Less than 10 miles from the beautiful but bustling city of Oxford, and within striking distance of the M40, lies Waterperry – a little oasis of calm, welcoming tranquility. I felt the pull of the great outdoors and my ever-present wanderlust; but was wary of too much human contact, the channelling of my inner Greta Garbo still very much to the fore. A walk in Waterperry Woods was just what was needed.
For the youngsters among us, Greta Garbo was the great Hollywood film star of the 1920s who became equally famous for being a recluse and uttering the words: “I want to be alone.”
I found the solution at Common Leys Farm and the Waterperry Woods in Oxfordshire, on a short weekend break with my husband, Ro.
Common Leys is a small campsite of just five pitches on a large grassy field, set within 30 acres of grounds surrounding a Grade II-listed Tudor farmhouse. The perfect place for a brief trip off the beaten track. The site is only a short drive from home, so we arrived in plenty of time to set up camp and enjoy the view from the motorhome window before heading off to enjoy a long-awaited walk away from roads and houses.
A walk in the countryside
After all of the gorgeous sunshine during the first lockdown, the weekend of our release promised lots of rain. Typical. But undeterred, we equipped ourselves with chocolate and a flask of coffee, laced up boots, grabbed waterproofs and set out.
An easy five-minute walk from the campsite found us on the edge of Waterperry Wood. This ancient woodland is now largely replanted with oak and conifer, but the grassland at its edges remains an important habitat for rare insects and butterflies, and is classified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The area is criss-crossed with gentle paths meandering through the pleasant meadows and grasslands.
Gone was the need to jump into ditches or the middle of the road to avoid fellow villagers out for their daily exercise, passing each other with a slightly uneasy “Good day”, or a simple nod of the head. Instead, we ambled along grassy trails, relishing the wide-open space while also keeping one eye out for the elusive butterflies and the other on the darkening sky overhead.
Even the sight of a herd of cattle (usually my nemesis – I dislike walking too close and try to avoid passing them) couldn’t dampen my spirits as my legs and my lungs stretched and my mind stilled in the quiet of the empty meadow.
Sure enough, it wasn’t long before rain was dripping off the hedges, turning the paths into quagmires and making visibility ever more difficult as the water poured from our hoods and stung our eyes. Still we strolled on, jumping into puddles with childish glee – with our boots and trouser legs already muddy, what harm would it do to add a little more? Besides, mud is healthy – just think of those mud-bath spa treatments promising, if not exactly eternal youth, certainly detoxification, skin purification and relaxation!
Never mind the weather
Muddy footprints were quickly washed away in the onslaught of the downpour, removing any evidence that we had passed by, and there was no chance of spotting butterflies now.
Even so, with my head upturned to the rain and a smile on my face, the world felt good again. The ever-present noises of daily life were replaced by that muddy squelch underfoot and the sound of the battering rain on my hood – I was out in the countryside and felt free.
Giggling, we huddled around our flask of hot coffee, its delicious smell mingling with that of the drenched hedgerows, and took a few minutes to refuel ourselves with chocolate bars.
There followed a quick debate – should we now continue to Waterperry gardens, an eight-acre ornamental garden with plant centre, museum and café, which is around a 90-minute walk away from our site, or just enjoy the peace here in the woods?
As most of the gardens were closed and the rain was getting heavier by the minute, we decided to stay on the pathways that line the woods and meadows, eventually retracing our steps to the warmth of our motorhome.
Over the rainbow
Back at the site, changed into warm, dry clothes, I sat and stared at the big sky outside the window, the huge expanse of green field in front, and the joyous rainbow that appeared, glinting over the motorhome, when the storm clouds finally lifted. A fine symbol that all storms recede and there is light at the end of every tunnel.
Long after the sun went down and the rainbow lost its gleam, the drip-drip of raindrops off trees and the motorhome roof, and the gentle calling of owls in the fields, lulled us to a restful sleep.
Next morning, we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, soaking up and committing to memory the sense of peace and calm that only such a big sky and wide-open space can offer.
There is plenty more to explore in Waterperry beside the woods and the gardens – Blenheim Palace and Waddesdon Manor (a stately home with grounds and café) are both a short drive away, and of course, there is Oxford, with its ‘dreaming spires’, historic buildings and interesting shops to explore.
Common Leys Farm has a shooting ground, from where it runs clay pigeon events. For us, though, this brief sojourn was over and it was time to head home.
We felt restored after our short but very sweet dip into an otherworldly hush, where we were able to pause and just breathe. There is plenty of space on our little island, there are corners of tranquility if you look hard enough. It’s just a shame that it takes a crisis such as Covid-19 to make us really appreciate its value.
Where we stayed
Common Leys Farm
- Waterperry Common, Waterperry, Oxford, OX33 1LQ
- Web commonleysfarmaccommodation.co.uk
- Tel 01865 351 266
Find out more
This lovely house and grounds are open all year round, with a garden centre, shop, museum and tearoom.
This spectacular and historic house, the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, is set in magnificent Capability Brown landscaped grounds. Visitors need to pre-book their arrival time.
This National Trust-managed property is owned by the famous Rothschild family and is modelled on the style of a French château. Advance booking is required.
Oxford is about 12 miles away from Common Leys Farm and accessible via Thornhill Park and Ride or the M40, junctions 8a and 9. However, if you are planning to drive to the city, be aware that parking in the centre is limited and can be difficult.
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Long after the sun went down and the rainbow lost its gleam, the drip-drip of raindrops off trees, and the gentle calling of owls in the fields, lulled us to a restful sleep