South East towpath bike rides: Heyford to Oxford, Oxford Canal

Cycle beside the bendy but beautiful Oxford Canal to the city of dreaming spires

Towpath bike rides: Heyford to Oxford on the Oxford Canal


Distance: 14.5 miles (one way)
Suitable for: a hybrid bike, due to varying towpath terrain
Starts at: Heyford train station

The Oxford Canal is reputed to be one of the most beautiful waterways in Britain. Many say that’s because it’s a contour canal, meaning that it follows the curves and undulations of the land, rather than relying on tunnels or other man-made structures to cut a path through challenging terrain. This makes for a bendy but incredibly beautiful canal, which also comes replete with many distinctive and delightful bridges, including manual lift and swing bridges designed by engineer James Brindley.

This 14.5-mile bike ride starts in the village of Heyford, which has a train station right next to the canal. If you need to fuel up before setting off, you can pop into the friendly Kizzie’s Waterside Bar and Bistro, which serves hearty bacon butties and sandwiches.

After seven miles of cycling, you’ll come to the picturesque hamlet of Thrupp, where rose-covered terraced houses line the towpath. Look out for Salt Row, a row of cottages that once stored salt – a regular cargo on the canal – then call in for lunch at the Jolly Boatman. We’ve heard their Ploughman’s is exceptionally good.

As you enter Oxford, look out for colourful murals under bridges and idyllic canalside gardens, before reaching journey’s end in the heart of the city. Even in the centre of the city, the waterway is a thriving green corridor, which flows next to Castle Mill Stream and Worcester College Lake. Look out for the turnover bridge, designed so that horses didn’t have to be unhitched when the towpath changed sides.

From Castle Mill Stream you can extend your ride onto the Thames Path, or simply kick back in Oxford before your return journey. The Oxford Retreat, a riverside pub surrounded by weeping willows, is a particularly lovely option.

Return along the same route or catch a train back to Heyford. While most trains accept bikes, it’s always best to check with individual operators.

Plan your next day out along the Oxford Canal on the Canal & River Trust website.

Share the space: drop your pace
We want everyone to enjoy visiting our canals and rivers. More than anything we want people to be safe – and with our towpaths busier than ever this is something that all visitors need to play a part in. When cycling, please pay attention to safety and warning signs, and be considerate of others. Read more about our ‘Share the space: drop your pace’ campaign on the Canal & River Trust website.