Once I’ got my head around the difference between Somers Town and Summertown, a trip into the Oxford suburbs was a welcome change from the London-centric meanderings of a normal weekend. Oxford itself, the dreaming spires and nooks and alleys of this famous city, has become something of a curse to us: the merest mention of the place causes breakdowns and innumerable delays. So, we’re carefully heading to the outskirts.
Quite different from the town centre, but inextricably linked with Oxford’s student, progressive, hipster image, Summertown is a small but well-formed community on the Northern side of Oxford. Shops are spread along the sprawling Banbury Road and cafes and shops alike spill out onto the wide pavements and market stall spaces. The air smells faintly of the sea, and the Big British Castle broadcast from right there on the main drag.
Parking behind Marks, we do the circuit. Scope first, an unremarkable shop (as Scopes often are) but notable for two action figures. On our last trip to Oxford, we located nothing less than an Albert Einstein action figure. Today, he was there again, joined by a Beethoven complete with piano stool. Then up to The Blue Cross, an animal charity (I’ve heard hospice shop staff dismiss these places, but a bargain’s a bargain. Except when it’s £5 for a DVD of the new Planet Of The Apes. An outrage). Alongside some vintage Tennessee Williams, we left with a baby carrier rucsac sort of affair. Not a backpack so much as a frontpack.
The real draw here is on the Western side of Banbury Road, where Oxfam lurks. Until recently the headquarters of the organisation, the store here delights in all manner of ephemera and interesting things, over two levels. Men’s clothes, books and music upstairs, and knick knacks ranging from an antique-ish G-clamp, silver tea sets, shadow puppets and huge steamers downstairs. A fascinating cabinet took pride of place, containing some genuine Jimmy Choo boots (yuck, though) and even better, “men’s dress pumps” – or as you or I might think of them, drag shoes, ladies’ shoes in a not-too-feminine size 12.
Though there was no sign of Thom Yorke (I’ve yet to see him out of 4 trips to the area, I’m starting to think he doesn’t exist) or Foals’ Yannis Philippakis who hails from the area, less still Morse, Summertown was a great way of starting a day out in the charity shops of Oxfordshire. From the good value to the plain weird, there’s a lot of tourism to be crammed into just three shops here.
Find: Summertown @ Google Maps
Transport: Buses are regular from Oxford town centre
Consume with: LB’s caf looks good, serving Lebanese butter bean stew with lamb.
Visit: There’s tons to do including galleries and theatres, by the looks of things.
Overall Rating: three Jimmy Choos