The final leg of this first stage of the Thames Path was 14 miles from The Rose Revived at Newbridge to Osney Bridge. It starts with the isolation and wide open spaces of the Oxfordshire countryside and finishes with the hustle and bustle of Oxford itself.
The weather was – yet again – glorious. It was signalled by a mist rolling down the Thames as I got up.
The path today hugged the river – apart from a 2 mile diversion around Babcock Hythe seemingly to avoid a caravan park. This made the stretch after the diversion in particular quite convoluted, as the river wound back and forth. It was possible to take some short cuts avoiding the bends, but this defeated the object for me.
The stretch was characterised by open meadows, bridges and locks. Indeed just after setting off you encounter a huge field managed by Natural England in order to encourage ground nesting birds. It is in this field that another one of the Thames strange “right of way” bridges appears.
There are several of these right of way bridges between Lechlade and Oxford, and the first today was Hart’s Weir footbridge, built in 1879 on the site of a weir that was removed a year later. Like all the others this was built in order to preserve ancient river crossings when many of the flood weirs were removed in this area.
This stretch also has five locks managed by the Environment Agency, and yet again are all beautifully looked after. Northmoor, Pinkhill, Eynsham, Kings and Godstow Locks. Each have their own automatic weir to control the water flow along the Thames. More information on each lock can be found from the Visit Thames website.
About three miles from Newbridge you come to Babcock Hythe and its pub The Ferryman.
You might be forgiven for asking where the ferry is. There is no ferry, and so no ferryman. Whilst the Romans built a ford, and there was a ferry for 1000 years, it is no more. So no easy way across, just a diversion round a caravan park and through some fields.
Just before Eynsham Lock is Swinford Toll Bridge, one of two local private toll bridges, with its own Act of Parliament. This was built by the Earl of Abingdon in 1770, and while pedestrian can cross for free, the traffic backs up as drivers search frantically for that 5p piece to pay the toll.
The next three miles and things begin to change as Eynsford Lock gives way to Wytham Great Wood. This is a 600 acre woodland given to Oxford University in the 1940s. The wood comes right down to the water’s edge and is a delight especially after so many miles of meadow.
After leaving the wood you are placed again in pastoral beauty as you pass the River Evenlode, one of the tributaries of the Thames. and work your way to the penultimate lock on this section – King’s Lock.
Half a mile further on and we reach 50 miles from the source and a further bridge – this time the A34 Oxford Bypass,
At this point it is tempting to think you are nearly there, but you are still three miles from Osney Bridge. Just beyond the flyover is the final lock on this stage – Godstow lock, and just beyond, the ruins of Godstow Abbey. (See here). This was apparently built around 1100 but was dissolved by Henry VIII.
“The abbey itself was given to Henry VIII’s physician, George Owen. Owen tore down the abbey church and built a mansion called Godstow House from the abbey ruins. In 1645 Godstow House was badly damaged in the Civil War, and stone from the site was robbed for local buildings. The site passed to the Earl of Abingdon in 1702, and stayed in part of the Abingdon estates until 1902. In 1924 it was given to Oxford University in trust for the nation.”https://www.britainexpress.com/cities/oxford/godstow-abbey.htm
The final lock before Oxford is Godstow Lock built in 1790.
Passing Godstow Abbey the far bank becomes a wide open meadow – Port Meadow. This common grazing land was given to the people of Oxford by William the Conqueror for their help in defending against marauding Danes. It has remained untouched since.
This takes us onto Fiddlers Island, a delightful strip of land with the Thames on the right and an area of wetland on the left, at the end of which is a small bridge over the Oxford Canal. This final part leads along a row of cottages, and eventually onto the Osney Bridge.
As you step off Osney Bridge, you enter now a different world. Having spent four days in peace and virtual isolation, you became surrounded by … people and traffic. My final stop, Royal Oxford Hotel, comfortable enough, and just over the road from the Railway Station, but felt that it had seen better days. Iconic building in a prime spot. Dinner tonight was in the Banana Tree, at 63 George Street. So good, I went back for lunch on saturday.
Day 5 – In Oxford
No stop-over in Oxford is complete without a trip round some of the colleges and a stop at Blackwells. So after breakfast I took a 3-4 hour walk around.
Founded in 1546 by King Henry VIII, it is one of the larger colleges of the University of Oxford with 629 students in 2016. It is also the second wealthiest college (after St John’s) with an endowment of £550.3m as of 2018. Christ Church has a number of architecturally significant buildings including Tom Tower (designed by Sir Christopher Wren), Tom Quad (the largest quadrangle in Oxford), and the Great Dining Hall which was also the seat of the parliament assembled by King Charles I during the English Civil War.
The Thames (Isis) flows through Oxford under the Folly Bridge.
The Examination Schools of the University of Oxford are located at 75–81 High Street.
The building was designed by Sir Thomas Jackson (1835–1924). The designs for the building were prepared in 1876 and it was completed in 1882. The Examination Schools building is Grade II listed. The main purpose of the Schools is for the organisation and administration of the university examinations. Many of the final and other examinations for the University’s students take place in the building.Wikipedia
The Radcliffe Camera is arguably one of the most recognised of Oxford’s buildngs.
The Radcliffe Camera was designed by James Gibbs in neo-classical style and built in 1737–49 The library’s construction and maintenance was funded from the estate of John Radcliffe, a notable doctor, who left £40,000 upon his death in 1714. According to the terms of his will, construction only began in 1737. The library’s opening was delayed until 13 April 1749.
The Bodleian Library is on Catte Street, and is the main building of the collection of 28 libraries that serve the University of Oxford itself. As of the 2016–17 year, the libraries collectively hold almost 13 million printed items, as well as numerous other objects and artefacts.
With over 12 million items it is the second-largest library in Britain after the British Library. Under the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 it is one of six legal deposit libraries for works published in the United Kingdom, and under Irish law it is entitled to request a copy of each book published in the Republic of IrelandWikipedia
The Bridge of Sighs, or Hertford Bridge, joins two parts of Hertford College over New College Lane. Its distinctive design makes it a city landmark, and on a very busy September Saturday afternoon, getting this shot with hardly any people in, took a lot of patience!
The Turf Tavern is a popular Oxford pub located at the end of a narrow winding alley, St Helens Passage (originally Hell’s passage), between Holywell Street and New College Lane, near the Bridge of Sighs. Running along one side of the pub is one of the remaining sections of the old city wall. It was also frequently featured in episodes of Inspector Morse. “The Turf Tavern is also where future Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke set a Guinness World Record for consuming a yard glass of ale in 11 seconds in 1963” (Wikipedia)
I have actually forgotten where this is now ….
Mansfield College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford. The college was founded in Birmingham in 1838 as a college for Nonconformist students. It moved to Oxford in 1886 and was renamed Mansfield College after George Mansfield and his sister Elizabeth. In 1995 a Royal Charter was awarded giving the institution full college status. The college grounds are located on Mansfield Road, near the centre of Oxford.
Bath Place is between 55 and 56 Holywell Street.
It is easy to overlook the significant events that took place inside some of these building. Here in the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, penicillin was first isolated.
Finally, right opposite Blackwells on Broad Street is The Sheldonian.
The Sheldonian Theatre was built from 1664 to 1669 after a design by Christopher Wren. The building is named after Gilbert Sheldon, chancellor of the University at the time and the project’s main financial backer. It is used for music concerts, lectures and University ceremonies.
And that was it. Off to Blackwells…
I could have – and probably should have – continued on to Folly Bridge for this Oxford stopover. If I were doing it all again, I think I would. For now, the stretch between Osney Bridge and Folly Bridge will have to wait for the next time.