24 Hours in Oxford - 2014 Train Tour of UK

Last Visted in Jun 2014

Oxford is the setting for two of my favourite detective series - 'Morse' and 'Lewis'. In the short time we were there we were able to see some of the locations. We even stumbled on the place where one of the new episodes of 'Lewis' was being shot.

Finding Our Hotel

We took the train from Cardiff to Oxford arriving around 10:30am. We were staying at the Royal Oxford Hotel. Nestled between a tire repair and a Korean restaurant, it is quite unappealing from the street. Inside, however, is a modern looking lobby and impeccable service. Located a short walk from the train station, it is close king to many of Oxfords tourist attractions. The rooms were reasonably priced - it was perfect for our short stay in Oxford.

After we dropped off our luggage, we started exploring the area around our hotel. 

Starting to Explore

Have you ever wanted to stay in a medieval jail? A short walk along Park End St and New St is Malmaison, a medieval jail that was converted into a hotel. A little out of our price range -- but we decided to check it out. The prison was built on what remained of the Oxford Castle. While we didn’t go into the castle, we did explore the grounds exiting on Paradise St, near the Jolly Farmers pub.

Malmaison, once a medieval jail now hotel
Malmaison, once a medieval jail — now a hotel

The street names seem to change at every intersection. Going up Paradise St. to Castle St., Bonn Square to Queen Street. Queen Street is only a block long and the name changes to High Street for no apparent reason. High Street stretches to the Magdalen Bridge spanning the Cherwell River.

As well as shops and restaurants along the High Street there are many alleys and side street. Our destination was the University of Oxford Botanical Garden. It was mid June, and we were anxious to spend some time in the garden - no time to explore.

My wife and I are fans of the 'Morse' and 'Lewis' (Inspector Morse and Inspector Lewis in the US) TV series.  We were on the lookout for places featured in the series. (Which is most of Oxford.) 

Part of the pilot for the series, “Reputation”, was filmed in the Botanical Gardens. It was a the 'must see' location.

The Oxford Botanical Garden

The garden is amazing. Started in 1621 to feature medicinal plants, it consists of two parts, ‘The Garden’ and the “Glass House’. 

The Garden, consists of two sections, the Walled Garden and the Lower Garden. The Walled Garden has heritage and medicinal plants. The Lower Garden has flowering plants.

Lily Pond
Lily Pond

The seven Glass Houses, and an area outside the wall bordering the Cherwell River. They are each climate controlled and hold a wide variety of exotic plants not native to the UK. They are also home to the collection of citrus trees during the winter. These trees are grown in pots and moved into the courtyard during the summer months.

We spent about two hours walking around the garden and certainly didn’t see it all. 

Traffic Jam on the Cherwell
Traffic Jam on the Cherwell


After a late lunch at Taylor’s Sandwich & Deli ,we started down Longwall Street. A rather unoriginal name for the street adjacent to the long wall that encloses Magdalen College. There wasn’t much to see - so we turned onto Holywell Street.

A Bit of a Surprise

On Holywell Street we were surprised to see what looked like trucks for a film crew parked at the side of the street. I asked one of the drivers what they were filming, and he replied they were filming an episode of “Lewis”. 

Holywell street is at the back of ‘New College’ which was featured in a many episodes. I haven’t been able to identify what episode they were filming. 

Holywell ends at Park Street near Oxford’s “Bridge of Sighs”. A “sky way joining two parts of Hertford College over New College Lane.” (Wikipedia) This is a bit of a misnomer, the design similar to the Venice’s “Rialto Bridge” sans the walkways. 

Entrance Bodleian Library — Sheldonian in background
Entrance Bodleian Library — Sheldonian in background

Taking a jog down Park to Broad Street, we went into the Bodleian Library. While we didn’t go into the main section of the library, a page from Harold Macmillan’s note book. It highlighted his view on John Diefenbaker during the vote to expel South Africa from the Commonwealth. 

On Nov 6th 1960 he wrote:

“. . . But, John Diefenbaker is going to be troublesome about S, Africa. He is taking a “holier than thou” attitude, which may cause us infinite trouble.”

I was never a fan of Diefenbaker - but that was one of his better moments.

Going down Broad Street and the Sheldonian, both feature in Morse and Lewis episodes, to George Street. (Broad Street runs into George Street.) There are many stores and pubs to explore - it would be impossible to visit them all in one day.

Back at our hotel, we opted for dinner in the Korean Restaurant that adjoins the hotel. We were planning to take the train to York at about noon the next day. So, we decided on an early night and an early start the next day.

Canal Boat - Castle Mill Stream
Canal Boat - Castle Mill Stream

After breakfast, we took a different route into town. Going up Botley Street (A4144) towards George Street, we crossed the Castle Mill Stream at the Hythe Bridge. The stream is part of a network of canals that were the main transport routes before the railway. There are still canal boats using these canals either as ‘live aboard’ or for tours.

After exploring some side streets and alleyways, we wound up outside the Randolph Hotel . The Randolf, Morse's favourite hotel, is across from the Ashmolean Museum. The Ashmolean wasn’t open yet, and we didn’t want another breakfast, we to walk up St Giles towards Blackfriars.

Found the Observatory

The ‘Lewis’ episode ‘Dark Matter’ featured an observatory. I had always assumed it was filmed elsewhere. But, there it was. The observatory is part of the Department of Physics. And, features a .4 meter reflector telescope.

Philip Wetton telescope
Philip Wetton telescope

By that time the Ashmolean was open. We spent most of the rest of our time in Oxford looking at the exhibits. That was nowhere near enough time. You could spend a whole week there and not see it all.