Walking: Enjoying a pheasant stroll: Paul Gosling takes the Oxfordshire Way and finds himself stuck in the grounds of Blenheim Palace

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The Independent Culture
OXFORDSHIRE is a pleasant county to walk in. Although convenient for both London and Birmingham it can feel remote and quiet. It has the benefit of well waymarked paths, without the disadvantage of sharing them with crowds.

On the first Saturday in October, when the rest of the country was wading in heavy rain, we chanced upon some of the only sun in England. The train to Charlbury takes just over an hour from London - trains are an excellent means of travel for walkers, allowing rambles to be linear.

We stayed overnight at the attractive and relaxed Charlbury youth hostel, an old stone house with a converted glove factory at the back. (Incidentally, 'youth' is a misnomer: at 40 I am frequently the youngest person staying in a youth hostel.) An early start, especially on a sunny morning, always makes a good walk better.

If we had a few days to spare, the Oxfordshire Way - a 65-mile walk from Bourton-on-the-Water in the Cotswolds to Henley-on- Thames in the Chilterns - would be very appealing, especially as much of it uses the Roman Road of Akeman Street. For a one-day walk, between rail stations, the best option seemed to be one of the Oxfordshire Circular Walks - we chose the one based on Charlbury - in the morning, and then take the afternoon as we felt inclined.

The footpaths that constituted the Oxfordshire Way and the circular walk were well signposted, and easy to follow. Other rights of way were more difficult, mostly because of the number of farmers who had ploughed up paths without providing alternatives.

The start of the walk followed the Oxfordshire Way, but we saw no other walkers. We passed the hamlet of Shorthampton, which appeared to consist of only six buildings. A short journey down the bridleway and we arrived at Chilson, an attractive, well-maintained stone building village, with parish noticeboard - but no pub - so we continued. The rolling hills of the area provided us with a constantly changing scenery, without being very hard work to climb.

We headed south from Chilson for the ancient Wychwood Forest. Along the way were the largest number of pheasants I have ever seen. The path through Wychwood was a good woodland walk, although its 'grand vista' was sadly disappointing. There was not even a view over the neighbouring Cornbury deer park. We could, at least, have a rest sitting on the bank of one of the fish ponds.

Fortuitously, we arrived at Finstock at lunchtime, and found that the Plough Inn provided excellent food and drink. It also had a bar-billiards table, against the general trend which leaves them at risk of extinction. This pub also marked the point where we departed from the circular walk, as we did not wish to return to Charlbury. Instead we headed south-east towards Wilcote, before going east and then north, stopping at a Roman villa.

I persuaded my companion that as we were near to Blenheim Palace, one of the most stately of homes as well as being the birthplace of Winston Churchill, we should walk round the grounds, before heading home from the nearby Handborough station.

This was an unwise detour, as I wrongly assumed that we could take short cuts that were not marked rights of way. The grounds are beautiful and fine examples of a landscaped country estate, but it was mostly lost on us as we attempted manically to find an exit near enough to Handborough rail station to catch the last train of the day for my connection home.

We were forced to go via Bladon village, and missed the train. While my friend returned to his London home I had to find a bed for the night locally.

Charlbury hostel was now full, but the less hospitable Oxford hostel had space. At least it gave me a few hours in the morning walking along Oxford's rivers.

Leaflets on the Oxfordshire Circular Walks are available free of charge from Oxfordshire County Council, which also sells the Oxfordshire Way Guide at pounds 6.49.

The Ordnance Survey Landranger No. 164 (Oxford) contains the walk described in this article.

(Photograph omitted)

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