Calm before the storm

Tuesday 29th December 2015

Bus to Shutford, Swalcliffe Lea, Fulling Mill, Woadmill, Giant's Caves, Broughton Road, Banbury
10km / 6⅕ miles – 190m / 625ft

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route map It's going to get stormy. The already sticky field-paths are going to become even more of a quagmire. After a long session sat at the computer I decide to make a dash for the bus station to enjoy the last couple of hours of daylight.

One of those Winter's days that could be described as, "bright as a pin". The one-per-day 269 bus service through North Newington has brought me to Shutford so that I can dash home again before it gets too dark to see.

Not much time to pause today. Less than an hour and a half from getting off the bus to sunset. As I leave Shutford for Jester's Hill I hit upon a problem. This route, across the ploughed clay fields, is normally a bit sticky. Today though it's positively squidgy because it would appear the Tour de Trigs walk at the beginning of December must have gone this way. The couple of hundred metres of liquid clay leave me mud-spattered for the rest of the walk.

I pause at the top of Jester's Hill – one of the best local viewpoints with a 360° view of the Ironstone plateau: from Sibford Heath, three miles to the west; across Barton, Epwell and Shenlow hills along the escarpment ridge to Arbury Hill near Charwelton, 15 miles north-east; down across Edgcote, Greatworth, Cockley Hill and Aynhoe to the dim shadow of Muswell Hill, 25 miles to the south-east; and then back across Hobb Hill and Tadmarton Heath to Swalcliffe and Sibford.

Although I repeat these routes often, the differing seasons and weather conditions always make each walk relatively unique.

Today the intensely bright, low angle, late afternoon mid-Winter sunshine is highlighting the folds of the land, and its historic field and archaeological features – laid bare within the clear ground at the beginning of the agricultural year. And on the way back the bright sunshine, accentuating the folds of the geologically faulted Tadmarton valley, gives some new view of familiar scenes.

I get two sunsets: one, false, descending the Roman Road to Fulling Mill; and the true, lingering sunset after climbing Sandfine Hill to skirt the edge of Broughton Park into Banbury. And despite the last few miles being all surfaced road, and my best efforts to splash through a few puddles, I'm still caked in the mud-splashes picked up at the beginning of the walk when I arrive home.