Walk 44: Oxford Circular: A Perch & The Trout – sounds like a case for Inspector Morse…

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 7.5 miles (12.07km)

Time to walk: This one can’t be rushed as there’s Oxford to explore plus fantastic pubs on the way, so this is a full day!

Difficulty: Pretty much all on hard paths. The final part along the Thames is on meadowland, but it’s very free draining

Parking: Park in The Trout car park. It says patrons only, but you will want to visit & become one at the end

Public toilets: Pubs along the way & plenty in Oxford

Map of the route: © Walking World

map

We know this area well & this walk’s one of our favourites so, although it’s outside our county, we have to include it on our blog. If you love Oxford, the Thames Path, Inspector Morse, or just beautiful places then this is a walk you simply have to do

So…why not look at the weather &, if it looks fine, take a full day out as there’s also the opportunity to explore stunning Oxford & its surrounds

This is truly a walk you & we will do again & again. So shall we go?

Let’s Walk…

1. We start in lovely Wolvercote, which is about 3 miles north of Oxford, so just park up in The Trout pub car park

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Leave it alone…leave it alone as this is a great place for a beer & something to eat at the end of our walk…we promise it’ll be worth waiting for!

2. Instead turn left out of the car park along the lane…

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On the left’s Wolvercote Community Orchard – how fab!

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3. Follow the road across the bridge, but be careful of traffic as there’s no pavement here…

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4. We’re entering the old part of the village now…

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That sounds fun & we've just seen the community orchard

That sounds fun & we’ve just seen the community orchard

5. The road bends right & approaches the green…

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…where on the left’s another ‘fine establishment’, Jacobs Inn

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Plus The White Hart ahead – it’s highly likely on a warm summer’s day you could never leave Wolvercote!

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6. Come on, we’ve a walk to do! Continue straight along the road past the health centre…

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This really is a socially active village

This really is a socially active village

Quilting anyone?

Quilting anyone?

7. On the right’s Wolverton Common which forms part of Port Meadow & we’ll walk beside that later…

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…and on the left’s Wolvercote Lakes. Have a look at the link – they’ve really done a great regeneration job here

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8. Ahead is a bridge over the railway & the canal…

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Halfway over the bridge look for some steps down to the canal…

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9. At the bottom of the steps turn right past Wolvercote Lock & under the bridge…

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We’re now going to follow the canal all the way into the centre of Oxford & what a treat this stretch of the walk is

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As you know we’re always on the lookout for interesting boat names…

A tasty little French number...

A tasty little French number…

Toad of Toad Hall

Toad of Toad Hall

10. Pass under the next bridge…

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…where there’s some fabulous canal-side allotments on the left

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11. We’re now entering a residential area so…

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Whenever you enter into a residential canal area you see things you don’t normally see on a rural canal…

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12. We’re now entering the outskirts of the city…

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We think that we’d be happy to live in any of these waterside properties…

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These chaps were catching nothing due to Zander being introduced to the canal system

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13. So here’s a selection of the stunning properties along here…

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We’re now getting closer to the city centre…

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Interesting name!

Interesting name!

14. Under the next bridge…

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…where on the right’s a small conservation area known as The Trap Grounds. The Trap Grounds are one of the last remaining wild spaces along the Oxford Canal, between the city centre & the northern suburbs. The rich mosaic of wildlife habitats at the site consists of three acres of rare reed bed, which was once a common wetland habitat around Oxford, & four acres of scrubland. The site is managed for wildlife & recreation by The Friends of the Trap Grounds, with support of the Oxford City Council & OCV

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Phew…that was a bit educational! Let’s move on…

15. Pass under the next bridge where the light’s playing tricks on the roof…

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…& there’s more super properties on the left…

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Is that a banana tree - I thin it might be!

Is that a banana tree – I think it might be!

Now this one's interesting as you can swing out over the canal!

Now this one’s interesting as you can swing out over the canal!

16. We’re almost in the centre of Oxford now so pass under another bridge…

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There’s a boat yard on the left where each boat’s named after one of Oxford’s Colleges…

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17. The next bridge we approach is a little bit special…it’s know as the ‘black & white bridge’…

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Cross the bridge to an island which will take us into Oxford itself…

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18. This area’s now becoming part of the River Thames navigation system…

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…& it looks a pretty scary place to be!

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But it’s also a pretty place…

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19. The canal ends at the road bridge & we’re now in the heart of Oxford

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The city is known worldwide as the home of the University of Oxford, the oldest university in the English-speaking world & also as the “city of dreaming spires”, a term coined by poet Matthew Arnold

A settlement was  recorded here in the Saxon period which was of strategic significance due to its controlling location on the upper reaches of the River Thames at its junction with the River Cherwell. The town grew in national importance during the early Norman period & in the late 12th century became home to the fledgling University of Oxford

The University rose to dominate the town & by the middle of the 14th century & the history of the town was effectively no more than a footnote to the history of the university. A heavily ecclesiastical town, Oxford was greatly affected by the changes of the English Reformation, emerging as the seat of a bishopric & a full-fledged city. During the English Civil War, Oxford housed the court of Charles I

The city began to grow industrially during the 19th century & had an industrial boom in the early 20th century, with major printing & car manufacturing industries. These declined, along with other British heavy industry, in the 1970s & 1980s, leaving behind a city which had developed far beyond the university town of the past

We’re not going to see all of Oxford today as that’s another walk, but we’ll see bits…

20. Our route should be…cross the road, turn right & then left down Mill Stream Walk, but today unfortunately this was being worked on…

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…so we work our way around to where you’d emerge cross a very busy road to continue down to follow the river…

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21. This is another quaint area that eventually arrives at Quaking Bridge…

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There’s been a bridge at this location since at least the late 13th century. Quaking Bridge was first mentioned in 1297, but is probably much older. It crossed Castle Mill Stream before the castle existed. The Canons of Oseney Abbey used it each day for services in St George’s Chapel at the castle. The responsibility for the bridge’s upkeep was meant to be that of the King. The bridge was originally wooden & in 1821 had three arches & open timberwork acting as railings. The bridge was replaced with an iron one in 1835. Its name may derive from its former unsafe condition

22. Cross over the road into Paradise Street (Oxford’s Gay District) & on the left are St George’s Tower & Oxford Castle…

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Oxford Castle is a large, partly ruined Norman medieval building. Most of the original moated, wooden motte & bailey castle was replaced in stone in the 11th century. It played an important role in the conflict of the Anarchy. In the 14th century the military value of the castle diminished & the site became used primarily for county administration & as a prison

Most of the castle was destroyed in the English Civil War &, by the 18th century, the remaining buildings became Oxford’s local prison. A new prison complex was built on the site from 1785 onwards & expanded in 1876

The prison was closed in 1996 & the site reverted to Oxfordshire County Council. The buildings have since been redeveloped as a restaurant & heritage complex, with guided tours of the historic buildings & open courtyards for markets & theatrical performances. The complex includes a Malmaison hotel, Malmaison Oxford, with cells converted as guest rooms. However, those parts of the prison associated with corporal or capital punishment have been converted to offices rather than being used for guests

23. Cross directly over the next bridge & continue up the street…

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The old prison, now the hotel, is on the left…

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…& an ‘interesting’ bar at the top of the street

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24. At the top turn left past all the bus stops…

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25. The area we’re arriving at now is Carfax at the junction of St Aldate’s, Cornmarket Street, Queen Street & the High Street. It’s considered to be the centre of the city. The name “Carfax” derives from the Latin “quadrifurcus” via the French “carrefour”, both of which mean “crossroads” (We’ve been shopping in that French Supermarket for years!)

After a quick pasty from the shop, on the left is St Martin’s Tower…

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St Martin’s Tower, popularly called “Carfax Tower” is all that remains of the 12th century St Martin’s Church & is now owned by Oxford City Council. It was the official City Church of Oxford where the Mayor & Corporation were expected to worship between about 1122 & 1896, when the main part of the church was demolished to make more room for road traffic. In 1896 the City Church was moved to All Saints Church in the High Street

The tower is 74 feet tall & no building in central Oxford may be built higher than it!

The tower still has a ring of six bells, five recast from the original ring by Richard Keene of Woodstock in 1676, plus another cast by Keene two years later. They are rung on special occasions by the Oxford Society of Change Ringers

It’s possible to climb to the top of the tower for a view over Oxford skyline

26. This walk’s route is right down St Algate’s, but we can’t leave the area without visiting one of our favourite place…The Covered Market. So head straight across & turn into the market at the sign below…

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Anyone who reads our blogs knows how much we love & always head towards local markets & this is one of the best…

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The Covered Market was officially opened on 1 November 1774 & was started in response to a general wish to clear ‘untidy, messy & unsavoury stalls from the main streets of central Oxford

John Gwynn, the architect of Magdalen Bridge, drew up the plans & designed the High Street front with its four entrances. In 1772, the newly formed Market committee, half of whose members came from the town & half from the university, accepted an estimate of £916.10’s for the building of twenty butchers’ shops

Twenty more soon followed &, after 1773, meat was allowed to be sold only inside the market. From this nucleus the market grew with stalls for garden produce, pig meat, dairy products & fish

It’s fab!

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27. So browsing done, exit the market & head back to Carfax & turn left down St Algate’s…

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St Aldate’s is named after Saint Aldate of whom little is known, although it has also been suggested that the name is a corruption of ‘old gate’, referring to the south gate in the former city walls

On the left’s Oxford Town Hall which includes the Museum of Oxford

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Further down on the east side is Christ Church, with its imposing Tom Tower

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Christ Church was traditionally considered the most aristocratic college of the university. It’s the second wealthiest Oxford college by financial endowment

Christ Church has produced 13 British Prime Ministers, more than any other Oxbridge college

The college was the setting for parts of Evelyn Waugh‘s Brideshead Revisited, as well as a small part of Lewis Carroll‘s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. More recently it has been used in the filming of the movies of the Harry Potter series & also the film adaptation of Philip Pullman‘s novel Northern Lights (the film having the title of the American edition of the book, The Golden Compass)

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28. Great Tom, housed in the tower, is the loudest bell in Oxford. It weighs six & a quarter tons. Apart from a student prank in 2002 when the clapper was lagged, Tom has sounded every night since the Second World War. Originally called “Mary”, Great Tom was moved from Osney Abbey to St Frideswide’s church in 1545, after which at some point it was renamed “Tom”

In 1678–79, Richard Keene of Woodstock tried three times to recast the bell, in the process increasing its weight from two to over six tons, but it was not until a final recasting in 1680 by Christopher Hodson that it was achieved & the resulting bell, Great Tom, was hung in the newly completed Tom Tower. It was rehung in May 1953. There is an inscription on the bell in Latin, which translated reads:

“Great Thomas the door closer of Oxford renovated April 8, 1680 in the reign of Charles II. Deacon John, the Bishop of Oxford & sub-Deacon give thanks to the knowledge of Henry Smith & the care & workmanship of Christopher Hodson”

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Great Tom is still sounded 101 times every night, which signifies the 100 original scholars of the college plus one (added in 1663). It’s rung at 21:05  UK time, which corresponds to 21:00 in what used to be “Oxford time” & was at one time the signal for all the Oxford colleges to lock their gates

29. Pop into the gardens on the left…

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Over the road on the right is Alice’s Shop

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It was formerly frequented in Victorian times by Alice Liddell, the inspiration for ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland‘ & ‘Through the Looking-Glass‘ & What Alice Found There, who used to buy sweets there. She lived at Christ Church with her father Henry Liddell, who was Dean of the College & Cathedral

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30. It’s time to leave Oxford & our route back is the Thames Path. So cross straight over the traffic lights & past the Police Station on the left…

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…passing the next set of traffic lights across Folly Bridge…

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31. If you fancy a riverside stop then you could do a lot worse than stopping on the left at ‘The Head of the River’

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Cross the bridge & there’s fine views up the Thames…

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32. After passing over Folly Bridge, cross the road at the pelican crossing & head down the Thames Path…

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…which we’re going to follow all the way back to Wolvercote – if you thought the walk into Oxford was good well the return is even better

33. Pass beneath the old crane…

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…& where the path meets the road bear right keeping beside the river

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34. Round the bend’s a large bridge…

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…which connects a new part of Pembroke College with the city

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River boat trips

River boat trips

35. It was along here that we very nearly got caught up in an ugly ‘domestic’ – not something you expect on a quiet riverside walk! So moving swiftly on, the path passes Grandpont Nature Park on the left…

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…& then under two railway bridges, the first of which is quite elaborate…

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…but not so the second, which is known as Boney’s Bridge, probably named after Napoleon Bonaparte

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36. After this bridge cross the wooden bridge over the tributary of the Thames called the Hincksey Stream…

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On the left’s an interesting memorial commemorating the drowning of Edgar George Wilson

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Edgar George Wilson was an assistant to an Oxford chemist & lived with his parents & siblings at 14 Abbey Road in West Oxford. On Saturday 15 June 1889 he came home at lunchtime to help one of his sisters prepare for her music examination. On the way back he crossed the Botley Road & started on the the long riverside walk back to Cornmarket via Osney & Folly Bridge

When he saw Christopher Green & Thomas Hazell in trouble in the water, he appears to have jumped in fully clothed to rescue them, even though he was not strong & could barely swim. The boys got out of the water, but Edgar drowned, possibly because one of his arms had become entangled in the boys’ fishing lines

The above memorial was erected by Mr White of Walton Street on ground given by University College. The cost was £22, which was raised by subscriptions from about 2,000 Oxford citizens, 200 of whom attended the unveiling ceremony on 7 November 1889

37. We’re now approaching the large Osney Lock…

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Cross the bridge onto the lock itself

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The first lock was built of stone by Daniel Harris for the Thames Navigation Commission in 1790 using prisoner labour from Oxford jail to give the cheapest quote for the work. The last rebuilding of the lock was in 1905

Although there’s a lock keeper’s hut, the lock is mechanically self operated

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38. Keep moving along the lock side…

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On the left’s Osney Lock Hydro, the first community owned hydro scheme to be built on the Thames. Plus there’s an excellent notice explaining the role of Osney Lock

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39. The Thames now begins to enter the Botley area of Oxford…

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…& approaches Botley Bridge

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The bridge forms the boundary of the city limits of Oxford. Further west lay Botley & the Oxford Ring Road. Historically, this was the boundary of Berkshire & Oxfordshire before the 1974 county boundary changes

40. Carefully climb the steps & cross both the road & the bridge…

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Our path continues along the right side of the Thames below…

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41. So descend the steps & continue…

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This is a pretty little stretch with plenty of colourful wild flowers…

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Beautiful canal side cottages

Beautiful canal side cottages

42. Just past the cottages cross the rather steep bridge & take the left fork to continue along the Thames

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We’ve seen some beautiful boats, but the one below wasn’t in such good condition – note the empty petrol can!

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43. The path is now really out of the city & runs alongside woodland – listen out for birds

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44. Eventually the path emerges into the open again…

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…so keep straight ahead & cross the beautiful bridge – there were ‘freshers’ jumping off it the day we were there #madness

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45. Cross over the bridge, but stop in the middle for a fantastic view of the sweeping Port Meadow

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The meadow is an ancient area of grazing land, still used for horses & cattle, & has never been ploughed – at least for around 4000 years. In return for helping to defend the kingdom against the marauding Danes, the Freemen of Oxford were given the 300 acres of pasture next to the River Thames by Alfred the Great who founded the city in the 10th century. The Freemen’s collective right to graze their animals free of charge is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 & has been exercised ever since

It’s a typical English flood meadow & a Site of Special Scientific Interest. In the winter the meadow floods &, if frozen, forms a huge, & safe area, for skating. In late spring vast areas are carpeted with buttercups. Horses, cattle & geese graze the meadow & many birds can often be seen

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The River Thames (known as the Isis at this point) is where the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) & the Reverend Robinson Duckworth rowed in a boat on 4th July 1862 up the river with three young girls — Lorina, Alice, & Edith Liddell. While journeying slowly from Folly Bridge to near Godstow, Dodgson began to make up a story that later became Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Because the meadow has never been ploughed, it contains well preserved archaeological remains, some of which survive as residual earthworks. Of particular note are several Bronze Age round barrows, an area of Iron Age settlement, & the foundations of 17th century fortifications from the Parliamentary siege of Oxford during the English Civil War

In the 17th & 18th centuries the meadow was used for horse racing, & low stone bridges laid over washes & ditches for this purpose still survive today

During the First World War part of Port Meadow was used as a military airfield & the Royal Artillery had a base there. In 1940, during the Second World War, a camp was set up on the meadow for military personnel evacuated from Dunkirk

46. Continue along the Thames…

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If you visit this stretch of the Thames at the weekends you’re likely to see the University rowing clubs practicing along with the coaches shouting their instructions from the crafts like the one below

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Pass one of the boatyards on the left…

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47. It really is stunning along here, especially on a day like this…

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Pass through the gate into the meadow path…

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Be careful in winter then!

Be careful in winter then!

48. The next half mile or so is really superb walking…

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49. Don’t enjoy the scenery too much as it’s time to visit an institution…The Perch!

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The gate to this fabulous pub’s on the left…

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The Perch dates back 800 years & the current building, which is Grade II listed, to at least the 17th century & is said to be haunted by a sailor. The pub, together with most of the other buildings in Binsey, is owned by Christ Church. It was extensively damaged by fire in 1977 & again in 2007

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The Perch was frequented by Lewis Carroll & is noted as one of the first places that he gave public readings of Alice in Wonderland. It was also a favorite of C. S. Lewis & Inspector Morse

50. Fabulous pub & there’s another one to visit shortly but, for now head back out to the Thames…

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Careful passing through these guys

Careful passing through these guys

Just keep passing through the meadow…

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There’s some great photo opportunities along here…

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51. Carry straight on through the next couple of gates…

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52. We’re now at Godstow Lock…

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Godstow Lock is the furthest upstream lock on the river which has mechanical (electro-hydraulic) operation – bet you really wanted to know that!

Love this notice…

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Yet another good map…

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53. Let’s keep going as we’ve a historical building to have a look at next…Godstow Abbey

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Godstow Abbey was built on what was then an island between streams running into the River Thames. The site was given to the foundress Edith, widow of Sir William Launceline in 1133 by John of St. John & built in local limestone in honour of St Mary & St John the Baptist for Benedictine nuns

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With a further gift of land from him, the site was later enlarged & the church was consecrated in 1139. The abbey was again enlarged between 1176 & 1188

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54. So we’re nearly at the end of this fantastic walk. Pass through the gate, being careful as this is a busy lane…

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Turn right & cross Godstow bridge, stopping in the middle to get the camera out…

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…as we’re back at the picturesque Trout Inn

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The Trout Inn (often simply referred to as The Trout) is especially popular on sunny days in the summer months when you should fight to get a table by the river

It’s a Grade II listed building, being principally a 17th century construction, with some 18th century alterations & additions

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The pub features in Evelyn Waugh‘s novel Brideshead Revisited & in Colin Dexter‘s Inspector Morse series. For example, it appears in the TV episode “The Wolvercote Tongue”

In 2001 the Trout Inn was visited by US President Bill Clinton & his daughter Chelsea, who was then a graduate student at University College

It was also where we had lunch after our daughter’s graduation ceremony

So…that’s it…7.5 miles of heavenly flat, easy walking around some of our most beautiful countryside. Today was special as the late autumn sunshine made everything look stunning, but unless it’s pouring down, this is a great walk at any time of the year

The next time we think we’ll tackle it is in mid winter when the frost is on the meadow & The Perch & The Trout offer hot mulled wine – now that would be special

Go Walk!