Posts Tagged ‘Oxford’

A weekend in Marlow and the opportunity to visit a couple of nature reserves that I haven’t visited before.

In the morning we visit the RSPB reserve at Otmoor, a large area of marshland and water meadows.

RSPB Otmoor

RSPB Otmoor

RSPB Otmoor Photo by Sue

RSPB Otmoor
Photo by Sue

It was reasonably quiet but we did see Red Kite and Kestrel.

Kestrel  Photo by sue

Photo by sue

On the walk back to the car park we saw two doves fly onto a fence. At first I thought they were collared Dove, but in the telescope it was clear that they were a pair of the much rarer Turtle Doves, a species which is becoming rarer in the UK. They are both juveniles, so lack the characteristic neck markings of the adult.

Turtle  Doves Photo by Sue

Turtle Doves
Photo by Sue

Turtle Dove Photo by Sue

Turtle Dove
Photo by Sue

We also saw a really pristine Comma butterfly which was unexpected for so late in the season

Comma  Photo by Sue

Photo by Sue

Our afternoon stop was Farmoor reservoir.



As we approached the reservoir there were a number of Pied Wagtails together with a Grey Wagtail.

Pied Wagtail

Pied Wagtail

Walking along the causeway between the two reservoirs we located Rock Pipit and Little Ringed Plover in addition to the large numbers of geese, ducks and Great Crested Grebes.

Photo by Sue

Photo by Sue

Returning to the car park I scanned the bottom of the southern basin and located one of the two Black-necked Grebes that have been present there for the last few days.

On the way back to Marlow we were passing Stokenchurch and there were 14 Red Kites in the air at the same time. Quite a sight!

We hadn’t got a large number of species during the day but we had some good sightings.

Common Pheasant [sp] (Phasianus colchicus)
Greylag Goose [sp] (Anser anser)
Canada Goose [sp] (Branta canadensis)
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)
Mallard [sp] (Anas platyrhynchos)
Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)
Great Crested Grebe [sp] (Podiceps cristatus)
Black-necked Grebe [sp] (Podiceps nigricollis)
Great Cormorant [sp] (Phalacrocorax carbo)
Red Kite [sp] (Milvus milvus)
Common Buzzard [sp] (Buteo buteo)
Common Kestrel [sp] (Falco tinnunculus)
Eurasian Coot [sp] (Fulica atra)
Little Ringed Plover [sp] (Charadrius dubius)
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)
European Herring Gull [sp] (Larus argentatus)
Lesser Black-backed Gull [sp] (Larus fuscus)
Common Wood Pigeon [sp] (Columba palumbus)
European Turtle Dove [sp] (Streptopelia turtur)
European Green Woodpecker [sp] (Picus viridis)
Eurasian Magpie [sp] (Pica pica)
Western Jackdaw [sp] (Coloeus monedula)
Carrion Crow [sp] (Corvus corone)
Great Tit [sp] (Parus major)
Eurasian Blue Tit [sp] (Cyanistes caeruleus)
European Robin [sp] (Erithacus rubecula)
Grey Wagtail [sp] (Motacilla cinerea)
Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii)
Eurasian Rock Pipit [sp] (Anthus petrosus)
Common Chaffinch [sp] (Fringilla coelebs)
European Goldfinch [sp] (Carduelis carduelis)

Large White (Pieris brassicae)
Comma Butterfly (Polygonia c-album)

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum)

Views of Oxford (3)

Posted: September 15, 2013 in Oxfordshire, UK






Some more views of Oxford colleges

Views of Oxford (2)

Posted: September 7, 2013 in Oxfordshire, UK
Tags: , ,
Balliol College

Balliol College

In broad Street at the heart of Oxford is Balliol College. This college founded in 1263, claims to be the oldest in Oxford, although this is disputed by other colleges. Part of this dispute revolves around the difference between the date of foundation and the date of the actual buildings to house the colleges as in some cases this was quite a lengthy period of time. It was founded by John De Balliol, who was the grandfather of the first Balliol King of Scotland.







At the end of Broad Street is the Sheldonian, which was built in 1664-68 by Christopher Wren. It was originally intended as a hall for degree ceremonies, as Archbishop Laud, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, considered these occasions too rowdy , to be held in the University Church. Today it is also used for lectures and concerts.

Views of Oxford (1)

Posted: September 6, 2013 in History, Oxfordshire, UK
Tags: ,




Christchurch is probably the most famous college in Oxford. It is unique in that it is both a college of the University and the Cathedral of the diocese of Oxford. It was founded in 1524 by Cardinal Wolsey as Cardinal’s College. But five years later, when Wolsey fell from favour, it became the property of King Henry VIII. He re-founded the college and named it Christchurch. During the English Civil War it was the residence of Charles I, who had made his capital in Oxford. When the monarchy was restored, following the period of Commonwealth, the college was repaid for its loyalty to the King, and was expanded. Perhaps the most famous monument is Great Tom Tower, which sits above the entrance and contains the Great Tom bell. This was built in 1682 to the design of Christopher Wren, a former student at the college. Other famous students have included William Gladstone, John Wesley, Robert Peel and Rowan Williams, to name but a few. Among the teaching staff was one CH Dodgson, better known to the world as Lewis Carroll.

When I was in Oxford recently I didn’t have time to look around the interior of the castle but here is a brief glimpse until I can.

video by Chrissy B Shaw

video by Joe Kusco

The Ashmolean Museum in the centre of Oxford has the distinction of being the worlds first University Museum dating back to 1678 when the first building was acquired to display the collection of Elias Ashmole, which he had acquired from other collectors and travelers.

The present building dates to 1845 although it has been redeveloped and refurbished on a number of occasions over the years to provide an airy interior with a modern layout. the most recent of these redevelopments was completed in 2009.



The current Museum collection houses both the universities archaeological collection and its art collection.

It was also the site of a famous art theft. On the evening of 31st December 1999, as the country celebrated the coming of the millennium, thieves broke into the Museum and stole ‘view of Auvers-sur-Ouse’ by Cezanne, a painting valued at £3 million. The picture has never been offered for sale or been recovered, and since it was the only painting taken it is presummed that it was stolen to order.

The original castle was built in 1071 by Robert D’Oyly, a Norman baron who had come to England with William the Conqueror and who held extensive lands in Oxfordshire. It was a typical Motte and bailey castle of the time with a wooden keep, the mound of which can still be seen today.

The mound of the original Norman keep

The mound of the original Norman keep

In 1141 it was the base of Empress Matilda, who narrowly escaped when besieged by King Stephen who successfully captured the castle. Early in the 13th century the wooden keep was replaced by a stone tower.


In 1236 there is the first record of the castle being used to house ‘rebellious scholars’ from the university.

However the condition of the castle was allowed to deteriate and in 1327 required an expensive refurbishment.

By 1613 the castle had passed into the ownership of Christchurch College Oxford who rented it out to local tenants. During the English civil war Oxford became the Royalist capital and in 1646 the castle, and town, were besieged and captured by the Parliamentarian forces, who strengthened the castles defences.

In 1785 it was purchased from Christchurch by the local justices and redeveloped into a ‘modern’ prison. The stone keep was pulled down and a number of prison wings built. It was also the site for Oxford’s executions, the last of which took place in 1863.

Castle tower incorporated into prison buildings

Castle tower incorporated into prison buildings

Castle tower incorporated into prison buildings

Castle tower incorporated into prison buildings

Prison Block

Prison Block

Prison block

Prison block

The area around the castle has been redeveloped in recent years to incorporate restaurants and shops and one wing of the old prison has been turned into a luxury hotel.

In a time when there was great religious tension in England, Henry VIII broke away from the Roman Catholic Church to form the Church of England. His son, Edward VI followed his father in supporting the new church. However, when his eldest sister Mary, a Roman Catholic married to the King of Spain, came to the throne she immediately sought to close down the English Church.

On a recent trip to Oxford I saw the place where three prominent bishops of the Church of England were burnt for heresy because they refused to renounce their Anglican faith. In October 1555 Bishops Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer were tried for heresy in St Mary the Virgin Church in Oxford and found guilty. Latimer and Ridley were executed on 16th October 1555 whilst Cranmer had to wait until March of the following year for his execution. The executions took place in what is now Broad St and a cross in the road marks the spot.

Broad St Oxford

Broad St Oxford

The site of Martyrdom

The site of Martyrdom

Nearby a tablet in the wall records the event.

Memorial in Broad St

Memorial in Broad St

It is said that the flames were so fierce that the original doors of Balliol college (since replaced) carried the scorce marks. In nearby St Giles a memorial to the memory of the 3 martyrs was erected in 1838.

The martyrs memorial in St Giles

The martyrs memorial in St Giles

Whilst I was in Oxford last week I heard two more stories about Queen Victoria.

The first was about a visit to Oxford when she met up with Lewis Carroll, writer of Alice in Wonderland. She commented that she loved his book and it was arranged that he would dedicate his next book to her. It is not recorded what she thought when in due course she received a copy of ‘An Elementary Treatise on Determinants’. Lewis Carroll was in his everyday life Charles Dodgson, mathematics lecturer at Christchurch Oxford. Dodgson later denied that this had ever happened.

The second story was similar to the Bath one I told a few weeks ago. Apparently Queen Victoria was invited to open the new railway station at Newcastle.


Afterwards I was told the Railway company forwarded the bill for the reception to the Royal Household. This was not well received and thereafter Queen Victoria gave Newcastle Station the Shuttered blinds treatment. I haven’t been able to verify this story so I don’t know if its true or just an urban myth, but it was told to me by someone from that city.

Have been away at a meeting in Oxford all week so not much opportunity to spend time watching nature. Did manage to complete at least one butterfly count each day for Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly count, which runs to the end of this week. The lovely thing about these 15 minute counts is that you can do them wherever you are and you don’t need a lot of time to complete them, so they fit into a lunchtime or a coffee break. You just have to spend 15 minutes watching for and identifying the butterflies you see. Most of my counts last week were in the grounds of St Anne’s college where the meeting was being held and although I only saw Large and Small whites and Gatekeepers, all the data combines to paint a picture of the butterfly population across the country.

St Anne's College Oxford
St Annes College Oxford
photo by pmecologic (

I also did a count at Oxford Station whilst waiting for the train to come back to London which turned up Large White and Peacock plus an overhead Red Kite – the first I have seen over central Oxford.

2008  03 29 Peacock Butterfly-1
Peacock Butterfly
photo by Kieth Laverack (

For more details of the Big Butterfly Count go to