Whether you love searching for vintage shopping bargains or are simply looking for the quirkier side of history, the British county of Oxfordshire has plenty of secrets to uncover. After all, it’s here where one of the oldest universities in the world can be found, as well as countless other cultural treasures. Here’s the best of unique, historical, and unusual things to do in Oxfordshire!
Best seen in the autumn so as to make the most of the fall foliage, Harcourt Arboretum is part of the wider set of Oxford Botanical Gardens. Now owned and managed by the University of Oxford, the Arboretum has been open to the public to visit since 1963. Though you have to pay a fee to visit this ‘tree museum,’ it’s well worth it for any gardening enthusiasts!
Oldest Chemist in England, Burford
For those who are interested in the history of medicine, it’s worth noting that in West Oxfordshire, one shop claims to be the oldest chemist in England! Situated in the ‘Gateway to the Cotswolds‘ town of Burford, Robert Reavley has been in business for well over two centuries.
Situated along one of the prettiest high streets in England, other places of note nearby include the Tolsey Museum and the rather impressive Burford Church. If you find yourself with a little extra time while in the area, the hamlets of Great and Little Barrington are impossibly picturesque.
5p Swinford Toll Bridge
Perhaps one of the more unusual ways by which to enter or exit the capital city of Oxford is via the historic toll bridge. While pedestrians and cyclists can use the bridge free of charge, cars have to pay 5p to cross, while other vehicles must pay a fee of up to 50p.
One of only a handful of private toll bridges in England, the bridge was built in the 18th-century, though is rather medieval looking in appearance. In a rather controversial turn of events, whomever owns the bridge is exempt from paying any tax thanks to an archaic law dating back to the time of George III.
Headington Shark, Headington
Controversial from the outset, the real name of the Headington Shark is actually ‘Untitled 1981’. Erected almost overnight by an installation artist, the sculpture can be found in the most unusual of places. After all, the shark is located along a residential street, on the fringes of Oxford city and just off the Headington High Street.
Annora’s Tomb, Iffley
Iffley is a charming village with all the ambience of stepping back in time. That is, if you’re able to ignore the sound of passing traffic! After all, Iffley is on the outskirts of the city of Oxford and is sandwiched between several major roads and a maze of roundabouts.
In the middle of the village, which is filled with quaint buttery stone architecture and even its own drinking establishment, the Parish Church of Iffley is built of a similarly beautiful stone. Head to the South wall of the church, and you’ll soon discover the tomb of Annora, an Anchoress who lived in the area in the 12th-century.
In total, it’s thought that there were ninety something anchoresses in the UK during the Middle Ages. Typically, an anchoress was a woman who chose to shut herself away from society, instead deciding to dedicate her life to one of simple prayer.
Wheatley Lock Up, Wheatley
Situated in the heart of where you’d least expect, in front of a children’s playground, to be more precise, Wheatley Lock Up is a relic of times gone by. An architectural anomaly, this conical shaped building was constructed in the early 19th-century.
The lockup was originally intended to be used to lock up drunk and disorderly people before they would be taken to court in Oxford the following day. Today, the lockup is rather amusingly (and, I should point out, rather incorrectly!) listed as a ‘budget hotel’ on online maps. Literally locked up for most of the year, during the May Day festival, visitors can be ‘locked inside’ the lockup for five minutes!
Wheatley Windmill, Wheatley
While in the charming village of Wheatley, be sure not to miss the windmill. Located on a hill overlooking the rest of the settlement, this restored 17th-century windmill is a throwback to an era when the world was powered by water and wind. Today, the windmill is free to visit and you can make a trip on a Sunday between May and October.
C.S. Lewis’ Grave, Headington
The final resting place of C.S. Lewis is in the graveyard of a little-known church on the fringes of Oxford City. Rather humble in appearance, his flat tombstone is marked by a simple cross and inscription. The iconic author is best-known for his fictional Narnia books and his alma matter is Christ Church, Oxford (you may well recognise this iconic college thanks to its appearance in the Harry Potter films!)
Within the church itself, a long-developed project has recently been installed to the left-hand aisle when facing the altar. The ‘Window on the World’ is a beautiful piece of stained glass which depicts many of the more magical moments from Narnia. All glass castles and snow-covered scenes, it’s well worth wandering inside the church, merely to peek at the stunning glass!
Uffington White Horse
For those who are familiar with the chalky landscape of the Midlands, it should come as no surprise that one of the most unusual things to do in Oxfordshire is to visit the Uffington White Horse. Situated on the fringes of the Wessex Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, to the south of Oxford City, the chalky carving can be seen from miles away in nearly every direction.
And at 110 metres long, it’s hard to see why this Prehistoric stylised horse was ever carved out of the hillside by our ancestors in the first place. Thought to date back to the Iron or Bronze Age, no one knows quite what the origins of this chalk animal area, meaning that it’s easily one of the most unusual attractions in Oxford.