The Forest of Wychwood

A circular walk through Charlbury's ancient forest

The forest of Wychwood once covered much of the area around Charlbury. Once a royal hunting forest (read a history), it was latterly renowned for its riotous Forest Fairs. Though most of the forest has long been cleared, the area around Cornbury Park is still wooded, and provides some of the area's finest walking.

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  1. Start in the centre of Charlbury by the Bull and Rose & Crown. Turn down Church Street in the direction of Witney, and continue to follow the road as it becomes Park Street.
  2. After around 500m, turn right down the lane to Cornbury Park, crossing the railway and the river. Cornbury originated as a royal hunting lodge in Wychwood Forest. By 1383 a stone wall was being built around the park, and in 1642 Charles I gave Cornbury to the Earl of Danby, taking it out of the royal forest. Cornbury Park Estate is now owned by Lord Rotherwick and condains some 647 acres that have been designated as a National Nature Reserve. There are a further 654 acres surrounding the reserve that have been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
  3. At North Lodge, just before the main gates, turn left along the new footpath, and follow the path next to the fence line on your right, through gates down to the fish ponds and across the dam.
  4. At the far side of the dam, by the Southill Business Park, leave the drive by turning right along the fence line. Turn to follow the path through the tree-lined avenue, crossing tracks to take the track straight ahead by a stone wall. Beyond the end of the wall, bear left on a field edge track with the hedge on your right and follow down and uphill to the gate. Bear right crossing the Manor House gardens, through a gap in the yew hedge, to a stone stile. Take care - this is a fast road.
  5. Turn right through Finstock on the Witney/Charlbury road. Continue on, passing the lay-by, until the track turn off to the right between houses. (Finstock means 'the place frequented by woodpeckers'. Wychwood Forest used to cover much of this area but all that survives is Topples Wood to the north-east of the villaga. Finstock Chapel was built in 1841. The churchyard contains the 1900 grave of Jane, Baroness Churchill, who had been Queen Victoria's maid for 46 years and was one of her closest friends.)
  6. Patch Riding Track descends and climbs again as a wide grassy avenue and curves around to join a surfaced track beside a wide woodland avenue into Wychwood Forest. Bear right at the stream crossing and follow the track uphill to emerge on an open quarrying area. Continue straight on along track to a wide grassy area.
  7. Turn left in this clearing and take the clearly waymarked wide avenue. Continue for about a mile straight on through the forest to the Leafield road. (You can take a shortcut here by continuing along the road for about a mile; turning left at the fork, signed to Chadlington; crossing the main road to Catsham Lane; then turning right onto the bridleway.)
  8. Turn left along the Leafield road until you reach the next woodland (Sore Leap). Take footpath on right next to the wood edge, then shortly bear right uphill on track. Take left fork track and follow this track.
  9. Continue on the path out of woodland and along field edges through two fields, then bearing left to houses, to pass them on your right to reach road. Turn right and then take lane immediately left down to Chilson.
  10. Halfway through Chilson village take the bridleway right marked Shorthampton. Continue as the track becomes a road, passing the 12th century medieval church on your left, to reach the road junction.
  11. Turn right and then take the bridleway immediately left, passing the hamlet and TV transmitter at Walcot, to the main road.
  12. Turn left to Charlbury, passing the railway station and continuing uphill. (Charlbury Station was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The station is now a listed building. The Cotswold Line, opened by the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway Company in 1853 has given Charlbury its excellent communications link with Oxford and London.) At the top of the hill, turn right along Market Street to return to the town centre.
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