Walking to the Croughton Peace Festival

Saturday 3rd October 2015

Bus to Croughton, walk to Portway to join event, march to USAF Croughton
4.3km/2⅔ miles – 65m/210ft

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route map I've been distracted by work for the last few of weeks. Conveniently, though annoyingly, it coincided with badly twisting my ankle – so no great loss on the walking front. Today I have to do a march and talk at the Croughton Peace Festival. The ankle almost repaired, I decide to do a little cross-country loop on the way to meet up with the march.

I've been keeping an eye on Croughton for over 30 years. Ever since I got interested in the place when the USAF tried to restrict access to the public rights of way in the early 1980s.

The 499 bus isn't as well used, or as frequent as the other (500) bus route to Brackley, but it takes you through some very different countryside. South from Banbury, across the valley to Kings Sutton, and then over the Taynton limestone-strewn fields to Charlton, Croughton and Evenly – or 'Flora Thompson' country, as members of the local rambling club used to call it (which was why preserving the route across Croughton was important).

Today's event is part of the 'Keep Space for Peace' week – a global event, highlighting the militarization of space as the "fourth" dimension of conflict (after land, sea and air). Croughton is a hub, a way-station in the 'Western' (but mostly American) "C4ISR" network.

The whistle-blower Edward Snowden came here once to fix the computers, but we know a lot more about this place from the use of open-source intelligence analysis. Croughton has links to most major intelligence centres in Britain, to other European intelligence hubs, and to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen – meaning this site is directly involved in the use of armed drones in extra-judicial killings. What's more, the US is currently planning to significantly expand that role here with $100 million of new investment in staff and technology.

I pick my way carefully across the fields. Now that the ankle is working I don't want to make a mess of it again. Slowly though the stiffness recedes, and I can push hard against the soft, recently harvested soil without concern.

The fields gently undulate as I go south-south-east to join up with The Portway – an ancient trackway, quite possibly Roman or older, and one of a number which criss-cross the landscape in these parts. Taking a left on the road, around the site perimeter, a short while later the sight of a police van indicates I've found the start of the march.

Croughton Peace Festival 2015

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When the march reaches the site the sun comes out. It's turned into a really nice day.

I'm up first on the speaker list. I've spoken about my research for the last two years here, and when asked in May I wondered what I'd be able to say without repeating myself. However, events have moved quickly this year, meaning that there's much to relate – as outlined in the YouTube video made about the day...

I must come walking this way again when I get the chance. Unfortunately it's not just USAF Croughton that's a bit of an obstacle these days. Beyond lies the A43 dual carriageway that links the M1 to the M40, and which is a major hazard to cross. Certainly I'll have to come by here a little more often over the next few years, to keep an eye on the development of the American government's new "intelligence fusion" hub.

Not a joyful job of work, but a good excuse for a walk.