Back into Oxford-

We’re undertaking a rain spattered bus tour of Oxford, sharing the top deck with a couple from Sidney. This typical British weather won’t be what they’re used to and I’m sad for them- or perhaps it’s a novelty and renders their experience more authentically British?

Our bouncy, enthusiastic guide, Catherine keeps us interested with plenty of anecdotes and by making references to our respective home locations. She knows plenty about everywhere, seemingly and hails from Somerset, herself. As we make our soggy way through the streets and past the individual colleges she provides us with a ‘who’s where’ of writers, artists, politicians, artists and otherwise famous people who attended them. There’s a comical moment when she mentions Boris Johnson and Husband interjects with ‘BOO!’ causing much hilarity from the Australian couple.

We’re not tempted to ‘hop-on-hop-off’, or certainly not to hop off, although the Australian pair alight when we pull into the bus station, taking their wheeled cases with them and off to Scotland, as the woman tells me.

It’s day 2 of our mini stay at the club site just on the outskirts of the city of Oxford and the morning arrives with much improved weather. After our previous day’s soggy walkabout we dined in the local pub- a perfectly acceptable pub meal- and all is well.

For this next day we’re meeting family members at the park and ride and heading back into city for a closer look at some of the colleges and historic buildings. After meeting up we clamber on to a double-decker bus and up the stairs to the top. The front seats are empty! In our dotage, we’ve all regressed to childhood in our delight in sitting on top at the front for the bus ride, enjoying a wonderful sense of almost-vertigo as the tall vehicle rounds corners, lurching like a galleon on the sea, and we’re able to peer down into peoples’ gardens or into top floor windows.

We alight in the city centre. Husband, who has a map, becomes the navigator. As usual I’m having to run to catch up most of the time due to photographing things [Husband has never been one to pause for photographical activities]. We get to look at a lot of things we passed on the ‘open-top’ and viewed through rain-streaked windows but this time the sun is out and even warm.

Today we can take ourselves to a restaurant and enjoy a long, leisurley lunch and we opt for a French bistro down a little side street, It’s great food in a rustic space that feels comfortable and intimate- ideal for catch-up chats.

There’s more wandering after lunch, although nobody feels like a long hike, or clambering up the ‘motte’ of the old castle which is surrounded by paths and also flanked by the historic jail.

Eventually we’re back at Queen’s College and the little old coffee shop, feeling it would be churlish not to stop for tea and cake before we amble to the bus stop for another lurching, swaying ride back to the park and ride. There’s more tea at the van and we bid our goodbyes. Home tomorrow…

Grace is the alter ego of novelist and short story writer, Jane Deans. To date I have two published novels to my name: The Conways at Earthsend [ and The Year of Familiar Strangers [ Visit my writer Facebook page [ or my website:

For our first foray by van this year I know I’m bound to forget something and of course, I do. In spite of copious list-making, notes to myself and references to our inventory we get as far as the supermarket before realising I’ve neglected to pack a bottom sheet for the bed. I’d been congratulating myself on even remembering the bedding itself- having once forgotten all of it- when it dawned on me, half way down the first aisle of Saunsbury’s. But all was not lost and I picked up a perfectly serviceable cotton sheet in the bedding aisle for £6 [a spare, white cotton, fitted sheet is always useful].

The weather is kind and it feels good to be off in the van- even if only for a couple of days and not very far. We’re going to Oxford, a mere two of hours away, to a site we’ve stayed in before which is conveniently next to the ‘park and ride’. Oxford is notorious for its lack of parking, snarled up streets and throngs of sightseers, making bus travel into city essential.

For non UK readers, Oxford is well known for its historic, 900 year old university and has been called ‘city of dreaming spires’, a description coined by the poet Matthew Arnold. The beautiful college buildings are spread over a wide area, some open to visitors to wander inside the gate and gawp at the splendid quadrangles in honey-coloured stone. Oxford has been a popular film location for many years, providing the set for Harry Potter films and much of Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights trilogy, among other productions.

First we settle into our pre-booked pitch and have a gentle wander around our immediate locale, where there’s a weir and canal boats moored. The site is almost always busy but we’re here mid-week. A weekend stay would be impossible in this popular spot. In the evening we stroll along the main road to the nearest pub, which is perfectly adequate for an evening meal next day.

The next day we wake to a gloomy start, with grey clouds and an ominous sky. This does not bother the ducks on the grass outside the van, who wait for the staff member to unlock the office and head inside to pester him for breakfast- a well-rehearsed morning ritual.

But we’re not too downhearted, as for the time being we’re not going to walk much and had already planned to use the open-top bus. It’s a strategy we sometimes employ for looking at cities, giving us a chance to choose what we’ll come back to and providing us with an interesting [hopefully] and informative narrative.

We get to use our [oldies’] bus passes for the journey into town then, having located the bus tour office we clamber on and up. We’re fortunate. The covered area at the front of the bus has only two occupied seats. Catherine, our guide follows us upstairs. We’ve earphones but they’re not necessary as she’s sitting behind us!

Regular readers will have learned about Elton, our reluctant guide on Cape Verde [] but Catherine is everything that Elton was not; well-informed, enthusiastic, engaging and fun. Our top deck just has ourselves, an Australian couple and herself so we can sit back and enjoy the ride, the stories and the views through the rain-streaked windows…

Grace is the alter ego of novelist and short story writer, Jane Deans. To date I have two published novels to my name: The Conways at Earthsend [ and The Year of Familiar Strangers [ Visit my writer Facebook page [ or my website: