Oxfordshire Country Walk – Cotswolds – Charlbury to Spelsbury round
Oxfordshire (abbreviated Oxon) is a county in South East England bordering on Warwickshire to the north-north west, Northamptonshire to the north-north east, Buckinghamshire to the east, Berkshire to the south, Wiltshire to the south west and Gloucestershire to the west. The highest point is White Horse Hill, in the Vale of White Horse, reaching 216 metres (856 feet). Its main city is Oxford the home of the University of Oxford. Other main towns are Banbury, Bicester, Kidlington, Chipping Norton, Carterton, Witney, Thame, Chinnor, Abingdon, Wantage, Didcot, Wallingford and Henley-on-Thames. There is much to do in Oxfordshire with activities such as country walks, cycling, sailing and punting and also many places to visit such as churches, historical buildings and in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds some wonderful idyllic villages. There are many TV and film locations, you can follow in the footsteps of Harry Potter or visit the locations of Downton Abbey. Bampton doubles as the fictional village of Downton. The Swan Inn at Swinbrook, Cogges close to Witney and Shilton a picturesque village near Burford have also been used in the filming of Downton Abbey. There are a number of companies offering Downton Abbey themed tours.
The Cotswolds are a range of hills covering an area of 25 miles across and 90 miles long and lie mainly within the counties of Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire but extend into parts of Wiltshire, Somerset, Worcestershire and Warwickshire. The spine of the Cotswolds runs southwest to northeast through the six counties particularly Gloucestershire, west Oxfordshire and south western Warwickshire. The Cotswolds have been designated as the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is the largest AONB in England and Wales. The northern and western edges of the Cotswolds are marked by steep escarpments down to the Severn Valley and the Warwickshire Avon and this escarpment is often called the Cotswolds Edge. On the eastern boundary lies the city of Oxford and on the west is Stroud. To the southeast the upper reaches of the Thames Valley and towns such as Lechlade, Tetbury and Fairford mark the limit of this region and to the south the boundary reaches beyond Bath and towns such as Chipping Sodbury and Marshfield. The Cotswolds are characterised by attractive small towns and villages built of the underlying Cotswold stone, a yellow limestone, and drystone walls many built in the 18th and 19th centuries can be seen everywhere in the fields. The most well known towns or villages are Bourton-on-the-Water, Broadway, Burford, Chipping Norton, Cirencester, Moreton-in-Marsh, Northleach, Stow-on-the-Wold, Stroud and Winchcombe. During the 13th – 15th centuries the native Cotswold sheep were famous throughout Europe for their heavy fleeces and high quality of wool. Cotswold wool came at a high price and the wealth generated by the wool trade enabled wealthy traders to leave their mark by building fine houses and beautiful churches, known as “wool churches”. Today the sight of the sheep on the hillside is still one of the most common features of the Cotswolds. Worcestershire is a county steeped in history and boasts miles of The Great Outdoors across rolling countryside and winding waterways. It is a county of arts and culture as well as having many historic houses, museums, country house gardens, two arboreta and Britain’s premier steam railway.
Charlbury is a small market town set in the Evenload Valley in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds. The houses and shops of the town centre are built of Cotswold stone, with slate roofs from nearby Stonesfield. There is a wonderful 16th century Talbot and Armada Cottage at the end of Thames Street and the grandest houses are Lee Palace, the residence of the Duchess of Marlborough, and Cornbury Park. The town looks across the valley to the 600 acre Cornbury Park estate almost surrounded by the woodlands of Wychwood Forest. Cornbury Park, mainly 16th and 17th century, was originally one of the royal hunting lodges for the forest but today even though it is not open to the public it hosts a number of public events including the Wilderness Festival. Charlbury, once a small village in a clearing in Wychwood Forest, grew and became a large Market Town in the 18th and 19th centuries due to its glove making industry. The town has a museum, a number of shops and places for food and drink. Charlbury Deli and Cafe is owned and run by the local community. In the small green, known as Playing Close, there are some attractive cottages which look over to a little neo-Jacobean drinking fountain. The 12th century church of St Mary the Virgin which was restored by the Victorians blends in nicely with nearby stone fronted shops and inns. Charlbury is known for its yearly Street Fair and annual Beer Festival normally held in the second week of July and Cornbury Park for its yearly Music Festival.
Spelsbury is a small village on the road between Chipping Norton and Charlbury consisting of a mixture of old stone cottages, some with thatched roofs, and more modern houses. In the centre of the village by the side of the road there is an unusual large canopied water fountain, of honey coloured stone, built in memory of Constantine Augustus Dillon and further along the road is a group of 17th century almshouses. Spelsbury’s Church of All Saints was originally Norman but the nave is Early English Gothic. In the church the chancel contains a group of monuments to the Lee and Dillon families. Close by is Ditchley Park a stately home which was built by the second Earl of Litchfield who was a member of the Lee family. During the early years of the Second World War Ditchley Park was a weekend retreat for Winston Churchill. Many of the stately home’s distinguished residents are buried in Spelsbury’s church.
The Oxfordshire Way is a 68 mile long distance walk mainly in Oxfordshire. With 6 miles in Gloucestershire and very short sections in Buckinghamshire it passes from the Cotswolds to the Chiltern Hills. The path starts at Bourton-on-the-Water in Gloucestershire and passes through the villages of Wyck Rissington and Bledington then follows the valley of the River Evenlode to Shipton-under-Wychwood, Ascott-under-Wychwood and the small town of Charlbury. The path then passes through Stonesfield and follows Akeman Street for 6 miles, including a crossing of Blenheim Park. After crossing the Oxford Canal it passes through Kirtlington and Weston-on-the-Green to Islip. The path continues by Noke, Beckley and the southern edge of Bernwood Forest to Waterperry. The path then passes through Waterstock, Tiddington and Tetsworth. After crossing the M40 it passes the small villages of Adwell and Wheatfield to Pyrton. It then crosses the Ridgeway National Trail and climbs the Chiltern escarpment to Christmas Common. It now continues through the Chiltern beechwoods, passing Pishill, Maidensgrove, Bix Bottom, and Middle Assendon to finish at Henley-on-Thames.
From the church we walk to the end of Church Lane and turn right uphill. At the top of the hill we turn left onto Thames Street. We head forwards past Armada Cottage downhill to the River Evenlode and the car parking area. We go through the kissing gate in the hedge at the far end of the car park signposted Oxfordshire Way. We head forward across the field following the arrows to cross over a wooden footbridge then over the next field and go through the gate in the hedge. We keep heading forward following the arrows and cross over a tiny stream and bear right. We go through another gate and bear right towards the wood. In the wood we come to a post with two yellow arrows we head forward towards Coldron Mill. We come to another gate on our right and follow the yellow arrow straight forward to a metal gate and cross over a small bridge. We come out into the open arriving at Coldron Mill. We head forward to the right of the mill and the buildings and pick up the gravel drive. We go through the gate into the field and head forwards to the left hand corner of the churchyard and go through the gate between the two buildings. At the end of the track we turn left to the road and turn left again passing the water fountain on our left. We follow the road round the bend to the right past a row of cottages then turn right onto a lane. We head forward and when the lane bears right we turn left onto a bridleway marked Taston. We head forward into the field and follow the hedge line on our left through two fields and a gate into a small wood. We follow the path and soon descend some steps to cross a small footbridge and bear right. We come out into a field and head straight forward to a house and wall. We go through the gate at the end of the house and turn left onto a track then turn right into Taston. At the old stone cross we turn right and follow the lane downhill. Just past Lower Farmhouse we turn right up Coate Lane and head forward along the track to Coathouse Farm. We turn left walking in front of the buildings with the wall on our right. At the end of the wall we turn right following the yellow arrow on the post. We head forward through the field with the hedge on our right. At the end of the field we go through a kissing gate and head towards another kissing gate keeping to the right of the farm. At the end of the buildings we head forward though a gate into a field to pass by a water tower on our left. We continue through the next field to a gate and turn right following the yellow arrow. We head diagonally across the field to the gate in the left hand corner. We bear slightly right to go over the stile into the next field then bear left downhill to cross a bridge. We now bear right through a gate into the cemetery. We cross the cemetery to go through a gate then bear right towards a wooden building and a lane. We turn right onto Nine Acres Lane. At the end of the lane we turn left and retrace our steps back to the church.
This is an easy walk on paths and tracks through grass fields and small woods. Some gravel tracks and short distances on minor road. There are a number of gates and some small bridges to cross.
Elevation: approx lowest point 85m (278.87ft) approx highest point 139.60m (458ft) approx ascent 119.30m (391.40ft)
Distance and Start Point
Approx 5 miles allow 2 ½ hours using OS Explorer Maps 180 Oxford Witney and Woodstock and 191 Banbury, Bicester and Chipping Norton. This walk is done clockwise.
Start point: Church Lane, limited free roadside parking.
Charlbury is in the Cotswolds, Oxfordshire.
Directions and Parking
From the M40 take junction 11 and take the A422 towards Banbury. At the third roundabout take the first exit onto the A361 towards Chipping Norton. Take the left turn onto the B4022 bear right at the y-junction past Great Tew. At the staggered crossroads with the B4030 cross straight over. At the A44 cross straight over still on the B4022 into Charlbury. At the junction turn right follow the road round to the left. *At the junction turn left then right. Church Lane is on the left.
Parking: Spendlove Centre Car Park, roadside near the church and the area next to the River Evenlode, all free of charge.
Toilets and Refreshments
There are public toilets in the Spendlove Centre Car Park at Charlbury and for refreshments there are shops, cafes and four pubs: the Bull Inn, the Bell Inn, the Rose and Crown and the Ye Olde Three Horseshoes.