Yet more walks

I discovered some new parts of inner Oxford in this second phase (including stretches of the old city wall, about as inner as you can get). Also Anthony Hedges’ orchestral suite , celebrating walking along Willow Walk, through Osney and to Tumbling Bay.

However, autumn and winter have for me been more notable for ventures further afield, especially up in the surrounding hills – prompted partly by the need to rise above winter floods, though below the spring line hills can still be very muddy.

I’ve also extended my reach along the rivers: I’ve now walked much (though not all) of the Thames from Bablock Hythe to Radley, and followed the Cherwell to within sight of Islip (but not to Islip, because a deep ford intervened). In pursuit of eels, I’ve also leapfrogged the Cherwell up to around Kirtlington, and explored part of the Thame around Dorchester.

Alright for horses

The hills offer interlocking walk components: there are many routes up and many routes down, especially on what Bob Evans’ has nicely called the ‘Boars’ Hill massif’. So one can ascend via Bagley Wood, or the Chilswell Valley, or the Hinksey Heights Nature Reserve, or Raleigh Park, and down by another. Many of these routes offer at some point great views of the spires and towers of Oxford. Alternatively, one can loop round to the north of the massif along the Thames, or cross it at Wytham or via Raleigh Park plus either the route south of the Farmoor Reservoir or that via Long Leys, or again pass via Bessels Leigh and Appleton (I haven’t done that yet), all these routes offering components of multiple circular walks. Then to the east I’ve walked to Elsfield and Wheatley, but I know there are more routes up there, around Noke and Beckley, that I have yet to explore, but which can all potentially be joined up.

In principle one could also walk from hill to hill through the valley, mainly on open land and footpaths: thus, from the top of the Lye Valley down the line of the Boundary Brook to the Thames, then from the footpath by the Voco Spires Hotel through Hinksey Park to the meadows between the Hinkseys, and up the hill on the far side.

Watercourses and hills that I’ve walked, 2020-21 Map from Google Earth using its path-tracing function, satellite data from Landsat Copernicus

Some walks are well known to those in the immediate vicinity, but much less to those based in other parts of Oxford. The Hinksey Heights nature trail is a walk route up and around a stream that I discovered late and accidentally, and that is I think much less well known that the walk up the Chilswell valley. The Cherwell is very pleasant up around Water Eaton. Also recommended is the walk from Barton Park to Elsfield and back via College Pond – the hillside which drains into the Bayswater brook, and the walk from Shotover via Shotover Park (with its lake) to Wheatley, and back along Old Road (the old road to London, superseded by the turnpike route in the later eighteenth century)

I’ve found the County Council’s Rights of Way website useful on these explorations:

For walks between Oxford and Berinsfield, Brill, Thame, Standlake and Abingdon, see the Slow Ways website    — currently in its beta version.

And this is not to imply that I’ve exhausted the lowlands. I’m looking forward to following the Blackbird Leys fieldname walk (link from the Oxford Preservation Trust website).

Laying down my sword and shield

Although I do have some more posts in mind that I could write, I seem to have run out of steam on blog-writing for now, so I think I’ll set it aside for a second time. Having done that in July 2020, I later resumed, so I’ll take it up again in the same way if the mood takes me.

I began this blog as I started coming to terms with the new life forced on us by the pandemic, one year ago, 17 May 2020. I wrote at a Stakhanovite pace for three months, wound it up, added a couple of afterthought posts in August, then resumed more consistently, at a slower pace in October, prompted by my continuing curiosity about some aspects of the story, and by continuing constraints on movement and sociability, which put a premium on motivated local walks. It now totals over 100,000 words.

This second leg of the blog differs somewhat from the first in that it has been less observation-driven and more book-driven: reading has more often prompted the walks, though I’ve always checked out and refined my notions about what I’m talking about on the ground. In that context, I’ve also read and written more about archaeology and medieval history. I’ve profited from contacts in the local history community that I made partly through the blog, and especially as a result of giving an online talk about ‘Blogging the Floodplain’ for the Oxford Preservation Trust in October – thanks to William Whyte for the invitation to do that. Thanks especially to Stephanie Jenkins for her generosity in answering questions and sharing things she thinks might interest me.

It’s always great accidentally to encounter moving spirits on walks.

Pointing the way: Stephanie Jenkins, keeper of the Oxford History website; Judith Webb, freelance ecologist

Thanks equally to all those who’ve taken an interest in the blog, which routinely attracts a dozen or so visitors a day, and sometimes more (especially if I write and publicise new posts). Readers have mostly come from the UK but also more widely. The map below sets out WordPress’ current report on my ‘All Time’ stats: over 14,000 ‘visits’, distributed over much of the map. (Of course you only need one reader each from Canada and Russia to sweep up large stretches of the globe). The blog currently turns up high enough on searches for much routine traffic to come via searches. The Guardian did its bit to arouse interest by printing my account of the Castle Mill Stream walk as one of its ‘riverside walks’, which it has then proceeded to disseminate on through endless travel outlets. Thanks to my cousin Katy Parnell for suggesting I send it in.

Thanks finally to all those who’ve taken an interest in the project and accompanied me on walks. I’ll probably forget one or more people, but they include in this second period Glenn Black (to whom thanks for information and ultimately a tour of the area around the Redbridge Stream), Sue Clark, Chris Crocker, Andrew Edwards, Robert Evans (to whom thanks for the introduction to Sunningwell) Liz Frazer (to whom thanks for the introduction to marshy Marston), Judith Herrin, Andrew Kahn, Tony Morris (to whom thanks for the introduction to the Devil’s Quoits), Rebecca Nestor, Juan Neves, Katherine Paugh, Mark Philp, Robert Quick, John Robertson, Jan Royall, Lucie Ryzova (for whom thanks for the introduction to the Tree Lane route to old Cowley), Hamish Scott, Benjamin Thompson & Nancy-Jane Rucker. I also enjoyed having lunch with Graham Harding and wish him well with his proposed book on Port Meadow. In my experience, while lockdown has stifled some kinds of sociability, it’s promoted other kinds.