These are five pilgrimages you can make into Oxford from the surrounding countryside. They start and end at holy places, with more en route. Each route is accessible to start by public transport. And each route ends in the same place – Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. Make sure it will be open before setting out – check opening times HERE.
If you have personal college affiliations, follow these instead to make your favoured holy place the ultimate destination of your pilgrimage.
The best possible arrival for your pilgrimage is on time for Choral Evensong, an intensely wonderful and free choral tradition of beauty and magnitude. Check the Music List HERE to plan your arrival for Choral Evensong…
1: Abingdon Abbey to Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford – via Boars Hill (12 miles)
Find bus travel details from Oxford to Abingdon here. A taxi from Oxford costs around £20, carrying 4.
Abingdon claims to be Britain’s oldest town, with its late Iron Age valley-fort (an inverse hillfort) and its early founding by Abban, sole Briton to escape the Saxon ‘Night of the Long Knives’ at Stonehenge. Abingdon has a remarkably long Anglo-Saxon heritage, being burial ground to some of the earliest Germanic people found in Britain.
This pilgrimage begins at St Helen’s wharf, for the River Thames’ trade and transport were the foundation of the town’s importance. St Helen’s church is second widest in England – incrementally widened by proud townsfolk. St Helen’s was the focal point of Abingdon’s traders, led by the ancient Guild of the Holy Cross, who built a highly decorative cross outside the Church, renowned for its beauty and size. This was destroyed in the Civil War.
From here follow to County Hall – the most impressive town hall in Britain – and St Nicolas’ Church, set into the Abbey walls to control access to Abbey grounds. Pass through the Abbey Gatehouse – where local superstition suggests you hold your breath to prevent the Gargoyles stealing it – and into the Abbey gardens. Visit the Unicorn theatre and the Long Gallery, survivors of Abingdon’s once-great Benedictine Abbey.
From here walk along the Thames, before cutting behind the sports centre to the old Abbey fishponds, and up to Barrow Hill, the Bronze Age burial area of Abingdon. All tumuli are now flattened, but this is an ancient sacred place nonetheless.
At Radley, the Church of St James has its roof supported by wooden pillars since 1290, after the Abbot dreamed this to be necessary. A building made from dreams…
Across Radley park, safely over the A34 after Pen barn crossing, toward Sunningwell.
Sunningwell offers a pub – The Flowing Well – and a church – St Leonard’s. The church has unique paving and a 7-sided porch. The water after which the village is named is the Sunning Well, which still bubbles into the pond opposite the Church.
Now climb Boar Hill – home and inspiration for some of Britain’s most famous poets – Masefield, Bridges, Graves and Blunden. Visit Jarn Mound, built to preserve public access to the once-famous Boars Hill vistas of Oxford – from which Matthew Arnold’s famous ‘dreaming spires’ phrase was coined. Now Boars Hill is mostly private land and highly-hedged, but Arthur Evans, famed antiquarian, built Jarn mound by jand to offer people a peek of those very spires.
Then down the hill, through woods and over a golf course, toward South Hinksey. This raised ridgeway is ancient, and is known as The Devil’s Backbone.
Overthe safe road crossing to South Hinksey, where John Ruskin’s campaign for a road between the villages surely could never have envisioned a dual-carriageway’s impact on the landscape. Pilgrims often find roads to be a great inconvenience, as compared to ‘normal’ life.
St Lawrence Church, a thirteenth century classic English church, welcomes you after crossing the train line. Hinksey Lake follows. Walk north along the edge of suburban Grandpont, through Hinksey Park and Grandpont nature reserve. Cross the Thames, follow her East, then walk up the High Street and find your way into Christ Church Cathedral.
2: Abingdon Abbey to Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford – via River Thames (11 miles)
From Abingdon County Hall and St Nicholas Church (see above for details), follow the Thames all the way to Oxford!
Cross over once – for Iffley St Mary’s Church, a beautiful late Romanesque building. Then come back. Stop near here also for the only pub before Oxford – the Isis Freehouse.
Make your Christ Church Cathedral approach via the path beside the Police Station.
3: Dorchester Abbey to Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford (12.5 miles)
Travel details here.
Dorchester Abbey is built on the site of a Saxon Cathedral. Buried here is Saint Birinus, ‘Apostle to the West Saxons’, who died in 634 AD.
From Dorchester follow back alleys to safely cross the A4074, and follow the Roman road North, straight through the centre of Berinsfield, an ex-aerodrome that became England’s first new village built for 200 years. North through the fields to Marsh Baldon and its Church of St Peter, and Toot Baldon with its Church to St Lawrence – both beautiful ancient Churches. The Mole Inn at Toot Baldon is also worth visiting.
Enter Oxford at its southernmost point, and encounter its huge history in the form of Littlemore Priory, which became a football pub, and is now abandoned.
Meet urban churches, and walk through the peaceful Rose Hill cemetry in busy Cowley. Cross the ancient Boundary brook, which seperates Oxford city from Cowley and defines its parliamentary borough. Follow riverside round Ashton’s Eyot, a water meadow and nature reserve reclaimed from an ancient tip. Cross both arms of the River Cherwell into Oxford centre, and take Rose Lane past the Botanical Gardens to follow Deadman’s Walk into Oxford Christ Church Cathedral.
4: Islip to Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford (10 miles)
Travel details here.
Islip is the birthplace of Edward the Confessor, last of England’s Anglo-Saxon Kings, and builder of Westminster Abbey. Begin your pilgrimage where he was baptised, at St Nicholas Church. Then head South East from Islip past the site of a Roman villa to Noke Church. Down Prattle Lane and round Prattle Wood, to Woodeaton Church and its 13th Century Preaching Cross. From here follow River Cherwell, through two farms, to carefully cross ther A40. There is a wide island in the middle, but take sufficient care here, and only cross when sure it is safe. with a slight detour at Marston down Pond Lane to St Nicholas Church. Stop for a rest at the Victoria Inn by the river.
Then follow River Cherwell all the way to Oxford city. Cross the rainbow bridge, follow the river South through University Park, into Oxford proper. Take a left at Park Road, via Radcliffe Camera, the Bridge of Sighs, and St Mary’s Church, and follow the path leading to Christ Church Cathedral from Magpie Lane and Grove passage.
5: Eynsham Abbey to Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford (9 miles)
Take a bus from Oxford to Eynsham Church – find details here.
Begin your pilgrimage at St Leonards Church in Eynsham. Possibly Eynsham had an early Minster, but it certainly had an Abbey foundedin 1005.
From Eynsham cross the old Swinford Bridge, and follow River Thames East, skirting Wytham Great Wood. The bows are often extreme, but beautiful to trace by foot. Cross the A34 at Lower Wolvercote, and find the remains of Godstowe Abbey, burial place of King Henry II’s ‘Fair Rosamunde’ – and a favoured picnic ground of Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell.
Keep following Thames south, with Wolvercote Common on the other side, rare and fiercely protected grazing ground. Follow the footpath away from the river towar Binsey, to meet St Margaret’s Church and St Frithuswith’s Holy Well. Also known as the Treacle Well.
Then retrace steps to River Thames, and continue South. Cross over to the Oxford Canal, and enter the city at Hythe Bridge Street. Follow straight to George Street, before taking Bulwark Lane through the through the quieter backstreets. St Ebbe’s Church and St Aldate’s Church are en route. Then follow St Aldate’s Street South to enter Christ Church Cathedral.