Oxford University Parks spy trail, Oxfordshire

Oxford is my local city, so one I think I know quite well. However, after completing a Spy Trail around University Parks I’ve realised there are still areas left for us to explore and discover.

It was my youngest son who decided he’d like to do a treasure trail in Oxford. After looking through the ones available he chose a Spy Trail in and around the University Parks. The 3 mile walking trail consists of a small booklet with directions and 21 clues to solve. You transfer the answers to a grid on the back and then use the shaded letters to crack a code. Each trail has a back story; our mission was to stop a Cambridge student sabotaging the Oxford University Cricket Ground with mole hills by uncovering the code to thwart his plans.

Start of Oxford spy trail
Start of Oxford spy trail

The trail started at the University Museum, with a couple of clues in the museum grounds. If you have time, I recommend a visit to the Pitt Rivers museum, an anthropological treasure trove. From the museum we made our way towards the University Parks, solving a couple of clues along the way.

University Parks

The University Parks have been run by Oxford University since 1853 and cover more than 70 acres of landscaped parkland. You can pick up a map at the entrance, which marks out points of interest and gives you an overview of the history.

Solving the clues
Solving the clues

The majority of the clues are in the park. Many involve finding an engraving, a memorial or (as above) a park bench and then answering the question posed. We often had to do simple sums, for example counting the number of park benches, or the number of letters in a name and then taking this number away from another one.

Oxford University Park - hopeful ducks
Oxford University Park – hopeful ducks!

I’d never been to the duck pond in this corner of the park before, but it’s obvious from the way the ducks followed us that plenty of people visit and bring them food. They were disappointed with us! After the pond, we walked alongside the River Cherwell for a while, watching a couple of groups attempt to punt.

Punt rollers, Oxford
Punt rollers, Oxford

Did you know these are punt rollers? I didn’t! They’re used to move punts between the rivers. These rollers are in an area known as Parson’s Pleasure, which is famous as the area where Oxford dons used to sunbathe naked up until quite recently.


Another area I’d never visited before was Mesopotamia, which is a narrow island between the upper and lower Cherwell River. There’s a footpath alongside the river, which takes you back towards the park, where there some final clues to solve.

Walking back through University Park
Walking back through University Park

After we’d completed the answers I took the trail home and forgot about it for a few days. Coming back to it, I decided it was about time to transfer our answers into the grid on the back and discover the secret code. If you complete this code correctly on the Treasure Trails website you are entered into a prize draw. Unfortunately for us, I belatedly realised that some of our answers were wrong as they didn’t fit into the grid. I really should have checked this whilst we were doing the trail! I tried to use the text service advertised in the trail leaflet, which sends you the correct answer if required, but for some reason I never received a text back. Never mind.

So what did we think of the trail? Overall it was very good, apart from the missing text answer. The trail was perfect for the kids age range (primary), and they were able to solve the clues themselves with only a little help from me. The kids did lose a little interest towards the end but this was probably due to it being lunch time. The only improvement I’d suggest would be the inclusion of a map of the area the trail covered.

If you’re interested in more things to do in Oxford check out my 25 things to do with the family blog post; there are plenty of ideas here to keep you all entertained!

More info

  • We purchased our spy trail from Blackwells bookshop in Oxford, but you can also buy them online from the Treasure Trails website. There are 5 different trails available for Oxford, and plenty more covering most parts of the UK. We’ve also done the Oxford Jericho and canal trail which you can read about here.
  • There’s lots of information about the University Parks here, including a list of all the trees you can find in the park! Entrance is free to the University Parks.
  • There is no car parking at the park. I recommend using the Park and Ride services as parking in central Oxford is very expensive.

11 thoughts on “Oxford University Parks spy trail, Oxfordshire”

  1. I live very near to Oxford and remember as a student visiting the Uni grounds (only as a visitor!) but I wasn’t aware of this. This is definitely something we will be looking at doing. Fab post. #PoCoLo

    1. Thanks Cathie, it’s so true isn’t it that you tend to take for granted the places nearest to us. It was quite nice to visit Oxford and be a tourist for a change.

    1. Thanks Katrina, it’s a good activity to do with kids. Although we did make the mistake of doing another one last year that wasn’t marked as family friendly – big mistake!

  2. That sounds really appealing – then I imagine the groans from my kids when I tell them what we’re going to do. But I’d love it and it sounds like your two had a good time and I guess mine would enjoy it despite themselves. Thanks.

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