Port Meadow, the river, canal & colleges
|Length||15.2km (9.4 miles), 4 hours 15 minutes. For the whole outing, including trains, sights and meals, allow as much of the day and evening as possible – a minimum of 9 hours.|
|Toughness||1 out of 10.|
|OS Maps||Explorer 180 or Landranger 164. Oxford is 90km (56 miles) west of London.|
This is not so much a Country Walk, but more of a day out exploring this historic university city, with an undemanding but enjoyable walk thrown in as an hors d’oeuvre before you start a tour of Oxford University’s Colleges.
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 River 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. Passing the ruins of Godstow Nunnery, you come to the Trout Inn at Wolvercote (a lunch option) then take in a bit of Port Meadow before coming to the Plough Inn (a second option for lunch).
After lunch the walk heads south along the Oxford Canal, past a community of 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 small streets as the walk fits in many of the colleges before you stop for tea and finally head for the railway station.
|Walk Options||There are buses from near the Plough Inn back to Oxford, by point  in the walk directions. Or you could miss out the leg beside the River Cherwell and instead walk along Banbury Road back into Oxford, or take one of the many buses which go along this road. And if you wish to omit or curtail the tour of the colleges you can head straight for the railway station at any time 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 (tel. 01865 270927) which offers free entrance to 4.30 pm and contains shrunken heads and artefacts from around the world. Many of the University Colleges are open to visitors and most charge an entry fee. If you attend evensong at Christ Church College (usually 6.00 pm) there is no entry fee.
|Travel||Take the train nearest to 10am from Paddington Station to Oxford. Journey time about 1 hour. There are usually two direct trains an hour back to London and two Cross-Country services where you can change at Reading.|
You have a choice of two pubs for your lunchtime stop on this walk, some twenty minutes apart.
The first you come to is the Trout Inn (tel 01865- 510 930) in Wolvercote. 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 (Sunday lunch between 12 noon and 4.00 pm). It is essential for Sunday walkers to book ahead to reserve a table to avoid disappointment. The weekday menu is varied with main courses, starters to share and specials.
On the other side of Port Meadow is the Plough Inn (tel 01865-556 969) in Wolvercote Green. 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 from noon until 2.00 pm and on Sundays between noon and 2.30pm. The menu consists of pub favourites, snacks and main courses plus specials, with traditional roasts also on a Sunday.
|Tea||You are spoilt for choice for cafes, restaurants and pubs in the city centre. The tea place mentioned in earlier editions of the TO Book, the Nosebag at 6-8 St Michael’s Street, still exists.|
|Updates||No major changes|
Use the online version of the walk, if you have an old (pre 2011) edition of the book.
Help us! After the walk, we would love to get your feedback
Out: (not a train station)
Back: (not a train station)
National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Travelline SE (bus times): 0871 200 2233 (12p/min) • TFL (London) : 0343 222 1234
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The directions for this walk are also in a PDF (link above) which you can download on to a Kindle, tablet, or smartphone.
The [numbers] refer to a sketch map which is only in the book.
-  Coming off the London train at Oxford Station on platform 2, cross over the pedestrian bridge to platform 1 and exit the station through its ticket barriers and main ticket office. Outside, turn right and in 40 metres cross over a pedestrian bridge signposted to Botley Road. You turn left on the bridge and left again to go down steps to Botley Road, where you turn left, your direction due west.
- Head up Botley Road, passing Micks Café on your right at a road junction. In a further 30 metres you pass on your right The White House Sports Bar and pub (formerly the Old Gate House pub). Cross the road here by the pedestrian lights and turn left, continuing along Botley Road, soon passing the junction with Abbey Road.
- In 20 metres, just before the road bridge, turn right at the sign for the Thames Path, your direction 310°, to go through bollards and down to the towpath beside the River Isis (Thames).
- You now walk along this towpath, with allotments over to your left on the other side of the river and the back gardens to houses on your right. In 330 metres go over a footbridge with metal railings and at the end of the bridge, swing left then right with the path to keep ahead, ignoring the paths beside the Oxford Canal going off to the right.
- Continuing along the path you soon have water on both sides: [!] after heavy rain at certain times of the year this next leg of the walk can be flooded and impassable. In 550 metres cross a platform bridge with handrails. In a further 300 metres, ignore a bridge on your right-hand side with a path heading towards Port Meadow and instead go straight on over the larger concrete footbridge with wooden railings ahead of you.
- In 120 metres as the path comes to an end, turn left to cross over a mini Brunel-style iron bridge over the river. On the far side, turn right to follow the Thames Path sign to continue, now with the river on your right-hand side, your direction 345°. In 20 metres you pass Bossom’s Boatyard on your left-hand side and in 180 metres, you ignore a fork left towards Binsey. In a further 15 metres go through a metal swing gate to the right of a metal fieldgate and keep ahead, now with fields to your left and the river on your right.
- Keep ahead beside the river and in 280 metres there is a path on your left signposted to the Perch Inn .
- Here, if you would like to make a brief tour of the village of Binsey, take this path, which leads out in 50 metres to the pub’s garden. The Old School House in Binsey has a number of doll’s houses in its windows, including one with a thatched roof. If you continue on the tarmac road beyond the Old School House, in 750 metres you come to Binsey Church and St Margaret’s Well in the churchyard. Return from Binsey to the riverside.
- Back at the path leading to the Perch Inn, in 10 metres you go through a metal gate to continue your walk beside the river. In 1.6 km cross a bridge with wooden handrails and wooden swing gates at either end, and head onwards towards a lock. In a further 100 metres go through a wooden swing gate beside Godstow Lock. On your left-hand side is Lock Cottage where you can buy ice creams and cold drinks.
- In 80 metres, at the end of the lock, go through a wooden swing gate to the right of a wooden fieldgate and take the gravel track half left. In 100 metres you come to the remains of Godstow Nunnery (the entrance is round the far side).
- Keep ahead beside the stone wall of the Nunnery and in 70 metres, as the wall turns left and the track swings left, keep ahead to cross the grass, your direction 340°. In 80 metres go through a wooden swing gate to come out on to a road. Turn right, to cross a road bridge over the river and in 25 metres, cross another. The Trout Inn, Wolvercote, your first lunch pub option, is on the right-hand side, next to the river.
- Keep ahead along this road and in 200 metres cross another bridge. Note the memorial at the end of the left-hand parapet wall to two Royal Flying Corps flying officers killed in a plane crash some 100 yds from this spot in September 1912.
- Some 50 metres past the bridge, with a car park on your right-hand side, and as the road bends to the left by a thatched cottage, go right through a wooden swing gate, with the Port Meadow toilets on your right, into Port Meadow . Here you turn half left, your direction 105°, across the meadow on a faint path, heading towards a low stone bridge over concrete water pipes in the middle of the field.
- Cross over this bridge and follow the path slightly left, your initial direction 30°, towards the car bridge visible ahead in the distance. In 100 metres the path swings right, past two small trees and a post on your right, your direction now 60°. You have allotments some 25 metres away on your right and houses 90 metres to your left.
- In 220 metres, at the end of the houses over to your left and at a path crossing, turn left, your direction due north. Avoiding as best you can muddy sections and flooded patches, you head towards the Jubilee Gate, which you go through to leave Port Meadow. Turn right along the road and go over the footbridge which runs parallel to a long road bridge over the railway and then the Oxford Canal.
- Some 80 metres from the end of the footbridge, by the bus stop (where those who want a bus into Oxford can drop out of the walk), turn right on Wolvercote Green Road . Keep straight down this road and, in 230 metres, you come to the Plough Inn, your second lunch pub option.
- Coming out of the pub door, go straight ahead for 50 metres to cross the bridge over the Oxford Canal. On top of the bridge, turn left down to the canal and then turn right along the towpath, your direction 130°, with the canal on your left-hand side and the railway over to your right (the railway crossing shown here on old OS maps is long gone).
- Walk along the towpath beside the canal and in 500 metres you pass under a railway bridge (no. 236A). In a further 150 metres you come to a community of houseboats. There are now playing fields (rugby pitches) on the left-hand side of the canal.
- You now pass along the way one swing bridge, then two brick road bridges over the canal (nos. 238B and 239A). Continue along the towpath and just before the next bridge, no. 240, go through a wooden fieldgate and head up to a road where you turn left over the bridge. On its far side, after 35 metres you come to a road T-junction with the Anchor pub directly ahead .
- If you want to shorten the walk you can turn right here and keep on going to Walton Street, which leads into Worcester Street and comes out just before the main walk turns right into Hythe Bridge Street, close to the railway station.
- The main route is to turn right in front of the pub and in 15 metres to turn left up Polstead Road, your direction 75°, now with the pub on your left-hand side. In 200 metres cross Woodstock Road, slightly to the left, to continue straight on along Rawlinson Road.
- In 240 metres you come to Banbury Road (where. you can take a bus into the centre of Oxford). But continuing on the walk, cross Banbury Road, turn left up it, then in 30 metres, turn right into Linton Road. In 150 metres you pass St Andrews Church on your right-hand side.
- Continue down Linton Road, ignoring all turnings off and in 210 metres at the end of the road you come to Wolfson College . Turn right in front of the college and follow the tarmac road through its car park and go through iron gates into the garden. Here you follow the tarmac road round to the left, with the college buildings on your left-hand side, and continue straight on, now on a gravel path, to the end of the buildings. The path swings left and you turn right to go over an arched metal footbridge over the River Cherwell.
- On the far side of the footbridge go through a metal swing gate and in 10 metres, at a path T-junction, ignore the stile ahead, and turn right, your direction 195°, on the riverside walk through Wolfson College Nature Reserve, with the river on your right-hand side.
- In 120 metres you pass the War Memorial Cross on the opposite bank. Your way ahead is now potentially muddy and is liable to flooding. Go over a stile and in 90 metres go over a stream on a small wooden bridge. In a further 50 metres go over a stile and two planks with a wooden railing over a ditch and turn left, following the footpath arrow, away from the river, your direction 60°.
- In 45 metres go through another potentially muddy area and go over a plank bridge, to continue ahead on a clear path, your direction now 145°, rejoining the river on your right-hand side. In 90 metres you come to another area liable to flooding, with the Dragon School on the opposite side of the river. In a further 120 metres, you pass tennis courts on the opposite bank, with Lady Margaret Hall beyond them.
- You go over a concrete humpback bridge with metal railings and in 240 metres, you cross another such bridge and come immediately to a more substantial, and much larger, concrete pedestrian bridge with metal railings, on your right. Cross over this bridge over the river to enter the University Parks.
- On the far side of this bridge keep ahead, your direction 240°, on an earth path. In 100 metres you cross a path and go straight on, now on a surfaced path. In a further 100 metres, at another path crossing, continue ahead, now back on an earth path. Continue through the University Parks and in 300 metres you leave through Keble Gate, to turn left on Parks Road, your direction 145°.
- You are now about to embark on a Walking Tour of Oxford University’s principal colleges.
- You pass Keble College on your right-hand side, with its lively yellow-patterned brickwork. Just before the end of the college, you pass Pitt Rivers Museum on your left-hand side (its entrance is through the University Museum).
- At the far end of Keble College, cross Parks Road by the pedestrian lights and go down Museum Road. In 75 metres, where Blackhall Road goes off to the right, keep straight on passing to the side of a wooden barrier, between houses, along a passageway that in 75 metres goes through another barrier and winds to the right to become the Lamb and Flag Passage. In a further 60 metres pass under an archway and come out on the main road of St Giles.
- Turn left, with St Johns College on your left-hand side and the Ashmolean Museum on the other side of the road. 150 metres past the main entrance of St Johns, you pass the Martyr’s Memorial on your right-hand side. You are now on Magdalen Street East.
- In 100 metres turn left into Broad Street . Keep ahead and you pass Balliol College on your left-hand side and the Oxford Story exhibition on your right, and later two sections of Blackwells Bookshop on your left-hand side (with the White Horse pub in between). You pass the Sheldonian Theatre on your right and in 65 metres turn right into Cattle Street.
- In 30 metres turn left on New College Lane and go under the Bridge of Sighs. You now zigzag round with the lane, with New College on your left-hand side. This lane becomes Queens Lane, with Queens College on your right-hand side, to come out eventually on to the High Street. Here cross over the road and turn left along it.
- You pass Merton Street going to the right. In 85 metres, with Magdalen College on your left-hand side, turn right on Rose Lane. In 120 metres go through Christ Church Gates, with Meadow Cottages on your right-hand side.
- 20 metres beyond the gates, go right on Dead Man’s Walk, along the side wall of Meadow Cottages, your direction 305°, with Christ Church private playing fields over to your left and walls on your right-hand side. In 20 metres you pass a notice honouring James Sadler’s balloon ascent in 1784.
- In 120 metres you come to Merton College on your right-hand side. At the far end of this college, do not exit the gates on your right but turn left, with the wall and Christ Church College on your right-hand side and the playing fields still on your left-hand side, your direction due south.
- In 100 metres you come to a broad sandy avenue where you turn right, your direction 265°. In 120 metres you pass the visitors’ entrance to Christ Church College on your right and in a further 90 metres [!] ignore the fork to the right and instead keep straight on to go through the War Memorial Garden, in 80 metres coming out on to the main road, called Aldgates.
- Here you turn right, your direction due north. In 110 metres you pass the main entrance to Christ Church College. In a further 100 metres you turn right, by the Museum of Oxford, into Blue Boar Street. In 100 metres you pass the Bear pub on your left-hand side to continue straight on along Bear Lane. At the end of this road go through bollards to come out onto a bend in King Edward Street. Go across it (Oriel Square) for 30 metres and then pick up the passageway, Oriel Street, on your left, your direction 5°, with Oriel College on your right-hand side.
- In 80 metres cross over the High Street (going through bollards on either side). The University Church of St Mary the Virgin is on your right-hand side as you continue along a passageway into Radcliffe Square, passing Radcliffe Camera on your right-hand side and the entrance to Brasenose College on your left. 25 metres beyond this entrance, you turn left, signposted to the Covered Market on Brasenose Lane, your direction 255°.
- In 120 metres pass a wooden barrier and turn right, on Turl Street. In 20 metres you pass the entrance to Jesus College on your left-hand side and in a further 10 metres the entrance to Exeter College on your right-hand side.
- In 30 metres turn left into Ship Street, at the end of which you pass the City Church of St Michael on your right-hand side. Cross over the Cornmarket and go straight on along St Michael’s Street. 20 metres along this street on your right-hand side is the suggested tea place, the Nosebag, is on the first floor of nos. 6 to 8. (Note: the railway station is about 10 minutes walk from here.)
- Coming out of the Nosebag, turn right along St Michael’s Street. In 120 metres turn right into New Inn Hall Street and in a further 50 metres turn left into George Street.
- In 160 metres, at the crossroads, go straight across at pedestrian lights into Hythe Bridge Street. In 80 metres go over a bridge over the river and pass The Oxford Retreat pub (formerly called the Antiquity Hall) on your left-hand side.
- In 130 metres, at a main road junction, with Frideswide Square on your left and the new Said Business School, University of Oxford, ahead and over to your right, go straight on, now along Park End Street, and in 70 metres you come to Oxford Station over to your right. The Reading and London platform (platform 1) is on the near side of the station.