Summertown pictured. Image credit: Motacilla
Image Credit: Motacilla

Life in Summertown, not as bad as it seems?

Living in Summertown, the northern edge of Oxford, might not appeal to the average Oxford student, especially as clichés pile up: it’s far from the city centre; the commute is long and tiring; there’s nothing to do; it’s full of pensioners; and it’s expensive. It almost sounds like a different world compared to the typical Oxford experience. But is life in Summertown really as bad as it seems?

I moved to Summertown in Michaelmas, and I would disagree with those stereotypes – I’m actually quite enjoying this slightly different experience. The thought of living here was quite daunting when I was first told by my college I’d have to move a 20-minute walk away from St Anne’s, which is arguably already quite far from the city centre. However, it’s not as dire as it appears.

A 20-minute walk, that’s all it is. In a little over 30 minutes, it’s possible to be on Broad Street – and while this of course isn’t very practical for an everyday commute, it’s quite nice to do from time to time. If you cycle, it won’t take you more than 10 minutes to reach any of Oxford’s central libraries, and it’s also possible to take the bus with a monthly pass for £45. 

The commute really isn’t anything inhumane, and is actually much shorter than what most people would find acceptable in major cities. There is a common conception that because you live in Oxford everything should be within a 10-minute walk, but that’s simply not how most places work. In Paris for instance, where I lived before, no one would ever dream of such a short travel time.

I actually found that having a “long commute” made me have a better degree-life balance and be productive. I do most of my work in town, and home is just for resting and relaxing (and OxStu articles…). The two mingle less than before, and I treat my degree more like a 9-5 (or 10-7, really), something that certainly wouldn’t have happened if I continued to live a 20 second walk from the library.

Summertown doesn’t really feel like Oxford; it’s like its own little bubble in the busy student life. The ‘vibe’ is different, and it almost feels like its own little town, separate from the Oxford spirit. While many might find this regrettable, I actually found that it made me enjoy central Oxford even more.

One of the main advantages of Summertown is certainly the close proximity to shops. With everything being so close together, doing a bit of extra shopping isn’t as much of a hassle as it might be in the city centre, unless you live in Balliol. Tesco and Sainsbury’s are so close to my accommodation that I can literally go buy something I forgot to get while cooking without fear that my precious dinner might burn.

Of course there’s a bit less choice and it’s slightly more pricey in those small shops, but nothing insurmountable – there is also a large M&S only a few minutes away. But where Summertown excels is certainly in extra food shop offerings: a small Romanian off-licence convenience store, selling things you didn’t even know were possible to buy, an organic fresh produce and natural product shop, and many others.

There is also a small artisan market in Summertown every weekend selling delicious breads, pastries, and other baked goods and fresh produce, and the best chip van in Oxford only seconds away from my bed: Boss Kebab, open from 6:30 to 2:30 every night.

Summertown also has its fair share of cute coffee shops and bakeries: of course the usual Pret, Costa, and Gail’s like everywhere else, only closer, but also a Taylor’s, and Colombia Coffee Roasters, also present in the Covered Market and serving excellent coffee. 

But my favourite Summertown coffee shop is certainly Gatineau, a French artisan Patisserie and Bakery. They have some of the best French pastries I’ve been able to find in this country, and even have on sale a wide range of French regional products impossible to find anywhere else.

There is also a good range of everyday stores in Summertown, that often avoid an excursion to central Oxford. There is for instance no less than 4 charity shops in a 3-min walk radius, all significantly larger and cheaper than those in the centre. Summertown is also home to Daunt Books, an independent bookshop with an excellent selection of books that changes from what you can find in Blackwells or Waterstones, as well as an extremely cute family-run card shop.

The main downside to Summertown remains its distance from everyday commitments: lectures, tutorials, lay-ins, OxStu socials. Libraries are also quite far away, and it’s sometimes hard to find motivation to do work, especially on the weekends. You also think twice before going on a clubbing excursion, but there’s nothing a friend’s room in town can’t fix, especially as buses run all through the night.

Summertown for me is more practical and enjoyable, I have nicer accommodation and I enjoy living outside of the ‘Oxford bubble’. It’s maybe not for everyone, but if it’s for you you’ll enjoy it more than you think!