Walking with; Nobody
Oxfordshire is not known for it’s hills. White Horse Hill, the highest point in the county comes in at 261 metres, not even as high as The Shard, and yet for all that there is some very pleasant walking to be had. In a week when national identity is high on the agenda, the pleasant rural villages of Oxfordshire seem to me to be almost the quintessence of England. Whereas tourists rush to the honeypots of the Cotswolds, here, just a few miles away in villages such as Combe thatched cottages and traditional inns sit dotted around a village green. Red phone boxes sit next to village pumps in the shadow of ancient churches and apple trees fringe fields of grazing ponies.
I started from Combe leaving “The Cock Inn” behind me and passing St. Laurence’s church made my way across fields and through high banked country lanes to the Combe Gate of the Blenheim estate. The estate is owned by the Marlborough family and is probably best known for being the birthplace and home of Winston Churchill. The palace is England’s largest stately home and sits in a 2000 acre landscaped park designed by Capability Brown. I began to make my way through the parkland stopping to admire the magnificent Oaks and the hundreds of Pheasants (bred for shooting). The Pheasants were everywhere and they are not birds that suit adolescence well, the clockwork movements and scruffy plumage giving them the air of discontented teens. I followed the western arm of the lake round to the aptly named Grand Bridge which afforded impressive views of the Palace and, in the opposite direction, The Column of Victory.
I took the long drive North from the column, it’s flanked by impressive avenues of Elm trees and must be over a mile in length, before turning off onto The OXfordshire Way. The Churchill family seem very aware of impressing ownership of the land upon the casual walker and I don’t think I have ever seen as many “Private” and “Keep out” signs, not even in Cheshire! I continued on across the estate farmland accompanied by a retinue of pheasants before eventually passing through the bottom of Wootton Woods and returning to the welcome sight of an open Cock Inn for a restorative pint.
Day two saw me heading off to more delightfully thatched cottages and immaculate gardens in the village of Cumnor. Leaving the village I traversed an enormous ploughed field which was being patrolled by a couple of soaring Red Kites, after a mile the field eventually ended and I was plunged onto a little used path cutting between stands of invasive Himalayan Balsam, nettles and brambles. I emerged scratched and stung in the tiny village of Besselsleigh and continued on through Besselsleigh Woods into Appleton where I sat in the churchyard and supplemented my lunch with handfuls of blackberries. It’s been a great Summer for wild food and as Autumn approaches the hedgerows of Oxfordshire were overflowing with blackberries, hawthorn berries, rosehips and cobnuts.
After visiting the Norman church, complete with the splendid funereal monument to John Fettiplace, an Elizabethan knight, it was across more fields to Eaton and then down towards the Thames. The ferry that once crossed the river to “The Ferryman Inn” no longer runs so it sat a tantalising distance across the reed fringed water. I turned my back on it and worked my way back to Cumnor across yet more fields. En route I came across a “physic well” fringed by trees and tucked away off the path, this (now) muddy, slightly neglected spring was once valued for it’s healing and restorative powers.
The two walks undertaken in Oxfordshire differ greatly from the type of walk we specialise in at Come walk with me UK and yet they seemed to me to sum up a lot of what visitors would perceive s Englishness. Country Inns, thatched houses, cricket clubs, hedgerows laden with fruit, all of these and much, much more made these walks I would be delighted to share in the future.
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