Original Uncomfortable Oxford Tour


This is a walking tour with a difference uncovers Oxford’s legacy hidden beneath the glossy surface says Rachel Mills

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As Oxford University’s own website proclaims: “For centuries, scholars, artists, writers, scientists and film-makers have found inspiration in Oxford's spectacular architecture”. But what of how this spectacular architecture was bought and paid for? What of the university’s associations with colonialism and inequality?

Oxford city of dreaming spires

Victorian poet Matthew Arnold, in his poem Thyrsis, called Oxford “that sweet city with her dreaming spires”, but on this uncomfortable walking tour you’ll learn that Oxford has something a little sour at its core. It’s a city historically divided, with “town and gown” having very little to do with each other, and “gown” traditionally meaning only very wealthy, very white, men.

Oxford Skyline

Diverse histories and pioneering Oxford scholars

Happily, this Oxford tour is all about bucking that trend. A student from the university, likely to be a more diverse voice than your imagined archetypal Oxford undergraduate, ushers your small group (never more than 15 people) around Oxford’s grand landmarks (hello, Balliol College) and does a great job highlighting diverse histories and raising the profile of pioneering scholars. You learn about Christian Cole, Oxford’s first black scholar, and Merze Tate, Oxford’s first black female scholar – women attended Oxford from 1878 but weren’t allowed to be awarded an actual degree until things changed in 1920.

Oxford University

Sparking debate

One of the most interesting things about the hour and a half tour is that your guide asks you questions. You stand at the statue of Cecil Rhodes – a major benefactor to the university – and debate the pros and cons of removing it. You read the new plaque that’s been installed to label him a ‘committed British colonialist’ who ‘exploited the people of Southern Africa’. Does it go too far or not far enough?

Engaging and provocative, the tour covers difficult to talk about truths. Go with an open mind and be ready for frank debate, and you’ll love it, and likely learn a lot that you didn’t know about the city and university of Oxford.

How to get there


Meet at Carfax Tower on Queen Street, a 12-minute walk from Oxford train station. Trains to Oxford leave from London Paddington station.

Where to eat


There are lots of cafes and restaurants near Carfax Tower and nearby Bonn Square (the end point of the walking tour). The Handle Bar Cafe and Kitchen is a laidback spot.



Wheelchair accessible and service animals allowed. It’s a walking tour so no heart problems or other serious medical conditions.

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