Hidden Oxfordshire: seven attractions you’ve never heard of

Maharajah’s well, Stoke Row

The Maharajah's Well, Stoke Row

The Maharajah’s Well, Stoke Row

Located in the heart of the small Chiltern village of Stoke Row, this large ornate well, compete with its own manicured garden and decorative gold elephant, can come as a bit of a surprise to travellers. The Maharajah of Benares donated the well in the mid nineteenth century after being told of water shortages in the village by the then governor-general of the United Provinces, Edward Anderson Reade. In 1964 HRH the Duke of Edinburgh attended celebrations to mark its centenary, in which water from the holy river Ganges was symbolically poured down the well.

Keble college, Oxford

The quad of Keble college, Oxford.

The quad of Keble college, Oxford

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It’s fair to say that when people think of Oxford colleges, they don’t think of Keble. The university’s first red brick college, Keble has traditionally been treated with disdain by art connoisseurs and students alike, Kenneth Clark once described it as ‘the ugliest building in the world.’ However, the college, designed by William Butterfield, pioneered a completely new approach to the gothic revival, and many admire it for its assertive and elegant brickwork. Seldom frequented by tourists the college authorities rarely close the quad to visitors. The beautiful chapel is also home to ‘The Light of the World,’ (1853) one of the premier achievements of Pre Raphaelite artist William Holman Hunt. TEL: 01865 272727

Rollright stones

The King's Men stone circle

The King’s Men stone circle

Located in the very north of the county, right on the Warwickshire border, the Rollright Stones are a complex of three prehistoric stone monuments. Local legend has it that they are the remains of a European king and a group of foot soldiers who had the misfortune to run into a witch, and were promptly turned to stone. The largest monument is the ‘the King’s Men’ a stone circle of seventy-seven boulders thought to have been constructed over 4,000 years ago. If you’re willing to make the trip, they offer a fascinating insight into Britain’s pre-history.

Headington shark

The Headington Shark, New Hight Street

The Headington Shark, New Hight Street

If you’re making the trip from London to Oxford by coach, and think you catch a glimpse of a large great white shark sticking out the top of a terraced house in Headington, you are not hallucinating. The Headington Shark was erected in 1986 by local radio presenter Bill Heine, and initially aroused considerable controversy. Oxford city council attempted to remove the sculpture but were overruled by central government following protests by local residents, who had grown fond of this odd addition to their community.

St. Katherine’s church, Chiselhampton

The clocktower of St Katherine's church, Chiselhampton

The clocktower of St Katherine’s church, Chiselhampton

The little chapel of St. Katherine’s in the village of Chiselhampton is not your average English village church. The building was constructed in the eighteenth century after the previous chapel was declared to be in such a ruinous condition that it was unsuitable for worship. A now unknown local architect clearly thought he’d try his hand at the neoclassical style of church architecture being popularised in the capital by the like of Nicholas Hawksmoor at the time, the result is a charming little building with plenty of character.

Modern Art Oxford

Entrance to Modern Art Oxford

Entrance to Modern Art Oxford

Oxford’s museums are not short of artwork by the great masters. Modern Art Oxford offers a home to their contemporary successors. Nicholas Serota, now of the Tate, was director here in the 1970s, and the gallery is no a stranger to controversy. In the 2000s it hosted a show by Jack and Dinos Chapman in which they displayed a series of treasured Goya prints that they had systematically defaced. Tucked away off St. Aldates, visitors who instead head for the Ashmolean or Pitt Rivers often miss this gallery, and yet it really is worth a visit. TEL: 01865 722733

Dorchester on Thames

The High Street, Dorchester

The High Street, Dorchester

The village of Dorchester on Thames south of Oxford has just as much to offer to history lovers as its Dorset namesake, tracing its origins back to the Neolithic era. The Romans settled here, and in the seventh century the pope sent a bishop to the area who set up the Diocese of Dorchester, one of the largest in the country at that time. Although its lost its bishop, Dorchester still has the remains of an old abbey, a beautiful set of half-timbered buildings, and some lovely pubs.