By Charlotte Irwin
It may be home to one of the world’s best universities but Oxford has more to offer than academic excellence. Among the colleges lies a historical city with a modern outlook and a prospering economy.
Oxford lies at the western end of the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge corridor across central England. The region has ambitions to become a world-leading centre of science, technology and innovation. Oxford is experiencing some of the highest gross value added and employment growth of any UK city. Meanwhile, the government has committed to building 1m new houses between Oxford and Cambridge by 2050.
Many people relocating to Oxford go there to work for one of the technology businesses that have popped up in and around the city. Success stories include cyber-security company Sophos, located in the nearby town of Abingdon; the business was the subject in 2015 of then the largest initial public offering for a UK software company.
Oxford residents are among the highest earners in the UK, with an average annual income of about £31,000. That said, homes in the city cost an average of £494,528 as of this July, according to online estate agent Zoopla.
Access all areas
Living in Oxford doesn’t have to mean working there too, however. The city is well connected to London, with direct trains to Paddington taking an hour. There are also direct trains to Marylebone in the capital from Oxford Parkway station, which opened in 2015 less than four miles north of the city centre.
Getting across the country is also set to become easier. East West Rail is a project to re-establish a rail link between Oxford and Cambridge — the original Varsity Line was closed in 1968. The first phase is due to bring improvements between Oxford and Bedford by 2024, and the eastern section to Cambridge is mooted for 2030. A new road, the Oxford Cambridge Expressway, is planned to link the two cities, also by 2030.
Green, green grass
Oxford’s leafiness spreads across the city from St Giles’ tree-lined boulevard at its heart. To the north-west, locals stroll on Port Meadow, an area of common land that is home to horses and cattle. Alongside the wild but beautiful plain runs the Isis (the name for the river Thames inside Oxford’s boundaries), which attracts dog walkers, runners and those looking to escape the bustle of the city.
The east of the city offers a more formal setting in University Parks, where, in early summer, onlookers can watch students playing cricket or even the odd game of Harry Potter-inspired quidditch (yes, with broomsticks).
Further afield, the grounds of Blenheim Palace, in the market town of Woodstock a 30-minute drive from Oxford, offer a beautiful place for a walk. The Unesco World Heritage site, best known as Winston Churchill’s childhood home, has spectacular Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown-landscaped grounds, including a 110-acre lake and a park with the largest collection of ancient oak trees in Europe.
Showcases for art
As you might expect from a cultural hub that is home to the world’s first university museum, the Ashmolean, there are many opportunities to enjoy art in Oxford. The Ashmolean, which has exhibited the likes of Picasso and John Constable, was renovated recently, and its “America’s Cool Modernism” show this year featured works by Georgia O’Keeffe and Edward Hopper, among others. Current displays include a focus on Chinese painting.
Modern Art Oxford has showcased the work of contemporary artists such as Anne Hardy and Stephen Willats, and Blenheim Palace has undertaken a programme of art residencies and shows in recent years.
Craft drinks on tap
In 2016, Tap Social Movement, a craft beer bar and Oxfordshire’s first sour brewery, started serving home brews in west Oxford. Founded by three friends who worked in the criminal justice sector, the movement is about more than beer as they work with people who have been in prison, or have convictions, and have struggled to access education or employment. Locals head to the informal taproom, decorated with rugs and mismatched sofas, to taste sour German and Belgian-inspired beers.
Pubs across Oxford are following the trend, with drinking holes such as south-west Oxford’s Big Society serving a rotation of craft beers.
On the other side of the city, The Oxford Artisan Distillery, the first craft distillery in Oxford, secured a 25-year licence in 2016 to produce spirits for the Oxford Botanical Gardens. The distillery’s products include rye vodka, rye whisky and dry gin.
Photographs: Getty Images/iStockphoto; Dreamstime; Made Gao; Graham Flack