We are so lucky to have so many beautiful nature reserves in Oxfordshire to explore with our kids and inculcate the “1000 hours outside” from early years on. Here is my list of some lovely walks and they appear in no particular order!
Shotover Country park does not have the traditional “play equipment” but it has something better; “a beach” with small gullies of muddy stream and semi sandy pits around it. There are hills to climb up and down in the woodland as you hear the beautiful natural symphony of birdsongs. There are dens to explore and lots and lots of tree trunks to climb. There is also a rope swing tied up in one of the trees to and another one higher up, with some sort of obstacle course around it. You can also find hidden treasures around the park, using Geocaching, if you are into it!
CS Lewis Nature Reserve is believed to be the inspiration for “Narnia classic tales” and if you go in March, the pond is full of mating frogs. you can hear the croaking from a distance (See our post on 🐸Frog Spotting at CS Lewis Nature Reserve 🐸). The woodland trail is pretty good with some fairy doors, lots of log piles and tree trunks and hilly areas to climb up on. The full loop is not too long, so it is easily doable with the little ones but you can access Shotover country park from here and make your walk longer if you want.
Lye Valley Nature Reserve is another one of Oxford’s hidden gems. There is a boardwalk at the entrance with a small stream running by the side. The water is not too deep and the surroundings just perfect for splashing and water fights! There are a few wooden bridges and also a tree trunk fallen right over the stream to make a perfect crossing for the more adventurous. If you go during the mating season, you will find scores and scores of frogs.
Fairyland walk of Kidlington is a nice walking route in itself between Kidlington and Begbroke, but you can spot so many beautiful and vibrant fairy doors amongst the trees and on the floor that you can not NOT love this walk. A stream is running on one side, parts of which are shallow enough for children to play in. The start of the walk is also a good train spotting space.
We absolutely loved Ewelme Watercress beds nature reserve. The walk itself is not massive but it is just so so lovely and we shrieked with delight when we discovered the rope swing at the top of a stream at the far end. You will not spend ages here if you are driving from far away but combine it with a trip to Benson play park (which is literally a few minutes drive away), Ewelme play park (which is just up the road) or a long walk around Cow Common, and can absolutely have a gorgeous FREE day out!
Wytham Woods, Oxford is a completely natural paradise!! There are trees to be climbed, branches to swing on, logs to balance on, hills to run down on, leaves/sticks to collect, bird houses to count, bug hotels to spy on, sheep/cows to be found and dens to be built- outdoor play at its best! It is free but you do require a permit which needs to be applied for in advance.
You can start a walk from the Hinksey Park in Oxford which is actually a good sized playground with a splash park and outdoor heated swimming pool. After having your full in the park, go to the duck pond or start a longer walk around the South Hinksey lake, over the bridge to the other side of Hinskey. There is even a bridge over the train tracks, which is a great place for train spotting. If you continue down the village, you can go all the way to Chilswell valley. Alternatively, combine it with the South Oxford adventure playground and enjoy its mega beast of a climbing frame!
Chilswell Valley, South Hinksey starts with a board walk which is always a win win to set the mood. A stream flows the whole length of the valley to supports the reedbeds, which is not too deep and has lots of crossing points. The trees, with lots of bird nests, birds constantly chirping, slowly trickling stream and plenty of wildflowers on the ground made the whole atmosphere absolutely incredible. As the loop turns around, it goes up a grassy hill, which is another delight, as you can race or roll up and down.
Farmoor Reservoir is a man-made reservoir situated ~5 miles west of Oxford and is the largest one of its kind in Oxfordshire. It was exceptionally windy and also cold, so please make sure you dress up warmly. I truly felt like I was on the coast with the heavy waves and strong winds. There are three nature reserves adjacent to the perimeter; Pinkhill, Shrike and Buckthorne meadow, each offering an array of habitat between them.
If you like mosaics, try the MOSAIC TRAIL at Kingston Bagpuize Millennium Green, Abingdon, which is short or go for the longer Windrush Path Mosaic Trail in Standlake.
Kirtlington Quarry is a brilliant place to explore for all ages and can serve as a good starter for hiking and Rock/mountain climbing. There is a lovely swirl pattern made from rocks on the quarry floor which is surrounded by woods and beautiful trails all around. There is also a stream/canal and you will also see bluebells here in season.
Thrupp Lake in Abingdon is magical and another one of the hidden treasures of Oxfordshire. The colours are spectacular and swans glide gracefully beneath the trees with a multitude of birds/sea fowl. Walking around the lake and hearing the birdsongs is just so peaceful and serene.
Dry Sandford Pit is another nature reserve just outside Abingdon. There are small caves, lovely cliff faces and easy to climb little mounds and hills. The stream is also easily accessible and there is a little pond with logs in it.
RSPB Otmoor Reserve is a bird sanctuary and nature reserve between Beckley and Oddington, within the wider area of Otmoor, in Oxfordshire. The visitor trail leads you alongside an expansive floodplain grazing marsh, home to wading birds and wildfowl year-round. Hedgerows, bustling with warblers and songbirds, and the rustling reedbed adds to the immersive experience of being on the “moor”
Wychwood Wild Garden is a beautiful woodland and garden, close to the centre of Shipton-under-Wychwood. With canals and streams of water, all trickling from two ponds/ small lakes, chirpy birds and cathedral of trees around, you can not NOT like this place. We also loved the playground in Shipton under Wychwood, which is well worth adding on to your visit.
Trap Ground Fairy Door Trail, Oxford is a short but sweet walk. There is a small board walk. Some areas have overgrown bushes, and other parts buzzing with butterflies and dragonflies etc. There are little blackboards along the walk with information on what to look out in that particular area, which makes the walk more interesting.
Trow pool and water tower walk, Bicester is a hidden gem of a walk. The Trow Pool water tower is an impressive structure to walk around. The boys try to climb it (which is impossible to do by the way) or have pretend sword/ stick fights as knights. From there on, there is a clear pathway that leads down to lake itself, which is really pretty too.
Sydlings Copse is a bugger to find but has high treetop bird watching spots which my son loves to climb.
Bagley woods is pure natural delight in a mosaic of beautiful natural oak and coppiced woodland, plantations, experimental plots and specimen trees. Bluebells bloom here endlessly end of April/ beginning of May
Abbey Meadow and gardens is also the start of a brilliant walk. Abbey Meadows Park is one of Oxfordshire’s best playground with an amazing climbing fort, splash park and an outdoor heated pool as well. After the play area, you can bike/scootie around the edge, walk along the lock, cross the bridges, feed the ducks or just watch the boats on the lock.
Stoke Woods, Bicester has the most beautiful teepees all around the woodland. There are tree to climb, huge fallen tree trunks to peep into, various species of mushrooms/mosses to spot, lots and lots of cones to collect and a wide variety of wildflowers, dandelions & bluebells depending on the season. The place is famous for its bluebells. (💙Bluebells at Stoke Woods💙)
Badbury Hill is THE place if you are interested in Bluebells. You will not be disappointed I can assure you!
Tusmore Park in Bicester s a nice, gentle walk, through grounds, woods and mud. This is one place where you HAVE to stick to the paths or vans with cctv cameras written on them turn up if you don’t. The driver didn’t say anything and looked friendly enough, but just lurked in the background in the car, which was funny and irritating at the same time.
We discovered Graven hill woods in Bicester during the lockdown and it is now one of our firm favourites for really rustic and natural walks. It is an ex army training ground with remnants of it visible, even today.. old barracks, old army vehicles, old and creepy huts, skeleton of wild animals etc are just a few things we saw..!
Bure Park nature reserve in Bicester is a nice little walk, though it also marks the start of the Bicester 5K route, so if you want to make it longer you can. There are plenty of trees to climb and birds/ butterflies to spot. A little stream runs through it, which we really like splashing in
Bernwood forest butterfly trail is located just inside Oxfordshire on the border with Buckinghamshire, so is within easy reach from Oxford, Bicester, Aylesbury and Thame. As the name indicates, it is famous for its butterflies. The trail comprises clearly marked paths which weave through woodlands. You can stick to the wide grass paths or get lost in the woods like we did, either way you will see quite a few butterflies fluttering around you.
Chinnor quarry /old Kiln Lakes Circular, Oxfordshire is a 3.9k loop trail located near Chinnor that features a lake and provides an unmarked, reasonably sized nature walking area which skirts the abandoned quarry workings. The trail is primarily used for hiking, walking, nature trips, and bird watching.
Adderbury Lakes Nature Reserve near Banbury has a waterfall! The lake is small and the entire circle will not take long (perfect for little legs) but the entire ambience is so peaceful and quiet, you may just want to sit on one of the many benches scattered around and admire the view.
Spiceball Country Park is the largest park in Banbury which has a fenced play area, an amazing skate park, a cycling track/ activity trail and canal and the River Cherwell running through it. There are scattered small woodlands with tree trunks to climb. Cycling / jogging track runs across the boundary with the river on the side, so take your scooties and cycles. There are a few wooden bridges to walk across or admire the views from a top.
Headington Hill park and tree trail does not have much to do for toddlers apart from the walk and some tree climbing but older children can try to find the different trees on the trail for an educational experience. From here, you can walk across to the nearby South Park which is a lovely playground and you can roll down the hill or enjoy some awesome views from the top.
A big portion of the Minster Lovell Ruins, Witney is still intact and a good start for a walk along the stream/River Windrush. I hear you can swim/ paddle here in summer and that it is great area for crayfishing too and the little shop in minster lovell sells childrens nets too.. WOW!
The walk around Wolvercote lake is not too long but you can combine it with Port Meadows and make it longer.
Don’t forget to pack your picnic and cameras when you visit the Faringdon Folly and tower. The views from up there are amazing. The tower is only open to climb on certain days but surrounding circular woodland has sculptures hidden in it for kids to spot. The faringdon cycle park and badbury hills are quite close by, so you can easily make a day out of it.
Harcourt Arboretum, Oxford is gold whichever season you visit it in. The Acer Glade is awash with vivid reds and rich golds and in Lime Wood the leaves create a rich yellow canopy in autumn while in spring, Bluebell Wood is a rich blue and the azaleas and rhododendrons make a stunning red/pink display. The resident peacocks are a delight but when we went to see the BLUEBELLS and witnessed the truly mesmerizing sight of peacocks calling and displaying magnificently, I was stuck in awe!
It is FREE for Oxford university student/staff members, otherwise fees apply.
Addison’s Walk of Magdalen College in Oxford is famous for its deer. It is free on open days throughout the year, otherwise you have to pay to enter, unless you are local to Oxford, or who hold an Oxford University card, an OUP card, or alumnus card.
Strictly speaking National Trust properties are not free but if you have Membership, kids can be added on for 10£ for a year and you can visit as many times as you want, which makes it a good bargain. Nearby National Trust locations include Waddesdon, Cliveden, Stowe, Basildon Park, Hughenden Manor, Boarstall Duck decoy, Upton House and Greys court.
The Superworm trail in Wendover Woods is Hip Hip Hooray for a fantastic day out- must do for Julia Donaldson or superworm fans!
Irchester country park in Northamptonshire is of the most incredible country parks for all ages, with one of the best activity trails I have seen. It is approximately an hour’s journey from Oxford but so so well worth it!
Stanwick Lakes in Northampton has an amazing adventure playground and a great Adventure Trail which winds its way around the lakes and is just perfect!
Emberton country park in Milton Keynes is absolutely amazing with many play area scattered throughout the park and good nature trails around the lake.
Rushmere Country Park near Leighton Buzzard has lovely professionally crafted fairy doors on the sculpture trail in addition to beautiful wooden sculptures and benches. Climb the trees, hunt for mini beasts, spot the birds and herons, play hide and seek or just run around and soak in on your 1000 hours a year!
Dinton Pastures country park is awesome at another level. The playground is a climbers delight with very different equipment to anywhere else. There are nature trails and a lovely lake to walk around
Burton Dassett Hills Country Park HAS to be on your list of things to do this summer. Even though, there is no “playground” as such, there is so much to enjoy. Race up the hills, race down the hill, roll on the hill, challenge yourself to a gentle hike, fly a kite, admire the sheep, JUST bring in your picnic, enjoy the fresh air and just live in the moment.
Tring Reservoirs Nature Reserve comprises of four individual reservoirs: Startop’s End, Marsworth and Tringford which are all close together and Wilstone reservoir, which is a short distance to the west. The reservoirs are home to a variety of wildlife and their reedbeds, wet woodland and open water habitats are a natural stronghold for birds.
St James Lake in Brackley is not a very long walk but has some lovely fairy doors to spot.
The Rye in High Wycombe has a beast of a climbing frame and amazing play areas, beautiful walk along the DYKE, little waterfall with stepping stones, plenty of green space for all sorts of ball games, boats available for hire and an outdoor swimming pool (needs pre-booking).
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