Just outside Oxford lies a gem of a park, the glorious 130 acres of trees known as Harcourt Arboretum. Located just outside the village of Nuneham Courtney, this site used to be part of Nuneham House, but is now a satellite of the University of Oxford's Botanic Garden, housing one of the largest collections of trees in Oxfordshire. Can you recognise them all? Go for a stroll and find out.
Entrance to the Arboretum - it is cyclable from Oxford!
The Arboretum is six miles out of Oxford. For confident cyclists, it's a reasonable journey by bike, if you're happy to brave a national speed limit road. Somehow going out into the countryside under your own steam feels the best way to do it. If you do drive, there is parking just inside the main gate, with a one way system to reduce congestion.
Public transport to the Arboretum: Bus no X39/X40 (Thames travel) runs from Oxford City Centre through the village of Nuneham Courtenay. There are two bus stops in the village, the second of the two stops as you enter the village is nearest the entrance to the Arboretum.
Once inside the gate, it's just a short distance to the ticket booth. You can get an annual pass (presently £15.50) if you want to have access all year, but if you're just visiting briefly, day passes are available. In the depths of winter, the office shuts and instead donations are welcome.
Right inside the gate is a wonderful building with a Grecian façade. This houses the Education Centre, which runs things for primary schools, secondary schools and teachers. The Arboretum is more than a park; it is an active learning environment in its own right.
The education aspects continue throughout the woods. There are frequent information boards which help teach you about the site, what it contains, its plans for the future. For keen explorers, ask for an Arboretum explorer backpack. There are lots of events on too, so check the website for 'What's on'.
As you follow the paths into the woods, you'll notice that they're well laid out. Some are better quality than others, but you can do a good loop around the site and always be walking past something new. Ropes and fences keep you off some of the wild land, particularly the bluebell meadow, given that they are protected. In winter the bracken and ferns glow with russet tones in the low sunlight instead. As the sun sets, the gentle slope of the site offers a fantastic horizon against the colourful sky, silhouetting trees in stark contrast.
Meanwhile, as you wander, you'll come across signs that this is an active park. Manmade shelters, or even those made just out of branches... there are spots for everything, all part of the discovery and activity climate fostered by the staff.
Walking around the most accessible ring (good quality paths all round) you come across a charcoal burner. Neatly stacked log piles provide sheltering walls either side of it. There are plenty of benches dotted around the site, so why not stop and watch the world go by?
The University of Oxford has published a useful Access Guide . Whether you're travelling with a family and prams, or are someone with a disability, the guide is a handy way to help plan. There are toilet facilities, and you're welcome to take a picnic.