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Witney - from Town to Country

Discover Witney's many treasures before heading for a popular country park on the town's outskirts.

Distance 3.5 miles (5.7km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient Negligible

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Pavements, meadow and waterside paths, 1 stile

Landscape Urban, country park and waterside on town outskirts

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 180 Oxford

Start/finish SP 357096

Dog friendliness Busy streets at start and finish. Under control or on lead in Witney Lake and Meadows Country Park

Parking Public car park by Woolgate Shopping Centre, off Witan Way

Public toilets Woolgate Shopping Centre, recreation ground and Cogges Manor Farm Museum (for visitors)


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1 Turn right into Langdale Gate and walk along towards the Butter Cross. Turn left immediately before it and walk down the left side of Church Green. Have a look at the remains of the Bishop's Palace and then visit St Mary's Church next door. With your back to the church, walk along the left side of Church Green and turn left at the Butter Cross into Corn Street. Keep ahead and, when the street becomes pleasantly tree-lined, cutting between handsome houses, turn left just beyond the Three Horseshoes pub into The Crofts. Follow the road between terraced stone houses, evoking the days when Witney was a thriving mill town.

2 Follow The Crofts to the left and turn right at the end. Keep a stone wall on the left and walk along to St Mary's Court. Continue ahead along an alleyway, with a school and the spire of St Mary's on the left and, when you reach the corner of a recreation ground, keep to its right edge, passing a toilet block. Turn right at the road, then turn first left at the pedestrian lights into Station Lane.

3 Follow the road through an industrial estate and take the path at the end, beneath the A40. Avoid a footbridge on the right and walk ahead through a kissing gate. The walk now cuts between Witney Lake and surrounding meadows, part of a country park. Continue along the lakeside path, with the houses of Ducklington seen over to the right beyond an area of scrub. Keep Emma's Dike left and curve to the left. The lake is still clearly seen, as is Witney church spire at intervals in the distance. On the right is the River Windrush. Make for a large concrete bridge and cross it, branching left to a kissing gate.

4 Keep the field boundary over to your left and look for a kissing gate by the A40. Pass under it again to another kissing gate and head north to a stile, keeping your back to the main road. Cross over to a gate and keep ahead with office buildings seen on the left. Pass under power lines to two kissing gates and a notice board. Keep ahead, passing to the right of a dilapidated mill which originally had its own undershot wheels. Follow the path between margins of vegetation and eventually you reach a spur path to Cogges Manor Farm Museum.

5 To visit the museum, turn right and follow the path and adjoining cycleway to the Priory and St Mary's Church. Continue to the adjoining museum and then retrace your steps, heading now for Witney town centre. Pass an electricity sub station on the right and walk along to the road. Cross over into Langdale Gate and return to the car park.

Unlike Burford and Broadway, Witney never established itself as a Cotswold honeypot. Perhaps it is just as well. It is a place to stumble on, to be discovered without the fuss of coach parties and souvenir hunters. Stroll through its picturesque streets and you'll find a great deal of charm and character. It is attractive without being twee, smart without being 'touristy'. In short, it is classic Middle England. One of Witney's best views is from Church Green, looking across to the parish church at the southern end. This quiet corner of the town has the feel of a small English cathedral city and if Witney were ever descended upon by tourism marketing men, the focus of their attention would surely be here.

Perhaps the main reason the town never became a major attraction is its industrial past. During the Middle Ages Witney became the centre of a thriving woollen trade. It was the famous Cotswold sheep and the meandering River Windrush that contributed to the town's success - the river proved to be eminently suitable for the scouring of the woollen cloth. Fortunately, the townsfolk knew how to yield the best from these attributes and in later years Witney became famous throughout the world for producing blankets.

It was in 1669 that Richard Early apprenticed his teenage son, Thomas, to the woollen trade. The boy lived up to his father's expectations and by 1688 he was one of the town's leading master weavers. He was so successful that he was chosen to present a pair of gold-fringed blankets to James II. In 1711 the Witney weavers were granted a charter to form a Company of Blanket Weavers. This signifcant development, though long overdue, was welcomed by the district's weaving community, and weavers operating within a 20-mile (32km) radius of the town were required to bring their blankets to the company's headquarters to be inspected and hallmarked.

Thomas Early became the first master of the company and in later years the Early family presented blankets to King George III and Queen Charlotte as part of their royal visit to Oxfordshire in 1788. However, it wasn't long before the Industrial Revolution got under way and the wind of change began to blow through Witney, as innovative machinery ushered in a new era in the manufacturing industries. The traditional weavers feared for their jobs and riots broke out in the streets. But it was to no avail - in spite of all the protests, the new order was here to stay.

In 1960 Witney's two major blanket manufacturers merged, consolidating an association already forged by intermarriage between the two families. With the eventual closure of the company, Witney's famous tradition for producing blankets now lies at the core of the town's industrial heritage.

Where to eat and drink

The Eagle Tavern in Corn Street is one among many pubs in Witney. Expect a good and inexpensive range of meals and snacks. Alternatively, there are several cafés and restaurants in the town.

What to look for

Witney Lake and Meadows Country Park covers 75 acres (30ha) and includes the site of a large former gravel pit, two streams of the River Windrush and fields of hay and meadowland. Acquired by Witney Town Council in 1988, the country park is home to many different species of wildlife, including tawny owls, sparrowhawks, butterflies and damselflies.

While you're there

Visit the Cogges Manor Farm Museum, which illustrates how this 20-acre (8.1ha) site would have looked in the Victorian era, with traditional breeds of animals, original farm buildings and displays of farm implements and machinery. Daily demonstrations of domestic and farm work take place in the manor house, dairy and farmyard.


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