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Banburyshire’s Ancient Trackways:

Ogilby’s Buckingham-Bridgenorth Road

Major roads seem so permanent, so immovable – and yet this route shows how history has a tendency to shift roads over time, rather like rivers in a valley meander on their course.

Landscape image: ‘A Storm Gathers Over the Old Salt Road to Buckingham’, 25th September 2021
‘A Storm Gathers Over the Old Salt Road to Buckingham’, 25th September 2021

This route was part of Ogilby’s first road atlas of England, and yet its course wiggles around the much older Roman Salt Way as is crosses this area. Yet today this ancient route has been bypassed almost completely by the modern world.

Many parts of the route still form important elements of the road network today. Much of it is classed as ‘B’-roads, its former importance having been bypassed by modern trunk roads. In the Banbury area, though, the route itself has changed, allowing you to follow the route off-road as it snakes around the Cherwell valley.

Extract from Ogilby’s Plates: 12. Buckingham to Banbury (left); and 13. Banbury to Alcester (right)
Extract from Ogilby’s Plates 12 & 13 – Buckingham to Banbury (left) and Banbury to Stratford upon Avon (right)

Ogilby’s road leaves London, passing the ‘villages’ of Acton, Hanwell, and Uxbridge, to follow what today is the modern A413 towards Aylesbury. Beyond Aylesbury, though, it follows a route west of the modern main road – that, curiously, is still the route of the Aylesbury-Buckingham bus service. This page looks at the route through the local area, between Buckingham, Banbury, Stratford upon Avon, and Alcester.

The problem with making a page like this is that I generally don’t have a whim to photograph tarmac. So often I've crossed this route, or dodged along it between side-roads or footpaths but rarely have I had cause to photograph it.

West out of Buckingham, the route tussles with the recently trunked A421, connecting Milton Keynes & the M1 to the A43 & M40. At points part of the old road have been cut-off, and the villages of Tingewick and Finmere bypassed.

At Tingewick the route crosses the older Roman route from Alchester (modern-day Bicester) to Towcester. This is quite possibly the point where ‘Salt Way’ ends as a single definable road, originating in Droitwich. Here other Roman routes run north-south rather than east, linking the East Midlands to the South East. Salt Way runs west-north-west from Finmere, along what is now a footpath, towards Mixbury and Evenley.

A couple of miles later near Mixbury the road crosses Featherbed Lane. It's probably Roman in origin, and runs parallel the other Roman road, but may have been earlier as it links some historic sites. Today it's a relatively quiet back-road, good for both walking and cycling.

Eventually the A422 reaches the modern-mayhem of ‘The Barley Mow Roundabout’, where it disgorges onto the A43. Beyond that things get a little quieter.

The most important thing to remember is that Ogilby's map is not, ‘to scale’. Miles along the route are shown as small numbers; but the way the map navigates is not by distance, but by landmarks – in particular crossing streams, or church towers or windmills visible on the horizon, and describing the type of land the road crosses at that point.

Past the Barley Mow and into Croughton the road is cycleable, but walking is a little dodgy due to the large amount of fast-moving traffic and the lack of a verge. There is a more of a verge beyond Astwick into Croughton, and a pavement through Croughton to the ‘C’-road near Warren Farm (which is walkable to both Aynhoe and Charlton). Beyond that the verge is walkable with caution all the way to Aynhoe.

At Aynhoe Ogilby’s map follows the main road to Nell Bridge. Other local records associated with the making of the turnpike road talk of the Buckingham Road running from Aynhoe towards Kings Sutton, and then crossing the Cherwell at Twyford Wharf. If I had to recommend a route to walk or cycle, it would be this more ‘off-road’ option. It’s also slightly shorter, more picturesque (see second & third picture below), and meets the Ogilby route near Weeping Cross.

On Ogilby’s map this alternate route is marked as the road from ‘Kings Sutton to Oxford’ – which is most likely the Roman route connecting to Salt Way, that for much of its length coincides with the route of The Portway.

Ogilby’s road passes over Nell Bridge, but unlike the modern road it does not go into Adderbury. It goes north-north-west across the flat Ironstone slab, heading towards what is now Manor Farm. There it takes a left along the route of Salt Way to Weeping Cross.

There is no trace of Ogilby’s road from Nell Bridge to Weeping Cross today’ – except for a few field boundaries that seem to neatly align from the top of the hill near Bo Peep Farm across towards Manor Farm.

From Weeping Cross Ogilby’s road goes into Banbury along what is now the main Oxford Road, formerly the Buckingham and Banbury Turnpike Road, to (the modern) Banbury Cross.

Here the road splits: The main route goes straight ahead towards Stratford; while another of Ogilby’s roads turns left, along West Bar, to Chipping Campden.

Today the modern road, following the turnpike route to Warwick, goes up the hill from Neithrop to a junction at another Barley Mow – this time the former coaching inn – before turning left toward Stratford. The original route is likely to have continued in a straight line from the top of the hill to Drayton – which today is traced out by a footpath. From another inn, The Roebuck, the road crosses Sor Brook. There again it parts with the modern road – running across the field directly into the village (see picture).

Through Wroxton, the road reaches the ‘Wroxton Fingerpost’ – where it crosses the more ancient Birmingham to London road (see that page for a description). After that the road ever-so-gradually climbs as it crosses the Ironstone slab, past Upton House, until it reaches the top of the escarpment at Sunrising Hill – intersecting the even more ancient Jurassic Way route.

Sunrising Hill and the road beyond are difficult to walk, but it is cycleable. There is no properly path on the verge again until Pillerton Priors, which runs all the way into Ettington – crossing the route of the Roman Fosse Way just before it enters the village. Again, beyond Ettington, although the road is slightly wider, there is no path and a minimal verge, making walking difficult.

After entering Stratford the road crosses the River Avon on ‘Clopton Bridge’. Its 14 stone arches were originally built in 1484, and repaired and widened over the centuries since. The iron walkway attached to the side that pedestrians cross was added in the early 19th Century. Built at the point where the Roman bridge crossed the river carrying Salt Way, it is essentially the same bridge that was in use when Ogilby made his maps in 1675.

After Stratford the road follows the Roman salt road towards Alcester. On the Stratford side of Red Hill the road is bad, even on a bicycle; definitely on foot. If you want to partake of the wonderful views from Red Hill it’s far safer to walk out along the canal to Wilmcote, circle around through the woodland footpaths to Red Hill, then come down through Binton to the River Avon and walk back into the town.

Today Alcester itself is bypassed by the upgraded trunk road, making the route through the town far more pleasant. The Roman bridge would have been somewhere near where the Rivers Alne and Arrow meet in the middle of the town today, and marks the point where Salt Way crossed Roman Ryknild Street.

At Alcester, Ogilby’s road turns north: To Coughton, Bromsgrove, Kidderminster, and then Bridgenorth – for a short distance following Ryknild Street. Until the road passes Kidderminster, it continues to be a very busy route as traffic tussles to get around the fringe of the Birmingham conurbation. The last section, though, is a lovely route through the fringes of the Wyre Forest, following the eastern ridge along the River Severn into Bridgenorth.

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