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Banburyshire Rambles Journal:

‘Trespassing, With Intent!’

In pursuit of a route along a brook, I follow a path created by the stormtroopers of the landrights movement – the dog-walkers!

Banburyshire Rambles Journal: ‘Trespassing, With Intent!’ – route map, 3rd  March 2023
click for a larger image
– mapping courtesy of OpenStreetmap

Route: Banbury, Hanwell Brook Wetland, Castle Woods, Hanwell, Hanwell Fields, Banbury.

Metrics: Distance, 10.2km/6¼ miles; ascension, 105m/345ft; duration, 4 hours.

People get-up to many things when they spend time outdoors. One of the things I do, if the need arises, is track-down and, where necessary, collect evidence and report pollution incidents. Wandering aimlessly north, I spot a bloom of algae (aka. ‘sewage fungus’) and decide to head along the brook. Problem is, how do you follow up a valley which is conspicuous locally for having so few paths?

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Slides from the walk:

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The blackthorn is in flower! With the novel appearance of the sunshine, that should make for a pretty walk. I decide to head North, but Southam Road is a bit of a drag today. I opt to take the longer, but more relaxed route along the canal.

People get-up to many things when they spend time outdoors: One of the things I do, if the need arises, is track-down and where necessary collect evidence to report pollution incidents.

Title frame for Ramblinactivist’s Video 2023/8, ‘Trespassing, With Intent!’, 6th March 2023
click for YouTube video of this walk

Passing the outflow of Hanwell Brook into the Oxford Canal there’s a familiar smell. I head back into Southam Road, look over the bridge, and spot a bloom of algae (aka. ‘sewage fungus’) and decide to head along the brook.

Problem is, how do you follow up a valley which is locally conspicuous for having so few footpaths?

In town it isn’t hard. The first section is former Oxfordshire Ironstone Railway, which now forms an informal walking around the northern fringe of the town. I’ve been walking this embankment for forty years: Even though not a legal footpath, this historic practise would allow a ‘right of way’ due to its unrestricted use for 20 years.

The new housing developments in Hanwell Fields have opened-up parks along the floodplain of the brook, with paths alongside. Arguably, then, this is an ‘implied’ right of access – since they’ve created a path for you to walk on, and there’s no sign telling you this isn’t a right of way.

Next I come to the walkways of the ‘Hanwell Brook Wetland’. This is part of the local housing development – in part, to handle the overspill from their surface water drainage. Though its small and not very diverse, compared to the town downstream and the arable prairie from here-on-up, it’s comparatively an oasis.

Inside the wetland, the rather canal-like brook is still showing signs of pollution on the snags in the water. Beyond there’s no footpath, but that hasn’t stopped local dog-walkers from beating a track along the buffer strips that follow the watercourse (required to be left under Government guidelines for ploughing and applying fertiliser).

In all likelihood this isn’t a right of way. But clearly, a lot of people have been using it for a long time – and there’s been no attempt to restrict access, and there’s no sign saying I can’t walk along the buffer strip…

Banburyshire Rambles Journal: ‘Trespassing, With Intent!’ – Hanwell Brook Wetland, 3rd  March 2023
Hanwell Brook Wetland

I walk along the buffer strip.

The water quality of Hanwell Brook has been falling over the last decade. In part that’s due to the lower flows resulting from successive droughts, but the expansion of local development is equally significant.

In part that’s due to the lack of investment in sewage infrastructure as the villages within the catchment have expanded. Sewage works represent a ‘point source’ of pollution – you can literally walk along the watercourse to find a pipe disgorging its foul ‘effluvia’.

An equal problem with the increasing levels of development hereabouts is ‘non-point source’ pollution: Pollution which is released, in small amounts, from many different sources, which all combine to give an effect as big as a large single source. Problem is, non-point source pollution is really difficult to tackle because it’s ‘everywhere’; often created as an inevitable by-product of the ‘modern lifestyle’.

Panorama over Hanwell Brook (future development area)

Use the slider to move the panorama from side to side

OK, enough doom! A good part of me is really happy to be here.

The northern fringe of Banbury has seen huge amounts of development in the last decade or so. All this land, from the current edge of the town all the way to Hanwell, from the stream to the top of the ridge, is likely to fall under roads and housing over the next decade or so. Having the chance to cross it before that happens, and record it in photographs on such a nice day, is a brilliant experience.

Back in 1984, housing developers came up with a plan for a Banbury with a population of 100,000. At the time it was loudly rejected by local people; but they’ve pretty-much followed that plan to the letter ever since – pushed by the Oxford Colleges who own the countryside all around.

Banburyshire Rambles Journal: ‘Trespassing, With Intent!’ – The moon glides through a blue sky, 3rd  March 2023
The moon glides through a blue sky

It’s arguable which is worse for the water environment: Agriculture; or housing. Yes, housing doesn’t spread large amounts of fertiliser and pesticide; or create lots of soil erosion from ploughing. At the same time, housing creates polluted surface water run-off; and litter; and more generally, the ‘Western lifestyle’ these houses support is damaging to the environment globally.

I reach the junction with Castle Stream. Both the brook and the little stream look equally mirky. Given I can’t go on upstream on the brook, I go left towards Hanwell along the stream.

This is actually a really pretty route! Such a pity it’s not a proper path – although one day it might be when all these fields fall under the developer’s acquisitive shovel.

My mother’s family came from Hanwell. It was one of the first places I used to walk to as a kid because I’d get tea and cake from my grandparents. Consequently I know the fields hereabout really well. Very soon I come to the path running north from the town towards Hanwell, and turn right up the hill.

Panorama from Castle Woods (future development area)

Use the slider to move the panorama from side to side

The sun is setting behind the trees. The Ironstone ridges to the east are beginning to glow in the low angle light – accentuated by the slab of stratocumulus that’s blown in on a stiff wind from the north-east. That slab of cloud is going to rob me of at least half-an-hour of usable daylight today: I’d probably better turn for home.

Down through the former Medieval fishponds of Hanwell Castle, I spot some of the snowdrops introduced by a previous owner over a century ago. Beyond, on the edge of the village, is a hotly contested development site: Right on top of the ridge, where the minor local Roman road from the north forked, crossing the valley to Warkworth, and continuing along the ridge towards Broughton – today called ‘Gullicote Lane’.

Banburyshire Rambles Journal: ‘Trespassing, With Intent!’ – Keep Hanwell Village Rural
Keep Hanwell Village Rural!

Quite apart from the new site being larger than the village, it will plug the gap between Banbury and the village, effectively making it part of the town’s urban sprawl. The locals, quite understandably, are not pleased! They’ve got signs on the footpaths hereabouts. I pass one as I pop to the top of the ridge to get a view of what is left of the sunset.

The slab of cloud has beaten me to the horizon – darkening the sky and robbing me of the sunset, except for an angry-looking red strip burning through the tree-line along the horizon – as well as the conjunction of Jupiter and Venus which I was hoping to see this evening.

I slowly trudge in the twilight back towards the town, along a hedgerow which marks the footpath, which follows the likely route of the Roman road created about 1,900 years ago. To my right, thousands of houses erected in only the last decade – with many more on the way. To my left, the gloomy landscape, punctuated with lights from luxury rural retreats along the ridges. Pollution comes in many forms: ‘Point source’ gets the most attention; but ‘non-point source’ is arguably the worse, because it represents the physical embodiment of the ‘no-point’ lifestyle people are forced to follow today.

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