Ridgeway National Trail Walk - An excellent circular walk using the trail in South Oxfordshire.

The beautiful Ridgeway Path beneath Shirburn Hill in EnglandNow that particularly in Oxfordshire unauthorised motor vehicles have been completely banned from using parts of The Ridgeway National Trail the condition of this ancient trail has improved in leaps and bounds. In some parts of the trail the deep ugly wheel marks have flattened out and nature has taken back the surfaces so that you can now see lots of grass, wild flowers and shrubs.
In particular one stretch of The Ridgeway Path (this section of The Ridgeway is also shared by the Swan's Way trail) which we regularly walk has become excellent for cyclists, walkers and horse riders and that is the several miles between the M40 Cut and Hill Road which is just outside of Watlington. The circular walk described is quite simple to follow although taking a map is always a good idea in case you want to divert a little (map used is the OS Explorer 171) - and involves at least three fairly steep climbs and is just over 9.5 miles (15km) long.
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This walk as described can however be shortened at various stages.
The walk starts at the (free) parking area at Cowleaze Woods - this car park can be reached by taking the A40 (adjacent to Junction 5 of the M40) and which is signposted to Chinnor and Thame, then around three quarters of a mile along the A40 take the left hand road which is marked to Watlington and Christmas Common - follow this as it goes over the M40 and then a little further along turn left into Cowleaze Woods car-park.
The Walk. Facing the road go left (possibly passing the car park entrance) and walk to the end of the car park where a path goes ahead and takes you through woods for a few hundred metres to reach the road.Walking between Shirburn Hill and Shirburn Woods - Oxfordshire England Cross the road and go left for about 50 metres i.e. ignore the metal gate on the opposite side of the road but take the wooden style which goes into a field. A clear path goes half left across the field and reaches another (sort of) style - cross this and take a path opposite which heads down initially through trees to shortly reach a swing gate. Go on through the gate and head steeply down the hillside - avoiding the multitude of mole hills on the way. Usig the wind currents on this part of the hill is a particular favourite with red kites but you will often see buzzards and hawks enjoying the thermals as well. Towards the bottom of the hill the path veers gently left to reach another metal swing gate which is the entrance to Shirburn Wood. The one thing to be wary of whilst walking through the woods is when the path goes alongside a barbed wire fence - underfoot there are quite a few small tree and shrub stumps which are not easy to spot but very easy to trip on - think of the barbed wire fence only inches away!. Once through the gate turn left and the path is now "white-arrowed" all the way as it wanders along through lovely trees to eventually reach a metal road - which is in fact part of the Oxfordshire Way.
[*1* Here you can shorten this walk by turning right down the road (Oxfordshire Way) to soon reach The Ridgeway National Trail where you would turn right to pick up the walk].

Autumn in Oxfordshire - enjoy the beautiful colours on this English WalkOnce you reach the Oxfordshire Way (i.e. the metal road) turn left heading slightly uphill soon passing a wood yard at Pyrton Hill House - continue ahead as the surface then becomes a grassy path which goes ever more steeply uphill to eventually reach a metal swing gate on the right. Go through the gate and continue a few metres up to a field then follow the path which goes slightly right and shortly reaches a metal gate in the hedgerow on the right. Go through the gate and as you turn right you are on one of the nicest paths you could wish to walk along (well down). It starts off in a bit of gully and passes through lots of trees, shrubs and undergrowth - the only thing to be aware of are the myriad of tree roots close to the surface which can be very slippery if trodden on. The path just keeps heading downwards - sometimes giving marvellous views of the Oxfordshire countryside below - and in the Autumn when the leaves change there are some fantastic colours to be seen. Always stay on the main path i.e. ignore any fainter right and left hand paths which go off from time to time - after around one mile this path takes you down onto The Ridgeway Path.

Turn right along The Ridgeway and follow it to reach the junction with the Oxfordshire Way [*1*] - go straight across and now simply wander along and enjoy the beautiful trees and surroundings which is the Ancient Trail just as it should be.
Beacon Hill seen from The Ridgeway near the M40 Cut in OxfordshireEventually after about 1-3/4 miles the tree-lined trail comes out into quite open countryside and is now lined with high wild hedgerow - lots of wild flowers grow along this part of the Ridgeway National Trail and there are often plenty of wild birds, particularly finches, around. There are great views of the countryside on the left and hills on the right - and ahead the sometimes noisy M40 makes it's appearance with Beacon Hill on the far side. The Ridgeway Trail reaches a small metal road just before the M40 and you can ** shorten the walk here by turning right and simply follow the road, which soon becomes a really nice walking track, back up Bald Hill to the start of the walk at Cowleaze car park. Otherwise continue ahead on The Ridgeway as it goes under the M40, Less than quarter of a mile away from the M40 leave The Ridgeway by taking a signed gate on the right and enter Aston Rowant Nature Reserve with Beacon Hill rising above you. There is a notice board here showing several path options but whichever way you take the idea is to reach the indicated Nature Reserve car park up in the hill above the M40 cut. If the weather is really cold and there is a strong cross wind the least exposed way is to follow the broad green path which goes ahead and more or less follows alongside the motorway since the path is protected by trees and hedgerow and eventually the path goes up through a sunken cut.
Once at the car park go straight through to the entrance/exit and then follow the narrow road heading left. The road is narrow and quiet as it only serves the car park - around half a mile along look for and take a signposted path on the right which goes for several hundred yards through woods and brings you out by steps which go down to a road. Turn right and follow this road which soon goes over the M40 - a little further along take a path on the left which goes off between the Armco barrier into the adjacent woods (Sadlers Woods). You can ** shorten the walk here by just staying on the road which will take you straight back the half mile or so to Cowleaze car park.
These woods are really beautiful to walk through at any time of the year - follow what soon becomes a grassy track for around 3/4 mile and look out for and take a path on the right - it is indicated on a tree trunk as path L23. (Do not take the grassy track which also leaves on the right at the same location). Follow the path down through the woods to a field edge - cross the field half left in front of somewhat sunken farm buildings (Vicar's Farm) to a gate in the hedgerow, through the gate and follow the path to a small road. Turn left and around 200 yards along look out for a path on the right which is well hidden in the high hedgerow. Follow the path quite steeply up across two fields to reach the bottom of Cowleaze Woods - then just keep going ahead through the woods on either of the two paths both of which will eventually arrive back at Cowleaze Wood's car park.
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