I’ve been a keen runner for a few years now and had built up quite a network of routes to fit my mood – but effectively had to hit reset on this when arriving in Oxford to start university. Having now spent two years studying and running in Oxford, I’ve had the opportunity to explore and find the best spots. Here is your chance to learn from my experiences and get some quick insights into the nicest places to run.
This isn’t just aimed at new runners, but also should be useful for anybody who is already a keen runner and are thinking ahead about where to go come October. I haven’t given prescriptive distances or routes since the best routes will vary depending on whether you’re setting out from Christ Church or St Hugh’s.
For the Beginner
If you’ve not really run before, and you’re just looking for somewhere fairly central and easy to navigate to start with, here are my suggestions:
Christ Church Meadow: provided you follow the advice of my previous article (in summary: avoid busy tourist spots like this one at peak times, especially given there’s an easily congested kissing gate leading onto Merton Street), this is an ideal spot for the beginner runner. It’s not a hugely complicated route; there’s really only one way to go around the meadow, making it ideal for beginners as you won’t have to worry about getting lost and can focus on the running! If you’re ready to step up the distance, you can add another lap.
University Parks: this is another great place to start out with your running. The park is very green and is a slightly more complicated route than Christ Church Meadows, since there’s more than one lap around it. This means that you feel a bit more like you’re exploring while on your run. If you want to extend the run, you can even go over the imaginatively named ‘High Bridge’ into the peaceful fields beyond. This route is great for evoking the feeling of running in the country, away from the busy city vibe of central Oxford.
A word of advice on these two routes would be to check the opening times before setting your heart on running in one of these locations, and before entering. Take it from someone who had to call in a favour with a friend at Christ Church to escape the meadows.
For the Intermediate Runner
If you’re a fairly committed runner and are keen to venture to less mainstream locations, but don’t wish to run for too long or too far, here are some suggestions of where to go:
Osney Lock: if you head just past the station down Botley Road, and make a left turn down the Thames Path fairly soon after, you will find yourself on a great route through Osney Lock and along the river, eventually reaching Abingdon Road. I would particularly recommend this route slightly earlier in the morning (I’m talking 8am, not 5am) as the morning sun by the river is a lovely sight to start off your day.
Aston’s Eyot: see past the unusual name and instead embrace the opportunity to run in a small, not very well known, nature reserve by the Thames. It’s located on the opposite side of the river from the Thames Path by the boathouses and can be accessed by going down Iffley Road. It can get a little muddy in the winter or if there’s been a lot of rain, so don’t wear your shiny, new trainers. This is in the intermediate category as it takes slightly longer to get to for most, but it is also great for adding in extra laps if you’re trying to build up distance.
For the Hardcore, Long Distance Runner
If you’ve worn your trainers thin pounding around the streets of Oxford and are chomping at the bit for something a little more adventurous, here are some destinations you could try:
Port Meadow: trips here aren’t just reserved for barbeques and swimming in the river at the end of Trinity. It can be quite a trek out to the meadow, and even if you go to Worcester or Somerville, doing a full lap of the meadow can still prove fairly lengthy. There’s also a serious mud factor to consider, as it can get enormously boggy in the rainier months of the year. However, there’s perhaps nothing that quite compares to running across such a gorgeous grassy space.
There are also two very strong reasons for going here before the summer, despite the mud: firstly, you’ll have an idea about all the best spots when picnic season does arrive. Secondly, if you go the long way around (i.e. go up the Thames Path on the far side of the river) in late April or early May, at a time when there aren’t many people around, you will be able to spot baby rabbits hopping around between the bushes. What more could you want to melt your heart and lift your spirits?
Iffley Lock: if Port Meadow is a bit too mainstream for you as a place for a long-distance run, I would suggest instead trying out Iffley Lock. It’s quite a way down the Thames Path, but if you persevere you will soon find yourself in the outskirts of Iffley. The little lanes and houses around the area have a fantastic country feel and seem a world away from the bustle of Oxford, and the actual lock itself is very pretty. This is a great place to venture out to if you’re looking for somewhere that’s not just a field, but still feels like an escape from the city.
Now that you’re armed with advice and some route recommendations, there really is no excuse for not giving running in Oxford a go!