Date walked: 30th April 2016
Distance: 9.68 miles
Time taken: 4 hours approx
How to get there: Your choice of travel to Oxford, bus to Grovelands, Kidlington (2 or 2B – caught outside Debenhams on Magdalen Street)
How to get back: Train back from Heyford (station adjacent canal path – departure times are sporadic!)
Travel costs: Bus from Oxford to Kidlington = £2.10 + your train ticket from Heyford
Watch out for: Grassy towpaths towards the end of the route which could get very muddy after rain
Highlight: The iron bridge over the River Cherwell near Kingsground Marina
Difficulty rating: 3/5
Walking route map:
After a fairly short and easy first stint, the second leg of our Oxford Canal mission meant walking almost double the distance – approximately 10 miles from the Kidlington, up to the village of Lower Heyford. Here a conveniently-located train station would be able to take us straight back into Oxford – no waiting around for buses or sitting in traffic is always a bonus!
We had reached our starting point by getting a train into Oxford, walking around half a mile to Magdalen Street at the centre of the city, and then catching a bus up to Kidlington.
If you’re following the steps for this walk, it’s important to catch either the 2 or 2B bus from here – whilst the 2A goes to Kidlington, it doesn’t head down to the finish point of our first walk, near the Grovelands area on Yarnton Road.
You can check bus times on this route here.
Fortunately, all of the buses in that direction are incredibly frequent, and we only needed to wait a few minutes before we were on our way.
From the bus stop in Kidlington we headed back across the bridge over the canal, and were soon back on the towpath with the sign to Banbury pointing us on our way.
It’s fair to say that, as we made our way past the houses that lined the opposite side of the canal, we realised that the stretch through Kidlington wasn’t going to be the prettiest on the route.
Situated a mile or so away from the centre of town, I guess this was always likely to be the case. Unlike many canal-side towns, in Kidlington the waterway is by no means its focal point, and has therefore been neglected and ignored somewhat.
However, we knew this small stretch was just a means to an end, and that far more scenic sections were to follow in the miles ahead.
After passing the industrial and business parks towards the northern edge of the town, we were definitely glad when we approached the far more picturesque village of Thrupp.
A very convenient pub, The Jolly Boatman, sat beside the canal towpath at the southern edge of the village – if it wasn’t before 11am in the morning, and if it were a bit warmer, it would have been a great place to stop for a spot of refreshment.
Slightly further along, the cottages lining the aptly-named Canal Road came into view. Apparently, Thrupp used to regularly appear in episodes of Inspector Morse! It’s not too difficult to see why, given it’s quaint, picture-postcard Oxfordshire looks.
At the end of the street, the canal merged with the River Cherwell for the first time. A manual lift bridge marked where the two bodies of water joined courses. We were lucky enough to see it in action as a barge made it’s way through the bridge, taking the canal route down to Oxford.
This area was a buzz of activity, with a boathouse hiring out barges and canoes to tourists enjoying their Bank Holiday weekend. There was also a small tea room here for those looking to take a quick break, or simply enjoy the scenery.
As we crossed the bridge here, to walk on the right hand side of the canal for the first time since leaving Oxford, we were stopped by a man called Gary from the Canals and River Trust. He talked to us about the work they were doing to protect waterways all over the UK, and asked if we would like to sign up to a £5 a month direct debit to help support the cause.
Given we were going to be using the waterways a lot on our explorations, it made sense to help them out. By signing up we secured ourselves a canal walks book and a couple of nifty badges to attach to our bags. How cool!
I was more than happy to pledge my support to what sounded like some excellent work. These people, with a passion for the thousands of miles of waterways all over the UK, help keep the canals and rivers that we were enjoying on these hikes well maintained and pleasant for a lot of people. Good on them I say.
As new members of the Canals and River Trust we headed away from Thrupp where the scenery instantly became even more rustic and rural. Around the bend a stunning church – the Shipton-on-Cherwell Holy Cross, stood imposingly above the canal.
Sharing the same course as the River Cherwell for large parts of the route here, we then headed past another junction where boats were being directed down the canal section – avoiding the wider, bendier and quicker flowing river. At this lock a bridge crossed us back over to the left-hand side of the canal, and here we would stay for the rest of this stage up to Heyford.
Sections where the canal and river merged were incredibly and surprisingly natural, with large bends and choppier waters lapping right up to the banks. It certainly didn’t feel like the majority of man-made waterways.
For the first time I was starting to see why the Oxford Canal has a reputation as being one of the most beautiful in the country.
We soon approached another separation of the river and canal course, and what was definitely my highlight of stage 2.
The gigantic iron bridge here takes the towpath over the river, enabling the canal to avoid the long, sharp bend ahead, and instead flow more serenely towards the Enslow and Kingsground marinas.
Slightly further ahead, the towpath passed under the A4095 road, before temporarily leaving the side of the canal and heading across a stone bridge.
Here a sign pointed towards Oxford, showing how far we had come so far.
We then passed the Kingsground marina, with a number of barges moored up in this wide, popular section of canal.
The scene quickly became more rural again, as Enslow Marsh Sedgebed sat on the left. Located between the canal and the River Cherwell, this is a rare, swampy habitat home to a number of birds and other creatures.
At around the halfway mark, we were greeted to a very pretty scene. Here the canal slowly curved under one of the many stone bridges, with the rolling hills of Kirtlington Golf Club sitting off the opposite bank.
We were now more than ready for some lunch, and were glad when we approached an empty bench at Pigeon Lock.
Pigeon Lock is on the well-advertised Oxford Canal Line walk between Tackley and Heyford stations. At a distance of around 4.5 miles, this allows people looking for a shorter walk to stroll alongside one of the most scenic sections of the canal, before hopping on a train taking just a few minutes to get back to their starting point.
Pigeon Lock is where walkers would emerge on the canal if coming from Tackley station, which sits around a mile away up the bridleway here.
After filling ourselves up with sandwiches and more, we set off again and could quickly see why this part of the canal, along with its convenience, is highly recommended as a walking route.
With very little in the way of housing between the two villages of Tackley and Heyford, this stretch was incredibly peaceful, winding its way through a stunning wooded area.
The River Cherwell ran alongside the canal at various points here, meaning the towpath was sat in between the two bodies of water, making for an even more picturesque scene.
Considering that this was one of the most advertised walks along the entirety of the route we were completing in this leg, it was surprising to see how untouched it was.
Large sections of the path alongside the canal were completely covered in grass, meaning very few feet were wearing it away to the dusty soil that we had become accustomed to.
Just a couple of miles away, we came to the almost unrealistically narrow yet very pretty Northbrook Lock. In such a remote location, and seemingly nobody around for miles, it was a moment of pure bliss. It would have been rude not to take a moment to savour the tranquility.
Pressing on and with the path getting even grassier, we climbed the stairs at Dashwoods Lock. Here, golden fields surrounded us, with fields and hills rolling into the distance in all directions.
Hannah was even able to chat with some friendly cows, sat in the farm field adjacent to the bridge.
Wildlife was easy to come across in this short, exceptionally rural section of the canal. We saw a colourful Kingfisher (which Hannah assured me we were very fortunate to see), as well as a heron. The kingfisher flashed before us, however I did manage to grab a photo of the heron taking off in the distance, with its reflection bouncing off the water below.
We also came across a very cute family of ducks, with the mother looking after no less than ten ducklings.
With so much peace with no roads around, we could hear all of the little tweets that these little birds were making. Hannah couldn’t resist giving them the last remaining bread from our lunch.
Entering civilisation again, we could see a number of barges moored up under the bridge ahead. After enjoying the last few miles so much, we didn’t realise that we had come to the end of our walk and were now entering Heyford.
From what I had read during my research of this walk, I knew the train station would be close to the canal. But I didn’t realise HOW close – it was literally just off the canal towpath, with the platform for trains back to Oxford conveniently on our side of the bridge.
However, with around an hour and a half until the next train we had some time to kill. Craving a well-deserved beer, yet with no obvious pub around, we crossed the bridge to Kizzie’s Bistro. Luckily, despite it being a tearoom, Kizzie’s is also licensed to sell alcohol, so we both grabbed a local bottle of ale and relaxed for a bit in the canal-side garden.
Slightly weary but refreshed with our beer, and with the clouds now rolling in, we headed back across the road bridge to the station to catch our train to Oxford.
Even the signs here made it clear that the main attraction of this station was for those using the canal.
Make sure that you check the departure times of the trains (I would highly recommend downloading the very useful National Rail smartphone app) and leave plenty of time to get the train you want. While we did the walk before the “summer” season started, when there is a slightly more frequent service as well as trains on a Sunday, the trains from here do seem fairly few and far between.
It’s definitely better to arrive in Heyford a bit early and enjoy a drink at Kizzie’s than rush your walk and miss some of the amazing scenes that this walk has to offer.
Overall the second leg of the Oxford Canal walk started to help to show off its reputation for being a scenic, naturally beautiful waterway. Whilst 10 miles was a relatively long way, I knew we had the longest stretch to come, in the leg from here up to Banbury.
I couldn’t wait to keep on going!
See how we got on in part 3.
Alternatively, if you missed stage 1 from Oxford to Kidlington, you can read that here.