Oxford and Reading by Train

Oxford has some kind of allure for me that I can't really explain and I never miss a chance to visit. I'd love to claim it's something to do with the town's long academic history, reputation as an incubator of genius, etc., etc. but it's probably the result of watching too many episodes of Inspector Morse and Inspector Lewis on TV.

But then again, as Morse would have it, it may be something about the beer. Oxford, not surprisingly, supports a lot of very good pubs. I have my own private Ale Trail when I visit, which starts at Far From the Madding Crowd (CAMRA City Pub of the Year 2012, 2011, 2009) where a lively bunch of old folks turn up for brunch. And the unemployed, semi-alcoholic, common man having a pint with me at 11:00 am is always a great source of interesting commentary on life. The pub always has a good range of cask ale on tap and the staff is great.

Then it's on to the White Horse, on George Street, with its prominently-placed, framed head shots of John Thaw, Kevin Whatley, and Laurence Fox and, in the TV shows, the scene of many a brainstorm as the detectives sift through the clues, with the assistance of a good pint. This pub is small, with a low ceiling and plenty of good cask ale.

Then I took myself to the Turf Tavern, another storied place, not too far from the replica of Venice's Bridge of Sighs. “The Turf” has been around, in one form or another, as a pub since the 13th century and has been a watering hole for many a student, don, and tourist. Local legend has it that it was at the Turf Tavern that former U.S. president Bill Clinton, while attending Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, famously “did not inhale”.

Between all the not inhaling and all the beer on offer, one wonders if students here do indeed get an education. These kids are some of the best and brightest the world has to offer, after all. Well, fear not, this sign, assures us that an education is being had (click the photo to enlarge and read the fine print).

Having educated myself a bit, I took the train back to Reading, where I used to live in 2008 and arrived at the marvelous new train station. The constructon was just getting underway when I visited last year and it's nearly done now – quite an improvement! Once in town, I reminisced a bit as I strolled along the main pedestrain shopping area, past John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, and the Oracle shopping mall.

And soon found myself a seat at The Ale House, formerly The Hobgoblin, which has served over 7,000 different cask ales. Plenty to like here. A classic pub, this place hasn't a single stick of matching furniture and is a warren of little rooms beyond the bar. As Happy Hour rang out, colleagues from the local office of my company, and a few who had just flown in from the U.S. to visit them, arrived and the pints began flowing. It was nice to hang with these folks on a social basis, though I declined an invitation to join some of them much later at The Purple Turtle for uninhibited 1980s disco dancing. Yeah… that sounded like not my kind of fun.

So instead, I had the reliable Great Western rail system deliver me back to London in good shape and with plenty of good memories refreshed.


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