Nestled next to Folly Bridge just outside the city centre the Head of the River has an idyllic setting. Sit by the river and enjoy great beer in a relaxing atmosphere.
About a five minute walk from the Carfax Tower and accessible from Folly Bridge, the surrounding area is quiet and residential but fills up with tourists in the summer months. It's a residential area so parking is a problem as the traffic wardens are plentiful so leave your car in one of the many park and rides and enjoy a pleasant stroll out from the city centre. There are several places nearby where you can hire a punt or motorboat for a cruise down the Isis or the nearby (and quieter) Cherwell or, if you prefer walking, Christchurch meadow offers a pleasant riverside stroll with a picturesque backdrop.
The pub is large and spacious and is decked out in a traditional way with lots of oak and brass and the riverside beer garden is huge with seating that could easily accommodate more than 150 people. There are large sunshades for those who want to stay out of the sun and plenty of gas heaters when the chill of the late evening creeps into the air.
The Head of the River is a summer pub and if the weather is pleasant expect it to be bursting with people. The crowd that comes here is varied with a mix of students, tourists and locals attracted by the location and proximity to punt hire and boat trips. On a pleasant evening there's a heady buzz in the air and it's a difficult place to walk past. The staff are usually pleasant and friendly but can be a little slow to serve you and once 10.30pm comes around they seem far more interested in getting you to drink up and go.
The menu is varied and at first glance looks enticing with traditional bangers and mash as well as more exotic dishes like Thai green curry. Sadly the food is average and overpriced and there's nothing exceptional on the menu that would make you come rushing back. But there's nothing that would give you cause for complaint either. Most of the dishes on offer are the sort of things you'd be happy to pay £5.99 for at your local pub.
As you'd expect from a Fullers' pub the draught beer is excellent and the selection is varied, from the strong and full bodied ESB, to the lighter and more summery Discovery, with various excellent ales in between. For the non-bitter drinker, lagers such as Grolsch are on tap along with lots of bottled beers, a wide selection of spirits and of course no summer would be complete without a glass of Pimms. Like the food the drinks are on the expensive side. Buy four drinks and you won't get much change from £20 but this is almost made up for by the view and general atmosphere.
The Last Word
The Head of the River brings together a lot of what is good about the English summer. You can enjoy a refreshing glass of beer or Pimms and watch the river flowing by which is the perfect end to an afternoon punting. You'll be paying London prices but while many places are cheaper few, if any, offer a nicer place to sit and relax on a summer's evening.