Sunny Day Out In Oxford Part Two
Next we were taken further on up the tower where more narrow steps led to this one prison cell which left me very sad indeed. Our guide told us that at least sixty prisoners would be huddled into this one small room, where they'd be just left to die with only a few scraps to eat between all of them...it doesn't bear thinking about. Then there was the stench without any toilets which must have been so bad.
We were then taken to the top of the tower which by now left me huffing and puffing for breath due to the amount of steps we'd already climbed. Ascending the top, we were able to get an amazing panoramic view out over the roof tops of Oxford. Our guide told us some of the scenes in the Harry Potter movie were filmed here.
But getting back to what the castle was used for, I could just visualize the guards in those days keeping watch and being able to see for miles across what must have been a much more desolate landscape than today with all those new buildings standing on the skyline. This was only a brief stop off before we were taken down to the prison cells.
Making our way along a corridor, we were given an insight into prisoners from mugshots of the many male and female inmates. Amazingly there were many children as young as six and seven who were imprisoned for stealing. It reminded me of the Oliver Twist story, I could imagine there was a lot of pick pocketing going on.
It did give me chills reading some of the writing that came with the mugshots, of murder and tortured souls. It also left an eerie feeling imagining the spirits of all those different inmates and their tragic endings. Some of the prisoners were even transported to Australia and America, just for stealing a loaf of bread.
One woman by the name of Mary Blandy who was the daughter of Francis Blandy met with a tragic ending. She'd fallen in love with a Captain William Henry Cranstoun in 1746 and had intended to marry him in 1751. But Francis Blandy found out Henry was already married and had a child.
Mary's father felt that William would never leave his wife and made it clear to Mary that he wasn't happy about their relationship and the up and coming marriage.
Mary then claimed that William had sent her a love potion to put in her father's food, persuading him to approve of the marriage, so this she did and her father died. After careful inspection by Dr Addington, the doctor claimed Mary had poisoned her father with arsenic.
Mary Blandy was held in the dungeon, but because she was rich she had special privileges while being imprisoned. We sat in her cell room while the guide continued telling the story, it was a bright and airy spacious room that was a lot better than many of the other cells. The guide told us she would have had a comfortable bed for those times, and a washbasin. Mary was allowed fresh flowers and fruit until that fatal day. Mary was hung outside Oxford Castle Prison on 6th April an Easter Monday in 1752.
As we walked into another prison cell we were met by the guide who had now placed himself in the stocks and told us the story of what happened to minor villains who had been sentenced for stealing. Their punishment was to be placed in the stocks and have rotten veg, rats or anything else people could lay their hands on chucked at the victim.
There was a stuffed toy rat on a table and this young girl said. “What's this for?”
My partner knew straight away and shouted out, “just chuck it.”
To which the girl proceeded to throw it at the poor guide right in the face. He didn't seem that bothered and continued to smile and carry on being jolly. I think he was up for anything and had a brilliant sense of humour.
Our tour had finished and my partner and the others of our group had their mugshots taken, but I wandered off, not wishing to partake of photos. There was a time when I loved to have my picture taken, but not anymore. Everyone kept asking where I was as I hid around corners. Thankfully...phew! I managed to avoid being snapped.
We left the dungeon and ended up back in the shop. My partner saw his mugshot up above the counter and cringed saying; “there's no way I'm buying that photo.”
So we left the shop and made our way out of the castle grounds and back onto the main road. I was desperate to go on one of the Thames boat trips, but had no idea how to get there from the castle. The only direction we had was on an old Oxford map, which my partner bought with him and studied.
After much deliberation we turned right and my partner said, “follow me.” So we continued on, working our way through the multitudes of people that seemed to be going in the opposite direction to us. I don't like crowds at the best of times and Oxford was teaming with people.
Of course I was getting tired after climbing up and down all those narrow stairs in the dungeon. “Are you sure we're going the right way?” I asked, with a dubious expression on my face, knowing how old my partners map was.
We crossed a busy road and he announced; “yeah! We just go down here and turn left.” All of a sudden there's a great big shopping centre looming up in front of us, which didn't appear on the map because it was so old and out of date.
That was it, although my partner was seeing the funny side to our expedition, I was starting to feel irritated and disorientated, my lack of direction being abominable.
But my partner managed to work his way around and got us to a junction where we turned left. All he could hear was me lagging behind calling, “are you sure we're going in the right direction?” With an expression of I'm going to collapse if we don't get there soon. But with determination we plodded on.
Crossing another road I decided I'd had enough, it was time to ask someone. Quickly I caught this woman's attention and asked her the way. Thankfully she was able to point us in the right direction, and it wasn't long before were heading towards the river in the distance. We crossed over a bridge and hey presto! The boatyard was just below us. In fact If we had turned right when leaving the castle instead of left, we'd have got there in no time...isn't hindsight a wonderful thing?
The shop where you buy tickets was just down a slope the other side of the bridge. With our tickets in hand we walked out the shop and further on down the slope to the boatyard to wait which was about twenty minutes.
The guy taking us on our trip turned up and said, “wait here, I've got a smaller boat as there's only seven of you.” So he brought the smaller boat up along side the larger one and secured the rope. We had to climb onto the bigger boat to step onto the smaller one, which was easy enough for everyone except me, I was quite shaky, my sea legs not being what they used to be.
Although small, it was a beautiful boat and all very plush as we made ourselves comfortable on the teak wooden seats. We were told by our skipper that the boat was built for a South African wine merchant, he bought it back to the UK, and the Oxford boat company bought it for their trips, it was built in about 1913 and even had a teak wine cooler cabinet on deck too, though it was quite empty on our trip.
Our skipper cast off and we passed the river pub and then went under the bridge we previously walked over, then continued in a loop back to where we started. We carried on down river. Our skipper said, “on the left hand side is the Merton playing fields which is part of Merton college.” Also he told us that only very rich people live on the river by the boathouse, which is actually an island, I just imagined lots of bohemian artists living there because it was all so inspiring.
So from there we carried on down passed the college boat houses to the end. There were many people jogging and cycling along the river path. Many boats were tied up along the edge of the river, I loved the idea that people actually lived in those boats, it must be so amazing to be surrounded by so much nature, and such a carefree way of living too, if you're young of course and like that kind of life.
After about twenty minutes our skipper said, “this is as far as we can go.” As we turned he told us that on our left is the starting point for the college boat races, with a bulls head inset into the stone work wall.
“At one time,” he told us, “there was a ring in the bull's nose which was the start of the race. Through the ring was a rope which stretched across the river, when they dropped the rope the race started and finished by the pub which was at the head of the river..hence the name of the pub.”
On the way back we saw another boathouse which we were told was the oldest one on the river and belonged to the colleges. Our skipper also informed us that the land around the river always flooded in Winter, which meant they couldn't have river trips at this time of year. They also widen the river to have the races, and some prisoners from the Oxford dungeon were made to complete the work on the river.
On our return we thanked the skipper for his informative trip. Feeling a bit wobbly with legs like jelly, I stepped off the boat glad to be back on solid ground again. We then decided a drink was in order, so headed back up the slope and across the bridge to the 'Head Of The River pub'. This is a pub that gets packed out when the Oxford races take place, with all the students cheering on, it must be such a great atmosphere! I thought.
It was really pleasant and relaxing sitting on the terrace over looking the river and I couldn't help thinking how lucky I was to be sitting here on a Monday afternoon, before returning to the bus station.
Finishing our drinks we headed back the way we should have come in the first place. As we sauntered on down the many streets, we came to a very busy square, there were market stalls and street performers and further on down a fair. While all this was going on, the place was heaving with people, which to be honest I found all too much to cope with, leaving me just wanting to get our bus home.
We didn't have to wait long for our bus and were lucky enough to get seats upstairs...yet another conquest for me, as no way could I have climbed the stairs a few years ago. We sat right at the front which felt a bit strange at first not having been upstairs on a bus for so many years. We had great views looking down on the world, I was amazed at just how many cyclists there are in Oxford, with their own cycle lanes, and boy can they go at some speeds, the last time I'd seen this many bikes was when in Holland back in the 1970s.
We arrived back in Swindon early evening and caught the local bus home, treating ourselves to much needed fish and chips from our local chippy...we were tired and famished and glad to be home.
All in all this was a great day out. I'm glad to be able to record our journey, so I can now look back and remember one of the many things I could tick off my bucket list of things to do.
Photo from pixabay free images.