Between Witney and The Thames

• Map   • Route highlights   • Where to stay, eat, drink

Cycling on Calais Lane near Witney, Oxfordshire

A circular cycle route near Oxford and the market town of Witney, between the Cotswold hills to the north and the River Thames to the south. The ride goes through beautiful countryside and charming Oxfordshire villages far from the tourist trail. Traditional country pubs offer refreshment along the way.

Terrain: about 30% on farm tracks, gravel or grass, and the rest on low-traffic country lanes; fairly flat with a few easy ups and downs
Distance: 16 miles, 25 kms.

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Route Highlights

Traffic-free farm tracks and quiet country lanes

Start anywhere, but let’s assume you’re going anti-clockwise from High Cogges (at the top of this map) or from your comfortable accommodation at the 17th century Mason Arms inn in nearby South Leigh. Parking is easy either way.

The route through the farmyard at High Cogges affords a view of Witney lakes, before a downhill ride over grass and unpaved tracks to the pretty village of Ducklington. Pedal left around the village duck pond and along a short stretch of road. Then it’s mostly wide traffic-free bridleways all the way to Standlake. Have fun dodging puddles in winter. Hear the skylarks high above in summer.

From here on, it’s country lanes and minor roads through the flood plain of the River Thames – flat and easy, past fields with grazing cattle and sheep, farms and pretty villages. On the lane to Northmoor and Bablock Hythe, you’re as likely to meet a horse as a car. It’s a route to nowhere, so very peaceful. There used to be a Thames ferry crossing at Bablock Hythe, but even this has gone.  On the last bit of the route, Stanton Harcourt and the B4449 are slightly busier, but not much.

Traditional villages

Ducklington village pond

Ducklington village pond

The first two villages, Ducklington and Standlake, are pleasant enough, but head on towards Northmoor and you’ll pass through conservation areas and the Thames flood plain, both of which have ensured minimal development and preserved the area’s peaceful rural nature.

There’s historical interest too, with churches dating from the 12th-14th centuries and period properties from cottages to manor houses. Traditional pubs abound, like The Red Lion at Northmoor and The Harcourt Arms at Stanton Harcourt. The Red Lion almost closed in 2014, but the villagers clubbed together, bought it, and now run the pub successfully.

Northmoor village, Oxfordshire

Northmoor village

As you pass through Stanton Harcourt, you can’t miss the large 15-19th century manor house, built by the Harcourt family. Robert Harcourt was Henry Tudor’s standard bearer at the battle of Bosworth (1485), and above his tomb in the church hang the remains of the standard. The church is also notable for containing the oldest surviving wooden screen in England. This unique rood screen dates from around 1250.

Nearby Sutton is a quiet pretty village with no through traffic.

South Leigh, at the end of your ride, is a good place to stop, having two claims to fame. One is The Mason Arms, a highly rated, slightly eccentric thatched 17th century inn, with open fireplaces, comfy nooks and a garden marquee for all-weather alfresco dining. As part of the small ‘Artist Residence’ group, it offers 8 individually styled rooms for guests.

After refreshment, stroll or pedal up the lane to view the spectacular medieval wall paintings in the village church – not high art, but unusual in English churches today. Discovered in 1869 under thick whitewash, they help us to imagine how colourful pre-reformation English churches were before Protestant reformers and 17th century Puritan iconoclasts destroyed or covered such things.  The main painting illustrates the Day of Judgement. Two angels blow horns, waking the dead who rise from their graves on the left. St Peter receives their souls into heaven; but on the right, the damned are dragged off to hell through the jaws of a red monster. A severe warning to the medieval congregation each Sunday. (It’s interesting to note that among the damned are a king and a bishop!) Further right on the south wall, stand the Virgin and St Michael weighing souls.

The medieval wall paintings in the village church at south Leigh, Oxfordshire

Where to stay, eat, drink

Inns with accommodation along the route include The Mason Arms / Artist Residence in South Leigh village, The Harcourt Arms in Stanton Harcourt, and The Red Lion in Northmoor, which has three cosy shepherds huts – with log fires for colder weather.

See more circular cycle routes and tours