Thursday, April 19, 2018

Oxford's MINI Plant

Two weeks ago I took my second tour of the Oxford MINI plant.  It's an extraordinary tour that take a little over two hours.  The first hour is spent on the factory floor watching 1200 amazing robotics assemble the body and chassis of each MINI.  Then you move on to the assembly floor where teams of engineers on long conveyor belts custom assemble each MINI to the specs of each individual order.  

Photography is not allowed while you are on the factory floor.  In fact, you have to leave all of your personal belongings in a locker, including cell phones and cameras.  I wish I could show you the mind-blowing image of 1200 robots all moving at once, some welding, some lifting and moving -- it's defies description and it's about as sci-fi as you can imagine.  

"Combining human skill and ultra-advanced robot technology, Plant Oxford completes one MINI every 67 seconds, and up to 1,000 cars every day." 

You'll have to take a tour and see how this is done for yourself.  I've toured a lot of factories before but none have impressed me as much as the Oxford MINI Plant. 

The MINI plant is located on the Easter Bypass and Horspath Road in Cowley.  This is where William Morris produced the first Bullnose Morris Oxford in 1913 and where Great Britain's automobile industry began.  The plant has been producing cars for over a hundred years.  

There is an exhibit that highlights the history of car manufacturing in Oxford In the building behind the MINI Shop.  This is the only place where taking photos is allowed on the site.  For one who know very little about cars, I have certainly come to appreciate the modern technology that goes into manufacturing the MINI; the genius and generosity of William Morris who started the car industry in the U.K.; and the charming and iconic nature of the MINI.  

In the 1930s William Morris (aka Lord Nuffield) was Britain's richest self-made man.  He then became Britain's greatest ever philanthropist and gave away over £30m of his fortune, equivalent to £700m in today's money. Yet, despite his enormous wealth, his lifestyle was quite modest.  His home, Nuffield Place in Oxfordshire, is now owned by National Trust, is about 40 minutes by car southwest of Oxford, and is well worth a visit.   

This is only one of the many different types of robots you can see on the factory floor. Some of the robots are 6 times this size. To see them all moving at once is like watching the most unusual, modern, and amazing dance choreography. It's mesmerizing

This is a photo of the factory floor that is on display in the factory museum.  It doesn't even begin to show the size and scope of the electronics on the floor.  Our guide pointed out that most of the electricity used on the floor is solar generated from solar panels right on the plant site.  

The best part of the the tour was sharing it with Carlisle and Phil Carrol (Parents of our son-in-law).  It meant so much to us to have them come visit and to have the chance to share a bit of our little corner of England with them. These photos were taken in front of a blue screen that projects photos of the factory floor.   

For more information about the Oxford MINI Plant

Mini plant tours

Mini Plant Wikipedia

William Morris

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Tolkien and WWI came to Oxford today

Today Oxford was transformed into Oxford of 1914, at the beginning of World War 1, with young soldiers, horses, and gowned students walking about town.  It felt a bit like a time-warp. 


Brasenose Lane and the Radcliffe Square was the site of today's film shoot for the movie "Tolkien",  a biopic film of the author JRR Tolkien.  

The movie is about the the early years of the author as he attended college, made friends with a group of outcasts at school, and found love and artistic inspiration.  

Actors waiting on their marks to rehearse a scene on Brasenose Lane, across from Exeter College where Tolkien attended in 1911 to 1915.  

Nicholas Hoult stars as Tolkien and Lily Collins is cast as his love, Edith Bratt

Tolkien enlisted as a second lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers in 1915.  He married the love of his life, Edith Bratt,  in Warwick on 22 March 1916 before shipping out.  Tolkien met Edith as a freshman at his boarding house in 1911, he was 16 and she was 19.    

After enlisting, Tolkien was sent to active duty on the Western Front, just in time for the Somme offensive. After four months in and out of the trenches, he succumbed to “trench fever”, a form of typhus-like infection common in the insanitary conditions, and was sent back to England, where he spent the next months in hospital in Birmingham. Many of these experiences became inspiration for his Lord of the Rings novels.  

The movie is directed by Finnish director Dome Karukoski and the script is by David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford.

I was told the movie will be released in 2018.  I can't wait to see it.

For more information about the film:

For more information about JRR Tolkien:

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Cotswold Way: Stanton to Snowshill to Buckland Woods and back

Our last summer walk was a perfect circular walk off the Cotswold Way. We started in Stanton and walked to Snowshill, then on to Buckland, and back. We couldn't have picked a lovelier day or a more picturesque part of the Cotswolds.

Our first stop was to the town of Stanway which is spread out along the road towards Stanton, with no really discernable village centre beyond the church. The church and manor of Stanway are right next to each other so that it is hard to know where one ends and the other begins.

The 12th century parish church of St Peter (with Victorian updates)

The manor is home to Stanway Water Gardens, a baroque garden featuring a 300 ft high fountain and a grand canal beside the lovely manor house. The house and garden were closed since the summer season had ended. It's on my list to visit next summer.

The Cotswold Way National Trail is a walking trail that runs along the length of the Cotswolds, starting in Chipping Campden in the north, and finishing at the front of Bath Abbey in the south.

The trail is 102 miles long and winds through many picturesque villages, such as Snowshill, Cranham & Painswick. The Cotswold Way also passes close to a significant number of historic sites, for example the Roman heritage at Bath, the Neolithic burial chamber at Belas Knap, Sudeley Castle near Winchcombe, Hailes Abbey and many beautiful churches and historic houses.

I would love to walk the entire Cotswold Way, but for now, we keep returning to do circular walks that are part of the trail so we can start and end in the same place. There are several amazing loop trails that take in part of the Cotswold way and we are slowly chipping away at those.

We started our walk at the Cotswold Way signpost towards the top of the village, just down from the Mount Inn. We did things a bit backwards in that we had an early lunch at the Mound Inn (great food) and then walked from there. I'm so glad we did because the Inn was closed by the time we returned late in the afternoon.

Stanton is one of the prettiest villages in the whole of the Cotswolds. It's a village frozen in time with little changed in 300 years.  It has a very pleasing long main street with several delightful corners where the ancient houses are built in typical Cotswolds style with the honey colored limestone walls. It looks like it should be a film set for a BBC period drama.

The walk from Stanton toward Snowshill leads though several fields and meadows, some woods, then up over a hill with beautiful views.  

Before long you can see Snowshill in the distance -- another idyllic Cotswold village.

Snowshill is best known for Snowshill Manor and the lovely Lavender farm just a mile or two from town.  Both are well worth a visit.  Click here to see more about both from a previous blog. 

Following our directions: "Pass through this delightful village between the pub and the church, past the car park and at the entrance to Snowshill Manor you will see a kissing gate leading into a field..."

More directions: "After two more kissing gates and delightful views down the valley the path turns rather more steeply downhill, crossing a stream. Bear left to wind up through the woods, ignoring a gate to the left. This stretch can be muddy after rain. Soon after emerging from the wood pass through a gate and then climb the steepening path up a short hill with fine views. Eventually the path levels out and you exit the field by an old iron kissing gate. Turn right and follow the track for half a mile until you pass through a field gate."

"Turn right along the track down towards a field gate, and continue downhill along the steepsided path. Be careful to watch your footing along this track, but also not to miss the awe-inspiring views (over Stanton to the Vale of Evesham and even across the Severn into Wales) and the magnificent diversity of wild flowers lining the path in the spring and early summer. Once tasted, this slice of Cotswolds will never be forgotten." 

We finally circled around back to Stanton and it's church of St. Michael. It's been said that this church, dedicated to St. Michael (the archangel who fought the devil), sits upon a sacred pagan site. Stanton is actually at the intersection of two ley lines (geographic lines along which many prehistoric sights are found).

We ended the day watching the town's cricket game.  What a great last summer walk in one of my many favorite places in England! 

Click here for the map on directions for this walk.

Click here for information on more circular walks on the Cotswold way.

Encounters by Ivor Gurney

One comes across the strangest things in walks,
Fragment of Abbey tithe barns fixed in modern,
With Dutch-sort houses, where the water baulks
Weired up, and brick-kilns broken among fern.
Old troughs, great stone cisterns bishops might have blessed
And baptized from, most worthy mounting stones;
Black timber in red brick, surprisingly placed
Where hill stone was looked for, and a manor's bones
Spied in the frame of some wisteria'd house,
And mill-falls and sedge-pools, and Saxon faces
Stream sources happened upon in unlikely places
And Roman looking hills of small degree.
The surprise, the good in dignity of poplars
At a roads end, or the white Cotswold scars.
Sheets spread out spotless against the hazel tree.
But toothless old men, bubbling over with jokes
And deadly serious once the speaking finished.
Beauty is less after all than strange comical folks
And the wonder of them never and never can become diminished.