A Walk in the Oxfordshire Woods

We’re lucky to have a garden which ends at the edge of a nature reserve, so our own trees merge in nicely with those in the reserve (and there are some giants, as we found out when one came down in the storm a couple of years ago). On a quiet morning, with your back to the houses,  you could be in the middle of nowhere. Before here I lived about as near as it’s possible to live in the woods while being simultaneously 2 miles from Aldermaston AWE and Reading town centre – down a short lane off the main road and in behind the trees,  home was in a little terrace of four old cottages. When a friend visited from London she was alarmed at the lack of streetlights (I had moved there from Hoxton, just as it became unbearably hip). How did we cope in amongst all these dark trees? she asked. Well, we carried torches, it’s simple really. You’d think she’d been dropped into the wildwood of the middle ages  she was so spooked. I loved it.

While my first choice for a walk would always be along a wind-blown cliff top, a woodland walk comes a very close second. So, this last but one day of half term, I decided to take the boy for a walk in the woods. The woods I chose this time (we’re not spoilt for choice round here, woodlands everywhere) were Shotover Country Park, to the east of Oxford. I’ve never been there even though I’ve lived here for ten years or so, so this was a litte adventure for both of us.

Shotover is an SSSI and is run by Oxford City Council for everyone to use. It includes heah, marsh and meadow as well as woodland. It was a Royal Forest until the Civil War, when it became grazed land. The London Road – where travellers were prey to Highwaymen – ran across Shotover Plain. arming ceased in the early 20th Century and the land returned to woodland. It came into the care of the City Council in 1930.

The drive up to the main car park is up a huge hill, on a single track road. It’s about 2 miles away from where I work in Headington, but you feel miles away from Oxford, There are a few properties on the hill, how amazing would it be to live up here!


Oxford from Shotover Hill, from Recollection, 1791.   John Baptist Malchair (image ashmoleanprints.com) Highwayman days surely!

Part of the current sign/map/leaflet rack, a lovely piece of graphic design

We only explored a very small part of  the Country Park – while I’m trying to get my child to apprecite the absolute joy of walking, he’s eight and would rather be making a LEGO Bionicle or fighting Endermen, though he is now very keen on climbing trees! (see below).

We chose the Red path ‘Sandpit Walk’ – which it’s suggested takes 30 minutes (I’m playing the long game here, too much too soon will put him off for life I fear).  I will go back and explore the other paths and ‘desire lines’ before long, hopefully with some company.


We took a few pictures.

We found a beautifully climb-able youngish oak tree in a clearing, where for a brief and tantalising moment the SUN came out (we’re having a very wet, cold and grey start to June this year).

Most of the blossom is gone now, but the bracken is unfurling – these are delightfully called Fiddleheads in North America and Canada and probably elsewhere, I’ve never heard it used over here though. There was starry moss underfoot – I ‘found’ a rabbit hole shortly after I found the moss and did a spectacular roll to avoid dropping my phone, much to the boy’s amusement. Be careful out there. We saw some lovely lichen too.

In a slightly  more wooded area we encountered yet another climb-able tree, which got its own back by encaging the boy as he tried to get out. You shouldn’t annoy the woodland spirits.

Those tantalising little desire paths lead off into the trees, and at one point we had a bit of blossom ‘snow’ along one of the wider paths. Of course no woodland would be complete without some really spooky trees…here’s my favourite, with it’s woody ‘hand’ reaching towards us…

Shotover is lovely, I really can’t beleive we’ve never visted before, we’ll definitely go back, I’d like to see it in the early morning and the evening, in the sun, the snow and most of all, in the autumn, when it must be amazing. So that’s an Octoer half term day out already pencilled in, I’ll make sure that boy gets the walking bug eventually.

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