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Banburyshire Rambles Journal:

North of Banbury along the Ironstone ridges

Banburyshire Rambles Journal: ‘North of Banbury along the Ironstone ridges’ – route map, 27th May 2022
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– mapping courtesy of OpenStreetmap

A circuit out from Banbury, following the long ironstone ridges that rise from the northern fringe of the town towards Edgehill

A route along the narrow ridges formed from the Ironstone slab, up to 160 metres/525 feet above sea level, meaning that the whole circuit gives wonderful views over the local landscape. I’m in no rush; it’s a good day for photography. And I want to visit an ancient church along the way.

Route: Banbury, Southam Road, Little Bourton, Great Bourton, Shotteswell, Hanwell, Ruscote, Banbury.

Metrics: Distance, 17.2km/10⅔ miles; ascension, 210m/690ft; duration, 4½ hours.

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Slides from the walk:

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North from the town is a direction I don’t walk nearly as much. That’s mostly due to the lack of good footpaths in that direction: Towards all the other cardinal points there’s a whole network of paths that fan-out and loop-around to meet each other. North from the town there are far less paths, and the steep-sided, clay-bottomed valleys are difficult to cross during the wettest months.

Banburyshire Rambles Journal: ‘North of Banbury along the Ironstone ridges’ – title frame, 31st May 2022
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Note: This is an experiment. I wanted to see if I could ‘animate’ one of my walks journal posts into something more captivating. Feel free to give your comments on the video page.

Although the streams that flow into the town from the north are an obstruction, they also create a fan of long ridges that rise on the northern fringe of the town, extending north and north-west eight to ten miles towards Edgehill and Burton Dassett. As the watercourses cut through the Ironstone slab, once you’re on top of those ridges they all have roughly the same height – 150 metres/500 feet near the town, and 220 metres/720 feet near Edgehill – and so the views extend-out east and west for ten to fifteen miles (unless you actually make it to Edgehill, in which case you can see the Clee Hills sixty miles away!).

Pounding up Hardwick Hill is very boring these days (yes, Southam Road runs up Hardwick Hill, named after Hardwick Farm; what we call ‘Hardwick Estate’ actually sits on Pinhill, named after Pinhill Farm); and as development sprawls northward it seems to take longer every year to get out of the town. There’s a pavement from the town centre all the way to Little Bourton; then ‘Back Lane’ runs on to Great Bourton.

Half-way along Back Lane I normally take a left for Hanwell or a right for Slat Mill. Today, though, I’m going ‘beyond’: Through Great Bourton, higher and higher along the ridgeline to take in the views. If you keep following this path, you will eventually get to the old windmill on Beacon Hill at Burton Dassett – roughly eleven miles out from the town centre.

Panorama north and east from the Ironstone ridge at Great Bourton

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These are not well-travelled paths; probably for the same reasons I don’t use them as much. Normally I only use them in the wettest months to avoid the muddy valleys below. On the cusp of Summer, though, they’re actually quite spectacular: A carpet of green crops and trees (now that the yellow oilseed has gone) spreading to the horizon in every direction.

The path from Great Bourton eventually meets the main road about half-way to Mollington. The road verge is walkable for another quarter- to half-a-mile, to pick-up the paths into Mollington and Cropredy. Today I take an almost immediate left at the main road, past Thickthorn Farm, to cross the valley into Shotteswell. Beyond the farm the view opens out up and down the valley below... unfortunately someone inconsiderately built a motorway there so it can be a bit noisy depending on the wind direction.

Panorama from Hanwell to Shotteswell & Warmington Hill

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The one thing you can say about the motorway, though, is that the footbridge over the top makes a lovely – if noisy – viewpoint up and down the valley.

The Medieval interior of St. Lawrence's Shotteswell
The Medieval interior of St. Lawrence's Shotteswell

In Shotteswell I head for St. Lawrence’s church. If it’s a rainy day, there’s a nice bench around the back beneath a big sheltering yew tree. Today, though, my boots are dry and clean! So I’m taking the opportunity to go inside and take a few photos of its historic interior for my ‘Ancient Sites Guide’. Though ‘restored’ by those busy Victorians, a large part of the church is Medieval, dating to the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Century. And though most of the font is Medieval, the foot of the font shaped like a wheatsheaf is reputedly Saxon in origin.

More than anything, on a hot day like today, it’s just a lovely place to sit and cool down and absorb it’s simple, tranquil atmosphere – and ponder the vicissitudes of foot travel.

After a while I can see the sun’s shadows shifting their angle on the floor; time to leave.

The Roman/Medieval road from Hanwell to Shotteswell
The Roman/Medieval road from Hanwell to Shotteswell

The route home runs along what was most likely a Roman road. It ran from Kineton, past Warmington, and then on to Hanwell; crossing to the north of Banbury (which didn’t exist at that time) near the waterworks; past Grimsbury Manor; then on through Nethercote to meet the Roman route along the eastern side of the Cherwell valley at Warkworth. Half-way between Shotteswell and Hanwell there’s a lovely section of the road level remaining, cut into the hillside – which continued in use through to Medieval times, until the coming of the turnpike roads around 1750 made it redundant for everyone except the locals. That’s why, today, it’s preserved as a footpath running directly between the two villages.

I take a pause in Hanwell, check on the grandparents in St. Peter’s churchyard, then head towards home.

As I’ve dawdled somewhat it’s now almost sunset. The visibility being rather good today, as the sun gets lower the scattered light shifts towards the red-end of the spectrum. That means all those deep greens in the landscape start to change, morphing into a darker, almost at points khaki-brown hue. On the ridge in from Hanwell there’s some lovely views to the east – all the way to Edgcote, Thorpe Mandeville, Farthinghoe, and down the valley to Aynhoe and Upper Heyford – the setting sun picking out the hilltops in the distance.

Approaching ‘civilisation’ once more at the (current) edge of town in Hanwell Fields, the almost-set sun is catching the huge ash tree (this is the one you see on the horizon coming down the hill on Oxford Road into South Bar). It’s looking vaguely Autumnal in the reddish light. I can’t wait around though. I still have almost another three miles to get home through the centre of town – and if they keep building, this time next year it might be more!

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