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Walk from Headington to Oxford

Walk to Oxford via Cuckoo Lane and Mesopotamia

Please print off the PDF version of the leaflet (available via the link below) to take with you on the walk. It fits on to two sides of a folded sheet of A4, so is easy to carry.

Leaflet for the walk

The version below has more illustrations than the leaflet, and is linked to additional information about what you will see on the walk, but is not suitable for printing.


Cuckoo Lane can be picked up in Headington
at any point between Old High Street and Pullens Lane

Cuckoo Lane (which used to be much wider) was an important route between Marston and Headington for about a thousand years. It continued to be the main route between the top of Headington Hill and Old Headington village until the end of the eighteenth century, when it was superseded by the new London turnpike road which was cut through the middle of the Headington fields. The stretch from Marston Road to Headley Way marked the boundary between Oxford and Headington from 1835 to 1929

First bridge over Cuckoo Lane

Bridge 2

 

 

You may prefer not to start in Old High Street, as the first section of the lane is like a dark tunnel, with two dangerously low bridges overhead.

If you are brave enough to try it, however, you will find the entrance between the bungalow at 40 Old High Street and Headington House’s gateway with its pineapple finials.

Continue along this dark and narrow part of the lane until you emerge into the daylight again at Osler Road.

William Wootten-Wootten, who bought Headington House in 1848, also owned the land on the other side of Cuckoo Lane that is now occupied by Stephen Road and the London Road shops. He probably resented the fact that an ancient public right of way split his estate, and (probably to make it invisible) he reduced the lane to the minimum size imaginable, and ran paths over it via the two bridges shown above.

Lodge of Headington Lodge

 

Cuckoo Lane marks the southern end of the original village of Headington. When you emerge into Osler Road, on one side of you is the former lodge (left) of the large 1830s house now divided into Sandy and White Lodges; on the other, the row of houses is clearly dated 1928.


Flats on Manor Ground

 

Cuckoo Lane continues from the west side of Osler Road: the entrance (which is slightly hidden) is to the right of the wall letterbox.

Soon you will pass Manor Court flats (on the site of the old Manor football ground), and have a fine view (below) of Headington Manor House through the railings on your right.

 

 

View of the Manor House

The Manor Ground was the home of Headington and later Oxford United from 1926 to 2002. Headington Manor House was built in 1770 by Sir Banks Jenkinson and was only bought by the Lord of the Manor (Henry Mayne Whorwood) in 1801. The former name of Osler Road was Manor Road.

The John Radcliffe Hospital site was bought from the executors of the last Lord of the Manor in 1919, and the hospital buildings date from the late 1960s to the present day.

Cuckoo Lane continues from the west side of Osler Road: the entrance (which is slightly hidden) is to the right of the wall letterbox.

Soon you will pass Manor Court flats (on the site of the old Manor football ground), and have a fine view (below) of Headington Manor House through the railings on your right.


You will emerge into Sandfield Road. Take care crossing it: it can be busy.

Continue on the footpath that runs alongside the south side of Woodlands Road until you reach Headley Way. It is best to make a slight sideways detour in order to cross this very busy road via the new pedestrian crossing.

Continue walking westwards along Woodlands Road, which at this point has swallowed Cuckoo Lane

Stone at Boundary Brook, Woodlands Road

 

 

You are now crossing the Boundary Brook, which used to run across the London Road at the White Horse but was sent underground in the 1930s.

Notice the boundary stone on the line of the brook, marking the parliamentary division between Oxford and Headington established in 1889. The stone is inscribed:

1892
F.W. ANSELL
MAYOR
W. S. CARTER
SHERIFF

More information on Headington boundary stones


At the end of Woodlands Road, do not swing right into Franklin Road, but continue on to the footpath

Wide part of Cuckoo Lane

Cuckoo Lane signpost memorial

 

This part of Cuckoo Lane is much wider, and was laid out as a potential road when the land to the north was sold.

It is marked with a “signpost” memorial stone dedicated on 4 May 2003. The stone was commissioned by Ruth Harris of Brackley from the Stile Company. Highway officers allowed it to be erected on the grounds that it is a street sign, which does not require planning permission; but in future such unusual road signs proposed for Oxford will have to go through the planning procedure


The grounds of Headington School are now on your left, and Rye St Antony School on your right. Continue along this path until it reaches Pullen’s Lane. At the end, take the left-hand fork so that you can see two plaques.

Plaque about Joe Pullen's tree

 

A plaque (left) on the wall of Davenport House marks the site of Joe Pullen’s tree. It reads :

near this spot stood the famous elm planted by the rev. josiah pullen about 1680 and known as joe pullen’s tree. destroyed by fire on 13 october 1909

Plaque to Dr H.M. Harris

 

On the other side of Pullens Lane, another plaque (right) reads:

The Lime and Plane trees nearby were planted by his wife and family in memory of Dr H. M. Harris of Wembley, Middlesex, and The Barn, Pullen’s Lane. Beloved Physician 1894 to 1976”.

Dr Harris was the author of Between the White Gates: A History of the Barn, the Tree, and Some Notable Inhabitants of Pullen’s Lane, Headington (Oxford Polytechnic Press, 1975).


Boundary stone, Pullens Lane

Cross Pullen’s Lane, and take the Cuckoo Lane down the hill (keeping the wall of Headington Hill House, and afterwards the railings of Headington Hill Park, on your left).

A stone (left) at the top of this footpath reads:

1901
C. G. DRUCE
MAYOR
J. DORN
SHERIFF

This stone was probably set up when the biologist George Claridge Druce beat the bounds at the end of his mayoral year of 1900/1901

Path down the hill

Boundary stone, Cuckoo Lane

 

Further down, below the path to John Garne Way, another stone (right) has the city crest, with the initials “C. J. S.” and the word “MAYOR”.

This stone marks the new eastern boundary of Oxford in 1835 . The initials stand for Charles James Sadler (Mayor in 1836/7), and the stone was probably erected when he beat the bounds in August/September 1837

 

 

Headington Hill Hall was built by James Morrell in 1858, and the present Headington Hill Park was part of its grounds. It was probably at this time, when the wall to the hall was built, that the lane was made so narrow.


When you get to the bottom of the hill, you have reached the end of Cuckoo Lane. The Marston Road is ahead of you, and you should cross it with care.

Boundary stone, Marston Road

 

 

The Marston Road marks the boundary of the two ancient manors: of Headington and Marston.

There is a very fine (listed) boundary stone at the end of Cuckoo Lane dating from the seventeenth century. It reads:

“[HERE END]
ES HEDIN
TON WAY”

 

 

Straight ahead of you is the 25-acre site of the University of Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, which will replace the present Centre in George Street. This £75m building is being built on the former Magdalen College sportsfield. Its foundations were laid in January 2004, and it is still incomplete. Prince Charles is its patron, and it is funded by several Middle Eastern governments and individual donors.


Footpath to the King's Mill

 

Just to the right of the Centre for Islamic Studies you will see a footpath (with a “No parking” sign” on the left and an old stone gate-pier to the right). Its name is King’s Mill Lane, but it has no sign. Take this footpath down to the River Cherwell. The gardens of Magdalen College lie behind the wall on your left, and Merton College sports ground is on the right.

 

The King’s Mill stood here by the Cherwell until 1832. It belonged to the Manor of Headington. Anthony Wood wrote in the seventeenth century, “Kings Mill, soe called perhaps from King Ethelred that lived sometimes at Hedindon”.

King's Mill House

 

There is an Oxford boundary stone dating from the mayoralty of James Wyatt (1842/3) outside King’s Mill House (left)


The wooden gate at the bottom is open to the public: go through it, passing King’s Mill lodge, and you will find yourself in Mesopotamia.

This walk is called “Mesopotamia” (from the Greek meaning “between the rivers”) because the Cherwell has two branches here, one each side of the path.

The gate to Mesopotamia


Follow the concrete path (which crosses a bridge with wooden diamond-patterned sides after about 300m). There should be water on each side of you all the time. (Do not be tempted to turn right on to any of the diversions on the right: these will only take you back to the Marston Road)

You will eventually see cyclists to your right using the cycle track which runs through the Parks from Ferry Road in Marston to South Parks Road. The line of the track, which was opened in the early 1990s, is marked by a series of lamp-posts.


After about half a mile, the path crosses a humped-back bridge.

Humped bridge

About 150m after crossing this bridge, you will come to a junction where ahead of you is a locked wooden gate with spikes on top. At this point you should turn left (opposite another sign for the University Parks) and cross another bridge.

Flat bridge

The University acquired 91 acres of the University Parks between 1853 and 1864. They then included the present Science Area. It acquired the land on the east side of the Cherwell in 1886 and the meadow to the north-east of Rainbow Bridge in 1934.


After passing over the bridge, turn right, and go through a metal gate. Take great care when emerging here, as you are coming out on a fast cycle track. It is best to cross straight over, and turn left on to the adjacent footpath.

Cycle track

From the footpath, you can get a good view of the punt rollers, and behind them Parson’s Pleasure.

The rollers, with Parson's Pleasure behind

Parson’s Pleasure (below), the large pool behind the rollers, only acquired its name in the twentieth century. It was known as Patten’s Pleasure in the seventeenth century and Loggerhead in the nineteenth century. Until the 1990s it was a nude bathing and sunbathing place for men.

Parson's Pleasure

After the short section of footpath, rejoin the cyclists where the path is wider, and continue westwards until you reach South Parks Road

Linacre College

 

Linacre College, which is on the left as you enter South Parks Road, moved into Cherwell Edge (built as a private house in 1887, but later a convent) in the late 1970s.

 

Rough map showing the entire route

Clearer map showing Mesopotamia


Warnings:

  • The route is not suitable for cyclists (narrow footpaths are for pedestrians only, and barriers prevent cycles entering Mesopotamia)
  • The walk is not possible after dark (no lighting, and Parks are locked at night)
  • Just about negotiable by pushchairs that can be folded (a bit bumpy), but not wheelchairs
  • The ground can be slightly muddy in places after rain. This is rarely serious, and then only around February time, when Mesopotamia can be closed because of flooding
  • Mesopotamia is usually closed on the Monday of St Giles’ Fair, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.
  • University Parks closing times

© Stephanie Jenkins

 

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