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Sunday 7th July 2013

Bicester Village, Oxfordshire


There’s nothing new about the outlet shopping centre, where the designer brands sell off their end-line-stock at discount prices. The Bicester Village centre sits on the edge of the pretty Oxfordshire town, and was first opened in 1992. Few could have predicted the colossus that its become, being the biggest tourist attraction in the county.

Let’s think about that for a minute, if fact let’s say it again, “THE BIGGEST TOURIST ATTRACTION IN THE COUNTY.” So Winston Churchill’s family seat Blenheim Place is less worthy of a visit, and neither are Oxford’s dreaming spires, nor Henley-on-Thames’ River and Rowing museum? That would be the implication wouldn’t it?

Do we really live in a world where mere consumption is deemed more valuable than the beautiful buildings on offer with all their history?

Now I cannot claim to live in a personal space devoid of the consumption of the outlet centre, and let’s be frank here, there’s a darned good shirt to be bought here, so we headed over on a hot sweaty Sunday.

They’ve added a second multi-storey car park since I was last year and even so, we had difficulty finding a space. But that was only the start of it, as when we walked into the centre itself the place was positively heaving! Moreover the coach park was full, and people were queuing up to get into the more popular stores. A sign of the clientele that is being attracted was that the announcements were being made in Chinese, not English! There were adverts for a bus service from London to here, and Bicester Town railway station has been rebadged Bicester Town for Bicester Village.

I bought my shirt easily enough, in front of a Japanese couple and behind a Russian girl, and re-joined the throng, stopping to buy a designer-priced ice cream each before scuttling back to the car. It really was too hot to linger for long, although we did pause to look, agog, at a women perching behind her huge sunglasses with a line of bags, each with a different logo. Realising I had the material for a blog entry, I took a few pictures on my mobile phone for flavour, and a day later processing them, I now realise every single one has someone using a mobile phone in it! That’s one way I fitted in I suppose!

We headed back to Oxford in close-to-silence, having mixed feelings about the whole experience. In these difficult economic times, the foreign currency is extremely valuable, as well as the jobs created, both directly and indirectly. What would the space be without the centre had it not be opened? I’ve come to be conclusion that’s the biggest attraction tag that sits badly with me, as I’d hate the people queuing for here to have had to made a direct choice between here, and say the Radcliffe Camera.

That would speak volumes for the world we live in and the choices we make. I feel a trip to Blenheim Palace coming on!