Date walked: 07th May 2016
Distance: 13.04 miles
Time taken: 5 hours 15 mins approx
How to get there: Train to Heyford
How to get back: Train back from Banbury
Travel costs: Easiest to buy a return ticket to Banbury from your starting point
Watch out for: Crossing the road at the B4100 near Aynho – very fast moving traffic and poor visibility
Highlight: The stretch through open fields just south of Somerton, where the path rises temporarily above the canal
Difficulty rating: 3/5
Walking route map:
We returned to the quaint village of Heyford for our final stint along the Oxford canal on what was, at the time, the warmest day of the year so far. The heat only added to the anticipation of what was to be the longest walk we had tackled, at a distance of around 13 miles.
We reached Heyford by catching a train to Oxford, changing to platform 3 and getting on the slow train to Banbury, with Heyford being the second stop. With the train already waiting at Oxford, we were only sat onboard for around 15 minutes before we rolled off on the short journey northwards.
This was far more straightforward than the second stint, where we had to walk into the city centre to catch a bus to Kidlington. We’d also be able to use the fast, Cross-Country train service back from Banbury towards Oxford, which only takes 20 minutes – staggering when the walk had taken us three days!
Direct trains to Heyford only leave Oxford once every couple of hours, so make sure you use the National Rail website or app to plan the changeovers.
Arriving at Heyford fresh and in good spirits because of the easy journey and the great weather, we crossed the bridge to rejoin the canal towpath where we left it last time.
The view from the top of the bridge was fantastic, overlooking Kizzie’s Bistro (where we enjoyed a beer at the end of our second leg), as well as the marina, which was just starting to wake up on what was likely going to be a busy Saturday.
From studying Google Maps I knew that most of this walk would be a rural one, with only the village of Somerton on the canal path itself. Aynho and King’s Sutton were close, but not directly on the path. After the tranquility we enjoyed on the latter half of the second leg, I certainly wasn’t going to be complaining about that!
The rural scenes started almost immediately, as the towpath curved between the two Heyfords (Lower and Upper) into a wooded area.
Here, a treehouse sat rather precariously amongst the branches – there’s no way you’d catch me climbing into that!
A sign near a manual lift bridge pointed us towards Banbury; a reminder that amongst all of the green splendour around us, we were heading ever-closer towards our ultimate destination.
Trees full of blossom stretched over the canal as we emerged the other side of Upper Heyford, and we could start to see the wide open hills ahead.
Moving into the open, I noticed how incredibly thin the canal was in places. Boat traffic seemed infrequent here and it’s not difficult to see why other canals are more commonly used for a speedy north to south trip.
It wasn’t long until this we walked under this railway bridge – this was the last time we would pass under the train line on our way to Banbury. Instead, it would run close by alongside us for the majority of the remaining route.
Passing underneath a particularly pretty bridge, just before Heyford Common Lock, the green stretched all around us. Here the towpath disappeared under the grass once more, showing how little this part of the canal is walked on.
Passing through a gate, we then entered a huge open field, with the towpath all but disappearing. This section felt more like following a winding river through the countryside than a man-made canal.
At one point the path thinned significantly as it went through a patch of trees and plants. However, emerging on the other side, the fields opened up once again.
With the path climbing over a hill and the canal down below, this was undoubtedly the most stunning part of the day’s walk, if not the entire canal from Oxford.
Civilisation lay ahead, and following the tranquil scene we had been through this would have normally been a shame. Yet as we entered the tiny village of Somerton, these canalside houses made for a very pretty scene.
We soon approached Somerton Deep Lock. Here, a barge had just passed through when Hannah noticed the two iconic passengers – Rosie and Jim – riding on the top. The boat even had a resemblance to the Ragdoll from the kids TV classic.
At the top of the steps at Somerton Deep Lock sat a picture-postcard, symmetrical cottage, which I would imagine would be home to the lock-keeper here. With amazing views all around, I can’t imagine that it would be too hard a life!
Banbury is a town well connected by rail, and as we walked north from Somerton, we saw its connection to London appear on the imposing viaduct to our right. The Chiltern line, which runs into London Marylebone, carries trains over this bridge, whilst the line towards Oxford and Reading – which we had been following for the majority of our journey so far – sat just on the other side of the canal.
Although the village of Aynho sat across the other side of the M40 from where we were walking, the canal passed through Aynho Wharf – a popular area for barges to moor. Here, a small boathouse selling newspapers, food and other basics for passers-by was located on the opposite bank.
It was slightly further along when we reached Aynho Weir Lock. With a couple of benches, the sun still shining and just over half of the walk completed, we decided that this would be a great place to stop and have lunch.
It’s funny though, in the UK particularly, how quickly the weather can change. With the heat and humidity rising, the clouds built up before we had even noticed them. Undeterred, we headed off along the path, re-energised for more.
With a pigeon for company, we saw the path stretch off into the distance; the canal soon approaching the B4100.
At this point, instead of passing underneath the bridge, the path took us up onto the road and over the canal. Be aware when crossing this – although just a B road, traffic passed by very quickly both towards and away from nearby Aynho.
Although we’d eaten lunch, the oppressive warmth meant we were definitely craving something cold. When we soon passed Nellbridge House farm on the opposite bank, we could see they were selling some locally sourced ice cream. Unfortunately there was no way to cross the canal nearby to get to it – not unless we wanted to retrace our steps!
With the rain starting to fall, the peace and quiet that we had been enjoying for a number of miles was soon shattered as we approached the monstrosity of the M40. It was certainly strange, having been walking through rolling fields in the middle of nowhere to now be passing underneath one of the country’s busiest motorways!
As we walked underneath the huge road bridge we left Oxfordshire and entered Northamptonshire. I’m not sure whether it was the change of counties, or the fact that we were so close to the motorway, but the scenery here changed dramatically – and not in a good way! I guess we had been spoilt up to this point so far!
About half a mile on from the motorway bridge, we passed the remains of this barge – completely destroyed by fire, yet still moored to the banks.
Tarver’s Lock let us know we were close to King’s Sutton. A train station is located in this Northamptonshire village, with the service which passes through Heyford (which we had used earlier in the day) also stopping here.
However, the canal isn’t easily accessible from the station, and it’s not usually a recommended place to alight if you want to join (or leave) the walk.
Below you can see a train approaching King’s Sutton, with the church of St Peter and St Paul – undergoing renovations to its spire – in the distance on the right. Both the line to Marylebone and the line to the south coast use the same track here, splitting apart just south of the village.
Apart from King’s Sutton, the scenery here remained fairly plain – not helped by the grey clouds which had now engulfed the entire sky. And the relative peace of the scene below, towards the northern edge of the two mile (or so) section above the M40, was soon broken as we quickly approached the motorway once again.
Here a much lower bridge carrying the traffic crossed above the canal path. Although an impressive construction, it was definitely a relief to be getting away from the motorway – particularly with our final destination now only another mile-and-a-half away.
In fact, not far along from the motorway bridge we were greeted with a sign that, by this point, extremely tired and weary, we were very ready to see. Though of course, we weren’t quite in Banbury just yet!
We ploughed on as civilisation began to appear once more. As we closed in on the town’s perimeter, a number of house barges began to line the canal’s banks.
Soon we had reached the canal’s junction with Tramway Road – an industrial area of Banbury, home to numerous out-of-town business units. The sign at the top of the steps pointed us towards the station – where we ultimately needed to get to. However, we wanted to reach the town centre first, so walked on for another half mile or so.
This was a really industrial, and rather ugly area – a stark contrast to the stunning scenery we had experienced earlier in the day.
However it soon all became worth it, as the Castle Quay shopping centre, marking the end of our 13 mile trek lay just ahead.
We had finally made it! Clearly I was delighted about the achievement of walking from Oxford to Banbury – even if I did look out of place in the middle of a town centre on a Saturday afternoon in my walking gear!
To me, the official end of the walk had to be Tooley’s Historic Boatyard. This is the oldest working dry dock on the Inland Waterways, and has been in use since 1790. Many are impressed that it managed to survive much of the regeneration of Banbury town centre – particularly with it now being swamped by the Castle Quay shopping centre all around it.
From here, Banbury train station is just a few hundred metres away, with clear signs pointing you back towards it. Trains run regularly to many areas of the country, including Oxford, Reading, Southampton, London and Birmingham.
And that was that – a distance of 28 miles completed over the course of three days!
Of course, the Oxford Canal doesn’t stop in Banbury. In fact, it carries on for nearly another 50 miles as it makes it way further north, towards the edge of Coventry.
I’d love to come back and keep on walking along this canal if possible – however, it enters territory not served at all well by public transport, and with this blog aiming to highlight easy-to-complete walks, I feel that my time is better served finding some other trails which will help you achieve this.
So for now I will say goodbye to the Oxford Canal – a stretch of water that I absolutely loved walking next to. But hopefully, it won’t be forever!
Click here to read part one of this walk, from Oxford to Kidlington.
Click here to read part two of this walk, from Kidlington to Heyford.