Straight roads, winding paths, dead ends

radcliffecameraOxford, where I live, must be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Especially if you ignore the ugly parts. Man, they are ugly! But the beautiful parts, they are sooo pretty.

I love the names of the streets too. As a student I lived on Logic Lane. How cool is that?

In the heart of the city you’ll find the dependably-named High Street and Broad Street, running parallel east to west in an orderly fashion. To the west is Westgate; to the east is Eastgate. To the north is Northgate. There doesn’t seem to be a Southgate, but what the heck, the general idea is sound. There are plenty of reassuringly English-sounding streets ranged around the centre: Beaumont Street, Radcliffe Square, George Street. And this is where many of the university buildings stand too. Ancient beacons of learning, shining knowledge into the darkness.

All very safe and reassuring. And yet …

As you became more familiar with Oxford, it seems to grow more mysterious. Beyond the central arrangement of parallel streets you begin to notice narrow lanes joining them at odd angles. They have names like Old Greyfriars Street, Preachers Lane and Turn Again Lane. They are dim and cobbled and dangerous. Don’t go down there!

Sometimes you pass a building with a mysterious sign on it, like All Souls or Blackfriars. These places are off limits, their portals closed to the public. Sometimes strange-looking people enter or leave these places. Who knows what they are doing in there? Anything could be going on in their cloistered innards. Hurry past! Try not to look!


The architecture that at first seemed so solid, with its golden stone facades, has also changed. Now you see the blackened crevices between the gold; the gargoyles peeking out from under the roofs.


There are churches in every nook and cranny, sometimes even inside other buildings. There’s practically a place of worship for every soul in the city. They skulk behind creaking wooden doors and hide behind ancient oak trees. They are everywhere, like cracks in the pavement. You could trip over them if you don’t watch where you are going. And the gravestones! They pop up out of the autumn fogs: incongruously next to a sandwich bar; silently next to a busy bus stop; and most sinister of all, they jump out at you when you are traversing one of the high-walled cobbled lanes that spider the city like a twisted grid, refusing to conform to rational notions of north-south but following their own unwritten laws.

Oxford is a dangerous place for the unwary to tread. Visitors, arm yourselves! Beware of the darkness! Do not travel alone!

Watch for the monsters!

32 responses to “Straight roads, winding paths, dead ends

  1. I used to work in Oxford. There is no more glorious start to a day in the office than driving up The High in an ancient open top Triumph Herald.

  2. Great post! I’ve only ever visited Oxford once as a child but I have great memories from my trip – it’s a beautiful place!

    Also, Logic Lane is the best name for a street I’ve ever heard – I’m very jealous! 🙂

  3. Love that stone guy doing a face-palm.

  4. An amazing article, just like everything you write! The descriptions are so full of life and color, so inspired and expressive…your talent is a gift from Above and i feel blessed to read your blog.
    About Oxford…i visited this beautiful city when i was four, i can’t remember very much but my parents told me that i “saw” ghosts in every corner 🙂 .
    I also wanted to thank you for following my blog, i’m honored. It means a lot to me knowing that you liked something i wrote, is a special feeling and i thank you with all my heart.
    Best wishes and my sincere admiration,

  5. Great post, England has always been one of the many places I want to visit.

  6. I’ve never been to Oxford, and yet I now feel like I know the place. It makes me feel… uneasy.

  7. Fan of Dickens

    What an engagingly bewitching article! Must visit this place – next stop National Rail Enquiries.

  8. Kate's Reviews

    Very intriguing 🙂 I hope one day I will be able to experience these mysteries for myself

  9. It sounds wonderful and would love to visit! So love architecture and history and Oxford just seems to exude it.

  10. haha the streets in Oxford would be confused by our roads in India 😀

  11. I love Oxford, and must plan a visit soon. Years ago We’ve stayed at the Randolph which was very nice, (is it still?) can you suggest any others?

    • We stayed in the Randolph for our honeymoon 21 years ago and weren’t that impressed. It’s probably changed. The Eastgate is very good and I have heard that the Cotswold Lodge is also nice. All three are very central.

      • Thanks Steve,I think an oxford weekend is on the horizon …:-) I know it’s not the theme of your blog, but if you could do some posts on places to stay, eat etc it would be soooooo much appreciated. I do on mine, and people find them useful, leads the away from the rip offs.

        • I forgot to mention two new hotels. The Malmaison is the old prison and now offers “Chic, contemporary rooms and suites in former jail building with elegant brasserie and cocktail bar.” The Old Bank Hotel on the High Street is a “Georgian building with boutique-style, en suite, modern rooms, plus brasserie and free parking” and is .highly rated.

        • I have stayed at the old Bank and it was lovely. Thank you.

  12. Best gargoyle I’ve seen! And is there a better name for a prison than Malmaison (French for ‘evil house’)? Nice post, Lord Morris.

  13. I love Oxford too, the good parts! It’s not far from me so I visit often, a very inspiring place indeed

  14. Reblogged this on quirkywritingcorner and commented:
    This is funny and interesting, and has some great pictures. I love the gargoyle. It’s a shame they’ve been lost to sterile straight walls of glass or slick metal.

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