Blenheim Palace, its beautiful landscaped parkland, a Roman road, and flint stone villages.
||22.1km (13.7 miles), 6 hours. For the whole outing, including trains, sights and meals, allow at least 11 hours.
||5 out of 10.
||Explorer 180 or Landranger 164. Hanborough, map reference SP 433 142, is in Oxfordshire, 7km north-west of Oxford.
This is a lovely walk, just an hour and a quarter's journey by train from London into Oxfordshire's countryside and the extensive grounds of Blenheim palace. The River Evenlode and its soft, easy hills and fertile countryside inspired Tolkien’s Hobbit Shire.
The start of the walk is good for blackberries in September. Before lunch, there are the 2,100 acres of the Great Park leading to Blenheim Palace, its lake and the Column of Victory that the first Duke of Marlborough had placed on the horizon so that he could see it from his bedroom.
Once over the wall out of the Park, the route is along Akeman Street, the Old Roman road from Alchester to Cirencester, with big stone slabs from the old road still visible in places. This is now part of the Oxfordshire Way and the leg of over a mile to Stonesfield is through open farmland and progress can be hard work if into the wind.
At lunchtime you could picnic in the meadow by the Stonesfield Ford and the old slate quarries, or have a pub lunch in the village.
You pass through the delightful stone villages of Stonesfield, Finstock and finally Charlbury, entering it from a footpath beside Lord Rotherwick’s deer park, Cornbury Park. Charlbury has many nice pubs.
At point  in the Directions, you can turn right to go directly into Stonesfield for lunch, without going down to the riverbank. This reduces the length of the walk by a mile.
After lunch, there is a very pretty shortcut straight along the Oxfordshire Way into Charlbury (see the double asterisk [**] in the Directions). This reduces the length of the walk by another 2 miles.
Alternatively, you could take an infrequent bus from Stonesfield to Charlbury or Oxford, or phone for a taxi.
This walk also works well when done "backwards" - that is, in reverse, from Charlbury to Hanborough, with an early lunch stop at the Plough Inn, in Finstock, or a later lunch at the White Horse in Stonesfield. Walk Directions for the walk in reverse are at the end of the Main Directions.
The Royal Estate of Woodstock was granted to the first Duke of Marlborough in 1704. The old medieval palace had been the birthplace of the Black Prince in 1330 and Elizabeth 1 was imprisoned there during Queen Mary’s reign. It was extensively damaged by the Parliamentary army in the Civil War. Blenheim Palace was built for the first Duke in recognition of his victory over the French at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704 and the Column of Victory has some 6,000 words engraved on it in honour of the Duke. Designed by Vanbrugh, the Palace is a fine example of English Baroque, set in parkland landscaped by Lancelot "Capability" Brown. The Park is the home of the greatest collection of ancient oak trees in Europe, with a number of 900 year old oaks in the High Park section of the Park. The Palace was the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill in 1874, and there is a permanent exhibition of Churchilliana in the Palace.
The Palace is open to the public from 10.30 am to 4.30 pm from mid-February to mid-December, daily from mid-February to 01 November, and Wednesday to Sunday inclusive from November to mid-December. The Park is open from 9 am to 6 pm or dusk if earlier, and the Formal Gardens from 10 am to 5.30 pm. Entry costs (2020) to Palace, Park and Gardens: £ 28.50: to Park and Formal Garden: £ 18.50. Family tickets, annual passes and concessions also available.
The walk through the Park is on public footpaths or permissive paths and there are no admission charges if you keep to the walk's directions. For further information, and for information on what’s on, phone 08700-602080.
The village of Stonesfield is the home of Stonesfield slates, the stone roof tiles that are characteristic of villages and towns in Oxfordshire and many of the Oxford Colleges. The slates are no longer mined, so only second-hand tiles can be obtained at great expense.
Cornbury Park is a private estate whose deer park was carved out of the Wychwood Forest (as was Blenheim). Wychwood Forest was once a vast royal hunting ground that extended over much of western Oxfordshire; in pre-Norman times it extended all the way to London. Now the sole surviving remnant of the forest lies within Cornbury Park estate. The imposing seventeenth-century mansion was built for Edward Hyde who was Viscount Cornbury and the first Earl of Clarendon. As one of Charles II’s chief advisors and Lord Chancellor he became the virtual head of the Government in 1660.
||Take the train nearest to 9am from Paddington Station to Hanborough. Journey time about 1 hour 15 minutes. Trains back from Charlbury are hourly. Journey time about 1 hour 20 minutes. Buy a day return to Charlbury.
If not picnicking beside the River Evenlode, The White Horse (whitehorsestonesfield.co.uk, tel 01993-891063), 8 miles into the walk (7 miles if taking the short-cut up the road into the village) is now the only remaining pub in Stonesfield. It is open at lunchtime, bar and food, all year round on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 12 noon to 3 pm. Not open at lunchtime on Monday and Tuesday. Mid-Week Walkers - do 'phone to check if open for lunch on Wednesdays (it is sometimes). Given this pubs history of closing down on a fairly regular basis, it is best to 'phone ahead to check it is open for business and serving lunch.
An alternative, late lunch stop - if you can make it in time - or if you are doing this walk "backwards" - is the Plough Inn in Finsock tel 01993-868333, some 10 miles into the walk, via a short detour from the main walk route. If doing the walk in reverse, the pub is some 3 miles from Charlbury. This 18th century thatched village pub serves home cooked meals from 12 noon to 2.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday (closed lunchtime Mondays) and from 12 noon to 4pm on Sundays.
At walk end the Bell Hotel (tel 01608-810278) on Church Street, Charlbury, makes for a comfortable and pleasant tea stop.
There are also three pubs in Charlbury awaiting your custom: The Bull Inn (tel 01608 81068900), good for food; Ye Olde Three Horseshoes (formerly known as The Farmers), both on Sheep Street, and the Rose & Crown (tel 01608 810103), with its good choice of beers, on Market Street.
If doing the walk in reverse, you have two pubs in Hanborough which you should find open for refreshments.
This edition October 2019. No major route changes. Detour to the Plough Inn, Finstock, and some minor updates added March 2017. Directions for the walk in reverse walk added October 2019.
The Black Head Inn in Stonesfield, and the Crown pub in Finstock, which used to be a late lunch option, are now closed, and are now private houses.