Alex Donohue Flickr
Just north of Oxford as the Oxford Canal reaches Kidlington, it skirts the beautiful Stratfield Brake, a large patch of long-established woodland that can be accessed directly from the towpath and contains some wonderful examples of springtime flora and fauna.
The woodland is worth exploring at any time of year – and there are 15 miles of path to cover – but there’s something especially magical about a spring wander, as the wood appears to waken from its winter slumber. The western area of the wood is managed as a nature reserve by the Woodland Trust and its local volunteers. Andy Bond at the Woodland Trust says: “Stratfield Brake is an oasis of peace that allows visitors to get close to nature throughout the seasons. In a landscape with little accessible woodland, its mature woods are a joy to walk through and its wetland is perfect for birdwatching.”
The Oxford Canal forms the western boundary of Stratfield Brake, which is located south of Kidlington and three miles north of Oxford. Kidlington is a large village with a rich history and several listed buildings. The scenic Oxford Canal opened in 1790 – it was originally surveyed by James Brindley but was completed by Samuel Simcock following Brindley’s death in 1772. It was an important trade link, mainly bringing coal down from Warwickshire.
Stratfield Brake features 45 acres of young and mature woodland as well as meadows and wetland. There are bluebells in the spring and ragged robin and yellow rattle later in the year, and you might well hear the sound of a great spotted woodpecker. Thanks to the surrounding waterways you’ll also find mute swan, duck, heron, coot and the little egret. Shallow pools have been created next to the canal to provide an attractive area for birds and aquatic invertebrates. The wood has a canopy of oak and ash trees with a shrub layer of hawthorn, blackthorn and elder.