It is a common misconception that the River Thames flows through Oxford. It doesn’t. Well, not through the centre. In fact, it flows around the western edge of the city. Purists may be left disappointed that they never saw the sites. So, even if you are not stopping in Oxford, this detour allows you to divert into the historic city and rejoin the Thames Path further on.
The Thames Path passes Fiddlers Island, Osney Bridge and through the Industrial Estate to the west of the city before turning east to Folly Bridge.
Our suggested detour leaves the Thames just before Fiddlers Island, and picks up the Oxford Canal Walk, arriving close to the centre of Oxford. Rather than taking the fastest route to Folly Bridge we detour slightly taking in some of Oxford’s finest buildings.
We leave the Thames Path just past Blossoms Boatyard and bridge. It’s not hard to spot the path which crosses the southern-end of Port Meadow towards the car park. Stay on the road past the car park, over the bridge and turn right onto the canal.
The path down the canal, which is on your left, is firm underfoot with plenty of houseboats to admire. Across the canal is Jericho, a bohemian suburb of Oxford, marked by the church of St Barnabas, complete with Italian-style campanile. To your right is Castle Mill Stream, a narrow backwater which is fed from the Thames at Fiddler’s Island.
Half-way down the canal, you meet Sheepwash Channel which links to the Thames to your right. Keep left and carry on to Hythe Bridge which is your jumping off point for Oxford city centre.
A detailed map is shown below but, for those who like directions, it’s quite simple.
When the canal meets the road at Hythe Bridge, turn left
Go up George Street
At the crossroads with Cornmarket Street go straight which is Broad Street. On your right is a terrace of quaint buildings packed with shops for the tourist: University clothing, Harry Potter memorabilia and the like. The Buttery Hotel is also here, as is the very first Oxfam shop. Balliol College is on your left.
At the end of Broad Street, past the Sheldonian Theatre and the Clarendon Building. Turn right on Catte Street. The Bodleain Library and the Radcliffe Camera are on your right.
At the end of Catte Street turn right onto High Street to the entrance of the University Church of St Mary the Virgin.
Opposite is a narrow road, Magpie Lane. Oriel College is on your right.
At Merton Street, cross over the street and through a gate into Grove Walk which then becomes Merton Grove. Merton College is on your left.
You are now in Christchurch Meadows. Turn right towards Christ Church buildings and then left towards the river
The Thames Path is on the other side so you must turn right and walk upstream to Folly Bridge. You can reach the bridge around the back of the Head of the River inn.
It is possible to keep following Castle Mill Stream which exits into the Thames about halfway between Osney and Folly bridges. The route is pleasant and takes you past some interesting buildings including Oxford Castle and Prison. But then you might as well have just carried on walking down the Thames Path for you will miss the best of Oxford.
Impact on Distance
From 2.4 leaving the Thames Path before Fiddlers Island and rejoining at Folly Bridge is 2.4 miles. The equivalent distance via Osney Bridge is 1.9 miles. So the net additional distance is just 0.5 mile. You won’t get a better return on your investment on the Thames Path than this!