Oxford Canal, one of England’s oldest and narrowest, was partly built by inmates of Oxford Prison. You can follow it on foot or by narrow boat (day or week-long hire) from Oxfordshire Narrowboats and enjoy raising the hand-operated foot bridges, a unique feature of this waterway. You’ll either love ’em or hate ‘em!
Explore the Thames Path – you can walk all the way from its source near Lechlade, to London (given time!) But if you prefer a more restful exploration, Salters Steamers, Hobbs of Henley, or the elegant Edwardian electric cruisers of Oxford College Cruises may have more appeal. From Oxford, Benson, Abingdon and Henley you can take rowing boats, steamer trips or hire self-drive boats. Tooley’s Boatyard in Banbury is the oldest working canal dry dock in Britain. Take a tour.
The River Thames has many tributaries – the Glyme, Thame, Dorn, Swere, Windrush, Cherwell and Evenlode, offering delightful walks through wooded valleys, passing by picturesque villages, many with welcoming pubs. River life and rowing in particular are celebrated in the award-winning River and Rowing Museumat Henley. Try rowing a trireme? And children will love the Wind in the Willows recreations.
Boating and Punting
Drifting away down the Cherwell or the Isis (the Oxford name for the River Thames), boating and punting provide a timeless escape from the hustle and bustle of the city centre. Punt upstream to the picturesque Victoria Arms, featured in Inspector Morse. Look out for kingfishers along the river and kites overhead. Only the pedalos (with the sound of a superannuated washing machine) will disturb your tranquillity.
Magdalen Bridge Boathouse, High Street: offers punts, rowing boats and pedalos for hire on the River Cherwell. They also offer chauffeured punts if you can’t face wielding a pole. The most popular circular route, past the Botanic Garden and Christ Church Meadow takes 30 mins – to an hour. The other direction offers a more rural and slightly more challenging route towards University Parks. ‘Tis said Thames Water deliberately leave fallen trees mid-stream to liven up the route. Deposit plus ID required. Mid-March to mid-October. www.oxfordpunting.co.uk
Cherwell Boathouse, Bardwell Road: punts, rowing boats and Canadian canoes for hire on the River Cherwell, for a secluded route favoured by the locals. Head for the Vicky Arms to snack at a picturesque pub owned by Oxford Preservation Trust. Deposit: one day’s hire. Or enjoy refreshments at the outdoor Teahut Bar (hot smoked salmon & samphire tart anyone?) or more formal Cherwell Boathouse Restaurant. Available: mid March – mid October. www.cherwellboathouse.co.uk
Salter’s Steamers Ltd, Folly Bridge in Oxford, also Abingdon.: punts, day and rowing boats for hire on the Isis (the Oxford Thames). Boat Trips: scheduled passenger boat services on the Thames. Daily trips from Folly Bridge, Oxford, to Iffley Lock (20 minutes each way) ,and to Sandford and Abingdon (2 hours each way). Available: end May – mid September. Short trips may be offered earlier in good weather. www.salterssteamers.co.uk
Oxford River Cruises: (+44(0)1865 292025) offer a bespoke service for groups as well as regular cruises for the public on the Isis (Thames) and around Oxford. They can follow the same stretch of the river (up to Wolvercote) taken by Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell in a small rowing boat almost 150 years ago – or take you along the Eights Week rowing course, alongside the college boat houses. Lunchtime and Sunset cruises (including refreshments) are a speciality. Themed trips include the Mad Hatter’s Tea party. Trips run from March, leaving from the Perch Inn, Binsey Lane, OX2 0NG. www.oxfordrivercruises.com Nearby The Folly restaurant is a convenient watering-hole if you prefer to dine on land.
College Cruisers: Combe Road Wharf: have narrow boats for hire on the Oxford Canal. The shortest hire period is a weekend. www.collegecruisers.com
Oxfordshire Narrowboats offer day boats (with cream teas on request) as well as holiday hire. One of the best 100 holidays in Britain according to The Times. tel 01869 340348. You need this kind of boat to explore the narrow Oxford Canal – or a canoe! www.oxfordshire-narrowboats.co.uk/welcome.html
Information courtesy of Visit Oxfordshire
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