The Rivers Isis and Cherwell, Wolvercote Common, the Oxford Canal, a tour of the old town and historic Colleges, Oxford Castle and Mound
||16.3 km (10.1 mi), 4 hours walking time. For the whole outing, including trains, sights and meals, allow as much of the day and evening as possible – a minimum of 8 hours.
||1 out of 10.
||Explorer 180 or Landranger 164. Oxford is in Oxfordshire, 90 km (56 mi) west of London.
This is an undemanding but enjoyable short Country Walk, ending in an exploration of this historic university city, with its University’s Colleges and the Norman Castle compound.
The walk’s route is easy and entirely level but can be muddy along the path beside the River Cherwell after Wolfson College while after periods of heavy rain, paths beside both the Rivers Isis and Cherwell can be flooded. The walk starts along the Isis to Binsey, a favourite walk for the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (the ‘wind-wandering, weed-winding bank’), who lamented the felling of aspens along the towpath here in his 1879 poem Binsey Poplars (‘the sweet especial rural scene’). You can take a dip here if you want. With Port Meadow on the other side of the river, you walk to the ruins of Godstow Abbey, before coming to the Trout Inn at Wolvercote (a lunch option) then take in a bit of Wolvercote Common before coming to the Plough Inn (a second option for lunch).
After lunch the walk heads south along the Oxford Canal, past some houseboats, then across town and via a footbridge by Wolfson College to go along the River Cherwell through its Nature Reserve, where buttercups are abundant in May. Going through the University Parks, you come to the Pitt Rivers Museum. From here you start your walking tour of Oxford’s historic colleges and famous buildings, winding in and out of lanes and small streets as the walk fits in many of the colleges as well as the Norman Castle Compound with the Castle Mound and the former Victorian Prison (now a hotel), before you stop for tea and finally head for the railway station.
Three separate Short Extensions to the route are possible:
--- an out-and-back in the morning to Binsey Village with its lovely church and well adds 2.0 km (1.3 mi);
--- a loop around lunch through the Wolvercote Lakes, a Nature Reserve owned by the Oxford Preservation Trust, adds 0.5 km (0.3 mi);
--- a loop after lunch through the Trap Grounds, a local Wildlife Site, adds 0.6 km (0.4 mi).
To shorten the walk, you can stay on the Oxford Canal past the footbridge leading to Wolfson College until you reach Bridge 243, beside Isis Lock 2, then take the path back to Oxford Railway station. Alternatively, there are buses from near the Plough Inn back to Oxford, by point  in the walk directions. Or you could miss out the leg along the River Cherwell and instead walk (or take a bus) along Banbury Road back into Oxford. To omit or curtail the tour of the colleges head straight for the railway station once back in the city centre.
The Saxons fording the River Thames with their oxen gave this place the name “Oxen-ford”. Robert d’Oilly took over Oxford in 1066, creating a Norman stronghold. Possibly the first college to be founded was Merton in 1264, although there had been a university for at least a century before this. A tavern argument between townspeople and scholars in 1354 resulted in a massacre, during which 14 inns or halls were ransacked and a number of chaplains scalped. Christ Church College in Oxford was Charles I’s headquarters during the Civil War, with New College cloisters used as a gunpowder store. In the sixteenth century, Cranmer, Ridley and Latimer were burnt at the stake in Broad Street. Gates at Balliol College still show scorch marks from the flames and there is a memorial to these Protestant martyrs in St Giles. The men’s colleges started admitting women in 1974.
There are too many places to visit in one day but you might like to stop at the Pitt Rivers Museum (01865 270 927, free entrance to 16.30 Tue-Sun), which contains shrunken heads and artefacts from around the world, or at the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archeology (01865 278 000, free entrance to 17.00 Tue-Sun). Many of the University Colleges are open to visitors and most charge an entry fee. If you attend evensong at Christ Church College (usually 18.00) there is no entry fee. There's also Modern Art Oxford, a renowned art gallery (01865 722 733, free entrance to 18.00 Tue-Sat and to 17.00 Sun).
||Take the train nearest to 10.00 either from Paddington Station to Oxford, journey time from 56 minutes, or from Marylebone, journey time from 63 minutes. There are up to seven (fast) trains an hour back to London Monday to Saturday, some requiring a change at Reading, less on Sunday.
There are four good pubs on this walk, before you get to Oxford, the two best positioned ones for lunch are some twenty-five minutes apart.
The first of those is The Trout Inn (01865 510 930) in Wolvercote after 4.4 km (2.8 mi). This pub enjoys a lovely setting beside the River Thames and is very popular, particularly with tourists. The pub has extensive indoor and outdoor seating areas and is open all day, every day of the week for food. On weekends it is recommended to book ahead to reserve a table.
On the other side of Wolvercote Common is The Plough Pub & Restaurant (01865 556 969) in Wolvercote Green after 6.2 km (3.9 mi). This pub is more homely than the Trout Inn and less touristy, and is furnished with comfortable sofas and armchairs in the dining areas, one restaurant area being a former morgue. The pub also has a library room, plus an outdoor dining area. Food is served Monday to Saturday 12.00-14.00 and on Sundays 12.00-14.30.
There are also The Perch (01865 728 891) after 2.5 km (1.6 mi) and The Anchor (01865 510 282) after 8.3 km (5.2 mi).
||You are spoilt for choice for cafes, restaurants and pubs in the city centre. For details consult the Walk Directions below.
||No major changes. This edition December 2017