Whether you’ve got a couple of hours, or a couple of days, a wander around Woodstock will bring a lot of what you might expect from a thriving Cotswold Town (beautiful honey-stoned Georgian architecture, chi chi shopping, a Church dripping with history) but unexpected gems, every corner you turn.
Let’s start at the Town Hall where you might want to stop before you’ve even got going, enjoy the seating and flowers in the Market Square, and sip on a cup of Woodstock Coffee Shop flat white.
Then wander past The Star pub to The Oxfordshire Museum (free entry). This Museum is full of interest for adults and children, with artefacts from Oxfordshire’s history, ‘Those were the days’ reminiscence meetings, and kids’ backpacks, trails, workshops and craft activities for families.
Possibly the most surprising thing you might find is that you can feed the dinosaurs. OK, not real dinosaurs, but there’s a fantastic interactive room, and hidden in the corner of the large gardens is the rather magical Dinosaur Garden. Stonesfield, a village adjacent to the Blenheim Estate, was the site of the first Western discovery of dinosaur bones in Victorian times and here in Woodstock you can see real dinosaur footprints, a full size Megalosaurus, and plants from the swampy tropical landscape of the Jurassic period (which are also rather good for playing hide and seek in).
The Oxfordshire Museum usually has a special exhibition on, and in the run up to Christmas will feature the Oxfordshire Craft Guild Christmas exhibition, running from 14th November to 3rd January 2021, where many of the county’s leading contemporary designers and makers will display (and sell) their wares.
Adjacent to the main museum is SOFO – Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum. Housed in a striking modern building, this museum mixes moving storytelling about individuals’ experiences of the Great and Second World War, with fun and interactive hunts designed to engage the little ones. Described as ‘a new take on the classic military museum where everyone can be inspired to learn and share stories of courage and combat in conflict and peace’ it’s a thoughtful place that encourages visitors to remember our not-so-distant history.
Before you leave the Museum be sure to enjoy the gardens and the café, which are a pleasure all year round.
Moving out of the Museum shop you will find the stocks, which have been present in Woodstock since 1518 but nowadays are reserved for people who insist on calling Woodstock a village (it’s a town, the clue is in the Town Hall). See if you can spot what’s unusual about our town’s stocks (hint….how many limbs do most people have?).
St Mary Magdalene Church, standing opposite the stocks, was built in the reign of Henry I for the convenience of the court during royal visits to the royal hunting lodge of Woodstock Manor. Whilst it has 14th century roots, the church has been significantly rebuilt and altered over the centuries. Its little secret is the church clock. No ordinary clock, four times a day (at 9am, 1pm, 5pm and 9pm) it plays a tune – a different tune for each day of the week.
Wander into the Churchyard and through the back gate and you’ll find an interesting set of back streets with history seeping from every stone. One home, ‘The Pest House’ was once used as a quarantine hospital, and on a grander scale you can spot some enormous properties like The Bishops House and Woodstock House. If you’re wishing for a home in Woodstock, but perhaps something more modest, just give Flowers Estate Agents a call!
The area where Rectory Lane meets Oxford Road, used to be Woodstock’s ‘dodgy area’ full of ale houses…perhaps that’s why the old Police Station is situated there! Around the corner from the Old Police Station you’ll find Caroline Court, handsome alms houses built in 1797, and on the other side of the main road the old low building is the old railway station which closed in 1954. Nowadays, you can get the train to Woodstock via Oxford Parkway Station and a short taxi ride from Townhouse Taxis.
Woodstock isn’t all history and traditional architecture, there are some interesting examples of modern architecture alongside listed buildings. Check out 61 Oxford Street, created by Lewis Properties, which sits directly opposite the equally stunning but more historic Hexagon House.
A walk up to Old Woodstock is worthwhile, and as you stroll down the steep hill towards The Black Prince pub see if you can spot the town’s elephant (it’s at the bottom of some steps). Woodstock was the home of the UK’s very first zoo, when King Henry I had a wall built to protect his strange menagerie of animals, in 1100 and a seven mile long wall enclosed The Royal Park of Woodstock and his exotic collection of lions, camels and porcupines.
Walking past The Black Prince, you’ll pass some of Woodstock’s oldest residences, terraced houses that back onto Blenheim. Old Woodstock is also the home of the centuries old , and quintessentially British tradition of the Mock Mayor. This idiosyncratic event takes place in July (crossing fingers for 2021) and dates back to the residents of Old Woodstock poking fun at the red trouser brigade (or the 18th Century equivalent) in New Woodstock. It’s a riotous, good humoured event full of pomp and inceremony ending with the newly elected Mock Mayor being dunked in the River Glyme.
Other annual events, that make Woodstock unique include a music festival – so we might not be the Woodstock but in August the town rocks. And in midwinter on The Night of a Thousand candles, the town sparkles, as Christmas season gets going in earnest, and the Christmas shopping starts with the Festive Fayre at St Mary Magdalene Church. Sadly, in 2020, we have to make merry in smaller ways, but the Christmas shopping promises to be sparkly with the array of stylish shops we have on offer.
If you’re looking for something that involves a brisk walk and wellies, take a walk from Old Woodstock across the Hollyhock Fields towards Wootton and the Killingworth Castle pub (the best Sunday roast for miles). Or head in the opposite direction from Woodstock towards Bladon, to visit Churchill’s grave, and visit the White House, one the UK’s newest community run pubs.
Woodstock has a strong green scene, and Sustainable Woodstock runs events all year round to get the community involved, including making bug hotels and orchard planting. You can visit the Woodstock Community Orchard and Woodland with its fairy houses and dens.
The Water Meadows are another peaceful spot, with an abundance of wildlife packed into 6 acres. A favourite for dog walkers and crayfish spotters, it can be accessed by the side of The Black Prince or from Brook Hill.
If you’re looking for some exercise, and the hilly walk to Old Woodstock and the Community Woodland isn’t enough, we can recommend the Downdog & Crowe yoga studio, or for a run with a view, run twice around the lake at Blenheim Palace for a perfect 5k.
Which brings us, last but not least to Blenheim Palace. No trip to Woodstock, for a first timer, would be complete without visiting our jaw dropping neighbour. It makes Downton Abbey look like a Taylor Wimpey semi. Whether you simply want to walk and take in the grounds, or you want to get up close and personal with the rooms that forged Winston Churchill’s personality, it’s such an iconic place to visit, that we don’t need to tell you why you need to visit. But if you do, don’t forget to pop next door to Woodstock, you’d be seriously missing out if you did!
Photos by Jay Alice Photographic