Oxford Canal walk to Dashwood Lock

This 2km walk takes you for a country stroll along a quiet section of the rural Oxford Canal.

Explore the rural Oxford Canal Exploring the rural Oxford Canal

The great canal engineer James Brindley built the Oxford Canal in his typical winding fashion, flowing around contours rather than bulldozing a straight course through. The result is a meandering waterways landscape which feels remote and gloriously green, with birdsong for company and views of grazing cows. Dashwood Lock is one of few locks on this part of the canal, and well worth the walk for its quintessentially rural setting.

Canal: Oxford Canal

Start: Heyford Wharf OS Grid ref: SP483247 Postcode: OX25 5PD

Finish: Dashwood Lock OS Grid ref: SP486226 Postcode: OX5 3HY

Distance: 2km / 1.25 miles

Route instructions

Start: The Oxford Canal was one of the first canals built, opening bit by bit between 1774 and 1790. It is one of the most rural in the country, and the southern part of the canal winds gently through fields and the occasional village. Most villages along this stretch of the Oxford Canal are away from the canal, but Lower Heyford seems embedded in it.

1. One of the features of the Oxford Canal is the prevalence of wooden black and white lift bridges, used by farmers to access their land. The bridges are normally left down over the canal so boaters need to use their windlass to work the mechanism which lifts them up (a surprisingly simple process) to enable their boats to pass underneath. Carry on just around the corner from the Wharf to see one of the lift bridges, Mill Lift Bridge 205.

2. Heyford Wharf is a hub of activity and life. It’s a busy boatyard filled with boats, holiday and day hireboats, and there are visiting boats moored along the towpath opposite. The wharf’s canalside bistro is ideally placed for tea, cake and a spot of gongoozling (watching boat activity).

3. 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.

4. The railway runs alongside the canal here, and moored boats again line the towpath opposite the gardens of some of Lower Heyford’s residents. The towpath is popular with walkers and a sign nearby indicates that the entire canal is named the Oxford Canal Walk.

A sunny day on the Oxford Canal A sunny day on the Oxford Canal

5. Stone bridges arch over the water reflecting local Cotswold colours, and little disturbs the peace and quiet. Many of the stone bridges along the Oxford Canal were built in the 1790s and are now Grade II-listed. After walking under the attractive stone bridge 207, the canal 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 are open daily.

6. The River Cherwell and railway run really close to the towpath for a short distance. There’s a noticeable absence of even minor roads so the only sounds are birdsong from the hedges, the moos of cows in the fields and the occasional putt-putt of a boat passing by on the water. 

7. As the canal curves towards High Bush Bridge 208, the river and railway swing away from the towpath. On a lazy sunny day, 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 seemingly unbothered by progress.

8. The canal now straightens as it approaches the perfectly situated Dashwood Lock. The lock makes a great spot for a picnic - there’s a bench alongside the lock and 360-degree views of open fields full of munching cattle. Another stone bridge, Dashwood Bridge 209, sits below the lock, and brick steps enable boaters to easily access the lock mechanisms.

End: When you can drag yourself away from this glorious spot, it’s time to turn round to walk back along the canal enjoying a new perspective.

Walking route map from Heyford Wharf to Dashwood Lock Walking route map from Heyford Wharf to Dashwood Lock