6 ISSUES FOR £6 Subscribe to Cotswold Life today click here

Cotswold Ways Walk: Dreaming spires and rabbit holes in Oxford

PUBLISHED: 11:56 03 August 2017 | UPDATED: 11:56 03 August 2017

Port Meadow and the River Thames

Port Meadow and the River Thames

Kevan Manwaring

Walk in the footsteps of Lewis Carroll and visit the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland amid the historic water meadows of Oxford

One idyllic afternoon in early July, 1862, the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson rowed towards Godstow with his friend Robinson Duckworth (also a man of the cloth) and three VIP passengers – Lorina, Alice, and Edith Liddell, the young daughters of the Dean of Christchurch. To pass the time, the girls asked for a story and Dodgson happily obliged, conjuring a tale of three children – Elsie, Lacie, and Tillie – who lived at the bottom of the ‘treacle well’ (a landmark in St Margaret’s churchyard, Binsey). The story so delighted the girls that the Reverend was encouraged to write it down – which he did under the pen-name of Lewis Carroll – and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was born, presented to the eponymous Alice in a hand-written and self-illustrated manuscript in 1864 and published the following year.

The history of St Margaret’s goes back alot further, to the Saxon Saint Frideswide (who was said to have created the healing spring with her prayers), and the strange bumps and tumps of Port Meadow even further, to the Bronze Age. With the dreaming spires of the ancient university city of Oxford rising across the slowly winding waters of Old Father Thames, a walk around Binsey and Port Meadow is an evocative one – with a nunnery at one end and a pub at the other, both the secular and sacred needs are catered for. Take a picnic hamper, a copy of Alice, and go looking for Wonderland. On a summer’s day it is easy to imagine it very close by in such a magical spot, eulogised by the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins as a ‘sweet especial rural scene’.

Check out the map here!

The Walk:

12th-century Godstow Abbey12th-century Godstow Abbey

1. Starting on Binsey green, go through the metal gate and take the pale, gravelly path heading East across the field to the river.

2. When you get to the river (here called the Isis) turn right, passing Medley Sailing Club and Bossom’s boatyard.

3. Cross over the footbridge to the far side of the river via the long thin island. Enjoy the colourful boats and sparkling water.

4. Take the footpath branching left across the meadow in a north-easterly direction.

The TroutThe Trout

5. Head to the corner of the Trap Ground allotments.

6. Follow the edge of the allotments and the common, pushing north, past Burgess Field.

7.On your left, 19 prehistoric sites have been discovered (Bronze Age burial mounds, an Iron Age settlement) the most significant being Round Hill. Beneath the unploughed meadow are the foundations of 17th-century fortifications from the Parliamentary siege of Oxford during the English Civil War.

8. Leaving the edge of Burgess Field keep heading north until you come to an Oxford City Boundary Stone, dated 1886. Another stands by the Godstow Rd carpark.

Orchard along the walkOrchard along the walk

9. Continue north, and follow the edge of what is now Wolvercote Common left on the other side of the allotments.

10. Proceed to the parking area (toilets!). Look out for bolshy geese – they can be territorial, especially of interpretation boards!

11. Past the car park you come to the lane (Godstow Rd), take this left to the picturesque watering hole, The Trout, and the charming bridge that runs by it, affording lovely views over the weir (watch for traffic on this narrow stretch).

12. Cross the bridge, and take the first gap on your left, down to the river bank and follow that south.

13. On your right should be the ruins of the 12th Century Godstow Abbey. Have a wander round its peaceful interior. Here St Frideswide lived (the legend is she was chased by Aelfgar, King of the Mercians, to the site of St Margaret’s. Run to ground there, she prayed for a miracle – the first blinded her pursuer, the second cured him as a ‘treacle well’ of healing fluid bubbled up as she prayed). It is also the burial place of Rosamund Clifford, mistress of Henry II.

14. Past Godstow Lock follow the charming tree-lined riverside path south. You’ll be thankful of their shade on a hot summer’s day, but it is worth contemplating Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–1889) famous poem of 1879, ‘Binsey Poplars’, written after the felling of a row of poplar trees here:

All felled, felled, are all felled;

Of a fresh and following folded rank

Not spared, not one

That dandled a sandalled

Shadow that swam or sank

On meadow and river and wind-wandering weed-winding bank.

15. Keep winding and wandering until you come to the rear entrance of The Perch. This is a tempting moment for a cool drink and perhaps lunch, or you can push on to St Margaret’s and reward yourself afterwards. Depends how virtuous or thirsty you are feeling!

16. Walk through the beer garden of The Perch.

17. Back on the village green head right past the row of houses along the narrow lane.

18. This will take you (eventually) to St Margaret’s – it is well worth the effort, literally, as in the corner of the churchyard, to the left of the church, you’ll find the stone well dedicated to St Margeret: St Frideswide’s treacle well, and the original rabbit hole! Waggish students would take visitors in search of the ‘treacle mines’ of Binsey, but the well was declared lost in 1850. 7 years later, the Reverend Prout rediscovered and restored it with the archway and stone steps. 5 years later, a famous boating party made pilgrimage to it and the rest is (literary) history.

19.Note the rose-adorned tombstone to Mary Ann Prickett – she was the governess of the Liddell girls, and they nicknamed her ‘Pricks’, so she must have been a bit thorny! She was the inspiration for the formidable Red Queen. Curiously, the site of the church used to be known as Thornbury.

20. Return along the lane to Binsey where refreshments await you if you have deferred gratification!

Need to know:

Distance: 8.70km / 5.40ml walk

Level: Moderate fitness/mobility required. Suitable footwear essential.

Time: 2-3 hrs

Pub: The Perch Inn, Binsey, Oxford, OX2 0NG T: 01865 728891

Alternative: The Trout Inn, 195 Godstow Road, Wolvercote, Oxford OX2 8PN, T: 01865 510930

Dog-friendly: Yes

Public transport: Buses from Oxford city centre to Binsey.

Parking: Binsey (also car parks north end OX2 8PU & south end OX2 6ED of Port Meadow).

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Cotswold Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Cotswold Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Cotswold Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Out & about

Mon, 13:12

We never tire of pretty pictures of the Cotswolds. Here are ten of the best shared on Instagram this week…

Read more
Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Positioned on the Roman-built Fosse Way, Moreton-in-Marsh is a town steeped in history. Complete with chocolate box houses and meandering streets, it’s the perfect place to explore for a taste of quintessential Cotswold life. We’ve assembled a brief guide to help you to get the most from your visit…

Read more
Thursday, August 3, 2017

Walk in the footsteps of Lewis Carroll and visit the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland amid the historic water meadows of Oxford

Read more
Thursday, July 27, 2017

Imposing manor houses, quiet medieval villages, idyllic swathes of countryside - the Cotswolds offers a lot for location scouts in the film business. We pick 19 famous filming locations in the Cotswolds, as seen on screens big and small

Read more
Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Reeves family, from Dursley, have always loved cycling through the countryside with daughters, Hannah and Charlotte. But as Charlotte, now 19, grew older, her special needs made cycling increasingly difficult. Their solution – Charlotte’s Tandems – is now an innovative UK-wide charity, as Katie Jarvis discovered

Read more
Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Thousands of visitors flocked to BBC Countryfile’s first live event last year, and following its monumental success it will return to Blenheim Palace this summer, promising to be bigger and better than ever. We pick ten reasons why Countryfile Live is the perfect day out for the whole family

Read more
Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Jane Leigh visits the Warwickshire town of Royal Leamington Spa to find a thriving independent sector amongst the Regency architecture

Read more
Tuesday, July 11, 2017

There are plenty of fantastic events in the Cotswolds this summer, and many can be enjoyed with man’s best friend in tow. Mark Lewis, Managing Director of Cotswold RAW, the biologically appropriate raw food for dogs, talks us through what’s coming up for you and the family to attend

Read more
Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Honey-coloured cottages with perfectly manicured gardens, quaint tearooms and cosy pubs are part and parcel of the quintessential Cotswold villages. How many on our list can you name?

Read more
Tuesday, July 4, 2017

RHS Hampton Court Palace results

Words and pictures by Mandy Bradshaw

Read more
Tuesday, July 4, 2017

If captivating grade-listed buildings with landscaped gardens are your thing, you’ve come to the right place. We pick 10 of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring stately homes you simply need to visit this year

Read more
Tuesday, June 27, 2017

If only walls could talk! Featuring gorgeous Cotswold almshouses, stunning market squares and honey-coloured architecture, we pick 8 beautifully historic market towns to visit in the region

Read more
Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Cotswold Life’s gardening columnist designer Paul Hervey-Brookes’ garden for the Institute of Quarrying won not only gold but Best in Show and the Best Construction awards

Read more
Tuesday, June 6, 2017

One of the most beautiful landscapes in the UK with its vibrant towns and charming villages, bags of history and intrigue, vast countryside and impressive architecture, we choose 32 reasons why the Cotswolds is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory
A+ Education

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad
Cotswold Life Application Link

Local Business Directory

Cotswold's trusted business finder

Job search in your local area



Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search