We like to have a point of interest during our walks, be it water, a climb with fabulous views, or a historical site. Walks in Oxfordshire can often offer all three! The focus of our North Leigh ramble was a Roman villa which is around the halfway point of this gentle 5-mile walk.
The route starts from North Leigh Common and passes through woodland, fields, and pretty villages. We went in mid-May, and were lucky with the weather, and plentiful trees and shrubs just starting to flower. Best of all, the keyholder for the villa's mosaic floor room was on-site doing some maintenance!
North Leigh Common is a small part of an old, much larger heathland area. Up to the 1900s, commoners were able to graze their animals and collect firewood on this land. There are also signs of their pits remaining from clay, sand, and gravel extraction.
Now this 50-acre site is an important habitat for wildlife and is managed by the local council. There are wetland areas, mature woodland, bracken, heather, and grasses and exploring the common would make another lovely Oxfordshire walk, or even an extension to the walk we describe.
Walks in Oxfordshire can start from all kinds of places: town centres, pubs, canals, or one of many small road-side parking spaces. Our North Leigh walk set out from the small car park beside the common, and turned left into the woodland right away. It’s tricky to describe the way through the woodland, as it's well-loved by dog walkers, ramblers, and runners... and there are more paths and worn tracks than the map has room for! Even though we were following a GPS map on our phone, we still had to stop and back-track a couple of times to stay on course!
If you use komoot.com, then this link should allow you to follow our North Leigh walk on your phone.
In general, you need to walk parallel to the road until you meet a field, where there is a prominent footpath. Turn right on the footpath and continue to the corner of the field. Turn left on another footpath and walk between two fields, with a row of trees on your left-hand side. At the end of the field, swing left on another footpath and, again, walk between two fields with a line of trees on your left-hand side.
road and turn right to walk through the pretty village of East End, which has some beautiful houses and lovely gardens in bloom as we walked through. You get a second chance to view the gardens as the walk now loops through woodland to the Roman villa before returning to East End.
Follow the road until a footpath sign on the right-hand side of the road directs you to Combe. Pass through the gate and walk into the dimness of the woodland. Again, there are many paths, but we found going slightly left and downhill got us to a marked footpath. This area looked as if it had snowed, as the ground was carpeted in flowering wild garlic. The smell was intoxicating!
The woodland with its carpet of wild garlic stretches all the way to the river, and feels much larger than it probably is! The villa site is well signposted, so if you enjoy woodland walks in Oxfordshire, take your time exploring this area, safe in the knowledge that you can easily return to your walking route. As you reach the edge of the woodland, close to the River Evenlode, you’ll find a gate that leads you into a field. Suddenly, the countryside rolls out in front of you like a lush carpet, and the fine views are especially noticeable coming from the green-tinged shade of the woodland.
At the far side of the field, in an enclosure, you'll find North Leigh Roman Villa. Cross the field to the entrance of the villa site.
The construction of the villa buildings started around the late 1st century, and the villa itself was occupied until the 4th century - an impressively long time! The exposed ruins are mainly foundations and lines of walls, which give visitors an idea of the size of the complex, and showcase the fact that the Romans built extensions just as we do today!
Most of the ruins have been recovered to protect them, but we know that the North Leigh villa was no humble abode. The important rooms had painted walls, heated walls, heated floors, and.... mosaic floors! One of the mosaic floors is on display for visitors, and that's where we were really lucky!
The mosaic, complete with underfloor heating system and examples of wall heating ducts, has been preserved for visitors. It's visible through a large viewing window when the site isn't staffed. When staff is present, though... you get the chance to see the floor and a collection of Roman building materials up close and personal.
Intricacy, workmanship, the colours still vivid after 1800 years... for us, this site alone makes this one of the must-do walks in Oxfordshire!
Once you've sated your fascination with Roman architecture, leave the site on the main path and turn left on a stony track back to the road. Turn left on the road and return towards East End.
Follow the road through the village to a wooden kissing gate next to a 30-mph speed limit sign on the right-hand side of the road. Pass through the gate which leads onto a narrow footpath. Fortunately, we had decided not to wear shorts, as this footpath was a bit overgrown with stinging nettles.
The walk now follows signed footpaths around fields and through woodland to the junction of Drakes Lane, Boddington Lane, and Church Road. At one point we were walking through a tunnel of trees!
Walk up the slight slope to St. Mary’s Church. Turn right and through the churchyard. The church is often open, and it is worth having a look around.
Leave the churchyard following footpaths to the left. After walking through a narrow way, enter a grass field with grazing horses. Follow the footpath on the left-hand side of the field near the houses and walk up the slope towards a white house.
Turn left to join the road and walk into the centre of North Leigh. There are a couple of nice-looking pubs here if refreshment is required. Continue to the village green and the rather sad-looking windmill. Turn left down Chapel Lane, past the chapel, and back across the fields following the footpath signs. The footpath eventually comes onto a gravelled drive of Perrott’s Hill Farm. Turn left just after the cattle grid and follow the driveway down to the road.
Turn right on the road, and after about 75 metres turn left to return to North Leigh Common car park.
The Oxfordshire landscape is gentle rolling green hills and farmland which becomes hillier towards the Chilterns. There is a maze of small roads and footpaths so it would make a good walking and cycling holiday or short break.
For the less energetic there are some great things to see and do including the University City of Oxford and its history and grand buildings, Woodstock and Blenheim Palace, small Cotswold towns, and the River Thames.
If you're a Downton Abbey fan, then many of the scenes were recorded in Oxfordshire. The charming town of Bampton was used as the Downton Abbey village.
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