Do you think you know all Oxford has to offer? I bet you haven’t seen all these secret spots and hidden corners in the city. I have asked the locals about their favourite secret paths, ancient forests, and interesting cemeteries. Let me show you some of Oxford’s gems, when to visit, and where to find them.
Oxford (Truly) Secret Spots
I have lived in the city for years, and I didn’t know most of these when I started looking for the little gems and hidden places in Oxford. These are quite special – although not always overwhelming. A unique secret spot can be a bit of shadow in the summer, or a river corner ideal for a picnic. Let me show you what I have uncovered in my search for secret Oxford places.
Cuckoo Lane in Headington
Cuckoo Lane runs eastwards from the top of Headington Hill and is on an ancient path that is probably over a thousand years old! If you’re connecting Headington to Oxford, this secret spot will provide you with the shortest route. In 1804, Cuckoo Lane is described as “public Footpath of the breadth of six feet numbered XVIII [Cuckoo Lane] beginning at a certain Tree called Joe Pullen’s Tree.” This beautiful lane was originally just six feet. Today, it’s wide, paved and gorgeous walk.
The Picnic Bench Near Donnington Bridge
Many people living in Oxford don’t know that there’s a picnic bench hidden away on the town side of Donnington Bridge (the left-facing town). Picnic benches are not easy to come by, so if you’re looking for a relaxing and comfortable place to have a summery picnic, you should check out this little bench. The bench is also a nice Oxford secret for a perfect first (or second, third, etc) date.
Tumbling Bay Bathing Place
Tumbling Bay in Botley Park is a former open air swimming pool and still a rather well-kept secret Oxford place. It uses the waters of the Thames river, and its level is aligned with Oxnet Lock. People have been bathing here since it was built in the 19th century – although the pool officially closed in 1990. Since then, Tumbling Bay has changed very little. There are some rudimentary changing rooms and a refurbished footbridge that makes for an ideal photo spot. Tumbling Bay is one of Oxford’s most practical secret spots, ideal for a warm day.
The War Graves in Botley Cemetery
Botley Cemetery contains 156 burials from soldiers that died due to injuries in the First World War. Oxford was one of the locations where injured soldiers were taken by train during the first and second wars. This sombre place is beautiful in spring, and you can also walk to Jericho if you’re in need of a drink or snack to keep exploring Oxford. The Commonwealth War Graves Plot is placed at the end of the entrance driveway, behind the Chapel.
This is more of an unknown Oxford spot for literature enthusiasts, rather than a secret well kept. It’s Tolkien’s bench, a piece of history and a beautiful place right by the River Cherwell. The bench, dedicated to Tolkien on the centenary of his birth, is itself is very well-made and sturdy (albeit it could be a little softer if you plan on doing some reading).
Holywell Cemetery is a little hidden Oxford spot behind the church on St Cross Road, in the parish of Holywell. It became a graveyard when the six parishes in central Oxford deemed theirs “full”, and it was donated by Merton College in 1847. Today, the cemetery is a wildlife refuge where you can see pheasants, butterflies, deer, hedgehogs, and foxes.
The Path to Marston Through University Parks
The path that connects Oxford to Marston is really, really beautiful and has some of the prettiest lamps alongside it (if you’re looking for a Harry Potter-themed walk or a Victorian inspiration they will surely get you excited). There are signposts, but most people don’t know about this secret Oxford path.
You can walk around Brasenose Wood and not see a single person – although there is incredible wildlife! Brasenose Woods is a remnant of an ancient forest called Shotover, and one of Oxford’s best-kept secret spots for endless walks and contemplation. It has a diverse flora with 221 species of vascular plants, and has been described “of outstanding entomological interest“. You will also find many rare flies, bees, wasps and ants here.