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I've a little job to do. Two of the local Friends Meeting Houses need to have their quinquennial surveys. As the person responsible for property in the Area Meeting, I need to open up and provide information for the surveyor. This isn't a chore, it's a pleasure to spend an hour or so crawling over a historic building. And due to the nature of local bus routes it's also an opportunity for a walk – making it a doubly pleasurable day out.
Spring is here! It's an exceptionally warm day, and the buds are bursting and the hedgerows flowering. What's noticeable in the past few days is the buzz of insects, emerging from their Winter stasis.
I take the 50A bus to Ettington Park, giving a short hop over the ridgeline into Ettington village. It's noticeably humid, as the strengthening sun begins to evaporate the moisture of winter.
The clayey fields around are still waterlogged. To avoid plastering myself in mud before I get to the meeting house I stick to the road.
The land around was once dominated by large estates, so there's very little development around. The presence of lots of scrub and small woodlands also means that the area is rich in wildlife – which can be seen in the animal tracks which cross the road between small gaps in the hedgerows either side.
I reach the main A429 and cross onto the former main road, before the village of Ettington was bypassed, and follow the now quiet lane into the village.
Ettington Meeting House was built around 1684, making it one of the earliest surviving, largely unchanged meeting houses in Britain (locally we also hold one of the others, at Adderbury). After opening up I carry out a photo survey – to create a record of the condition of the meeting house. Then I settle down on the bench in the garden for my lunch, which precipitates the immediate arrival of the surveyor.
After the survey work is done I lock-up and depart the village to the north. I'm going to circle the high ground to the northwest and then make my way back towards the Stour valley and the bus home.
This wooded ridge, part of the limestone ridge which demarcates the Avon valley and the Vale of Feldon, also gives wonderful views across the area. Today, as the trees burst into life, birds are busying themselves transporting nest-building materials. On descending Rough Hill, the good visibility means I get a clear view over the north Cotswolds, and down the Avon and Severn valley all to way the Malverns.
Use the scroll bar to pan across the panorama.
Someone asked me recently how I knew the names of the local hills. That's because, over the last 30-odd years, I've stood on them all. And the distant ones – the Cotswolds, Bredon, the Malverns and the Clees – I've stood on those too.
Over time you build up not so much a map, but a 'shape' for the local landscape. The obvious example here being Illmington Down with its geologically faulted, tree-capped profile and two high radio masts – in contrast to the rounded Ebrington Down next to it with its single, short TV transmitter.
The area south of Stratford is notorious for deer, the result of the high level of scrub which survive from the historic estates.
Descending the hill along the road some small movements in the scrub catch my eye. A group of deer are trying to look inconspicuous in the shade – possibly roe deer (too big for muntjac, but I can't see the colour of their coats). Unfortunately for them they keep twitching their large ears, which is what attracted my eye.
I take a few photos and, leaving them looking a little perplexed by the experience, carry on down the road.
Arriving at the bus stop on the main road I find I've still half an hour spare. Rather than stand still, watching the zombie-like expressions of the passing drivers transfixed in their cars by the travelling experience, I walk into the village of Newbold – mainly to buy a cooling drink from the village shop. The last treat of the day was the double-decker bus back to Banbury, which, from the top deck at Sibford Heath, gave a sixty-mile view all the way to the Shropshire Hills.