From the honey-hued brick cottages and rolling limestone hills of the Cotswolds, across one of the most effortlessly beautiful counties in the country, to the colourful chalk uplands of the Chilterns — the Oxfordshire Way is a superb journey through the heart of Southern England.
Starting from picture-perfect Bourton-on-the-Water, it leaves Gloucestershire behind, arcing down the length of Oxfordshire to its border with Berkshire and Buckinghamshire at Henley-on-Thames. It is a long-distance hike totalling 68 miles (109 km), though in this Collection I have added some worthy detours, bringing the total to 71.9 miles (116 km).
This is a journey that subtly evolves in character as you progress from village to village. It starts and ends in two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty: the Cotswolds and the Chilterns. In between, it passes through timeless Oxfordshire countryside, with nature reserves, woodland and riverside paths in good supply.
You can expect to enjoy the charming settlements of eastern Gloucestershire; the delights of the River Evenlode and its accompanying villages, where the ancient forest of Wychwood once stood; walk in the footsteps of Romans on Akeman Street, through the grounds of Blenheim Palace; take in the splendour and fascinating wildlife of the Otmoor Plain; before ascending into the Chiltern Hills on your way to the end point at Henley-on-Thames.
Every stage is characterised by the towns and villages dotted along the route, as you pass through a mosaic of landscapes and styles. From the golden hues of the Cotswolds and the slate-roofed cottages and green fields of rural Oxfordshire, to the thatched houses and bluebell woodland found in the Chilterns, you will be hard-pressed not to fall in love with these heavenly settlements and their surroundings.
Ancient coaching inns line the route, many of which still have rooms today and all of which can cater for your refuelling needs. The cosy fireplaces and sunny beer gardens found along the route mean that this is a walk to luxuriate and unwind in. Why hurry in haste from place to place? It’s the journey, not the destination, that is important here.
With such thoughts in mind, I have split the Way into 6 stages for this Collection, each covering a leisurely distance of between 10 and 15 miles (16 km to 24 km). I have stayed true to the traditional west to east itinerary, though there is no reason it could not be accomplished in reverse.
Only the final stage in the Chilterns entails significant elevation change and paths are solid and waymarked (with ‘OW’) throughout, meaning that this is a walk that beginners can enjoy alongside those whose walking boots have been battered beyond recognition. It can also be a treat in any season, with winter bringing out the possibility of mulled wine or cider by a roaring fire.
You are never far from civilisation. Cafes, stores, restaurants and pubs are frequent, so you don’t need to carry too many provisions. Waterproofs are recommended, even if they just sit in the bottom of your sack.
Accommodation is in good supply. Where it is not, I have made specific options clear in the stage descriptions. All but stages 2 and 4 end near a train station, so there’s often the option to find lodgings elsewhere and rejoin the route the next day, if necessary.
Bourton-on-the-Water is most easily reached by car, with the A429 close by. The nearest train station is Moreton-in-Marsh, 8 miles (12.9 km) away. The 801 bus links the two and takes about half an hour. Henley-on-Thames is near the M4 and M40, if driving. It is about an hour’s train journey from London.
The first stage of the Oxfordshire Way simply oozes Cotswold charm, as it leaves the county of Gloucestershire for Oxfordshire. Starting from the achingly pretty Bourton-on-the-Water, you make your way …
This stage is a tranquil, meandering journey through the Evenlode Valley between archetypal Oxfordshire towns and villages. As you arc around what remains of the ancient forest of Wychwood, you …
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This stage of the Oxfordshire Way joins the ancient Roman Akeman Street, arrowing straight across the northern end of Blenheim Park. The route then arcs through the charming villages of …
The rural splendour of Otmoor Plain and two of its ‘seven towns’ are the main spectacle on this gorgeous stage of the Oxfordshire Way. Noke and Beckley are, in reality, …
Head back south to the intriguingly named Drunkard’s Corner to pick up the Way once more, venturing south east and crossing the M40 motorway. Tracks and minor roads bring you …
On the final stage of the Oxfordshire Way, you ascend into the chalk uplands of the Chiltern Hills AONB and cross undulating countryside to finally arrive at Henley-on-Thames. This is …