In the eastern reaches of the Oxfordshire Cotswolds is the beautiful rolling countryside once adorned by the ancient Royal Forest of Wychwood. Today, these limestone uplands are a patchwork of farmland, woodland and parkland, demarcated by dry-stone walls, crossed by ancient trade routes and characterised by the gorgeous Evenlode Valley.
Circling the heart of this vibrant landscape is the Wychwood Way, a sumptuous 37-mile (59.5 km) medium-distance trail. Bookended by the village of Woodstock and Blenheim Palace’s majestic parkland, it explores quintessential English countryside. Rural idylls, atmospheric woodland, fascinating history and varied wildlife await.
Highlights along the route include: sections of Akeman Street, an important trade route in Roman times; the village of Stonesfield and its fascinating prehistoric heritage; the Saltway, an old trade route and drovers’ road; the picturesque hamlet of Old Chalford and its pretty lakes; the tranquil banks of the River Evenlode and its delightful villages; the North Leigh Roman Villa; and finally, Blenheim Palace and its stunning landscaped grounds.
The region’s history is as rich as its scenery. During the Roman and Medieval eras, Wychwood would have been a great forest, very different to the pastoral landscape of today. During the 10th century, in the reign of Ethelred II, a royal hunting lodge was established in Woodstock. Wychwood remained protected for hundreds of years.
However, shipbuilders and industrialists soon came with their axes. First the Navy procured 500 trees in 1778. Then, having seemingly survived the Industrial Revolution, the forest’s protection rights were ended. Within two years 2,000 acres (810 ha) of land had been cleared for new roads and farmland. The forest was no more.
In recent years, interest in Wychwood has increased and the remaining pockets of ancient woodland are now protected. At the turn of the Millennium, the Wychwood Way was launched to celebrate the land’s rich heritage. It is a trail for all ages and abilities and is well managed and waymarked throughout. The gradients are kind and you are never far from the nearest settlement.
In this Collection, I have split the Way into 4 leisurely stages of between 8.5 and 13 miles (13.7 and 20.9 km). It is usual to start in Woodstock and head in an anti-clockwise direction and that is what I have opted for here. Though there’s no reason why you couldn’t walk the route clockwise, choosing your own start and end point.
Each stage concludes in a village with food and accommodation options, though you should book these in advance. I have plotted a detour to the pleasant village of Charlbury at the end of stage 1 for this very reason. However, this is not officially on the Way and brings the total distance covered to 43.9 miles (70.7 km).
The Wychwood Way has something to offer during every season. Oxfordshire enjoys mild summers. It goes without saying that sun cream is essential, both on the trail and in the beer gardens. Regardless of the season, waterproofs are recommended. Be prepared for inclement weather in winter, with the solace of a cosy log fire in a country pub pulling you through on such days.
Woodstock is both the start and end point. The 7 bus service from Oxford runs regularly throughout the day and takes just over half an hour. Other than that, Woodstock is best accessed by car from the M40.
The Wychwood Way shares some of its route with the longer Oxfordshire Way. For a Collection detailing this long-distance trail, see here: komoot.com/collection/1086579
The opening stage sets out from Woodstock into the majestic Blenheim Park. You may be tempted to explore these grand surroundings at length, but you will return here during the …
This stage continues on the Saltway, before taking you to the hamlet of Old Chalford, a pretty place with little lakes and opportunities for wildlife spotting. This is as far …
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This penultimate stage explores a number of pretty villages, including what was once Oxford’s highest. Despite this, the gradients are gentle throughout and the countryside is splendid. You join the …
In the final stage you return to one of the grandest man-made landscapes anywhere, Blenheim Palace and its majestic park. Before this, there are some pretty Oxfordshire villages to explore, …