The gravel extraction in the lower Windrush Valley is entering its final phase with the current workings taking place towards the A40 between High Cogges & Ducklington. Here is a choice of two walks,one from South Leigh, taking in two recently created 'Permissive Bridleways' (not dedicated Public Rights of Way), a delightful riverside path, and the now well established Tar Lakes.
Distances (incl. detours) Wear stout footwear:
Walk A: 6½ miles (allow 3 hours).
Walk B: 8 miles (allow 4 hours).
Walk A: Tar Lakes Car Park, Cogges Lane. G.R. SP381072.
Walk B: Moor Lane, from Station Road.
Walk A: Leave car park by gravel path, cross road & go through gate to Tar Lakes, then left. Stay in this direction to pass two lakes & reach hedge in corner, beyond gate on left, & follow path round to right. Now go to 3rd paragraph for continuation of route description.
Walk B: Go along Moor Lane, cross rail bed (Fairford line from Oxford), & stay on grassy track to reach, & cross road (Cogges Lane). Go through gate then left, & follow path round to right.
Now maintain your direction on this path, passing two lakes then cross the River Windrush; there are two arms of the Windrush as it flows through the meadows between Witney & Standlake. Now bear immediately right on wide grassy track above lake, bearing left around end of lake, then just before gate go right at waymarker, to cross footbridge & now left. The path bears right to pass another lake, & from gate go straight ahead across meadow & pass through gate onto riverside path by information board.
The route is right here but it’s worth making a short detour across bridge & field to Hardwick Mill. There has been a mill here for over 700 years, but what you now see is mostly C18 with earlier masonry & a late medieval stone doorway. In the mill floor are fragments of a large gravestone with a monastic symbol of c. 1300, which possibly came from Eynsham Abbey.
Return to information board & stay on the Windrush Path (Permissive Path) alongside the river as it meanders through the meadows, to reach the Fish House - probably a medieval mill, used as a fulling mill & later a corn mill. It was also used as a fishery for Cokethorpe House (across A415 from here). A stone bears the date 1723, but this is possibly from when the square tower was adapted after Cokethorpe House was built in 1709 for Sir Simon Harcourt. The adjacent cottage is a C19 addition.
Continue on this waymarked path, cross quarry workings road, then after leaving river you are on a firm, wide track. Go through gate to reach crossways. The meadow on right is an amazing sight around mid-April when it is full of snakeshead fritillaries. On Fritillary Sunday you can enter the meadow, & on this day events take place in & around Ducklington church, including Morris dancing.
The route is right here, but another detour (½ mile return) along track (public footpath) to left is worthwhile, to cross the Windrush & go on to St. Bartholomew’s Church, Ducklington, and a bit further to the duck pond in its fine setting. Well placed seats here make it an ideal spot to rest.
Retrace your steps then continue on track (Permissive Bridleway), with St. Mary’s Church, Witney across meadows on left. Cross 2nd arm of Windrush, pass between the latest gravel extraction workings, then just before reaching road go through gate on right & along another Permissive Bridleway. This track bears sharp right at 'Cogges Bridge Cottage', where the Fairford line once ran on its way to Witney station. Continue past the changing landscape of gravel extraction to reach bridleway (& drive to Gill Mill). Here, it’s worth making another short detour to see Gill Mill in its setting; go right, over the 'hump', then bear right on grassy track at break in fence, to reach bridge across the Windrush with Gill Mill to left. There were settlements around here in both the Iron Age & Roman periods. (Oxford Archaeology are currently excavating the area towards Ducklington).
Now retrace your steps & just before the 'hump' go right on waymarked path, through trees & across field to road. Go right for a few paces & through gate to Tar Lakes. Now go straight ahead to bear left around lake then cross wide footbridge on right, to go immediately right then round to left around 2nd lake to information board & here go left to gate by road. To return to car park go left on path.
To complete walk back to South Leigh cross road again, & beyond gatepost (with waymarkers), go right on footpath, across footbridge & straight ahead along field edge, cross two stiles, to reach track (paths junction). Go left, soon bearing right for just a few steps & at marker post go left by plantation & hedge. At next waymarker go right on diagonal path across field, cross old rail bed & narrow part of field, then from stile in hedge drop down to gate just to right of the estate houses on to Station Road.