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Banburyshire’s Ancient Trackways:

The Cotswold Ridgeway

An ancient route, running through the heartland of the Dobunni and later Hwicce tribes, that linked Banbury Lane at the top the the Thames Valley and Crickley Hill on the Cotswold escarpment with many ancient sites along the way.

Landscape image: ‘The King Stone’, 14th March 2019
‘The King Stone’, Rollright Stones, beside the route of the ridgeway

This is truly a ‘highway’ – reaching 239 metres/784 feet at Whichford Hill, and 290 metres/951 feet at Wistley Hill. Even today, to take a straight line from Banbury to Birdlip, it still represents the most practical route, following the ridges and hills along the northern edge of The Cotswolds.

Banburyshire’s Ancient Trackways: ‘A Map of The Cotswold Ridgeway’
A Map of The Cotswold Ridgeway (click for larger image).

Summary for ‘The Cotswold Ridgeway’:

Location: Ancient route, Banbury, Broughton, Great Rollright, Maugersbury, Naunton, Andoversford, Crickley Hill.

Type: ‘Ancient Roads and Trackways’.

Condition: Prehistoric route, almost entirely marked by modern roads (except for short inaccessible section near Nether Swell).

Access: Public highways and footpaths.

Further information:

Walks posts or videos: {none yet}

Its practicality makes it a busy minor road route; hence the course of The Cotswold Ridgeway isn’t a great walk. On a bicycle, though, the route goes through some of the best scenery along the North Cotswolds. It also passes a number of ancient sites that are also worth a visit.

The route starts at the Medieval bridge on the River Cherwell – where Banbury Lane ends. This is the rough border of the Dobunni and Hwicce tribes from their neighbours in modern-day Northamptonshire to the east.

This has been the crossing on the river since Saxon times. Passing the modern Banbury Cross, it leaves the town via West Bar, where the Medieval ‘White Cross’ once stood beside the road at the edge of the Medieval town.

Rising up to the ridgeline on the edge of modern Banbury, the road looks down along the Sor Brook valley, and beyond (especially seen from Crouch Hill on the left or Bretch Hill on the right), the route of the road across Tadmarton Heath and Whichford Heath can be seen in the distance.

Soon after, at the Medieval quarries at ‘Giant’s Caves’, the route crosses the Roman ‘Salt Way’, the Medieval road from Birmingham to London, and Ogilby’s Banbury to Chipping Campden road departs to the right.

Past Broughton Castle, the road climbs to the top of Tadmarton Heath, running through the middle of the Iron Age settlement. From there it follows the ridge to the top of Whichford Heath where the route merges with ‘The Jurassic Way’. The hill itself is named after the local post-Roman tribe, the Hwicce... literally, ‘Hwicce-ford’.

At Great Rollright, The Jurassic Way carries on south to Avebury, while The Cotswold Ridgeway turns west. The modern road along the ridge is part of the 18th Century turnpike road network. The footpath in the field follows the ancient road, which, leaving the tree-lined lane, can be seen as a low earthwork running across the field (at some point the Romans may have upgraded it as this is probably the remains of an ‘agger’).

Landscape image, ‘Looking along the route of The Cotswold Ridgeway from Couch Hill’, 7th March 2015
Looking along the route of The Cotswold Ridgeway from Crouch Hill
(on the horizon: Tadmarton Heath, left; Whichford Heath, distant centre; Broughton Park, right).

Passing the The Rollright Stones the landscape begins to open out as the Cotswold escarpment nears. The probable ancient route still parallels the modern road up to the stones, and beyond crosses the modern road to parallel on the other side, through the modern stone quarries.

Crossing the A44, the way continues past Chastleton Barrow – which may seem like one large earthwork, but in fact is part of a larger historic landscape with ancient stones around parts of the village (and its very ancient manor house).

Indisctinct, probably in the trees north of the modern road, the route goes down and across the Evenlode valley at Adlestrop. At Oddington the road once again parallels the main road through the village. Instead of rising up to the later Saxon settlement of Stow-on-the-Wold, the ancient route carries on at the same level towards Maugersbury.

In Maugersbury the route crosses a likely north-south ancient route that runs from the Windrush valley near Burford along the ridgeline towards Chipping Campden, past Wyck Beacon. The road through Maugersbury used to connect with the main Fosse Way, but was stopped-up to prevent its use as a rat-run – though it is still usable on a bicycle.

Beyond the Fosse Way the line of the road has been extinguished where is crosses Nether Swell Manor – but its line can still be seen in the hedgerows. On cycle, this requires going left on the main road for two miles then taking a right into Lower Slaughter. On foot, go right up the hill towards Stow and then (carefully!) cross the road to follow the footpath through Nether Swell.

In the fields on the top of the hill opposite (though it’s difficult to find) is ‘The Horestone’, most likely the remains of a large Bronze Age chambered tomb.

Through Upper Slaughter, the route is traced by modern minor roads as it crosses the the hill to Harford. Here it joins the B-road that follows the ridge route above Naunton (this is an annoying route on foot, so you may wish to take the parallel road through the village).

Beyond Westfield the route is less ‘distinct’; though when walking this way ‘instinctly’ the landscape suggests the ancient route parted from the main road, following the ridge to Sevenhampton, then down the byway that runs into Andoversford.

Entering Andoversford is ‘Wycomb’ – the site of a small Roman town that probably occupied the site of an earlier Iron Age settlement, suggesting this is a significant location. This is also the point where the ancient ridge route that follows the Windrush out of the Thames valley crosses the River Coln and descends towards modern Cheltenham.

After the highest point at Wistley Hill the road descends to Seven Springs. There has always been some debate about the source of the River Thames. Recent investigations have suggested that the Thames Head source is actually the result of a leak from the now disused Thames and Severn Canal built in 1789. In which case, that would not only make Seven Springs the source of the Thames, it would also make The Thames the longest river in Britain.

The road beyond Seven Springs is narrow with no verge, making it pretty lethal even on a bicycle. The minor road north out of Seven Springs to Leckhampton Hill (past ‘The Devil's Chimney’) is a far better alternative. That drops down onto another old route past Salterley Grange and the National Star College, across the main road, emerging at Barrow Wake – an old quarry which is a regionally important geological and wildlife site. Alternately take the quieter road from Leckhampton Hill to Crickley Hill direct.

Today Crickley Hill is more significant as a wildlife site. The hill generally is covered in the remains of human settlement that span from the Stone Age to the post-Roman era. It’s also significant for offering evidence of an Iron Age battle which took place here.

From Crickley Hill the Cotswold escarpment continues south-west all the way to Bristol. Just beyond Barrow Wake, in Birdlip, the Roman Ermin Way linked Gloucester to Cirencester and Silchester – perhaps hinting at the importance of this location. It’s a truly wonderful location, albeit with a large cloud hanging over it, as the government want to excavate a huge canyon in the hillside in order to crate the ‘missing link’ for the A417, connecting it to the M5.

The Cotswold Ridgeway is a lovely route on a bicycle. On foot, it’s best to stay away from a number of parts of it. But to get the best from this route both approaches are required. For while the route is most easily travelled on bicycle, either side are ancient sites, villages, woodlands, and narrow valleys, that are really best explored on foot – which give a far deeper insight into the history of this ancient landscape.

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