The Deep South

Monday 1st February 2016

Train Oxford station, bus Cumnor Hill, Chawley, Hurst Hill, Powder Hill, Pickett's Heath, Old Boars Hill, Jarn Mound, Chiswell Farm, South Hinksey, Hinksey Lake, Hinksey Park, bus Oxford station
14.3km|9 miles – 140m|460ft

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route map I've an early delivery to make in Oxford. It would be a shame to waste a peak-time train ticket on a quick visit to the city, so I plan a walk around the 'deep south' – the southern fringe of my regular walking area.

It's been some years since I've been around Boars Hill. I take the no.4 bus from the road opposite the train station to Hurst Lane on Cumnor Hill. From there you can access the woods and heathland that runs around the south-west flank of Oxford city.

Gaiters are brilliant! – yet they seldom feature in the popular image of country walking.

I've planned a walk to follow mainly tracks and unmade roads, avoiding open fields and the slimy Oxford and Kimmeridge clays that make-up the local landscape. For some reason though, sitting at the bus stop in Frideswide Square opposite the train station, I reach into the bottom of my pack and for the first time in a while pull out my gaiters.

Good decision – for most of the day I trudged through various types of mud with consistencies ranging from milk-shake, to custard, to full-suction fudge.

I was hoping that the greensand beds along the tops of the hills here, which give the area its heathland quality, would allow me to avoid the worst of the mud... admittedly a bit of a forlorn hope, given the recent weather.

Even the made farm tracks below the woodlands were awash with mud.

Gaiters won't stop liquid mud splashing on/above your knees, but they do allow you to nonchalantly stride through muddy puddles or sink in mud well past your ankles without filling your boots.

It was sunny this morning. Leaving the train station it clouded over. On reaching Hurst Hill a fine drizzle started – which was a pity as it obscured the view westward to the Cotswolds. The thick cloud also made the transport jets and heavy helicopters flying close overhead in and out of Brize Norton rather menacing; heard but not seen.

I had a break at Jarn Mound – though the steep climb on the subsiding concrete steps wasn't worth it as there was no view from the top today.

The Oxford Preservation Trust own a few plots of land around Boars Hill, with access for the public. Jarn Mound sits in a wildlife garden, with some very nice benches to take a break after truding up the hill out of the city.

Hinkey Lake FootbridgeIt was all downhill from there. Sliding every-which-way on the clay fields back into the floodplain of the Thames, punctuated by the noisy detour to cross the Oxford ring road.

From South Hinksey I could have gone into Osney along the cycleway, but instead opted to head to Abingdon Road. The path across the floodplain is raised on a causeway. When it reaches the railway yard it is raised up on a long footbridge. What makes an even more notable end to the walk is when the railway footbridge descends onto another ironwork footbridge over Hinksey Lake.

Left/right and it's a short walk up Lake Street to Abingdon Road. A few minutes later the X13 bus took me back to the railway station. Then, on the train home to Banbury, the sun came out and the sky cleared. Oh well!