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Banburyshire’s Ancient Sites:

Arbury Hill

Arbury Hill is a curiously auspicious location: It’s one of the highest points in The Irondowns, and is the ‘county top’ of (what was) Northamptonshire; it sits at the central watershed of the South Midlands, near the line of a number of ancient ridge-route green lanes; is the boundary of three local parishes; and, unfortunately, it’s one of the most interesting but inaccessible hills in the area.

Landscape image, ‘The Arbury Hill watershed’
The Arbury Hill watershed (from Newnham Windmill)

Summary for ‘Arbury Hill’:

Location: Between Badby, Catesby, and Hellidon, Northamptonshire

Type: ‘Other Features’.

Condition: Eroded due to agricultural use and motorcycle racing.

Access: None. Surrounded by rights of way, but off-road around Highfield Farm and Hellidon these can be very wet and boggy in the Winter and Spring.

OS Grid Ref.: SP540587

Further information: Wikipedia.

Walks posts or videos for this site: None yet.

The pictures in this selection are necessarily spread over a wide area. Arbury Hill isn’t simply ‘big’, or its possible/debatable earthworks particularly significant. Its greatest attraction is the landscape it sits within; its relationship to the curious topography hereabouts; and the ancient trackways that run around it.

Landscape image, ‘Arbury Hill viewed from the ridge above Hellidon’, 29th April 2016
Arbury Hill viewed from the ridge above Hellidon, 29th April 2016

The history of Arbury Hill is disputed. The site has been so damaged by agriculture and historic erosion that it cannot be properly identified.

Walking the area around the hill allows you to perceive the significance of this location:

The ancient Jurassic Way passes here, most likely to the west along the ridge that separates the three river sources, continuing on to the large Bronze & Iron Age settlement at nearby Borough Hill. Here The Jurassic Way meets The Portway, which passes to the east of Arbury Hill.

Given that Celtic culture revered natural water sources, the fact three rivers all have their source on the western flank of the hill gives this location a particular significance. It’s the convergence of the rivers that in turn causes the convergence of the ridge-routes that cross the landscape hereabouts, avoiding the boggy-bottomed river valleys.

This part of the Ironstone escarpment is an eratic wiggle of hills and cross-cutting valleys, and the relatively empty landscape hereabouts makes the area especially interesting for walking. There is so much to explore around here, and the three rivers that flow from this point are just one aspect of that.

The easiest access by public transport is the 200 bus service from Banbury to Daventry. Badby is the nearest stop, but walking around the hill and on to Charwelton or Daventry allows for a much longer exploration of the local landscape.

For a longer walk, the route from Hellidon to Staverton through Lower Catesby, along the escarpment, is especially nice.

The best short circular route from Badby goes south from the village: Along the old trackway to the south of Arbury Hill, past the source of the River Cherwell; on into Hellidon (the footpath straight across the fields is advised as the road is busy) to the ponds at the source of the River Leam; right in the village on to the gated road to Catesby; then continue on the road through Lower and Upper Catesby past Studborough Hill, which gives a view over the valley of the River Nene, and on back to Badby.

Landscape image, ‘Arbury Hill (left), Studborough Hill (right), and the Nene Valley in between’
Arbury Hill (left), Studborough Hill (right), and the Nene Valley in between, 29th April 2016 (from Newnham Windmill)
Landscape image, ‘The old lanes circling Arbury Hill’, 29th April 2016
The old lanes circling Arbury Hill, 29th April 2016

Irrespective of its historic details, this is a special place. If three falling raindrops were separated by a gust of wind, when they flowed to the sea they might end up 150 miles away from each other. Exploring the curious set of circumstances which gives rise to that phenomena, and whether that had significance to local people, is what makes this area interesting.

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