Oxford to Blenheim Palace by bike
By Andy Chivers
We advocates of cycling are always looking for ways to encourage more people to enjoy riding their bike, and as a side benefit, use their car less. We look for things that put people off cycling. Poor cycle facilities – cycle paths or cycle parking particularly – are a big deterrent. What we don’t do often is mark our appreciation of the progress that has been made and publicise new opportunities for people to get on their bikes.
This weekend my family wanted to go for a walk in Blenheim Palace grounds as the winter weather was so lovely. Setting off from Oxford by bike our journey has been transformed by the wonderful new surface on the canal towpath from Hythe Bridge St to the A44 bridge over the canal near Yarnton, a distance of nearly 4 miles. This has been funded by the county council’s Housing and Growth fund, in partnership with the Canal and River Trust. Cyclox would like to say ‘Thank You’ for a very fine piece of work.
Apart from the quiet and pleasant scenery, the main benefit is avoiding the horrible roundabouts at Wolvercote and Peartree. This means it is possible to cycle from the city centre to Woodstock completely off road. The canal towpath is shared with walkers and there are residential moorings along some sections, so considerate cycling is expected. What was so nice about our ride was how many other cyclists were also riding along – the saying ‘build it and they will come’ seems to apply to bikes as well as cars.
It is true that we had to cross the small roundabouts in Yarnton and Begbroke, but drivers were considerate and the crossings are narrow so it didn’t feel unsafe. Getting across the large roundabout at Bladon was trickier because cars and lorries turn off it at speed. Traffic engineers wanting to prioritise motor vehicle flow is understandable, but ultimately not the future. We need to create environments where walking and cycling are attractive options – so it would be good to have signalised crossings for pedestrians and cyclists at that junction.
More benefits of arriving by bike became apparent as we approached the Palace grounds. There were queues of cars the whole way along the main avenue and cars parked in every conceivable place, even on the road in front of the palace going to the bridge over the lake. Quite an eyesore.
And what about our walk? As we expected, the lake and trees were looking magical in the winter sunlight and we were soon away from the crowds near the house. Walking along the lake we were excited to see large white birds standing like herons on the bank and discovered they were Great White Egrets, a previously rare visitor which may now be breeding in Blenheim.
The Palace has pledged to be carbon neutral by March this year, which is why it is encouraging people to visit by bike or public transport. Judging by the hordes or cars on Sunday, they have a long way to go, but it is an admirable target.
Our round trip of about 15 miles (for one of us that was the furthest they had ever ridden a bike) was full of interest, felt fun, and was an altogether nice part of the day out, rather than a tedious car journey simply getting us from A to B.
Give it a try! Plus, throughout January, tickets to Blenheim get you 3 extra month of free entry (15 instead of the usual 12).