Find bus travel details from Oxford to Abingdon here. A taxi from Oxford, carrying four, costs around £20.
Learn how to use a GPX file to navigate with a smartphone HERE.
Abingdon Abbey to Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford – 12 miles.
Abingdon claims to be Britain’s oldest town, with its late Iron Age valley-fort (an inverse hillfort) and its early founding by Abban, the only Briton to escape the Saxon ‘Night of the Long Knives’ feast-betrayal 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, whose access to 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, as a symbol of independence from the Abbey. This was destroyed in the Civil War.
From here follow to County Hall – the most impressive town hall in Britain, where buns are thrown from the roof at momentous historic occasions. Next you will encounter 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 Long Gallery, another survivor of Abingdon’s once-great Benedictine Abbey.
From here follow the Thames eastward, before cutting through behind the sports centre to the old Abbey fishponds, and over to Barrow Hill, the Bronze Age burial area of Abingdon. All tumuli are now flattened by various stages of urban development, but this is an ancient holy place nonetheless, so treat it accordingly.
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. Today Boars Hill is mostly private land and highly-hedged, but Arthur Evans, famed antiquarian, built Jarn mound by hand to offer people a peek of those very same spires. Unfortunately, private gardens kept growing and the mound did not, so the view is best in winter.
Then down the hill, through woods and over a golf course, toward South Hinksey. This ancient ridgeway through the swamps is known as The Devil’s Backbone.
Over the safe road crossing to South Hinksey, where John Ruskin’s campaign for a road between the villages (apparently attempted with a 19 year old Oscar Wilde among the workforce!) surely could never have envisioned the eventual dual-carriageway and its impact!
St Lawrence Church, a thirteenth century and 19th century blend, 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 eastward, then take an immediate right after the Head of the River pub to walk through parkland toward the Cathedral. Enter back out to Toms Tower, and find your way into Christ Church Cathedral.
See you on the path!