There’s an assumption of a great Cambridge/Oxford rivalry.  It doesn’t exist, anymore than Uttoxeter and Doncaster are daggers drawn because both hold horsey races. I don’t know anyone who watches the boat race, and even on trips to the Manor or Kassam Stadiums I doubt many United fans bothered to set foot in the centre.

In 2005, wild celebrations of Shane Tudor’s injury time winner at the Abbey were disrupted by a tap on the shoulder by a plummy-voiced reporter called Hugh from the Oxford Whig Standard wanting to know who took the throw-in. Stuck with me, that.

I get to visit once a year, to track down a studenty pub new to the Beer Guide with NBSS 2.5 beer and be moderately impressed by the architecture.

On Friday night I combined a gig at St John the Evangelist with TWO new studenty pubs, and was again struck by the contrasts with my own fair city.

Beerwise, Oxford used to be a treat, introducing me to the joys of 6X, Youngs and Palmers in the ’90s. The Lamb & Flag and Kings Arms are still the pick of the pubs for me.  Getting past bikes to the pub beats getting past barflies to the handpumps.

Kings Arms

Nowadays half the places seemed to be Greene King in their various forms, even more so than in Cambridge.

The White Rabbit is tucked down a very self-consciously trendy little side street.


It manages to combine my three favourite things in a pub; pizza, prosecco and posh people. Words fail me (but probably won’t fail Simon), but I have to tell you the Siren Liquid Mistress was so good I bought Newbury Tim a bottle of it the next day.

My other tick was close to the gig, and despite similar characteristics I’m giving it the big thumbs-up.  The barman at the Chester would win an award on Simon’s blog if he were female, but don’t read anything into that.

Some pubgoers like staff who speak when spoken to, call you Sir, and offer you tasters.  I like staff who offer you a straight glass and tell you their views on Stoptober. More dining than food here as well, but decent Gunners Gold amongst an impressive local craft keg collection. Lovely Halls tiling I might post later too.


I then watched Anais Mitchell perform a politically charged set to the sort of donnish audience who might otherwise be at a lecture called “Jawa and it’s hinterland” at the Bodleian.  One chap with a cravat was making notes in pencil. Polite society and I are uneasy bedfellows, as you may have gathered.  They had Shotover beer in bottles at the interval, which is telling.

So in summary here are the pros and cons of Oxford vis-à-vis Cambridge from my totally unbiased perspective.

  1. Urban walks* – 8/10 each.  Easier to get lost in Cambridge, though I never have found the Turf Tavern.
  2. Architecture – 9/10 each. Oxford has the Sheldonian, Cambridge the Abbey Stadium.
  3. Gardens – 7/10 each. Cambridge has the better Botanic, Oxford the better parks.
  4. The big museum – Oxford 9/10 for the Ashmolean, Cambridge 2/10 for Fitzwilliam, which is just old stuff.
  5. Cheap hotels – Oxford 1/10 – the worst B&B on TripAdvisor and no budget hotels, Cambridge 8/10 is stuffed with the blighters now.
  6. Speed of walkers – 0/10 for each, seen faster snails,go to Brescia to see how to walk.
  7. Football grounds – Oxford 1/10, Cambridge 8/10 (bacon rolls aren’t what they were)
  8. Musical heritage – Oxford 1/10 (Radiohead), Cambridge 9/10 (Mammoth Penguins)
  9. Cheap eats – cheap ?!  Marco Pierre White v Jamie Oliver really.
  10. Pubs – Oxford 3/10, Cambridge 9/10 – see above

You do the math, as they say in Oxford.

You’ll know I’m no great fan of Cambridge and its suffocating middle-class pubs, so let that be a warning to you.

* Yes Oxford, I know you’ve got a house with a shark in it.  And ?


    1. I was going to comment on that but didn’t want to completely alienate Oxford readers (can they ?)

      University students in both places tend to keep themselves to themselves, tucked away in recital halls and drinking sherry rather than Shotover. 30 years ago Cambridge was more agricultural than now, and Oxford more industrial. They feel very similar outside university life. The best Cambridge pubs around Mill Rd have a postgraduate feel, not sure what the Oxford equivalents are.

      Biggest diff is tourists, 50% + on Cambridge feels Asian, which means we get great Asian places to eat. Oxford seems like little Cambridge US version.


  1. I like watching the boat race via televisual means in case one, or preferably both, boats sink. I also like seeing them go past Craven Cottage so I can reminisce about Alberto Manucho scoring his goal for City in the 93rd minute. Oxford’s true rival is Swinedon. I presume that Cambridge’s is Peterborough, but it could equally be Histon.

    Are my eyes going or is that church spire ever so slightly crooked? Not on the same level as Cheaterfield, obviously.

    I presume Stoptober is some form of contraction of Stop and October, probably what the pedestrians do in tourist cities.

    How did the Kassem Stadium get its point? Was it for the comedy value of crap centre forwards breaking car windscreens with slightly wayward shots? I can’t think of any other redeeming features.


  2. I was at Cambridge in the late 70s so the comparisons between a proper university and Cowley Polytechnic are not difficult, but my all-too-rare recent visits have underlined the extraordinary growth and change in the city. In my time the agricultural links were still evident, whilst the technology boom was not even a speck on the flat East Anglian horizon.
    The Champion of the Thames on King Street was still a properly authentic pub when I was last there, but the keg only Tolly pubs (of which the much lauded Maypole was one) are thankfully long gone.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cowley Poly ref took a minute Malcolm !

      Champion still one of few drinkers pubs left in town.

      Maypole taken over by Castiglione family c.82, but took 25 years to go free and become the astonishing beer exhibition it is now.


  3. I have done both cities on a few occasions,i have always done Cambridge in the middle of summer which i always think gives the place a better light than when it is dark and raining.
    But i still think i prefer Cambridge where i have done 54 pubs and took photos of 52 over Oxford where i have 56 pubs and took photos of 51.
    Just a shame you can not get Tolly Cobbold tied houses in Cambridge and Morrels and Morland in Oxford,i did the Maypole when it was a Tolly Cobbold tied house,i think you know which guise i would prefer to visit it in.


      1. I am surprised about that Martin,have got a decent photo of it with its Tolly Cobbold signage outside,i did it with the wife while on a Camra Nottingham pub crawl down to Cambridge which was always done on or around the longest day of the year.


  4. I remember the Lamb and Flag from my student days. It was the nearest pub to college, so I went there – once. Even at that tender age, I knew Watney’s Star Light for what it was. The best pub in Oxford was The Anchor, which later became The Westgate. Draught Morrells, in downmarket surroundings with darts, bar billiards and aunt sally all thrown in. Great beer, great tegulars (mainly locals but a few students), great atmosphere, probably too grim for the GBG. Last time I went to Oxford (2013), it had been knocked down and rebuilt as a Tapas bar – I didn’t go in…


    1. I went in the Westgate with my wife while staying over in Oxford for a Nottingham Forest match with Oxford.
      I love doing pubs that looked like that and it was a Morrells tied house so a bonus,i have a photo of it taken on 19th December 1987 when we did it,you can view it on my blog,The Never Ending Pub Crawl.


      1. Thanks for your picture… Just one thing, it. was taken after the pub had been knocked down and rebuilt. I don’t know for sure when that happened, but it was after 1981. The “proper” Westgate was about the size of a largish two-storey house with the lounge bar to the right as you went through the front door and the public bar to the left


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