Come along with me on a lovely walk I took last July While I was staying in Oxford. I was determined to go for at least one walk near Oxford while I was there. I really wanted to pay a visit to JRR Tolkien’s grave in Wolvercote and then when I discovered that not far from there, there was a ruined abbey along with a pub featured in Inspector Morse, the plan was sealed.
So, on a sunny afternoon in July, I got a taxi to Wolvercote Cemetery and had one of the best experiences I had my entire trip. I went for a walk. And it was a long walk, and I’m very glad I made myself do it. My life is generally very sedentary, I work from home, and now that it’s winter, I don’t get out much. So, one of the things I love the most when we make our trips to Britain is the chance to go for a walk in the countryside.
This post will follow a new photo essay format – I hope you like it! If you do – I will do more. Please leave a comment if you liked this.
The taxi dropped me off right outside the gates to the cemetery. There were helpful signs along the way to point you to this special place. I’ve been a fan of Tolkien’s works since I was a teenager so this was a pilgrimage I’ve always wanted to make. I practically had the cemetery to myself, which is an odd thing to be pleased about. I found the grave and smiled that other fans had adorned it with LOTR related stuff.
You’ll notice that the gravestone says Beren and Luthien. This is a reference to a story from the Lord of the Rings about an elf-maiden who sacrifices her immortal life to be with the mortal man she loves. It’s a beautiful and lovely story, and it was largely based on Tolkien’s own love for his wife (which is an interesting story as she sacrificed much to be with him). Their gravestone is a monument to their love and the stories he created. If you’re in Oxford and a Tolkien fan, I recommend stopping by this.
After I was done at the cemetery, I began my proper walk. At first, I was walking through a residential neighborhood, and it wasn’t really anything special. The roads were very busy. Wolvercote is basically a suburb of Oxford so many people who live there either work in Oxford or commute into London. I didn’t encounter any people – it was late afternoon, everyone was at school or work! It was pleasant!.
This is Port Meadow and the Wolvercote Common. This is a large area of land, just north of Oxford that has been common land since before William the Conqueror (1066). Commoners have the rights to graze their animals to this day. There’s also allotments and walking paths. Standing on the railway bridge below, you get expansive views of the whole of Port Meadow, and it’s magnificent to behold. It’s amazing to think that this land has been like this for so long and its history is so protected. I stood on that bridge for quite some time and watched the ant-like figures walk across the common. It was very peaceful and stunning to behold.
I like trains. I’m not a trainspotter, but I do like them a lot. This is the busy line in and out of Oxford, so there was a train going by every few minutes. I couldn’t help but stand and wait for a few to go by. Coming from America and a busy area for trains, I was surprised at how fast the trains were moving – even the freight trains. Ours are so slow in comparison (and I know why).
As I was walking along the road into Wolvercote, I stumbled upon this beautiful pond that you wouldn’t even know was there unless you looked closely. When I stood on the dock and gazed over its beauty, hidden away in a corner of Oxfordshire, I couldn’t help but think I’d stepped into a children’s storybook. I expected to see Peter Rabbit jumping into the water to go for a swim or Winnie the Pooh climbing a tree looking for honey. You can see why Tolkien was so inspired by the countryside surrounding Oxford.
I can’t resist stopping to photograph and beautiful thatched cottage. Perfect in the late afternoon glow.
The Trout Inn is a very popular pub on the Thames. It’s been featured in Brideshead Revisited and Inspector Morse (episode The Wolvercote Tongue). The building dates back to the 17th century. It’s a bustling pub, but it wasn’t too crowded when I visited on a Thursday afternoon. I was able to get a table. By this point, I’d walked almost 2 miles, so I was ready for a rest and a nice meal. This was the point of the trip when I missed Mrs. Anglotopia the most as she would have loved the waterside location.
Oddly, I found myself surrounded by lots of Americans. This pub is clearly popular with tourists. And that’s fine.
My meal was a lovely 28 day aged British Beef Rib-Eye steak and some glorious double cooked chunky chips. The meal was gloriously good pub grub and perfect after the long walk.
It’s hard to believe that this little wooden bridge, which is a historical landmark and protected, spans the Thames, the same river that roars through London and into the sea. Here it’s calm and relaxing.
Another view of the Thames and the lock system that works with the canals nearby.
I cannot resist visiting a ruined abbey so when I discovered Godstow Abbey, a former Benedictine nunnery, on my maps of Oxford, I knew I had to pay a visit. There’s not much left other than the outline of the former monastery. Most of the building was sacked during the Dissolution of the Monasteries (thanks, Henry VIII but it was also sacked during the English Civil War). It’s quite amazing to find such a peaceful and abandoned ruined on the outskirts of a major city like Oxford. Britain is full of places like these, and I love them to bits (I don’t have many ruins to explore in LaPorte, Indiana).
Finding places like this is always such a treat, especially when I have them all to myself. There was no one around so I could carefully compose my pictures to get the light just right. The ground was a bit treacherous and uneven, but it’s so much fun to amble freely around an ancient ruin. Ruins like this are a bit odd – they just exist in the landscape. It’s not a managed tourist attraction. You do not have to pay to get it in, and there’s no one minding it. Anyone can stumble across it and have a wander around and enjoy hundreds of years of history, completely for free. It’s owned by English Heritage who look after the site, but they’re pretty hands off.
Other than the walls around the former abbey, this ruined chapel is the only real structure left on the site. It’s easy to imagine it finished with stained glass in the windows and a small group of monks worshipping. I imagine it must have been very moving to worship here especially when the sun was hitting the windows just right like it was when I visited.
I love this window. The detal that has survived the ages is amazing. There’s not much left in the rest of the site. The buildings of th emonesdtary were plundered after the Dissolution and much of the stone was incorprated into many of the beautiful local cottages. If you want to see a monument to this long gone instituion, you simply have to look around Wolvercote, it’s everywhere you look.
If You Go
If you like to recreate this walk, you need to get yourself to Wolvercote. It’s just north of Oxford. You can take the train direct from London Paddington to Oxford. You can get a taxi right from the railway station and tell them you want to go to Wolvercote Cemetery. Once there, follow the map below for the route that I took. Expect it to take 2-3 hours but longer if you linger for a lovely meal at the Pub. Bring a bottle of water and good walking shoes. There are loos along the way in case you get caught short. If you’re feeling very adventurous, there’s a path along the Thames from Central Oxford that goes right to the Trout Inn but it’s several miles long but you get the bonus of walking across the Port Meadow.