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:
Besbury Lane Bowl Barrow

Though marked on the map as a 'tumulus', this bowl barrow presents a completely different profile to other local sites – literally a large rounded heap of earth like an upturned bowl. Albeit this has seen better days, eroded by rabbits and badgers over the years, it presents a mysterious presence as you pass down the lane.

Summary for ‘Besbury Lane Bowl Barrow’:

Location: Churchill, Oxfordshire

Type: ‘Barrows, Tumuli, & Earthworks’.

Condition: Fairly intact, eroded slightly.

Access: Next to public footpath along Besbury Lane.

OS Grid Ref.: SP295250

Further information: Heritage England

Walks posts for site:
    • The Anomalous Megalith.

If there were not old trees growing from it, with older stumps within it, you might mistake this for a heap of recently excavated spoil. Not least because of the dung-heap next to it (which seems to spontaneously combust, adding an ethereal if smelly haze of smoke across the scene). Erected on this high ridge, with views across the surrounding landscape, this site is an ancient tomb for the early farmers who once lived here.

Besbury Lane barrow represents a mid-point between the long barrows of the New Stone Age – such as the one at Lyneham just south of here. And the more widespread round barrows of the Bronze and Iron Age – that are seen on the ridge above Lidstone to the east.

Though not ‘impressive’ as such, unlike the better preserved bowl barrows in areas like Scotland or the North Wessex Downs, it’s on a par with similar bowl barrows that can be seen around southern England – for example, near Avebury.

As the Heritage England listing for the site notes, it's been reduced in size over the years by agriculture. At some point they wrapped the barrow in wire mesh to keep the rabbits and badgers out. But as the ground beneath was eroded, presumably by water and/or the feet of livestock, the wire has become exposed over large areas of the surface.

Bowl barrows (sometimes called 'tumps') were built from the Late Neolithic into the Bronze Age, roughly 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. This places the Besbury Lane barrow around the middle of the period over which local sites were constructed. Quite possibly it was associated with the stone circle reputedly in Sarsgrove Woods (at the bottom of the hill) – since relocated to Churchill Churchyard.

The site is easily accessible on foot, coming from either Churchill or Chipping Norton. Though not spectacular, the ridge-route does give lovely views over the Evenlode valley, and so it is worth a small diversion to see the site.