ALE Spring 2003 No. 309

Inspiring Oxford

A pub tour of Oxford one Saturday in August 2002.

Many of the pubs mentioned here are in the Good Beer Guide (2002 or 2003 editions).

St Giles northwards

Having pottered about in the morning, including doing the obligatory cultural bit (the Ashmolean Museum in this case), we were nicely positioned on the wide thoroughfare of St Giles shortly after 11am opening time.

St Giles southwards

Lamb & Flag
First stop, about half way along St Giles at no. 12, was the Lamb and Flag, a 15th century coaching inn. Beers on included Skinners (Truro), Brakspear Bitter, Spitfire and London Pride. It's a dark and atmospheric place, with no music or games machine.

Eagle & Child

The Eagle and Child opposite showed no signs of opening, even though it was past the advertised opening time, so it was onwards north up St Giles about 10 minutes walk, then taking the eastern branch where it divides - Banbury Road.

North Parade Avenue

Staying on the left side, we passed the Parks Road turnoff and a few hundred yards further on is the left-turn into North Parade Avenue. This quaint, narrow street was still draped in flags from the Golden Jubilee in June.

Yellow House

There's a striking bright yellow house at the corner.

Rose & Crown
The Rose and Crown is a gem of a pub. Operated by Inn Business, Adnams and Pedigree were on and there's an impressive wine selection and food menu. It's another quiet pub (no music or games machine).

Rose & Crown garden

To the rear there's a large covered courtyard with vine-covered trellises and at the far end a games shed. Very relaxing. It was the Oxford CAMRA Pub of the Year in 2001.

Gardiners Arms

Further along the Avenue is the Gardiners Arms - we didn't pause there. Next we retraced our steps, this time turning off down Parks Road southwards. After a short detour to the excellent Museum of Natural History and the wonderful Pitt Rivers Museum, we arrived at the junction with Holywell Street and Broad Street.

At that corner is the Kings Arms, a bustling Youngs pub which we didn't bother with - as it happened it seemed very visitor-oriented, with tables on pavement.

Sheldonian Theatre

Instead we crossed westwards down the north side of Broad Street a little way, past the Sheldonian Theatre...

White Horse the White Horse, a compact Tudor pub surrounded by the Blackwells bookshop. It's below the modern street level and inside looks fairly unspoilt, with lots of old wooden fittings. Six Continents operate this and Adnams and Greene King beers were on.

lane down to Turf Tavern
Returning to the junction, we crossed to Holywell Street. Off its south side is Bath Place and the famous Turf Tavern. We did go in but came straight out again as it was noisy and there was no sign of anything worth drinking, in spite of its reputation for having a good selection. The Laurel pubco has reduced the choice in many of its pubs.

New College Lane/Queen's Lane

Going back past the Kings Head corner southwards this time, we detoured down the lovely old lane, called New College Lane and then Queen's Lane, passing under the Bridge of Sighs of Hertford College.

Bridge of Sighs

Bear Inn
Emerging on the High Street, we went westwards along it and turned into Alfred Street, where the Bear Inn (Fullers) is at the corner with Blue Boar Street. This is another gem of a pub, with on this occasion Hancocks HB, Adnams and Old Hooky on. The bar top looks like pewter and there's a huge tie collection in display cases over all available surfaces. Another quiet pub.

The Wheatsheaf is a little way westwards down Blue Boar Street - we popped in but it was noisy and studenty - it didn't impress.

Carrying on, crossing St Aldates, we came to the Hobgoblin, operated by the Wychwood Brewery, with Jennings beer also on. It looked very managed. The staff gave the impression of being uninterested in real ale, preferring to concentrate on their Bacardi Breezer clientele. There were lots of pump clip signs over the bar, suggesting better times for real ale here. A high ceiling with green and red flock wallpaper contrasted with the rather contrived nick-nack decor - somewhat like the King Street Run in Cambridge. It was the local CAMRA Pub of the Year in 2000.

Old Tom
Next was the Old Tom, further down St Aldates. The Morrells Varsity (Thomas Hardy Brewery, Dorset) was on good form - this used to be Morrells pub and their brands seem to linger. This is cited as a place to find the atmosphere of the `real' Oxford or Inspector Morse.

For our last beer stop we went back northwards, through the interesting Golden Cross covered market, on up Cornmarket and then left into George Street to the Grapes (opposite the Apollo Theatre). This was another one with `Morrells beers' and unusual high bench seating opposite the bar - a Victorian pub.

By now food was required so we crossed the road to Gloucester Green and finished our tour at Gourmet Pizza, one of the chain then recently acquired by Pizza Express. Highly recommended for something a cut above normal restaurant pizzas!

With thanks to Rob WatsonIan Kitching


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