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Banburyshire’s Ancient Trackways:

The Jurassic Way

The Jurassic Way is a putative ancient north-east to south-west route following the escarpment of the Jurassic hills, from Lincolnshire down into Wiltshire. Locally it is a route which defines county boundaries and links many local historic sites.

Landscape image: ‘Ditchedge Lane and the Jurassic Way’, 19th July 2016
‘Ditchedge Lane and the Jurassic Way’, 19th July 2016

The Jurassic Way (not to be confused with the recreational footpath of the same name) is a good example of an ancient travelling route across England. Though less well known than The Ridgeway on the southern boundary of Oxfordshire, or The Harrow Way – the Medieval Pilgrims’ Way that runs from the North Downs, past Stonehenge, and then on to the South West.

How were these ‘ancient trackways’ created by our ancestors? That’s the really interesting aspects of walking these routes: It puts you in contact with how people have viewed the landscape hereabouts for millennia.

Summary for ‘The Jurassic Way’:

Location: Ancient trackway from Lincolnshire/North East to Avebury and Stonehenge

Type: ‘Roads and Trackways’.

Condition: Over its length it is made of surfaced modern roads (often dangerous to walk). Locally there are off-road sections which give access to some of the most splendiferous local scenery.

Access: Minor surfaced roads and off-road bridlepaths.

Further information: Wikipedia

Walks posts or videos for this site: {none yet}

Approximate route of ‘The Jurassic Way’
Approximate route of ‘The Jurassic Way’ (click for a larger image)

The Jurassic Way is arguably not a single road, in the modern sense, running between defined boundaries. Like other ‘ridgeways’, is wasn't a single defined track, but a broad set of parallel routes following the line of the hills cross-country.

Its general route is topographically defined by local hills and valleys as a ‘corridor’ of routes, all heading in a similar direction. Much complicated since by its use as a drove road in Medieval times, and possibly a minor Roman road along the escarpment, parts of the ancient route are difficult to find today.

From the crossing the River Witham in Lincoln, the route followed southward along the ridgeline – along what would later become the Roman ‘King Street’. The route becomes indistinct as it approaches the River Welland – as it tangles with the routes of the Roman Ermine Street and the Medieval ‘Great North Road’ – but from Stamford it likely followed the ridgeline along the south side of the Welland valley.

Landscape image, ‘Passing over the 215-metre/705-foot summit of Sibford Heath during a hard frost’, 7th December 2010
Passing over the 215-metre/705-foot summit of Sibford Heath during a hard frost, 7th December 2010

The route is buried under woodlands, modern roads and airfields until Corby, where it begins to emerge as a series of farm tracks along the ridge. From Desborough, past Arthingworth, to Kelmarsh it becomes a minor road, then is lost in the topographic jungle where many small rivers rise in the hills around Naesby.

There’s a short off-road section near Winwick, but the route doesn’t become easily walkable until after the Watford Gap – across the hills from Ashby St. Ledgers, to Braunston, then turning south past Daventry – which is a very good walk across a relatively empty landscape, through historic Medieval hamlets such as Flecknoe and Catesby.

Passing the low ridge beside Arbury Hill – which, on a clear day, gives wonderful views to Astwood Bank and the Clent & Lickey Hills forty miles to the north-west – the route becomes indistinct from Hellidon. After crossing Welsh Lane it becomes clear once more crossing the hill from Priors Hardwick – where it becomes the county boundary, marked by an ancient earthwork.

Landscape image, ‘Priors Marston and Marston Hill’, 18th April 2019
Priors Marston and Marston Hill, 18th April 2019

The bridleway is cut-off as it reaches the top end of the Cherwell valley, and beyond that the route is indistinct until Farnborough. The route may have followed the escarpment, turning north briefly, past Nadbury, and then down to the White House at Epwell where it is crossed by the Roman salt road.

Alternately, most walkable route from Farnborough goes to Warmington on minor roads, then off-road beyond Warmington to Hornton, Shenington, and on to the White House junction at Epwell. At the top of Sibford Heath the route is crosses Ogilby's road from Banbury, where, on a clear day, you might get a view of Abberly Hill and the Clee Hills sixty miles to the north-west.

Following the broad, descending ridge bridleway that marks the Medieval ‘Ditchedge Lane’ drove road, it becomes a single track road at Traitor’s Ford, climbing to the local high-point of Whichford Heath.

Here the route joins the course of another ancient trackway, ‘The Cotswold Ridgeway’, until it gets to Great Rollright. The road is busy here, but the broad verges are easy to walk on.

From Great Rollright the road is relatively safe until the A34, but the stretch into Over Norton is more hazardous (tip: Take the footpath to The Rollright Stones from Great Rollright, and then take the footpaths to Chipping Norton from there). There is a pavement from Over Norton to Chipping Norton.

From Chipping Norton the route forms the A361 trunk road all the way to Avebury – which needs to be cycled with caution, let alone walked!

Beyond the crossing of the River Windrush the route becomes indistinct once again, especially where it crosses the Thames valley – but the line of low hills which intrude upon the river makes Lechlade the most likely crossing point. Beyond that the route would have climbed the escarpment of the North Wessex Downs near Wroughton – arriving in Avebury beside the line of the River Kennet.

Beyond Avebury, crossing the Wansdyke, the route continues on towards Stonehenge and the South Coast, but that line is difficult to trace due to the military’s use of Sailbury Plain.

Of course, the question arises, how were these ‘ancient trackways’ created by our ancestors?

In the higher latitudes, before humans settled they would follow the migration of herd animals too and fro with the seasons. Those herd animals tended to stick to the same route on each migration. When humans settled down to farm they no longer moved with the herds, but instead still followed those same routes to travel the country. This is reputedly how the first ancient ‘roads’ came about.

Unlike modern routes though, before the time when the land was enclosed, it would not have been a single road but a series of tracks running in parallel in the same direction.

Recent research on animal bones has revealed that people attended the large celebrations at Avebury and Stonehenge from all over Britain. They would have passed Oxfordshire from the north, driving livestock down these routes to feast upon after they arrived.

Landscape image, ‘A view south from the Ridgeway above Avebury, towards Pen Hill and the Wansdyke’, Beltane (1st May) 2019
A view south to the Wansdyke from the Ridgeway above Avebury, Beltane 2019 (click for a larger image)

The public transport option to access The Jurassic Way from Banbury are (note, all were cut in July 2022, may be closed soon):

Landscape image, ‘Looking towards Sibford Gower from Sibford Heath’, 7th December 2010
Looking towards Sibford Gower from Sibford Heath, 7th December 2010

The route of The Jurassic Way might easily by cycled. From my experience, though, a ‘slower’ approach is required. On foot, especially on the off-road sections inaccessible by bike, you get to pause and take-in the landscape – just as those many millennia ago would have done. And though the landscape is rather different today (though it had already been cleared of many trees during the Bronze Age), going slowly on foot allows you to feel, and take-in the sense of the landscape far more directly.

By virtue of the fact it follows the high ridge that divides the Midlands from the South East, The Jurassic Way allows you to step out of the bustle of the modern day into some unique countryside. Look more closely though, and take the time to study the places and landscape you pass through, and you will see the ‘deep history’ this route takes you through – linking our prehistoric origins to the present-day.

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