An Afternoon Break

Sunday 17th April 2016

Banbury, Spiceball Park, Wildmere Road, Old Daventry Road, Chacombe Priory, Combe Hill, Overthorpe Hill, Nethercote, Thorpe Estate, Merton Street, Banbury
14.3km|8⅞ miles 135m|440ft

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route map Busy morning, busy few days to come. I decide to take a break before sunset. Unfortunately I'm not quick enough out of the house so I miss the out-of-town bus services which depart on the hour. Instead I head north-east, through Spiceball and out past the M40 for a circuit of Overthorpe Hill.

Walking through the new out-of-town fashion hub is a bit freaky. With a rucksack and muddy gaiters I clearly don't blend in here! – certainly not with the image of the blank-faced shop window mannequins, whose form is echoed in the superimposed plate glass reflection of the similarly vacant-looking customers gazing in.

I speed on under the river bridge, cross the flood defences beyond the M40 and then follow the old Daventry Road. Rather than take the road towards Chacombe I take the field-path. Bad idea. I'm soon sinking into the muddy fields, churned-up by the beef cattle housed here.

It's a relief to cross the road and start the 50 metre/160 foot climb to the top of Combe Hill. At the top I drop my kit and sit down to admire the view. This really is a great spot for a picnic, looking out across the Cherwell valley, and across the ridges all the way to Edgehill. To the right the village of Chacombe nestles in its topographic bowl, the land rising to Wardington and Edgcote Hill beyond.

Some movement catches my eye. In the hedgerow to the right a pair of bluetits are flitting around the branches of an ash tree. Then they head to a hole in the trunk – a traditional-style nest rather than a nest box – to deposit their harvest before flying off again.

In the end, despite the pleasant view, the hand of time taps me on the shoulder and tells me it's time to move on – undulating down and then up another 70 feet to the top of Overthorpe Hill, where I catch a fleeting glimpse of my first swift of the year.

I follow the now defunct, cut-off main road past Overthorpe Hall – its cats-eyes plucked out, its double-white centre line tarred over. I cross the new dual carriageway and go back into town via Nethercote. This little hamlet, its character reflected by its place name now drowned in the noise of the motorway, used to be a great place to pick mushrooms and watch wildlife. Now it's somewhere to speed through to get away from the noise.

Rather than plod down Overthorpe Road I take a left, onto what was once: the track to the council's post-war tip; prior to the construction of the new sewage works in the 1960s; and, a century ago this month, to the now listed War Department "Filling Factory No.9" (and mustard gas factory). It has to be said, Grimsbury always got all the best govern-mental developments!

Walking down the track has a certain ghostly quality. As a child this was my playground – my main route out into the countryside, and where I came to forage and watch rabbits and badgers. Now it's overgrown, the rough old tarmac buried under a carpet of mulch. More bizarrely, instead of fields either side there are now warehouses operating 24/7, with chillers and lorries adding to the drone of the M40 just beyond.

The M40 has cut off my old route out into the fields and Canal Lane, so I follow the path back the south side of Grimsbury. The sun is mirrored in the balancing pond for the Thorpe Estate, the wool of the reedmace glowing yellow in the light of the near-sunset. Through the gap into the road and… back to modern-day reality.