Oxford Canal walk from Pigeons Lock
Along the quiet southerly section of the rural Oxford Canal, this walk from Pigeons Bridge to Lower Heyford makes the perfect leisurely amble.
Because the route is easy flat walking, it’s also unspectacular for canal engineering marvels, yet instead you tread through opulent greenery in an unspoilt waterways landscape worth every step you pace. This is real country walking and probably feels more remote than it actually is.
Canal: Oxford Canal
Start: Pigeons Lock OS Grid ref: SP486193 Postcode: OX5 3JY
Finish: Heyford Wharf OS Grid ref: SP483247 Postcode: OX25 5PD
Distance: 6.4km / 4 miles
Start: The walk can be done one way with the train back or you could park at Heyford station and get the train to Tackley (just under a mile from the canal and the walk’s start). If you start your walk at Tackley station, take the footpath southwards. It crosses Akeman Street, an old Roman road, now a bridleway. Follow the Oxfordshire Way signs towards Kirtlington for a short while before reaching the canal (the Way carries on through Kirtlington).
1. Turn left onto the towpath and head past Pigeons Lock. Ambling along this towpath, it’s hard to imagine the Oxford Canal was originally part of a busy major freight route between London and the Midlands. It was the arrival of the wider and speedier Grand Union Canal during the heydays of the Industrial Revolution that changed the fate of the Oxford, and probably helped shape it into today’s modest canal unbothered by progress.
2. Continuing northwards, trees and bushes line the canal on both sides, with glimpses on the opposite bank of woodland trails leading to a small clearing by the canal. This seems to be a popular picnic spot for day hireboats.
3. The trees start to thin out beyond bridge 212 and, next to the attractive red-brick bridge 211, the surrounding farmland and grazing cows become more visible.
4. Leafy Northbrook Lock, the first of two locks on this stretch of canal, is blissfully solitary. Its locals are sheep, herons and perhaps even a buzzard or two.
5. Just beyond the lock, the River Cherwell running near the canal is very much evident. Stone bridges arching over the water reflect local Cotswold colours, with a stone packhorse bridge crossing the river alongside the canal bridge 210. Many of the stone bridges along the Oxford Canal were built in the 1790s and are now Grade II-listed. Little has been built beyond to disturb the peace and quiet, apart from a pretty thatched cottage on the opposite bank.
6. The canal’s straight open approach leads to the perfectly situated Dashwood Lock. Another stone bridge, Dashwood Bridge 209, sits in front of the lock, and brick steps enable boaters to access the lock mechanisms. This is a great spot for a picnic - there’s a bench alongside the lock and 360-degree views of open fields full of munching cattle.
7. Just beyond bridge 208, the river and railway re-join the canal as it swirls past the grounds of Rousham House and Gardens. Rousham House is still in the ownership of the same family it was built for in 1635 and the landscape gardens by William Kent (1685-1748) remain almost as they were set out originally for the house. The House is only open by prior arrangement, but the Gardens open daily.
8. A line of moored boats between bridges 207 and 206 marks your approach to Lower Heyford. The original stone bridge 206 is now a footbridge and is overshadowed by the newer road bridge alongside. Look up as you walk under it at its attractive curved brickwork and steel trough.
End: Most of the villages along this stretch of the Oxford Canal are back from the canal, but Lower Heyford seems embedded in it. Heyford Wharf is a hub of activity and life busy with holiday and day hireboats. The railway station is right next to the canal here, offering an easy return to Tackley or Oxford, or northwards to Banbury, but perhaps only after a visit to the wharf’s canalside bistro to enjoy tea, cake and a spot of gongoozling. Alternatively you could turn round to walk back along the canal from a different viewpoint.