All the best bike paths lead to Marston

All the best bike paths lead to Marston

Map showing the route of Marston Meadow cycle track

By Andy Chivers

Andy is a trustee of Cyclox

If you like riding a bike then the best place to live in Oxford is Marston. Three of the finest cycle paths in the city take you to Marston and all three have Marston in their names:

  • Marston Ferry Road
  • Marston Road
  • Marston cycle path across the New Marston Meadows

It is a nice historical fact that two of these routes replaced long-standing ferries.

Designed for commuting

The oldest of these cycle routes is the one on Marston Road, which has a wide dedicated path along both sides of the northern end. It was built in 1937 to help workers from Marston get to the expanding car factory in Cowley during a period of rapid housing development. Recognising the need to cope with large numbers of bikes, the road was widened to include cycle paths. This was an early example of a cycle path designed for commuting.

Cycling to school

The more recent cycle path alongside Marston Ferry Road is one of the most famous paths in the UK. It is frequently quoted as the reason Cherwell School (and now the Swan School) have the UK’s highest rate of cycling students. The road was opened in 1971 and replaced the self-operated ferry that had been there since 1279. The ferry boat was just a punt on a rope linking the riverbanks and only took pedestrians and bicycles.

Again, there was a clear functional need for the cycle path and it was built to a high standard, 4 metres wide and completely segregated from the main carriageway. It continues to have high rates of use as you notice when cycling against the flow of Cherwell School students at peak times.

Getting to town

Marston Meadows path is the most recent of the three. Until 1949 there was a ferry across the Cherwell. This explains the name of Ferry Road, where you can still see the ferryman’s house. The bridge was built in 1949 and is now listed as it was the first bridge in the country to be built with pre-stressed concrete.

Originally the route was only for walkers. In 1994 two Oxford professors, Larry Weisskranz and Ray Guillery, both keen cyclists, persuaded Oxford University to allow people to ride along the path. This transformed life for many commuters. People working in Headington suddenly had a quiet route – Marston Meadow, Marston Road and Jack Straws Lane got you from town to the John Radcliffe Hospital or Brookes University along off-road paths and quiet roads.

Diversion of the meadows route

The temporary closure of the Marston Meadows cycle path from South Parks Road to Ferry Road has demonstrated the value of this and the other cycle paths. The Rainbow Bridge diversion is a measure of the value of the Marston Meadows link. Even though riders have to push their bikes for quarter of a mile and their journey is significantly longer, between 80 and 100 people, including many children, are using the alternative route during each of the daily 2-hour periods permitted.

Slow progress on infrastructure

All three routes could be seen as ‘new build’ – part of the rapid development of housing to the east of Oxford. They were built at roughly 20-year intervals – a slow rate of progress. But in the 30 years since, new cycle infrastructure has slowed down even further. Cycle routes have been shoe-horned into the existing road structure, usually as cycle lanes marked out with white paint, or slightly segregated, on roads.

When I moved to Marston 20 years ago, I had no idea what an amazing location it is. I can ride my bike into town in 5 minutes along quiet off-road routes through beautiful meadows.

Isobel, a Marston resident
Image credits:

Map: Historic Towns Trust, 2022
Marston Road: Cyclox
Ferryman’s house: Kate Arnold