Oxford, with its world famous university, is only about 50 miles/ 80km from London and is easily doable as a day trip. During the vacation period many colleges rent out their rooms to the public, it's a great opportunity to stay somewhere very unique and historic, so I booked a two night stay at Christ Church, Oxford's largest college. To be honest I wasn't sure what to expect but it exceeded my expectations and I loved every minute of my stay there.
Christ Church grounds are impressive with Tom Quad, the largest quadrangle in the city, a cathedral and a magnificent hall, all which are open daily to the public, except during special events, for which there is an admission charge (please check their website for details). My stay at Christ Church felt very special form the moment I arrive. Instead of making for the Meadow Gate with all the day visitors I went straight to to the Porters' Lodge, by Tom Gate, where I was issued with my guest badge and key fob.
Tom Quad - with the cathedral (left) and the hall (right)
Christ Church was founded by Cardinal Wolsey, King Henry VIII's Lord Chancellor, in 1525 and was originally known as Cardinal College. However when he failed to secure an annulment for Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon he fell from power and Henry took over the college. He later remained it Christ Church and the college chapel also became a cathedral, when Oxford became a diocease, and it retains this dual status today.
Cathedral - the nave
The college was founded on the site of St Frideswide's monastery, the patron saint of Oxford, and in Wolsey's time some of the priory church was demolished to create the college chapel. Over the centuries it has undergone considerable alterations, most notably by George Gilbert Scott in the 1800s.
The cathedral is the smallest in England and is richly decorated. Its nave with its the pews face inwards creating a very intimate space.
Cathedral - the nave with a view towards the organ
Cathedral - vaulted ceiling in the gothic style
Tom Tower in Tom Quad
In the quiet of the evening, when the day visitors have gone home, Christ Church is at its most atmospheric. Tom Tower was designed by Christopher Wren and inside it is the Great Tom bell.
At 9.05pm (9pm Oxford Time*) every evening the bell chimes 101 times. This dates from the foundation of the college, when the bell was rung once for each of its original 101 students to tell them to return before the gates were locked.
*Oxford Time is 5 minutes behind Greenwich Mean Time. Before time zones were centralised every town had its own local time. Originally Oxford based on its location west of Greenwich was calculated as being 5 minutes behind Greenwich Time.
Staircase to the Hall
Located in the Bodley Tower there is a dramatic staircase which leads to the dining hall. The gothic architecture here is at its most impressive, with a beautiful fan vaulted ceiling which is supported by just one pillar.
Staircase to the Hall
The staircase has featured in a number of film and TV programmes including Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone.
The hall certainly has the wow factor. It is utterly magnificient, dating from the 1500s, it was until the late 1800s the largest hall in Oxford. It has a splendid hammerbeam ceiling, huge fireplaces, beautiful stained glass windows and its wooden panelled walls are adorned with portraits of famous members of the college.
The hall was the inspiration for Hogwarts Dining Hall in the Harry Potter films with a replica built in the studios just outside London.
During my stay I enjoyed having breakfast in the hall. The table at the far end is known as the High Table and is where senior members of the college staff dine during term time. On one of the mornings I was lucky enough to be seated there, as it is on a raised platform it provides great views of the hall. Breakfasts were delicious. There are staff who serve hot drinks and toast. There is a choice of cereal and fesh fruit which are self service. The cooked breakfasts were served at the hot counter, pictured above on the left, and there was a good selection of hot food including vegetarian sausages. It made a very memorable and enjoyable start to my day.
I booked my accomodation through University Rooms. Their booking system was easy to use and showed what rooms were available. I chose a room in the Meadows Building, which has recently beeen refurnbished, as I was wanting a room with an ensuite bathroom. My room was on the ground floor, but please be aware that many of the rooms are up several flights of stairs and without lifts, so if you have special requests please make them known at the time of booking.
My single bedroom with an ensuite shower room was clean, comfortable and spacious. My room was very pleasant but simply furnished with a bed, bedside table, wardrobe, desk, chairs and small table. Towels and a small bag of complimentary toiletries were provided and there were tea and coffee making facilties in the room. There was no television but wifi was available. I had problems trying to connect to the internet so I ended up using the computers in the common room which were no problem to access. The room was cleaned on a daily basis.
Please be mindful that the rooms on offer are student accomodation, they are not luxurious and the colleges do not offer the same facilities as you would expect from hotels. However what you will get instead is a very unique experience, often staying in a historic building. Many of the rooms on offer are singles so are a good option for solo travellers and are competitively priced.
I loved my stay at Christ Church, it was a wonderful opportunity to stay in a historic buildings with a very special ambiance and a great city centre location. A big thank you to the staff who were constantly so helpful and friendly throughout my stay and made my visit extra special.
Practical Information & Website Links
I booked my accomodation through University Rooms
I stayed at Christ Church, Oxford
For information about things to do in Oxford
The author of this blog is a qualified City of London and City of Westminster Tour Guide who leads guided walks combining world famous landmarks with hidden treasures often missed by the crowds.