Midwinter Modern Monolith

Thursday 11th February 2016

Banbury, Poet's Corner, Crouch Hill, Giants' Caves, Broughton Road, Banbury
7.5km|4⅔ miles 120m|400ft

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route map At the end of a frustrating, unproductive day, what better than to chuck it all and go for a walk? The sunshine and blue sky – a rare break from the recent weather – has been calling all day. Sometimes it's best to accept the gift and work out the organisational machinations later.


Quickest route to the advancing sunset is a straight course to Crouch Hill – sun dazzling my eyes all the way.

Plodding up the south-eastern flank the low sun is just the right angle to catch the radomes of Croughton, which shine like giant puffballs on the ridge line above Kings Sutton church. Usually they're difficult to see, as they're painted an azure blue to try and hide their profile on the skyline.

Croughton/K. Sutton

Approaching the top of the hill the bright ball of the sun is sitting directly over the top of the trigpoint – with overtones of the weird scene of the monolith from 2001.

Now there's an idea...

Built from the early 20th Century until the 1980s, trigpoints are essentially useless today. The advent of satellite-based digital mapping and GPS makes the old-fashioned 'analog' system of trigonometric measurement of positions and heights redundant.

Any structure which has no practical use is a monument. Therefore, like the redundant chronometer of Stonehenge, trigpoints are arguably 'modern monoliths'. And just like those ancient monoliths, many people actively search them out as an act of pilgrimage or topographic worship.

It's not enough to go to the top of a hill – the hill must be blessed by a square white obelisk to make the ascent 'significant'.

I'm here because this is the highest point on the west side of the town, making it a good vantage point for the sunset (or, for that matter, sunrise over the rolling horizon of Northamptonshire). Even so, passing the concrete plinth, out of habit I tap the top.

Little kids like walking on walls – grown-ups probably haul themselves up hills to these little concrete altars to altitude for much the same reason: "I'm the King of the Castle..."

However, when does that pursuit of the concrete block usurp the topographical phenomena that it is intended to designate? A couple of years ago I visited The Wrekin, and watched, bemused, as a fell runner who had run up the hill tapped the trigpoint then turned and ran straight back down – without even surveying the view.

I pause for a while to take in the view. The cool clear air gives this evening's sunset wonderfully clear visibility, the shapes of the rolling hills accentuated by the slowly shifting relief of the sunset's lengthening shadow.

When the sun finally slips below the horizon at Whichford Heath – a point which is also marked by one of these redundant modern monoliths (about 225ft higher than this one) – I press on home.

I slide down the muddy clay western flank of Crouch Hill and then head down Salt Way. Gathering clouds turn the approaching dusk into an animated light shown, crowned at the end by the crescent new moon arcing overhead…
Yeah, worth the mud spashes!