In January 2021 the country went into lockdown once more, and the intricacies of home schooling on top of everything else meant that Robin and I were unable to find a slot to go walking for some months. It wasn’t until near the end of April that we picked up where we had left off.
Or at least, near where we had left off. On our last stretch, we left the Thames Path at a junction of pathways at the end of a dirt lane. Rather than ask Dan to try and drive down there, we instead got ourselves dropped at the junction between the Northmoor and Bablock roads.
The lack of proximity to the river coupled with how long it had been since the last walk gave us the perfect opportunity to start the day with an argument. Since we were walking from the outskirts of the village where we live to the outskirts of Oxford (which is now to all intents and purposes my home city) I hadn’t bothered packing a map, so we spent some minutes debating which way we ought to be walking.
Eventually we worked it out and set off across the fields. It took a mile or so before we actually reached the river but the fields were also very pleasant in the sunshine, not least because (it being Spring) they were full of lambs.
Soon after rejoining the river we reached Pinkhill Lock, an isolated and tranquil spot with a lovely campsite among the trees on the island in between the lock and the weir (currently closed but looks like a delightful spot in opener times). At the lock the path crosses the river, and remains on the right-hand bank until Oxford.
Not much further on from this, the path veered away from the river and after enjoying the dreamy pleasure of exploring unfamiliar paths ever since Bablock, I was abruptly returned to real life as I realised we were walking along the side of the Farmoor Road, our most direct route into West Oxford and a road I drive fairly frequently.
We were on the pavement for only a matter of yards (fortunately, as many drivers on this stretch ignore the 40 limit) before turning down the side of the Anglo Welsh boatyard and heading back onto the riverbank once more. A short walk from here brought us to the controversial Swinford Toll Bridge, one of only two toll bridges over the River Thames. This bridge is governed by an Act of Parliament, privately owned and permitted to charge all motor traffic a toll of 5p. Collections of tolls have been in abeyance since the start of the pandemic (a mixed blessing since the road over the bridge is desperately in need of maintenance), but prior to March last year waiting to pay your fivepence could take anything up to three quarters of an hour at busy times. The queues got so bad that at one point Siemens offered to build a number-plate recognition system for the bridge to stop employees from their nearby Eynsham site from getting stuck on their commutes.
The three miles or so from Swinford Bridge to Kings Lock were probably my favourite so far. The path starts out running along the edge of a copse, which when we visited was bursting with colour from a variety of spring flowers, before hitting open fields for a short while, then finally reaching the lock itself. At Kings Lock, the Wolvercote Mill Stream and Duke’s Cut provide access to the Oxford Canal. There’s another possible route to the canal via Isis Lock in the city centre but I’m told the Duke’s Cut is preferable.
Kings Lock is immaculately pretty and clearly popular for picnics, but by this point in our walk we could already hear the evidence that we were about to approach one of the less attractive milestones of our day – the twin spans of the A34, major trunk road and (for this part of its length) extremely congested Oxford ring road.
On the other side of it though, we found this bonkers vanity bollard thing which I really enjoyed.
Very soon we arrived at Godstow Bridge, self-consciously picturesque home of the grand old Oxford institution that is the Trout Inn. We didn’t drop in for a drink in the garden because on a sunny April Saturday soon after the end of Lockdown… uh… 4(?) it was completely rammed. We carried on past the ruins of Godstow Abbey and onto the last stretch before Oxford itself, along the bank opposite the broad historic expanse of Port Meadow.
This stretch was busier than any we had encountered thus far, with groups of people out enjoying the fine weather with dogs and children and loud opinions about databases (we were getting very close to the University town itself by this point).
It had been a warm day and as we approached the Perch at Binsey, the lure of a cold drink proved too strong so we stopped off for a quick one in their garden. Once I’d sat down I didn’t feel enthusiastic about starting up again, so we opted to request a pickup (thanks, JTA).
By the way, it’s going to be a while before the next leg because Robin has set himself another challenge and it’s a biggie. Details here: https://theimprobable.blog/thru-k/
|Locations||Bablock Hythe -> Binsey|
|Cumulative Distance||52 miles|