Oxford Canal is one of England's earliest canals, built between 1774 and 1790 to link Coventry and Oxford. It was meant to be used by longboats transporting coal from Coventry's coalmines to the consumers further south, Oxford being linked with London by river Thames. For a few years, everything was going well - I suppose the canal trade made quite a few people outrageously rich -, but then the opening of the Grand Junction Canal started the downfall of the Oxford Canal. Boats could now reach London much more quickly and the Oxford Canal's southern part was hardly used anymore. The canal's last few miles lead through Oxford, but if you really want to get a feeling for it, you should start a walk along the canal by following the 82-mile Oxford Canal Walk. The walk follows the towpath just next to the water and takes you through the lovely south-English landscape for many miles. Lots of small villages dot the canal side. As the Oxford Canal is one of England's most popular canals, expect a lot of longboats on it, particularly in summer. Puttering along the canal surely is yet another great way to get to know it - I haven't done it myself, but it's high on my wishlist.
For an easy walk, start at Hythe Bridge Road in Oxford where the canal ends rather abruptly and follow it through Jericho. After some 3km, you will reach Port Meadow - a great place to have a break. For some more serious walking, you could walk all the way until Kirtlington (16km from Oxford) where the Oxford Canal Walk meets the Oxfordshire Walk.
On eof my greatest pleasures in life is walking beside either rivers or canals. The canal system in Britain is so fascinating I would recommend it to any visitor to spend at least half a day just exploring a canalside somewhere.
Many people come to Oxford and never even know there is a canal there. I suppose it's understandable with so many other interesting things to do, but I always like to have a little walk and look at the boats.
Should you want to walk the entire length (some 77 miles) all the way to Coventry, the website given is a good start point. It's another thing on my "to do" list!
To escape the noise and traffic of Oxford, try walking the canal path. You can get to it form town at the Hythe Street Bridge, or from Jericho near St. Barnabas Church.