Banburyshire Rambles Photo-Journal

Paul Mobbs’ photographic record of his walks around ‘Banburyshire’ and ‘The Irondowns’, and occasionally, as part of his work around Britain, the areas beyond.


Banburyshire’s Ancient Sites:
About the guide

This guide to ‘Banburyshire’s Ancient Sites’ holds within it a challenge – to find your ancient self in this modern world; to search not just for the sites, but also for our natural place in the spaces between

In this page I explore some of the background to the creation of the guide, and what I hope it will help people to do.


A little ‘ministry’

This is an ancient landscape; one that our modern sensibilities are barely able to perceive. In part that’s because we live in different times; but primarily it’s because modern human society has lost the intrinsic relationship to ‘life’ and the landscape, and thus to the essence of being living animals.

If we have lost something intrinsic to perceiving a ‘natural life’, we will not find that again in some mythical distant past of invented stories, conjured to fill holes in our modern lifestyles. Likewise archaeology or anthropology, over their history, show themselves to be a fickle science subject to the bias of the observer. They can’t dictate our future course either.

And TV natural history films? Buried in rousing mood music and anthropomorphised views of just the creatures humans find ‘cute’, they tell us far more about what’s wrong with how we view the natural world rather than giving us an honest view of its state.

No. If we are to find a new accommodation between modern humanity and its ravaged environment then we will not find it in a book, or on the Internet, or on urban protest lines; we will find it through the direct experience of what it is to be alive amongst all other (non-human) life…

We will find it out here; in the unfiltered direct experience of being outdoors.

‘The Making of…’ (A list of sites for you to find, I hope, on foot)

Though occasionally a bus or a train ride were involved in the collection of these pictures, I want to make something clear: This is a collection of images that have been put together over the last decade or so, on foot.

My annual target is to walk 600 to 800 miles around the local countryside. On a good year, work permitting, I might get 500 to 600. Where possible that process is entirely random – if not taking a random course from my front door, then by taking the first bus or train leaving from the station in whatever direction it is going.

Why?

All those lovely nature films on the TV; do you think people just go out and capture that stuff? That all those insects, birds, and fluffy creatures are just ‘out there’ doing cute stuff for us to see all the time?

Camera operators spend weeks, or even months out of doors just to get a few minutes of footage; or continuous footage from hides or automated cameras is edited (these days, by artificial intelligence) to give just the right ‘orgy of experience’ for the viewer.

No. From Countryfile to David Attenborough, how the modern media has ‘sold’ nature and the landscape to the British public is as an engineered ‘spectacle’, designed to reinforce common beliefs of how we view ourselves and the world around us. As Debord said, “All that once was directly lived has become mere representation”.

That’s not reality; that’s not nature; it’s a human construct designed to reflect our own imagined view of ourselves – and certainly not our objective place in nature and the Earth’s environment. Hence nature TV shows, and much eco-programming generally, are as much suffused with illusory human hubris as the mainstream shows on technology or economic history.

If we want to see the world as it is then we have to take that constructed view of the world apart, cutting through that curated, engineered ‘spectacle’ by seeing and experiencing the world as it is. That is why I have created this collection.

This is a ‘curated’ collection – yes, just like all that nature stuff on TV.

The difference here is that your challenge is not to ‘see’ the sites, but to experience the real world which exists in the spaces between those sites; to stand in the presence of our ancient ancestors having travelled through that thoroughly modern environment to get there – and find a more informative, personal truth that emerges from that experience.

I can’t ‘show’ you that in pictures.

I can show you pictures of sites, but the space in between not only varies by the time of year and/or the weather; its interpretation is formed by what you bring to it, and so you must make of it what you will.

The best way of doing that?

Randomly spend a whole day on foot, at all times of the year, in whatever weather, walking from the nearest train or bus stop – with no expectation as to what you might find. Then you may begin to see the world as it is, precisely because randomness ensures you’re not unconsciously moulding that around your existing expectations. If you want to really see the world then dispose of any ‘plan’ or a ‘pretext’:

  • If you only go when the sun is shining you will only see the world for a fraction of the hours in a year;
  • If you only go at noon, you will miss the dusk, dawn and twilight world;
  • If you only walk in the day, then you will miss the beauty of the world at night;
  • If you only go when you feel happy and energetic, how will you experience what the natural world can do for your spirit when you’re sad?

This collection of ‘ancient sites’ wasn’t consciously created. It emerged from my collection, just as my more general study of the landscape around ‘The Irondowns’ emerged from my local walks eight years ago.

If they represent anything, all my walks shown in the Banburyshire Rambles Journal are an antidote to my daily work – researching the effects of human society on the environment, and how ecological limits are going to up-end that comfortable way of life over the next two decades. For the last forty years, my relationship to the local landscape has been a very important inspiration for that work; and also a relief from it.

If there's a solution to that then it is not to be found in yet more technology; that just compounds the problems of systemic complexity that plagues human society generally. If a solution is to be found then it is by living a simpler life, working with nature and the landscape to provide for our basic needs – and the place you will find the inspiration for that is out here, in the ‘desert of the real’ (so called because, if you spend all your time watching nature programmes on TV which create an unrealistic view of the world, the actual countryside can seem a depressingly empty space – like a desert).

“Your mission, should you choose to accept it”: Find the ancient fabric running through the heart of North Oxfordshire, on foot; and on finding it turn 180°, looking back at where you came from, and ponder two questions: ‘Where did the modern world take a wrong turn?’; and, ‘what’s the first thing I need to do to get back to where we should be?’.


Desktop Wallpapers

I view these ancient sites pretty much every day – on my computer. As part of putting this selection of sites together I thought I would share some of my favourite desktop wallpapers; selected from some of the most ‘atmospheric’ scenes in the collection.

For the full list of wallpapers go to the Banburyshire Rambles Background Images page.


03
‘The Hawk Stone and Wychwood’

The stone is captivating, but in this location it becomes something more – with the backdrop of a long bend in the Evenlode valley and Wychwood draped over the ridge beyond.

Beltane (1st May) 2018.


21
‘Thor’s Stone & Taston Wayfaring Cross’

They are a strange pair: A large megalith protruding from a retaining wall; and a weathered, battered old stepped stone cross in the middle of the road.

Beltane (1st May) 2018.


26
‘The Hawk Stone’

The location is beautiful, but get up close to the stone itself and you can see the ‘deep time’ etched into its surface.

20th March 2019.


47
‘The King Stone’

Though chipped away at by Eighteenth Century souvenir hunters, the King Stone remains, enigmatically, trying to see Long Compton.

14th March 2019.


53
‘The Dancing Færies’

Echoing to Shakespeare’s classic tale of supernatural play in an enchanted place, the three ‘færies’ dance a jig beside The King’s Men.

14th March 2019.


54
‘The King, transfixed’

Rooted to the spot, within his circling spikes like a prisoner in the dock, The King stands mute against the oncoming storm.

14th March 2019.


55
Salt Way crosses the Cherwell valley’

Salt Way can still be seen in the landscape today. The line of dark trees that run across from the left, behind Kings Sutton church, into the village, then right along the line of houses.

28th March 2016.