How Oxford Changed my Mind About England

I dislike England. Phew, feels good to admit it.

I’ve now been to the British Isles four times – three to England, and once to Scotland (which, for the record, I loved). But England I just do not like. Too impersonal, too similar to my home country, too expensive and sub-par food. Add that to airport hassles each time, and it takes an awful lot of convincing to get me to England.

Audrey convinced me. A Facebook invite to an event called Tough Mudder, coupled with a cheap Ryan Air flight meant I’d be spending a weekend is cheery old London, and a little race on Sunday.

I grumpily boarded the plane on Friday evening, knowing full well I’d be missing the Feria de Jérez and the Romería of San Nicolás, my adopted pueblo. I wanted to spend the weekend in Spain. Two hours, turbulence and a long customs line meant I’d missed my bus into the city center, and in the end I arrived at my hostel near the British Museum around 3am. I hate England.

Upon seeing my friends the following morning, we were faced with a decision: where to go to get the hell out of London. Audrey got in on the wrong side of the car as we narrowed it down to two destinations: either Oxford or Cambridge. Any guesses as to how the four of us earn money??

Sunglasses on (yes, we got a sunny weekend!), map route to Oxford highlighted and Audrey finally on the right side of the road, we drove the 60 miles northwest to England’s poshest university town, admiring the vast yellow fields of rapeseed and low-hanging clouds.

Oxford was full of two things: bicycles and people wearing commencement robes. We happened to be there on the weekend that young hopefuls were packing up their rooms and heading into the Real World, while three of the four of us are on our fifth years in Spain. I’ll drink (a delicious local beer) to that.

While having pints at White Horse, a small underground pub near the heart of the village, we squeezed into a table with six older men and women. They’d come down for the weekend from the Northern end of the country, taking advantage of the postcard-perfect weather. The happily handed over a map and encouraged us to see any one of the university’s 80+ colleges.

After living in America and Spain all my life, I assumed the colleges were the different university buildings for the different areas of study. Instead, the colleges at British universities are residence halls with vast, grassy lawns and towering turrets. It was like jumping right into Hogwarts as we peered into the doors and saw graduates in their long, black robes playing cricket on the lawns.

A glimpse into the 80+ colleges that surround the Oxford campus. No beer pong here, just cricket!

Nearly all of the colleges were closed that day due to the commencement activities, so we troved the bustling center, full of shops and quaint pubs. I was immediately transported back to my trip to Ireland with my parens in 2010 and the number of roadside joints we popped into for a quick pint or some grubby pub food. A trip to the Sainsbury’s meant we were well stocked with gourmet crackers, humus and some veggies, and we did as the locals – found a soft, emerald lawn to stretch our legs and fill our bellies.

Around us, graduates snapped up pictures in front of their well-loved grounds and I likened Oxford to Galway – walkable, a bit quirky (if posh can be that at all) and inviting. The warm weather did well to lift our spirits as we talked about our own graduations: Lauren is heading to China to teach, Audrey back to Texas to start field work for a business she’s creating, and Annie to school in Colorado. That leaves me, not yet ready to walk down the commencement road and leave Spain behind for a different future.

Our time meter was not quite up on the rental car, so we ducked into a pub as the evening weather was turning cool. Tomorrow we’d be up at the crack of dawn to run the Tough Mudder, but who could really think of tomorrow when we’re all just living for today?

Have you ever been to Oxford? What were your impressions? Is there a city in a country you’re not fond of that you’ve come to enjoy?

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living amongst pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she works in higher education at an American university in Madrid and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.


  1. Michelle says:

    I loved Oxford…it was like story book land for me…did you go into the Alice and Wonderland book store?

  2. I’m glad someone else said it.. I am not a huge fan of England either. I’ve only seen London and a glimpse of Manchester, so I’m not sure how much I can judge, but I adored Scotland and Ireland, so there’s something to it…

    • I’ve just been to London but found it too similar to my culture to really feel enchanted by all the bumps I’ve had, rude waiters, etc. I found the people to be much, much friendlier this time around (practicing for the Games…?).

      • Rain and cloud says:

        I am trying not sound rude but the truth is that many English people cannot stand loud Americans. You can hear them above everyone else. Quieten down! there is no need to be so loud.

      • We have a big country and need to be heard! And if you think us Americans are loud, come to Spain!

  3. This is a great post and fab photos! I hear you on the food….

  4. andiperullo says:

    Never been there, but I’m in the same boat as you, don’t really love England either!!! Great pics!

  5. Hmm, the not quite real world but very appealing. So what ARE you going to do with your future?

  6. It’s such a shame that you don’t like England! May I ask where else you have visited? Here are some of my pics from a visit to Oxford and my home town last year:

    • I remember reading this post, actually! I’d be interested in seeing so more of England, but I usually leave with the feeling of humph. As I commmented to Shana, it all just seems too familiar. I’ve seen castles and tried pub grub and all, so what do I need to see the next time? I’d like to get further up North, but it’s always been to London to visit friends. Watch for the forthcoming post about Tough Mudder at the Boughton House!!

      • I can understand that it feels quite familiar to you, but there are a lot of things to do and see. There are so many strange festivals (cheese rolling springs to mind) or events, and there is some beautiful countryside and coastal areas. It’s no wonder that you feel like that when you have only really visited London. I can’t even class it as England! You definitely need to experience more, I am sure that you would change your mind :)

  7. I’ve only ever been to London and, while I enjoy it, I really don’t think I could live there. As you say, it’s a little too similar to the “home culture” for comfort :) Would love to visit Oxford after seeing your photos!

  8. roamingtheworld says:

    I have a love hate relationship with England. Studied abroad in London when I was 19 and opened up my world to thinking of different possibilities. I was bitten by the travel bug there. Never fond of the gloomy weather or the attitudes of most British but I have family there, so keeps me coming back!

  9. I’ve learned to appreciate Barcelona. My heart will always be with Madrid. I’ve had very odd experiences in Barcelona but have gotten past those to appreciate the architecture, food, etc.

  10. Oh dear. You left me a comment about Cordoba and patios and I can’t find it to reply, so is it ok if I answer here? We went to, I think it’s called The House of Viana, a lovely old house away from the centre, and there were a sequence of lovely patios there. Apart from that a lovely gentleman showed me the well inside his shop, but it would have been great to see the patios in all their finery.
    Think I’ve just remembered where your comment was!

  11. Agree with Kim, it’s a shame you’ve not had a good impression of England. The seaside towns are definitely whimsical, with beach huts and candy floss. Haven’t changed in decades. Occasionally sunny, too! Brighton is lovely, easy to get to from London with great outdoor cafe scene and nightlife. And a pier.

  12. It seems you hate London, not all of England.

    • I don’t hate England, but have been disappointed with London. Like Barcelona, I feel it’s a place I’d have to live in to be able to love it. That said, I’m interested in traveling more in the UK. Any places to hit?


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