Oxford CAMRA:
Pub Walk 3: Thames Path from Wolvercote to Iffley

The Thames Path is a 294km/184mile National Trail walking route from the source of the Thames at Kemble, Glocestershire, to the Thames Barrier at Greenwich. Our third pub walk will again use a short section of the Path, starting at Wolvercote and following the river as it winds around Oxford, leaving the river at Iffley Lock. There are five riverside pubs on the route, and a bonus pub in Iffley village to finish.

Some members of Oxford CAMRA did this walk on Saturday 3rd July. See below for some notes on how we got on.

Distance: 9km/5.6mile

Surface: There are some grassy and earthen sections near the start, but the vast majority of the route is on well made gravel or tarmac paths. Any footware that you are confident of being able to use to walk 6 miles in comfort should do.

Accessibility: the walk is very level, with no significant inclines, though there are a couple of arched footbridges which require brief exertion to climb. There are no stiles. There is a short section of decending steps as one crosses from the Botley Road down to Osney Island, and leaving the path at Iffley Lock involves crossing over one of the lock gates.

Public Transport: Wolvercote is served by the number 6 bus from Oxford city centre. The start point for the walk at the Trout is about five minutes walk from the bus stop in Home Close, Lower Wolvercote. The end point, at the Prince of Wales in Iffley village, is a 5 or 10 minute stroll from the Iffley Road, where one can catch a number 3 or number 4 bus back into central Oxford. Should you wish to break the route up: central Oxford is in easy walking distance of the section between Botley Road (just before we reach the Waterman's Arms) and Folly Bridge (where we call in at the Head of the River). Up-to-date public transport details can be checked with Traveline (http://www.travelinesoutheast.org.uk/, 0871 200 22 33).

Further Information: The footpaths and bridleways that make up this walk are shown on OS Explorer Map 180. The OS map has the Thames Path route marked with green diamonds, and numerous guides to the Thames Path are available. If you would like to navigate the route by way of a hand-held GPS device, this GPX track log of the route may be of interest.

Overview map of the route.

I'll go through the motions of providing a route description, just to make sure that you don't miss any pubs, but to be honest this one is really easy to navigate - it sticks with the river the whole way, and the Thames Path is extensively waymarked and signposted (look out for the national trail acorn symbol).

The Trout to the Perch, Binsey


This walk starts with a pub, rather than making you work for your first drink! Have a quick half or pint - if the weather is good then I recommend sitting out by the river, admiring the (mostly) tame peacocks that will likely be strutting about. When you have finished your beer then make your way out through the front entrance, turn left and cross the river by way of the narrow road bridge, keeping a careful eye out for traffic from both directions. Having crossed the river, turn left again through a gate following a Thames Path sign-post. Walk along the path with the river on your left and the ruined remains of Godstow Abbey on your right. Walk through Godstow Lock, staying on the same side of the river. After about a mile of pleasent stroll along the bank of the river you will come to a gate which should be almost immediately followed by signs directing you to turn right for the Perch. Turn away from the river briefly and follow this right-hand footpath to the second pub.

The Perch to the Waterman's Arms, Osney


When you are finished with your stop-over at the Perch then retrace your steps to the river, turn right, and continue to walk downstream with the river on your left. There are nice views across the river to Port Meadow on this stretch, with the "dreaming spires" of the city beyond.

We pass a boat-yard on the right, and then the path takes a sharp left and crosses the the river by way of an arched iron footbridge (known as the "Rainbow Bridge" or the "Medley Footbridge"). Over the bridge, continue to follow the only path, which heads downstream with the river now on your right. Ignore the several footpaths that branch left onto Port Meadow and stick with the river. Eventually you will reach a point where there is a "cross-roads" in the river system - a chanel cuts across our path allowing boats to connect from the Thames to the Oxford Canal. As always, follow the Thames Path signage, which should take you across a another arched footbridge and onto a towpath that continues south, with the Thames on your right, the back gardens of terraced houses on your left, and the Osney road bridge across the river coming into view up ahead. When the path reaches the Osney bridge then join the Botley Road briefly, turning right to cross back over the river. Immediately after crossing the river you should see further Thames Path signage directing you to a footbridge and flight of steps on the other side of the road. Cross the Botley Road with care, go over the footbridge and down the steps onto Osney Island. Walk along the strip of grass ahead, with the river on your immediate left and the roadway of East Street on your immediate right. At the end of East Street you should find our third pub, the Waterman's Arms on the corner. Note: the Waterman's keeps traditional hours - lunchtime session and evening session, with a closure during the afternoon, even on weekends. If you intend to do the pub walk during the daytime then you should arrange your schedule such that you reach the Waterman's before 2pm.

The Waterman's Arms to the Head of the River


On leaving the Waterman's, cross back over the road and continue along the riverbank, passing through Osney Lock, past the obelisk memorial to Edger George Wilson and under the railway bridge. The river curves around Granpont Nature Park, with various paths leading off to the right, and the Ice Rink visible on the other side of the river. Stay with the river all the way along, until the path rises to meet the Abindon Road at Folly Bridge. Cross the road at the pedestrian crossing, then turn off the Thames Path and walk along the pavement over the bridge, heading north into Oxford. Immediately after the bridge you will find the Head of the River pub on your right.

Head of the River to the Isis Farmhouse


On leaving the Head of the River, retrace your steps over the Folly Bridge and turn left back onto the Thames Path when you reach the signpost. Continue along the river for a mile or so, passing college boathouses and Long Bridges Nature Park, pass under the Donnington road bridge. Keep a look-out for buildings on your right and eventually you will reach pub number five: the Isis Farmhouse - you don't need to detour off the path to find this, it sits right on the towpath. Note: at the time of writing the Isis does not open at all on Mondays, Tuesdays or Wednesdays. If you are walking on a weekend then there should be no problem, but if you are hoping to do the walk on a weekday then I would recommend calling the pub to check opening times.

Isis Farmhouse to the Prince of Wales, Iffley


Turn right out of the Isis and continue to walk downstream. Very shortly you will see a pretty stone footbridge on your left. Cross this and walk beside Iffley Lock, then cross over the river by way of the footway on the downstream lock gates. After a further footbridge by the weir you should find yourself at the end of a lane. Follow the lane into Iffley village and turn left onto Church Way. A few paces further on should take you to our final pub: the Prince of Wales.

If you need to find a bus back to central Oxford after you have had a celebratory pint or two in the Prince of Wales then turn right out of the pub, continue to follow Church Way, cross straight over a mini-roundabout, and after a few more minutes you will come to a main road. Rose Hill is to your right, a bus stop for services that will take you into Oxford is to your left on the near side of the main road.


Notes From Our Walk

Oxford CAMRA undertook this walk as a social event on Saturday 3rd July 2010. Around 15 branch members, friends and family joined us for at least part of the walk.

The design of the route for this walk differed from our first couple of walks, in that we were starting at a pub rather than walking a couple of miles for our first pint. This may have been a mistake. I don't think that the staff at the Trout were really geared-up for having a dozen serious beer drinkers pile in at opening time, and immediately want to start sampling all the beers on the bar. There were delays while someone went off to the celler to unspile the casks, and some confusion and friction over which beers were ready to serve and which were not. The problems were overcome though, and soon enough most of the party had retired to the pub's terrace overlooking the river with a glass of Brakespear Bitter that was in good condition. The other beers on the bar were Brakespear Oxford Gold, Sharps Doombar, and Purity UBU.

It was a glorious warm and sunny summer's day as we set off over the bridge and down the river. There is always plenty to see as you stroll along this stretch of river, with rowers out practicing on the water, cattle and horses on Port Meadow over the other side, and dogs rushing around chasing the ducks and geese.

By the time we reached the garden of the Perch it was already quite busy, with kids making the most of the play facilities, a barbecue already fired up, and a singer providing live entertainment. We went straight to the bar, which offered Hook Norton Bitter and Wychwood Hobgoblin. Most of us went for the Hooky, and then took our beer back out to the garden. I managed to grab a couple of tables for the party near to the barbecue, thinking that this would be a good spot for us to grab some lunch. This plan fell apart when we looked a little more closely and discovered that they were charging £10 for a burger, fries and salad garnish. I am sure the were lovely burgers, but we flinched at the price and returned to our beers unfed. The Hook Norton was really good.

Returning to the river we continued to admire the views, passing sights such a spaniel contentedly sat in the river to cool off, crossing the Rainbow Bridge and gradually transitioning from rural surroundings to urban as we approached Oxford. Crossing back over the river at Botley Road, we headed down into Osney, admiring the narrowboats and river cruisers moored upstream of Osney lock.

We arrived at the Waterman's Arms a little later than I had originally planned, but still in plenty of time to get served. Originally a Morland pub, the Waterman's is now a Greene King tenancy. The beers on offer were Greene King IPA and Morland Original (which is in fact another Greene King beer from Bury St Edmunds these days, since GK closed the Abingdon brewery). Most of the party opted for the Morland, but finished off the cask, leaving the stragglers on the IPA. The beer was again in good condition. The party spread out, a few watching the tennis on TV, some heading to the patio at the back of the pub, and a few wandering out to sit by the river and watch the world go by.

On leaving the Waterman's the group split up, with some heading in to Oxford to eat and rest their weary legs, while the remainder returned to the Thames Path and followed the river around the south-west of the city centre, past Grandpont and over the Folly Bridge to the Head of the River, and impressive riverside Fullers pub using Oxford's old riverside warehouse buildings (they still have the wharf crane on the patio). A few members of the group hovered in the pub to watch the World Cup match on TV, while most of us again opted to sit out in the sunshine. Here we encountered our second eye-wateringly expensive barbecue of the day, with several people caving in and parting with £8.95 for a burger and salad. Not being a massive salad fan, I decided that the lack of chips was a deal-breaker and contented myself with a pint of Gales HSB. Gales is unfortunately another example of a beer which has been transplanted from its original home, when Fullers of London bought out and closed Gales (Horndean, Hampshire). HSB is no longer be "Horndean Special Bitter", but I thought it was served in fine form.

Back to the river, and a walk along the stretch of the river most used by the University boat clubs. We stopped for some wildlife photography when someone spotted some mating damselflys, and then eventually rolled up at the Isis Farmhouse. The beer here was Appleford Powerstation, served by gravity direct from a cask on the bar. The beer was a bit hazy, but I shan't criticise the pub for that: Powerstation is well known for being rather slow to clear, and it tasted fine. Originally a Morrells pub, it has passed through the hands of Greene King (and still shows some traces of the Greene King livery on the outside), but has been a free house for the last couple of years.

Crossing the river at Iffley Lock we left the Thames Path and wandered into Iffley village, reaching the last pub on the walk. The Prince of Wales is a Wadworth pub, with a extensive range of Wadworth beers (including seasonal specials), and a couple of guest beers as well. I had one of the guest beers, Everards Golden Zest, which was a lovely citrus-tasting thirst-quencher after a day's walking in the sun. Between us I think we must have sampled most of the beers on offer, and it was all well received.

My thanks again to everyone who came along, and I look forward to seeing you on the next walk!