Oxford to York – 1998 Travel diary

My husband’s travel diary from his first big trip abroad in 1998 interspersed with my comments in italics.

Friday 3/4/98 Oxford

Woke up about 7:30 AM. Had a nice warm shower and rugged up. Went outside to the car park to put more money in the meter. The cold wind was incredible. Scenery and our building were fantastic. (After a bit of a Google search I think we may have stayed at 117 St Aldates Building. I remember it was an old re-purposed building with huge arches and each separate ‘room’ divided by flimsy walls that may or may not have been fabric stretched over wooden frames, accounting for the dire lack of soundproofing.)

We stood on a canal and watched swans in the river. Locals walking by in their work gear. The sun was trying to come out. And these old buildings were everywhere, of course. I felt good and I stood there thinking this is all just amazing and I’m glad I had the opportunity to experience it.

The weather today couldn’t make up its mind. Sun then rain, and wind all day. A bit like Melbourne, I suppose. Went for a walk to supermarket. We bought food, fruit, and cereal etc. Christine had a coffee. We looked around for a while, then went for a tour of the city in an open-top Double Decker bus. Just as we got on, it started to rain. You couldn’t see anything from downstairs. The rain stopped, so we braved it and went upstairs in the open air. View was magnificent. And the tour is worth it, but only from upstairs. We braved it for a while. About half an hour. Until we just had to go down the stairs because of the rain. (We had bought a small, floral umbrella from M&S. You can see it in the photo. We still have that umbrella. Not bad for three quid!)

The tour was one hour. Oxford is a university town. The likes of Bill Clinton, Bob Hawke, and Margaret Thatcher have all studied and graduated here. Every second building has a story to it. (I would suggest that every building has a story, but I don’t want to be pedantic.) It is hard for put words together to describe these buildings. I was left dumbfounded looking at these structures, knowing they are so old. And there’s so much detail. It seems like I’m at the movies.

Lots of sports fields around the university grounds. Went for lunch in an Irish pub to warm up. Left at 12:40 to go to Stratford upon Avon. Nice drive through the country but so cold outside. We stopped at an old church on the way. Gravestones from 1300s. Arrived at Stratford about 2:30 and stopped at a servo for directions to the camping ground. Christine somehow managed to drop the car keys and kick them under the shelving. We had to get staff to get our keys back out.

Found the camping ground. Only GBP8. Good price. They said it rained heavily last night and more expected tonight. But we weren’t the only stupid campers. There were three other tents. The wind was unbelievable 30 to 40 knots. We set our tent up and the wind was blowing it down. We tried another spot, same result. It was cold, windy, muddy and we could see the rain coming. We really wanted to camp, but the temp was just no good for these conditions. We packed up, got a refund and went in search of a B&B. Thank God we had transport.

Found B&B for GBP27. But got it for twenty with no breakfast. Great price, very cozy and comfortable with a double bed, heater, TV, and lots of blankets. So much better than a hostel. What a disaster trying to camp was! (That is an understatement but at least we knew when it was time to quit. We wanted to stay in Europe for as long as possible and camping was a way to do that. Unfortunately we were not seasoned campers, our equipment wasn’t up to snuff and we like our creature comforts!)

Made our way to town and bought food for dinner. Was going to walk around but was just too cold. Stratford upon Avon is Shakespeare’s birthplace, and they milk it for all they can. Everything seems to have something about Shakespeare. Decided to go back to B&B to have dinner, get warm and watch TV in comfort. Had rolls, rice crackers, potato salad, tomato, and cheese, with trifle for dessert. Very nice but a bit messy. English TV is crap. Some funny ABC shows, like Father, Ted. (BBC in England!) The ads are stupid.

We have a bay window with a nice view. We had an early night in a warm bed. I think this may have been a different result in a campground as it’s so cold and the weather is unpredictable. (Probably should have said it was predictable. We should have expected rain and should have bought a suitable tent!) Re-evaluating our budget and the B&B situation as it’s so cold. Difficult for camping and we both have a bit of a chest cold. Unable to find internet café (remember those?) Will try and go to the British Open tomorrow.

Saturday 4/4/98 Stratford-upon-Avon

Made our own breakfast. Rice, crackers, fruit, etc. Went and did some washing at the launderette. Cashed some travelers checks at Thomas Cook (aah, the good old days!) and looked quickly around town before making our way to Birmingham. We got there at 1:00 PM for the British Open semi. However other semi at 5:00 PM had Rod Elyes from Australia versus Peter Nicol, the current Number One in the world. I had to see this. We had to kill time. We had lunch in an Irish pub, Irish Stew and chips between us. Cold, windy, and wet outside. Average temps so far two to 10 degrees Celsius. Went for a wander into town. Huge place. Big statues, old, very old buildings everywhere. More people than I’ve ever seen walking around town. No special event. Just Saturday. Found Internet cafe and sent messages.

Watched squash. Peter Nicol won 3-0. Best standard squash I’ve ever seen. Christine kept falling asleep. (I don’t just fall asleep in packed sports stadiums. In 1994, I fell asleep while watching Cats at the New London Theatre. The woman behind me kept waking me up. I think I may have been snoring. I also fell asleep during the live production of The Lion King in Sydney, and I have been known to fall asleep, momentarily, while having my legs waxed.)

Rod was a bit unlucky to hit some unforced errors. Mainly drop shots in the tin in vital points in 3rd game. Over 40s final was average? Bit scrappy but they didn’t look over 40. (Hard to believe that those unknown players are well into their 60s now.)

Women’s semi-final was very good to watch – Michelle Martin from Australia was defeated 3 – 2. Ran into John White, Anthony, and a few other Aussies. Hope to catch up with John later in Holland. Weird seeing people you know in England. Got back to Stratford to same B&B around 10:30 PM, exhausted. Had a good night’s sleep. (I am not 100% sure why we didn’t stay in Birmingham for the night except that I would have wanted to see Stratford-upon-Avon.)

Sunday April 5 1998 Stratford-upon-Avon

Made our own breakfast again. Went for a look around Stratford about 9:30 AM. Went wandering through the deserted town. Not many people about that early – went to look at a church. Very big and detailed. Very old. Went walking through the parks and looked at wildlife on the river. Saw the first of many squirrels. Went for a boat ride on the river. (Did we?) Went shopping at Safeway and bought groceries for a few days.

Drove a couple of hours to York. Saw a ferret! Had a Milky Way chocolate and chips for lunch. Very healthy. Found B&B near the city for 20 pounds including breakfast. Our room was in an attic of a two-story B&B with 10 rooms. Had double bed TV, heater, wardrobe, all the necessities but was only two meters by three metres with a 45-degree sloping ceiling. Could only stand up in the middle of the room and when in bed, the roof was about the 30 centimeters above my head. It was clean and safe. Unbelievable to see though. Took a photo. (Sadly, this photo was damaged by water, but I can still picture it in my mind, my 5’10” husband trying to stand up under the sloped ceiling. I am a bit sad now that I was a little trigger happy when it came to binning some of our old photos.)

Went to look around York. Cold and drizzly, nice town, very old with a fortress wall still standing and lots of ruins. York has fabulous Minster church. We’ll see inside tomorrow had bread with soup for tea. (I’ll admit I didn’t know a lot about York when we visited. Now I’ve read so much about the War of the Roses, I wish I’d been more curious about the city. It was probably the second most important city in England for hundreds of years. When you’re travelling, it’s hard to see everything but I feel as though we missed so much because often a good chunk of time was spent finding accommodation for the night. These days we’d just use Booking.com. In hindsight, we probably should have hired a campervan which would probably have saved us from an ill-fated caravan purchase in England in 2006. You live and learn.)

Portrait of the Author as a Young Woman. York, 1998. I think my face was frozen.
Michael on the roof of the tourist bus in Oxford with ‘the’ umbrella. We had our pick of the seats…