Category Archives: Oxfordshire

Didcot

Didcot Power Station, under creative commons from Joe Dunckleys photostream. Click pic for link.

Didcot Power Station, under creative commons from Joe Dunckley’s photostream. Click pic for link.

Oxfordshire is about as scenically (did I just adverb a word? did I just verb adverb?) England as you could imagine: undulating countryside, market towns with squares and churches, the upper reaches of the Thames lazily wending its way through peculiarly English-sounding villages and towns: Abingdon, Sutton Courtenay, Goring, Shipton Under Wychwood. The Thames doesn’t meander as widely as the elevated Didcot and instead the bucolic idyll is replaced with the significantly less pastoral cooling towers of the iconic power station, and the sizeable railway junction and station complex.

The lack of beauty is evident within the town centre as well, or what there is of it. On approach to the town, one circles around a huge, cubic building which turns out to be a hangar-like shopping/entertainment centre. A mall, for want of a more English word. Alongside this runs a peculiar one-sided high street, the Broadway: one side a rag-tag selection of charity shops, video rentals and cafs, the other council-built semi-detached homes from the 1980s.

As it turns out, the place has a deserted, windswept air. Maybe it’s more alive on a Saturday but even during a half-term weekday afternoon there’s just no-one here. We were in and out of the charity shops in record time, despite there being a substantial quantity. Action for Children in Conflict and Oxfam were sadly closed, and an Oxfordshire Animal Sanctuary was a little too far out to warrant the rush. So we popped in and out of the remaining four, but left with nothing to buy.

A Shaw Trust, a British Heart Foundation, a Cancer Research and a Help The Aged all left me underwhelmed, and I won’t be coming back in a hurry – whilst there’s numerous charity shops here, the place itself is a detour too far for me.

Find: Didcot @ Google Maps
Transport: the infamous Didcot Parkway
Consume with: No! Get out of Dodge! (there’s probably a Greggs if you’re peckish…)
Visit: Didcot A? Didcot Railway Centre?
Overall Rating: two lame DVD boxsets

  

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Filed under 2/5, Oxfordshire

Summertown

 

Coffee in Costa, under Creative Commons by victoriachan. Click pic for link.

Coffee in Costa, under Creative Commons by victoriachan. Click pic for link.

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

  

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Filed under 3/5, Oxfordshire

Abingdon

Abingdon County Hall, under Creative Commons from Dave Smiths photostream - click pic for link.

Abingdon County Hall, under Creative Commons from Dave Smith’s photostream – click pic for link.

I didn’t know much about Abingdon before visiting: the refrain, town hall on stilts, town hall on stilts was all I heard, to the point that I attributed this factoid to everyone who’s mentioned the place, or even talked to me at all in the last few years. As it turns out, it was the obvious candidate, the formerly-Oxford-dwelling constant companion, and it was with her that the trek to this Oxfordshire outpost was made.

As it turns out, it was well worth it. Abingdon’s a proper old English town with a feast of roots and connections, and historic architecture from the Saxon (Abingdon Abbey) era, Norman (Henry I was educated at the School) era, medieval (markets, fairs, bridge and almshouses) era, and a market hall (the famous town hall on stilts) designed by a protege of Christopher Wren. Residents have included 10th century Archbishops of Canterbury, Radiohead (who met at Abingdon School) and, um, Tom Hingley of Inspiral Carpets.

The first charity shop was a suitably beautiful Oxfam on Stert Street – a bit tucked off the main thoroughfares, but nonetheless inviting. The building was formerly Langford & Sons Corn & Coal Merchants, and it’s overhead lettering and large, yet cosy interior, are a winner (photo). Sadly, as per Oxfam, it was overpriced and I didn’t leave with anything (though I could have had any number of scientific manuals, or £8 gravy boats).

Better priced were the trio on Bury Street – a slightly less salubrious feel to this seventies shopping arcade, but bounded on one end by the market square, on the other by the abbey ruins, it’s all relative. British Heart Foundation coughed up the novel used as inspiration for Hitchcock’s Vertigo, and the first of many baby clothes purchases of the day. Next door is YMCA, a bit more ramshackle, and not a little eerie, for some reason. Furniture available here. Then finally, Cancer Research, proudly celebrating 15 years of service to the community, sits on the end of the short street.

The remaining emporia are worthy of note. A little way down Ock Street, the Helen & Douglas House Hospice continues the classier vein of charity shop, as seen in Beaconsfield. Nice fittings, a coffee machine (with suggested 50p donation, an excellent touch) and a nice range of just about everything. We picked up yet more baby clothes here, and a Betjeman anthology of radio talks. Finally, a Sue Ryder – though manned by a somewhat surly lady assistant, this spacious shop sold nothing but furniture and homeware. Some interesting tat here – I was particularly enamoured of a nice looking wing chair, until I sat on it and it began to give way.

Abingdon is an extremely pleasant place to while away a couple of hours in chitchat, coffee and charity mooching. It’s a bit of a hike to make it a regular affair for me, London-based as I am, but I’m certainly going to be making the effort to return.

Find: Abingdon @ Google Maps
Transport: Radley station is a couple of miles away, so you’re best off with the regular buses from Oxford.
Consume with: Plenty of nice looking cafes here: we went unadventurous, with macchiato from Costa
Visit: start with the museum: in the stilted town hall, natch.
Overall Rating: four elusive gravy boats

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Filed under 4/5, Oxfordshire

Headington

Oxford town centre is lovely; let’s clear that up straight away, and no doubt it’ll be a post for a future date. However, this is a brief visit to Headington on the Eastern outskirts of Oxford. It’s really just a small shopping street: a particularly ugly Somerfield, a few caffs, estate agents and papershops. However, it’s worth exploring a little bit around: Old Headington is a really beautiful example of a village that’s been swallowed up but has retained it’s character and style, while the huge expanse of South Park (not that one – I know you’ve got Primus stuck in your head now) is just up the road.

What Headington lacks in amenities, however, it certainly makes up for in charity shops, where it punches well above it’s weight. Charity shopping is, at times, an exercise in demographics, and it’s really noticeable in a town so overwhelmingly, well, studenty. Oxford made its name on its university, and the “high-end” nature of its students. Today, that translates into a large number of fairly wealthy, foppish types. As university years progress and halls look increasingly obnoxious, Oxford students seem to spread out over the town’s beautifully-terraced streets, and Headington, with its frequent bus service and proximity to the considerably-trendier Cowley Road, must be high on many students’ lists.

Henceforth, shops are filled with no-longer-desired DVDs, well-thumbed paperbacks of classic and controversial literature, many and varied stripy clothes, and all sorts of quirky ‘misc.’ The highlights of our visit included Waking Ned on DVD (this is one of those films I’ve been waiting for ages to find) and an Albert Einstein action figure. Correct, an Albert Einstein action figure. A large heap of paperbacks invariably came with these.

With six or seven shops in very close vicinity, this is a concentrated, action-packed charity shopping experience. A particular mention to the ‘indie’ of the Headington scene: the Sobell House Hospice shop, with it’s dark thoroughfares and well-laden corners: we found an almost complete set of the Guardian’s Lyricists series. On departing, we had second thoughts about the soapstone chess set in the window, only to see the door closed to us – a lesson to the hesitant.

Find: Headington at Google Maps
Transport: Loads of buses into and out of the centre, including the Park and Ride
Consume with: coffee and a sticky bun from La Croissanterie Patisserie, Old High Street.
Visit: the infamous shark house, at 2 New High Street
Overall Rating: four ‘Frampton Comes Alive’s

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Filed under 4/5, Oxfordshire