought.

As usual, in the last three months my life has shifted course. We got back to the UK on 2 November, but didn’t stop travelling until mid-December. We spent the first month shooting around the country, trying to see people we missed, make it to important events and pull the threads of a settled life together.

We’re making our home in Oxfordshire again. I DID NOT see that coming at all, but we’ve had a couple of lucky breaks so hopefully this winter will be a good one. Although I love the caravan to bits, last winter was very wet, which made getting out harder and it did get lonely. A lack of both public and private transport made it hard to get to events and meet new people (or just buy groceries). Distance kept us from the people we already know and like, so it was an isolating experience.

Trees and boats reflected in the River Thames at sunset in winter

This winter looks to be very different. It’s already drier, we have a working car, a regular bus service and good train connections. we’re based in a pretty village, instead of on an isolated farm, and have WALLS. Yep – one of our pieces of luck means we have a lovely house to live in. K has work in an office, and I’ve got plenty of freelance work.

We’re close to the Thames and are enjoying walks by the river, visiting local pubs (there are 5 within a 15-minute walk!) and spotting local wildlife. There is a lot of bird life here – I’m not going to say I’ve seen a flock of cockatoos, but I’ve seen hundreds of water birds, gulls, pigeons, a few song birds (they’re harder to spot) and up to 8 red kites in one go.

Red kites (birds of prey) swirl against a blue sky

 

The kites are absolutely beautiful birds, and the way they fly is amazing. They have such elegant control over their trajectories. Watching them makes me cross about the mechanistic descriptions of flight in Jonathan Livingston Seagull all over again… I love that I can sit at my desk and see them out the window. It’s even better on a sunny, blue-sky day, but those are in somewhat short supply during an English winter.

We’re settling in nicely, and even bought some furniture. I don’t know how long this phase will last – I’ll let you know what new adventures turn up, in Oxfordshire and beyond!

Saying goodbye to Oxford

Saying goodbye to Oxford

Our time in Oxford is ending very soon: on Thursday we’re leaving, and won’t be coming back for the foreseeable future. I don’t really know how to describe our time here. When people talk about Oxford in the future, will I say I ‘lived’ here, ‘stayed’ here or ‘visited’? I don’t think I’ve spent a whole month here, and I’ve been in Switzerland for the last month or so, which makes our stay here feel very temporary and short. My ‘must visit’ list has a lot of items remaining: I haven’t visited Blenheim or gone on a tour of the Bodleian Library, and I won’t have the chance to go for a swim at the Hinksey Outdoor Pool as it doesn’t open until May.

I do like Oxford, and I’ve enjoyed exploring. While I’m not sure I count as town yet, I am definitely  not gown, so for me the centre feels like its full of blank walls and locked doors, with the ‘dreaming spires’ shut away from the masses. Luckily, there’s still a lot to do. I was going to do a full round up of free things to do in Oxford, but I only got as far as museums I like. Here are five.

Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum shares a building with the Pitt Rivers Museum. Both are free, and both are excellent, with a sort of Victorian twist. It’s as though while the exhibits have been updated, the style of display hasn’t. This isn’t the place to go for interactive exhibits with flashing lights, but buggies are welcome and the small children I saw seemed to love looking at the bones. There are a lot of genuine preserved animals, insects and birds, so if you don’t like that, don’t go. The building is beautiful, too.

The Oxford Natural History Museum interior, with a high glass roof, decorative beams and dinosaur skeleton

 

Pitt Rivers Museum
You have to walk through the Natural History Museum to get to the Pitt Rivers. I’ve never seen a museum like it. You walk into an indoor courtyard crowded with cabinets. Above you, there are three more floors of galleries, each crowded with objects. Items are arranged thematically, not by culture or geography, so the textiles section has European spinning wheels, English crochet, Egyptian cotton, Inuit bead work and much more. And then two steps later you’re in a different section altogether. It’s actually a really good way to display the mass of objects, as it lets the viewer establish similarities and differences across centuries and cultures without being told what to think. That said, the labelling is really limited, so context is somewhat lacking.

Inside the Pitt Rivers Museum. A mass of cabinets crammed with objects reach the ceiling

Ashmolean Museum
The Ashmolean Museum is also free, and a great complement to the other two. It’s about a 5-minute walk away. It focuses on art and fine objects, and provides more information and context than the Pitt Rivers. It’s the place to go for tapestries, fine china and musical instruments. It features both paintings and sculpture, although its remit is wider than that. The collection has been cleverly curated, so it’s easy to just wander round, skimming the surface, or you can delve deeper into something that interests you.

Fine china at the Ashmolean museum

 

The plate on the left is an original Chinese piece, the two to the right are later European copies. The technologies for making fine porcelain were brand new in Europe at the time, and both real and imitation Chinese porcelain was very popular. 

Bodleian Library 
If you want to visit the inside of Bodleian Library, you’ll need to pay for a tour or become a reader. However, they do have a small exhibition space, and the exhibitions are free. There are two spaces to check out: the display cabinet by the way into the library, which highlights a few objects from the collection. The main exhibition space will have a theme, and the exhibition I saw had relatively few objects, but plenty of information. Both collections change regularly, and it’s a quick visit. Unlike the three museums above, which could easily soak up a day each, you can budget half an hour or an hour for the Bodleian (not counting the tour).

Town Hall Museum
I won’t say this one’s excellent, but it is free. It’s a couple of rooms in the Town Hall, which is very centrally located. It’s a very quick one to visit, and gives a neat overview of Oxford’s history.

Our home in Oxfordshire

Our home in Oxfordshire

At the top of a green hill, looking down on a caravan site and two small lakes

 

This is our home in Oxfordshire. It’s the second caravan site we’ve stayed at near the city, and much more friendly. It’s also, as you can see, really rural. The site is part of a working farm. It’s a 20-minute walk to the bus stop, and the bus goes once an hour (if it feels like it) so without a car (we don’t currently have a car) it’s a bit isolated.

When I took this photo, I was following a footpath up over the hill and down to the next village. It meant going through fields of sheep and horses – no cows this time. The sheep were wary, the horses interested. I’m a little wary of having anything with teeth the size of my face sniffing my hair, honestly. I know that few animals harm humans intentionally, but there’s no way to spot the grumpy one having a bad day.

Posting this, I’m feeling a little nostalgic. I’m in Switzerland for a week or three, and being here, looking at that photo, it’s easy to forget that it’s from several weeks ago, and the interim has been rain, more rain, and winds strong enough to shake the van. When the weather’s that bad, I simply don’t go out. K has to go to work, and comes back soaking wet, and it’s not much fun all round.

Hurrah for 2014

Hurrah for 2014

So the New Year has been with us for a week, and it’s wearing in well. I’ve decided to keep it, in fact.

I’m cautiously optimistic about this new year. It has the potential to be jaw-droppingly awesome or absolutely dreadful, and only time will tell. 2013 was a really mixed bag. Some things were pretty cool. For example:

Handknit socks with the Swedish flag pattern

Yeah, I made those. I am so chuffed with them – they’re the physical realisation of a knitting theory I’ve had in my head for a while. It took me ages to get round to testing it out, and I was so pleased it worked. Plus, I knit them with yarn I bought in Copenhagen, and K requested them because we spent a month in Sweden. I had never been to either country before, and I love visiting new places.

In total, I went to 9 countries this year: Switzerland, France, the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Ireland and Spain. We drove through Belgium (accidentally, at least the first time) but didn’t stop. So that was very cool. I also got to explore the UK a bit more in the autumn. This year, I’d like to venture a bit further afield. Where’s somewhere you recommend I should go? Could be anywhere in the world, on my doorstop or on the other side of the planet.

We’ve been living in the caravan for over 6 months now, with the odd week away here and there. It’s still going well, but our poor van is showing a bit more wear and tear. It could really do with being dry docked, essentially, and having everything stripped out, scrubbed and put back. Not really possible at the moment – anything we take outside is likely to get waterlogged and/or blow away!

Oxford autumn mist

 

We’re still at the same site in Oxford as when I took this photo in October. K’s job is going well, and we’re pleased to be here. It’s a lovely site. That said, living in such a small space hasn’t always been easy. One of the things we’re discussing is whether we’ll continue doing this full time in 2014. For the moment, the answer is yes. but it may not be an effective long term solution. It’s been rough lately as all the wind and rain has kept us awake a lot.

I don’t have a clear idea of what 2014 will bring. I’ve got some secret hopes, some not-so-secret plans and a few good ideas. For now, all you really need is the few blog changes:

  • I’m aiming to read some long books off the Big Read list, so I won’t be posting Big Read reviews as often. 
  • I might post reviews of some of the other books I read or intermittent updates on the books I’m working through, to compensate.
  • I’m going to try to post more travel pictures. Current ones will be tagged ‘where we are‘. We are always somewhere interesting, even if it is the same as last week!

I’m open to your suggestions though, so if you always come for the travel photos, the book reviews, or really wish I’d write about something entirely different, leave a comment and let me know.