For those who have a love for all things botanical, the Harcourt Arboretum of Oxford likely needs no introduction. A ‘tree museum’ of sorts, this expansive outdoor space is now owned and managed by the University of Oxford and can be found just a fifteen-minute drive away from the heart of the historic city centre.
A brief history of the Harcourt Arboretum
Close to the village of Nuneham Courtenay, the Arboretum (and more specifically, the Pinetum) is all that remains of the once expansive grounds of Nuneham House. Originally planted so as to enhance the grandeur of the estate entrance, the project was overseen by acclaimed 18th to 19th-century landscape designer, William Sawrey Gilpin.
Since 1963, the now 130 acre site has been a satellite location for the Oxford Botanical Garden. Trees of note include Monkey Puzzle Trees (so ancient is this species that fossilized examples can be seen!) and Giant Redwoods (these trees are amongst the tallest in the world).
Though not owned by the arboretum, peacocks wander around the site of their own free will. However, these are wild birds and should not be approached or fed. Not only can food be bad for the peacocks, but they can also become quite aggressive should you venture too close!
How to visit Harcourt Arboretum
Located on the fringes of the city, you’ll need to set aside at least two hours to fully wander the paths of both the wooded and meadow areas of the arboretum. While Rhododendrons can be found in the warmer months, springtime promises plenty of snowdrops.
However, if you truly want to make the most of the nearly £6 entrance fee, be sure to visit in the fall. Best seen in the autumn so as to make the most of the fall foliage, The prettiest place of all is perhaps the Acer Walk. Filled with Acer specimens (better known as ‘maple’ trees), be sure to head to the park earlier in the day rather than later (so as to make the most of the light and fewer tourists milling about).
While picnics are allowed in certain areas of the park, no refreshments are available to purchase onsite. Toilets can now be found in the gatehouse to the entrance of the arboretum and further into the wooded area of the site. Ample car parking is free and situated close to the visitor centre.
Things to see near the Harcourt Arboretum
Oxford: Of course, no article about Oxfordshire would be complete without at least a quick nod to its iconic capital city, that of Oxford. Often nicknamed the ‘City of Dreaming Spires,’ highlights include visiting some of the city’s many colleges, as well as scouting out literary locations (including plenty of Harry Potter inspiration!)
Wheatley: The pretty town of Wheatley can be found to the East of Oxford and is a traditional Oxfordshire settlement. Home to the typical attractions (i.e. Parish church and pubs,) there’s also a windmill to see, as well as the rather unusual 19th-century built town lockup.
Iffley: The quaint village of Iffley is a contradicition of sorts. Nestled between several large A roads and countless roundabouts, a visit here is akin to stepping back in time. That is, if you ignore the sounds of passing traffic! Home to plenty of pretty cottages, the church was once the home of a 12th-century anchoress.
Swinford Toll Bridge: The Swinford Bridge is attractive and appears almost medieval in appearance. One of only a handful of privately run toll bridges in the country, it costs 5p for cars to cross, and up to 50p for larger bridges. However, what makes this bridge so unusual is that a throwback law from George III’s reign means that the owner of the bridges doesn’t have to pay any income tax!
Burford: Often dubbed the ‘Gateway to the Cotswolds’ thanks to both its position on the fringes of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, as well as its impressive high street set upon a hillside, Burford can be found around fifteen minutes away from the Arboretum. Home to numerous antique shops and independent cafés, it’s well worth exploring while in the area.