A Passage Through Alice’s Oxford

The Covered Market. Image: Max Ross
The Covered Market. Image: Max Ross

I know, I am not strictly a Londoner. But my home city, Oxford can appeal in many ways to those familiar to the big smoke. Not solely a haven for the academic elite, Oxford is a pot bursting full of culture, and though much can be discovered behind the Wonderland-style doors of the university colleges, just as much can be observed by opting for the meandering passages.

I’ll start you off here; there’s an implicit understanding that the colleges come first. With their true beauty intriguingly concealed behind the equally beautiful high-street facades, the gardens and architecture really is to be admired. And all it takes is a peep through a small wooden door that can make you feel like Alice encountering Wonderland. Sorry to disappoint, but there is no ‘drink me’ potion…

Just up from the individual colleges, is the infamous Bodleian Library, which has become an attraction in its own right. In its magnitude, it presents itself for many photo opportunities and would certainly beautify my current ‘Explaining Grammatical Structure’ module if I were to study there.

On an additional note, I have found out, just shy of writing these lines, that membership is free to any student of a UK university and also, on a bit of a side note, you can book it out for a wedding. I’ve never been a girl who dreams about her wedding, but this would certainly be a satisfyingly bookish way to put a ring on it.

Anyway, back to the tour, and your first secret passage. St Mary’s to be exact. Just past the Bodleian library, you will reach the architecture student adorned Bridge of Sighs. More importantly is the pub, the Bear, tucked just behind, down a tiny passage. I am told by a friend that this is one of the oldest pubs. Of where, I do not know, but it is a pub. In a passage. That’s really all that matters.

After your first pint of the trip and a visit to the legendary Blackwells bookshop (and the quirky Art and Poster shop!), it’s time to move on to the oh-so-familiar high street. Only for a second, I promise. It is down St Michael’s Street where you will find the delightfully vintage ‘Arcadia.’ Run by the same man for over 30 years (my mum recognises a face!), the place is decked with everything a girl could wish for, including an abundance of fairy lights, which may be a fire hazard, but sure is beautiful. Whilst not wishing to preach about books again, the old Penguin Classics are a welcome addition to the shop, and make for the perfect gift. The next-door ‘Nosebag’ restaurant is pretty unbeatable on the caramel shortbread front.

I’ll admit, there is not much to entice you on the main shopping strip of Cornmarket Street, but down a little, yep you guessed it- passage- between commercial giants Carphone Warehouse and Boots, you will discover the Covered Market, where you can grab some lunch if you’re feeling peckish. Despite the seemingly tacky name, Fasta Pasta always smells amazing, and offers a pick ‘n’ mix style pasta eatery, where you can select your fresh pasta, sauce and toppings.

Also worth a try is the Pieminister shop, where servings are accompanied with a proper dollop of mash. Even if you are too full for dessert, make sure you pause at the window of the cake shop (which may or may not be its official name) to marvel at wedding cake creations.

Once out on the high street again, a straight walk down to Camden-esque Cowley Road, is the perfect way to ease yourself back into London life. For those not wishing to stray far from Mile End in mentality, there is ‘Chicken Cottage’ with signature red and blue stripes, or for the classier chicken fans, Nando’s takes its pride of place.

But it is the intriguingly named ‘Atomic Burger’ which proves popular amongst students, offering an array of, well, burgers to satisfy any Greedy Cow fan. Yet, it is the amusing chalk boards outside such establishments that leaves a lasting impression. In contrast to the opulence and beauty of the city, a single board reads: ‘long haired freaks apply within.’

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