Abingdon to Oxford – July 5th
This section starts at Abingdon Lock on the south bank of the river. Almost immediately the path takes on a very rural feel that continues for almost 4 miles as the river passes close to Radley, then Sandford-on-Thames and Iffley. For the rest of this section, the walk continues on a wide, tarmacked path and the landscape becomes more and more urban the closer the river gets to Oxford.
This section is meant to be about 8 miles.
This was the first time I had company on any of my walks. I was joined by my girlfriend and her cousin and husband. Apart from making the walk more enjoyable, this meant we didn’t have logistics issues at the end, bearing in mind at the time we weren’t meant to be using public transport.
Our walk started from Abbey Close car park in Abingdon. The Thames Path had crossed from the north to the south bank at the lock and weir and we resumed from here along the towpath. It was a pleasant Sunday afternoon and there were plenty of people out walking. Almost immediately after leaving the lock, the landscape became very rural. At times we were walking through a tunnel of trees, meaning the river was obscured, whilst at other times we were walking through wide open countryside.
After a couple of miles, the path passed under Nuneham Railway Bridge. This carries the line between Banbury and Didcot. A little further on, the path passed Nuneham House, set back on the other side of the river. During WWII, this 18th century house and surrounding parkland were requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence and became RAF Nuneham Park, a photographic reconnaissance interpretation unit! The house is now owned by Oxford University. Since 1993, the property has been leased to the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University as their Global Retreat Centre.
Radley College boathouse came up next but apart from this, the landscape was still very rural. Another 2 miles further on we arrived at Sandford Lock, looking resplendent with well tended flower beds. The path had actually crossed a small bridge onto the first of 3 islands in the middle of the river to reach the lock. We stopped here for a short break. Moving on again, the path crossed from the 3rd island back onto the riverbank by way of a metal bridge.
Another ½ mile further on the path passed under a rusting railway bridge that carries a line servicing the Mini assembly plant at Cowley. A footbridge immediately after this took us across Hinksey Stream and kept us on the towpath of the main navigation of the river. A wide bridge carrying the A423 came up next – Isis Bridge. Once under this bridge, Iffley Lock came into view. What a contrast between this and the characterless, graffiti covered steel bridge we’d just walked under. The lock is very popular with people out for a walk; in fact, it’s number 15 of things to do in Oxford on Trip Advisor and it was easy to see why. The lock keeper’s house is made of stone and had a well tended garden in bloom.
From Iffley Lock to the end of the walk, the path became noticeably busier, which was hardly surprising. It also became wider and was surfaced with resin bonded gravel. Almost immediately after the lock was The Isis Farmhouse pub. This has an amazing location right by the path and the river. With pubs having been allowed to reopen after the lockdown just the day before, it was looking very popular, especially with cyclists.
Donnington Bridge came up next. By no means the ugliest road bridge I came across on my walks. Walking on a bit further, the River Cherwell joined the river from the right. This river rises near Daventry in Northamptonshire and flows for about 40 miles. A number of boathouses belonging to various Oxford colleges’ rowing clubs came up next on the opposite bank. We were now more or less in Oxford. On both sides of the river were green spaces both public and college owned.
About now the river took an almost 90 degree bend to the left and the path met the main Abingdon road. We crossed the road and then rejoined the path. Looking back we got great views of the bridge crossing the river and the island in the middle of the bridge. The bridge is called Folly Bridge. We continued for a few hundred yards before crossing a functional, if not beautiful footbridge to the other bank. From here we walked to the car park where I had earlier left my car. We then all drove back to the car park in Abingdon we had started from.
After being right royally fed and watered at my girlfriend’s cousin’s house in Abingdon, I drove to the Cowley Premier Inn where I had booked in for 2 nights. This was so that I could easily do another 2 walks along the Thames without having to travel to and from home each day. This was the first weekend of hotels being able to reopen following lockdown. I was a little wary of doing this but I discovered I was one of very few people in the hotel. Premier Inn and the attached Beefeater had taken every precaution possible. I felt utterly safe throughout my stay and of course, thoroughly enjoyed my full English each morning!