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6 of the best walks in Oxfordshire

Full of magic, mystery, and natural beauty, England's genteel county Oxfordshire offers some of the most intriguing and picturesque walks in the country. Here are just a few of the best...

River Glyme in Oxfordshire UK (Shutterstock)

Oxfordshire – England's genteel county – home to the Dreaming Spires of Oxford, the Henley Royal Regatta, magnificent Blenheim Palace and the mysterious chalk steed at White Horse Hill.

Whether following the banks of the Thames, wandering through the historic university city or climbing the chalk downs, there’s something for everyone.

Here are some of Oxfordshire's best walks and rambles...

1. The Dreaming Spires of Oxford

Saxon Tower of St Michael and the North Gate, the oldest building in Oxford (Shutterstock)

Saxon Tower of St Michael and the North Gate, the oldest building in Oxford (Shutterstock)

"That sweet city with her dreaming spires," mused poet Matthew Arnold in the 1800s. Looking at the famous images of the city swathed in soft mists across Christ Church Meadows, Oxford does indeed look dreamy, still to this day.

Enjoy its classical architecture with a three-mile walk through the historic university quarter, and along the River Cherwell.

Start from the 75ft-high Carfax Tower on Queen Street, offering excellent city views. Then, head north up the busy Cornmarket Street to the Saxon Tower of St Michael and the North Gate, the oldest building in Oxford. Continue up Saint Mary Magdalen and Martyr's Memorial on Magdalen Street.

Turn left into Beaumont Street to see the world’s first university museum, the Ashmolean. Explore the world-famous university area around Broad Street, Brasenose Lane and Catte Street: the historic colleges, Bodleian Library, the Neoclassical Radcliffe Camera building and the Bridge of Sighs.

Head down Magpie Lane and Merton Street to the Botanic Garden and Arboretum. Follow the path between the River Cherwell and Christ Church Meadow to Folly Bridge. Return to your starting point along the main road, taking time to visit the Covered Market. 

2. Along the towpath from Henley-on-Thames to Shiplake

Henley-on-Thames towpath (Shutterstock)

Henley-on-Thames towpath (Shutterstock)

Home to the famous Royal Regatta, this four-mile walk follows the banks of the River Thames through the elegant town of Henley and out into the countryside.

Starting from Henley Bridge at White Hill, take time to view the broad sweep of the river, lined with river vessels, boat houses, rowing clubs and handsome villas. Soon, the route along the west bank leaves the busy promenade behind, lined with river cruise boats and regal terraced houses, and continues between river and parkland.

Take time to visit the River and Rowing Museum, have a coffee and find out about Henley’s illustrious regatta history before continuing along Mill and Marsh Meadows. After a short while, you’ll come to two long walkways that take you above the river beside Marsh Lock and Weir - within touching distance of Berkshire.

Back on solid ground, the route becomes even more rural. Field track crosses meadows, with views to hillside woodlands on the Berkshire side of the Thames, along with The Druid's Temple and Passage Grave.

Leaving the river behind, follow Bolney Lane into Shiplake, then Station Road to take the train back to Henley-on-Thames.

3. Around Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace grounds (Shutterstock)

Blenheim Palace grounds (Shutterstock)

A Neoclassical country house, formal and secret gardens, an arboretum, lakes, ornate bridges and temple - Blenheim has it all. Follow this easy four-and-a-half mile walk through the Blenheim Estate, with just a few steep slopes to exercise the lungs.

Leaving the main car park behind, turn left, then right to skirt the perimeter of the Family Pleasure Gardens and cross Bladon Bridge that spans the River Glyme. Follow the river through parkland, detouring to the Grand Cascade and Pump House, before looping round the Great Lake through woodland to take the Vanbrugh’s Grand Bridge that crosses between the Great Lake and Queen Pool.

Blenheim Palace, built to impress, sits on the skyline in all its ducal magnificence. Take time to visit the stately home, the Great Court and formal gardens, before returning down the main avenue to complete your circular walk. Everything, as the names suggest, is built to impress.

4. White Horse Hill to Ashdown House

White Horse Hill, Oxfordshire (Shutterstock)

White Horse Hill, Oxfordshire (Shutterstock)

From the air, the mysterious White Horse, carved out of the chalk downs, is a figure of elegant beauty - white tail flying, slimline body and neck fully extended and legs in full canter. It’s the highlight of this fairly strenuous eight-mile walk.

With three ancient landmarks and a 17th century Dutch-styled house along the way, this is a walk filled with intrigue. To see the magnificent equine outline, leave White Horse Hill Car Park and follow the signpost for the White Horse up on the chalk downs, thought to be 3,000 years old.

Occupying the summit of the hill is Uffington Castle, one of the finest examples of an Iron Age hillfort. Turn right onto the Ridgeway and continue to Wayland’s Smithy, a Neolithic burial long barrow, steeped in legend and history.

Continuing along the ridgeway in the same direction, go left at a crossroads, then right at the treeline. Cross the road into Ashdown Estate and on towards Ashdown House. Take time to explore the National Trust house and parkland before heading down the main avenue, following signs for the car park.

Go through kissing gates and follow the path up the hill and out by a second set of kissing gates. Continue to Compton Bottom. Turn left and follow the path back to the ridgeway, retracing your steps to the car park. 

5. Locks, weirs and islands along the Thames Path from Abingdon

Abingdon, view from the water (Shutterstock)

Abingdon, view from the water (Shutterstock)

One of England’s oldest market towns, Abingdon is best viewed from the River Thames. Stroll past red-roofed houses and riverside boats between waterside and meadow. Cross from bank to bank, over bridges, weirs, locks and islands.

You'll also finish the easy three-mile walk at Sutton Courtenay’s Anglican church and pay homage to Prime Minister Asquith and 1984 novelist, George Orwell.

Start at Abbey Meadows with its ecclesiastical medieval ruins, sandwiched between Abbey Stream and the Thames. Cross the river at Abingdon Weir and Lock and follow the Thames Path west and south, with fine views of St Helen’s Church and the town on the other side of the bank. Continue through Hales Meadow, passing the ancient Abingdon Bridge and Abingdon Marina.

Follow the river bank as it sweeps east to continue along Culham Cut. Cross a wooden bridge to take the path between the cut and the Thames, then a second footbridge over the weir.

A third bridge leads to Church Street in Sutton Courtenay. The imposing Grade One listed Wharf once belonged to British Prime Minister, H.H. Asquith, buried in nearby All Saints’ Church, and in good company with George Orwell. There are a number of food options to consider in the village before taking the bus back to Abingdon.

6. Around Chipping Norton in the Cotswolds

Countryside in the Cotswolds, Oxfordshire (Shutterstock)

Countryside in the Cotswolds, Oxfordshire (Shutterstock)

This gentle two-and-a-half mile walk takes the rambler through the elegant market town of Chipping Norton and out into the undulating countryside that surrounds it. Let the blue ‘Step into the Cotswolds’ waymarkers guide you as you circumnavigate this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Follow Chipping Norton’s Church Street to St Mary’s churchyard. Turn right and skirt the churchyard perimeter until you meet a white barrier. Go through it and continue straight on, where a woodland path follows the river valley.

Cross the River Cleeves and follow the path to Over Norton Road. After a short distance turn into Cleeves Corner. Follow the signed ‘restricted pathway’ for Salford along a tarmac lane and continue straight on where the lane bends round, onto a narrower track.

Turn left between two field boundaries and up a slope, through kissing gates, before heading down the other side. Cross the stream and head round the site of an old castle, back to St Mary’s Church. From there, retrace your steps into town.

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