The Cherwell is shown here on seven web pages:
Cherwell Mouth (from the Isis to below Magdalen Bridge)
Magdalen Water and Addison's Walk
Mesopotamia (from above Magdalen Bridge to the boat rollers)
Upper Cherwell (above the boat rollers to below Bardwell Road Punting station)
Bardwell Road to the Victoria Arms
Islip (Cherwell above the Victoria Arms)
Other pages of interest to punters are:
Bullstake Stream (Other side of the Isis (aka Thames) - for punters to explore)
To Old Navigation (Punt up above Osney Lock and then round to Oxford Castle)
There are also two round trips including going up the Oxford Canal and coming back down via Kings Lock and Godstow
Punting to Islip by Eddie Flintoff -
Islip is the furthest upstream you can take a punt - if you get to the Victoria Arms at Marston then you are about half way to Islip. It has the reputation of being uncharted slightly fabulous territory. Tolkien would have marked it 'Here be dragons'. It is a journey for the experienced punter who can keep up a steady two miles an hour without continually hitting the bank!
The poem itself is full of word play and 1960s student existential conceit - but who isn't?
Off then we set at the first crack of dawn,
while most of our friends lay still fast asleep
in those dreaming spires : moving off to see
how far we could punt up the uncharted Cherwell,
slipping quietly north through that sleeping city,
'the Latin quarter of Cowley', as somebody called it,
sedately cracking and wisecracking our way
up that often widening always winding channel
between Magdalen and St. Clement's: the drops from our pole
pipping the popping water, the pattering of these plops
the only cough of sound in all the whispering round,
the only surf on that unruffled surface.
So taking it in turn to punt we made our way
Through all that pearly early morning mist,
now slipping smoothly up the sloping lap
of that slow-moving smooth running stream,
now suddenly mistaking, now making our way
between the now merging now diverging banks.
First it was Magdalen Park ...
1909: The Story of the Thames J E Vincent -
... a pretty piece of water, shaded by cool, grey-green willows and all manner of trees.
1923: from "Father Thames" by Walter Higgins -
The Cherwell is a very pretty little stream, shaded by overhanging willows
and other trees, so that it is usually the haunt of pleasure,
the place where the undergraduate takes his own or somebody else's sister
for an afternoon excursion,
or where he makes his craft fast in the shade in order
that he may enjoy an afternoon's quiet reading.
A walk through the meadows on its banks is, indeed something very pleasant, with the stream on one side of us and that most beautiful of colleges, Magdalen, on the other.
Here as we proceed down the famous avenue of pollarded willows, winding between two branches of the stream, we can hear almost continuously the singing of innumerable birds, for the Oxford gardens and meadows form a veritable sanctuary in which live feathered friends of every sort.
1906: Above Magdalen Bridge, Andrew Lang
1881: George Leslie, "Our River", Royal Academician and punter -
I should like to make a remark on the inaccuracy there is generally seen in the punts introduced in river pictures. All boats are extremely difficult to draw well, and I suspect the artists choose the punt, as it is the easiest of representation on account of its beautiful simplicity; but apart from invariably rendering it far too short and dumpy, they generally save all trouble by simply making the sides of the boat quite straight - a mere square box in perspective. Now in no possible view are the lines of a punt straight, the two ends in reality converging very considerably, somewhat like a coffin, and the floor of a punt, at least of a good one, is simply the narrow segment of a large circle, and not a flat box with the ends bevelled up. Artists always make the ends too steep, and quite straight instead of curved. I remember when I was on the selecting committee of the Royal Academy, great numbers of river pieces, with punts introduced in them, passed before us, in none of which was the boat correctly drawn. I trust my brother artists will take my remarks as kindly meant, and believe me that a punt is nearly as difficult to paint as it is to punt.
River Cherwell Footbridge
After half a mile or so you come to a footbridge with a large pipe suspended beneath it.
Beyond the footbridge and its pipe is a T junction; going upstream turn right. (The left turn is the not recommended shallow stream via the Mill to Magdalen Bridge).
Footbridge on RIGHT bank
At this next T junction going upstream turn left.
The right hand turn, back downstream under this bridge is blocked a few yards further on by a pipe across the river under which it is not possible to go. (If you went back under Magdalen Bridge and kept left you could eventually reach the other side of this pipe. Not recommended! The stream is, in parts, not particularly attractive, going by the back walls of houses.)
Going upstream keep left of the next island. The right hand channel can be navigated up to the old King's Mill weir but then the channel back to the navigable stream above the island is shallow and certainly used to block though it is clearer now.
In 2007 a tree down blocked the main stream for several months - fortunately there is a small island at this point and the small LEFT bank stream (your left going upstream) was just navigable.
The rubbish which collected on the blockage was unsightly. But why does Oxford not appreciate its rivers and keep them in good state? Tourism is one of its major industries and the romance of punting is one of its attractions ...
1900: Punts on the Cherwell -
The Cherwell, 1900
1906: On the Cherwell, Francis Frith -
Mill on RIGHT bank
After you have passed the King's Mill weir on the RIGHT bank the
area is known as "Mesopotamia". It is literally 'between - rivers' i.e. Meso-potamia.
The mill stream is several feet above and on the other
side of the dividing bank with its footpath.
You may not notice the splendid sequence of meadows on the left bank [left as going upstream in accordance with the Environment Department's new-fangled way of describing river banks!]. The sequence is THE LONG MEADOW, THE GREAT MEADOW and then below the rollers THE MUSIC MEADOW
from "Barbara goes to Oxford" by Oona Ball -
Towards evening there came a break
in the clouds and the sun set in a blaze of
rosy glory. We wandered down the path which is
called Mesopotamia, for a reason which is,
says Brownie, sufficient to the Biblical
It is such a lovely walk. A narrow path fringed on each side with willows: on one hand the main stream of the Cherwell, scene of my discomfiture of yesterday [see below], on the other a backwater which leads to an old mill.
Midway in the walk the water from the upper stream rushes under a little bridge into the lower. We leant over the bridge watching the sun set, the tall tower of Magdalen against the southern sky, and the white mists creeping up across the meadows.
1893: My Flirtations by Ella Hapworth Dixon -
There is the sad-coloured June day - a harmony in soft greys and greens -
when we went to pick fritillaries in Mesopotamia.
It was the day after Commemoration was over, and the narrow, willow-fringed river was deserted. Afar off we could see the grey spires and towers of the University against the wide, white sky, while across the fat, buttercup-gilded meadows came the mellow, distant sound of Oxford bells.
As Frank pushed the punt lazily up stream, we seemed wrapped in a mysterious green silence.
We left the punt where the old chain ferry crosses the Cherwell, and plunged into the long new grass. I carried a basket for the fritillaries, and Frank had brought an empty soda-water bottle; a proceeding which puzzled me immensely, until I found that all among the abundant grass studded with June flowers there leapt and danced hundreds of tiny, nimble, gay-hearted frogs, only lately emerged from the juvenile or tadpole state.
'They are so like undergraduates!'
I cried, kneeling in the long grass and stretching depredatory fingers here and there, while Frank pretended to be offended, and declared I shouldn't put any of my frogs into his soda-water bottle ... But in the end we compromised, and Frank was set to gather the queer, spotted, purplish-brown fritillaries, whilst I crammed the leaping little reptiles into our bottle ...
And so the June afternoon slipped by, until the clang of evening bells warned us it was time to turn homewards.
1926: C S Lewis, Sunday, 9th May -
A bright and beautiful morning. The walks by the Cher as I went home after breakfast are now "tunnels of green" and hawthorn, full of singing, or, rather, shouting birds, and bluebells.
Weir on RIGHT bank
Following along you come to two weirs from the Mill Stream onto the navigation stream which are trivial matters to pass at summer levels but can become impassable in flood. Rest content - if they are impassable then so will the rollers be.
In 2006 the dry summer helped a restoration of this first weir - which
I think may have blocked the river on occasion. Clearly a lot of effort is
going into maintaining the Cherwell. Neither side weir was running at all.
Note that in passing a side current in a punt you will be pushed one way as the front of the punt is deflected, but then also pushed back onto course as the back is deflected. The overall effect is a sideways movement (as long as you do not try to compensate for these course changes). So allow for the side movement and punt straight on.
Weir on RIGHT bank
(Dry in June 2004)
In the next section some care will be needed to avoid bushes, under which the current will attempt to push you. Your passengers, who will be scratched before you are, will advise, sometimes quite loudly.
1907: R.T.Rivington, Punts and Punting quotes part of this from Barbara Burke (Oona Ball), in her novel 'Barbara Goes to Oxford' -
We set off early this morning for the
lower river, that is the part below
the town, where we hoped to hire a
punt. Long afternoons on the water
were to bring us that peace with an
Oxford flavour which is what we have
come here to seek. A punt seemed to
answer all our requirements - for me
exercise, for Brownie perfect rest, combined with such absolute safety as should
satisfy an anxious aunt.
Mrs. Codlicott told us that we could arrange to keep it at Parson's Pleasure, the bathing-place on the River Cherwell ; there it would be within five minutes' walk. Evidently Providence is arranging this jaunt for us. Could any tourist agency have managed it so well ?
We went to Parson's Pleasure and shouted aloud for 'Mr. Cox!' as Mrs. Codlicott had instructed us to do. We could hear the joyous shrieks of the bathers behind a row of wooden sheds.
We made our little plan, and then we went on down by the college barges. Here we engaged our punt, a charming light one with ample cushions. The Pons Asinorum was ours to have and to hold as long as we chose to keep her. I suppose one does speak of a punt as "she" in spite of its very unfeminine appearance ?
I punted along in my very best manner. On we went past the barges, turned into the Cherwell and skirted Christ Church meadows, lying golden in the sunlight. Then up such a lovely reach ; Magdalen walks on our left, on our right a lush green meadow, beyond that some low green hills.
The stream was very narrow and winding as we came out by the path which is called Mesopotamia; we were in the midst of an argument, the mud was thick and deep, the punt pole long and slender. I remember a moment of horrible uncertainty as to whether the pole belonged to me or I belonged to the pole - and then, I went - plop - into the water.
An opportune waterman rowing down the stream picked me out of the mud and set me on board again.
He turned about and came up to Parsons' Pleasure with us and helped to drag the punt over the rollers, by means of which one gets from the Lower to the Upper Cherwell.
Here we tied up our craft and stowed away our cushions, and I dripped slowly homewards feeling very wet and silly.
Under a footbridge a weir pool with, straight ahead of you, the only means of passing it, the boat rollers.
River Cherwell Weir and Boat Rollers
1885: Cherwell Boat Rollers, Henry Taunt
Cherwell Boat Rollers, Henry Taunt, 1885
© Oxfordshire County Council Photographic Archive; HT4824
1910?: Postcard -
Cherwell Boat Rollers, 1910?
Cherwell Boat Rollers, photographed in 2003.
At summer levels the rollers should be dry, but recently
at anything above summer levels there has been water flowing down under the
rollers. They can still be used with care.
Get everyone out on the concrete landing to the left of the rollers and if you have a punt or canoe run it up onto the rollers and make your way up as best you can. It is possible for one person to take a heavy punt up single handed, but so much easier for more than one! Take your time which may not be easy if other people are waiting to use the rollers.
A long rope is the best means of pulling a heavy boat because it gives the straightest pull. Otherwise you find yourself spending much time on the rollers pushing the boat sideways. Do not succumb to temptation and let the punt run off the rollers. It can easily take on quite a lot of water and you will feel rather silly having to swim for it, and above the weir it could be dangerous. (See Site of Medley Weir for further thoughts on this.)