It’s 6am on a brisk, October morning in Oxford. The thick, south England fog settled in around 10pm last night and has yet to lift.
I set off running up Mill St., a quiet lane of small homes with a solitary pub called The Kite. I turn right down Botley Road and head towards the centre of Oxford’s academic community, passing the fourteen year old business school campus on the way, with its signature copper-roofed ziggurat tower, standing out in the town of dreaming spires.
This isn’t the old, historic part of town. The wide boulevard in front of the business school, leading westward to the train station, is lined with nondescript convenience stores, a Dominos Pizza and lots of construction. (Thankfully, you don’t tend to leave the cozy interiors of the business school for much of the day.)
Now turn south on to Hollybush Row, not because it will get me to the real Oxford faster (in fact, it’s going to get worse before it gets better), but because I want to enter the heart of Oxford from the south, through the open, rural parks of Christ Church and Merton College. Run past a few industrial buildings, an auto body shop, the Oxford Ice Rink and some run-down apartments while continuing south. The River Thames is somewhere to my right, but I can’t see it, and in fact I know what it looks like in this part of the city and it doesn’t make for a pleasant riverside stroll.
Still, in the distance, I can start to see Tom Tower and the spires of St. Ebbe’s Church and Christ Church Cathedral. I cut behind The Head of the River at the end of Hollybush Row, a street that has changed names to Oxpens Road and now Thames Street in the space of a few hundred metres. And, finally, I enter Christ Church Meadow.
It’s open, quiet and secluded. It feels like I’m in the middle of a farmer’s field, which I guess I am. Christ Church students have the right to graze cattle in the meadow, and there are a few strolling around on any given day. I run east but look north — towards the 700-year-old Cathedral and broader college, where thirteen British prime ministers were educated. To the south and east of me is the River Cherwell, where if it were later in the day I’d see several students engaging in the awkward and uncoordinated Oxford tradition of punting.
Run west past Christ Church Cathedral and the south entrance to Christ Church. Wrap up around Christ Church and on to St. Aldates Road, past the Tom Tower. Turn right onto the wonderfully named Blue Boar Street, a small, cobbled lane between Christ Church and the back of the shops on High Street.
All of a sudden, there’s too much to take in. Too much to describe. There’s no one perfect route through town from here. It’s all perfect.
Quickly cut down to Merton Street, one of the most beautiful stretches in Oxford, past Corpus Christi and Merton to the South, and Oriel College and the Oxford Examination Schools to the north.
Weave up between Magdalen College and St. Edmunds Hall to Holywell Street. Run west past New College (spanking new at 636 years old), enter the intersection of Holywell and Parks Road, marked by the delightful, pink stucco Kings Arms pub. Straight ahead, look down Broad Street, the main, quasi-pedestrianized boulevard in town, and you’ll see Christopher Wren’s Sheldonian Theatre, Trinity College and Balliol College, three of the most beautiful buildings in Oxford. Cut down Catte Street, past the Bodleian Library and towards the most famous site in town — the Radcliffe Camera. Now you have to stop. I have to stop. It looks incredible early in the morning. But it looks incredible in the day and in the night too. The large, circular building — a working library open to students and staff — with its distinct blue dome, rises high above the cobbled square below.
After a few moments leave it behind and start strolling towards Brasenose Lane, another sleepy, cobbled street, enclosed by the imposing stone walls of Brasenose, Lincoln and Exeter Colleges. Pick up the pace again. Head north on Turl Street, past the favourited Turl Street Kitchen. Back on Broad Street. Facing Balliol. Turn left and start the trip home.
Leaving old Oxford behind, having missed so much — the wide, college lined St. Giles Street; the significance of the Ashmolean Museum; the leafy and expansive Oxford University Parks; and the trendier community of Jericho. Next time; I’ve got a strategy case to read by 8:30 am.
Run west along George Street, past all the restaurants — burger joints, Jamie Oliver’s spot and mediocre coffee shops — past the Odeon cinema, past Gloucester Green and the main bus terminal, over Castle Mill Stream, by some sleazy nightclubs that seem bizarrely popular with undergraduates, past the business school, past the train station, under the railway tracks, left on Mill Street and south to home.
That’s 6 am in October at Saïd Business School.
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