This tranquil route meanders along the Oxford Canal, where narrowboats chug beside reed beds rich in birdlife, then doubles back along the Thames Path.
Set off on the canal path by Hythe Bridge, walking towards Isis Lock. The lock was the last section of the Oxford Canal completed in 1796, connecting it to the River Thames. Cross the bridge and continue along the towpath.
After you walk under Aristotle Bridge, you pass Trap Grounds on your right. This three-acre reedbed nature reserve supports 35 species of birds, including reed warblers and skylarks. Most people believe that the area is named after the making of eel traps from the reeds, but a more colourful local tale says it has more to do with students slopping out their privies – or traps – into the canal. Continue along the towpath towards Wolvercote.
1. TWO AND A HALF MILES
At Wolvercote Lock, turn left and climb the steps. Turn right and walk along Godstow Road. The canal has long played a part in village life here. In the 18th century, a water-powered papermill brought prosperity to Wolvercote, supplying paper for Oxford University Press. In 1811, a steam engine was installed to power the papermaking process and the canal again took the strain, bringing in 100 tons of coal every week. Sadly, the mill closed in 1998 and was demolished in 2004.
2. THREE AND A QUARTER MILES
As you reach the other side of the village, pass Wolvercote Common on your left and cross a bridge to find the Trout Inn, a favourite watering hole for CS Lewis, Lewis Carroll and Colin Dexter. If you’re expecting Inspector Morse’s favourite pub, you’ll be disappointed. The Trout has been refurbished into a modern gastropub.
Take care crossing the bridge and go through the gate on the left to join the Thames Path. Keep an eye out for the ghost of Henry II’s mistress Rosamund Clifford, who haunts the remains of Godstow Nunnery. Continue past the lock, along the path with the river and the Port Meadow floodplain beside you.
After passing the sign to the Perch Inn, turn right on to the chalk path and walk into Binsey. Turn right and follow the road around to the left.
3. FIVE MILES
At the end of the road, you come face to face with the goats that are kept in the grounds of St Margaret’s Church. The well in the graveyard inspired the Treacle Well in Alice in Wonderland.
Retrace the route back to the chalk path to rejoin the Thames Path and continue back to Oxford. Cross the red 19th-century Rainbow Bridge by Medley Manor Farm. With the Thames on your right, pass Fiddler Island. When you reach a large grey bridge, don’t continue along the Thames Path but bear left, stooping slightly to walk under the railway bridge. Crossing Rewley Road, take the lane on your left and walk past the housing estate to rejoin the canal. Turn right and continue up to Upper Fisher Row and back to the start.
Both the towpath and Thames Path can get muddy. Be prepared to have to stoop under some low bridges.
HOW TO GET THERE
By car: Park at Worcester Street in Oxford (OX1 2BX). There’s also off-road parking.
By public transport:
Hythe Bridge is 1 mile from Oxford station and a one-minute walk from Gloucester Green bus station
The Trout Inn
195 Godstow Road, Wolvercote, Oxford OX2 8PN
☎ 01865 510930
Cotswold Wildlife Park
Burford OX13 5JJ
☎ 01993 823006
Open every day except Christmas Day; Oct-Feb 10am-3.30pm; Mar-Sept 10am-4.30pm.
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 180.
Grid ref: SP 508 063
15-16 Broad Street,
Oxford OX1 3AS
☎ 01865 252200