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Circular walks (continued)

Day 8 Chastleton/ Upper Oddington

We thoroughly enjoyed our day off yesterday and felt the better for it. We went to a lovely socially distanced service in the churchyard of Swinbrook Church and then a delicious lunch cooked by our son-in-law John in their home at Christ Church. Then we had an unexpected visit from a good friend from London for tea. A perfect rest day.

Today we are joined by 4 others, a couple of ladies on their own, Mary and Jennifer and our good friends Andrew and Sue and their 2 dogs. Sue is the Chairperson of CEF Trustees and a wonderful support she has been during this difficult time as we had to radically change the way we ran the foodbank to keep safe both our volunteers and the people who come for food. I would like to pay a particular tribute to the CEF Trustees who have worked ceaselessly, continually having to reorganise the day to day running of our service, which has included having to make more changes while I have been away in the last 10 days.

It is another lovely day. Not a cloud in the sky and the temperature is reported to be rising to 27 degrees. We park our car beside Chastleton Church, where Sue's parents are buried and next to Chastleton House, a fine Jacobean Manor House now owned by the National Trust. After climbing a steep hill out of the village, we walk well all morning in open countryside enjoying the views. The dogs have a field day rushing about. Luckily there are enough puddles and streams to keep them cool. We pass through the immaculately kept Daylesford Estate, with its rolling parkland, beautifully manicured paths and what looks like a flourishing stud farm. We pass the well-known farm shop and restaurant of Daylesford, well supported by the well-heeled residents of Gloucestershire and beyond. Business seems to be thriving again!

Over the railway line and river, a chance for a swim for the dogs. On into Upper Oddington and a much-needed rest at the pub. It's tiring walking in the heat. Mary and her little dog leave us here. Our trip back to Chastleton is uneventful apart from a slight detour so as not to have to walk through a number of fields of horses. Another enjoyable day.

Day 9 Bourton on the Water/ Naunton

Today we meet up with 3 walkers, Christopher, Dicky and Richard, brother and sister plus husband. We hear with amazement that Dicky has already completed an hours bike ride with a friend this morning. We are going to have to be on our metal to keep up. Our good friend David, who lives in the village, waves us off. He is hoping to join us later in the week. Bourton is already bustling with tourists as we walk down the high street, through a churchyard, with rather a strange church, which appears to have a pretty Norman front and then a rather ugly Victorian tower which somehow does not blend into the rest of the building. We are soon-out of the village along a pretty woodland beside a stream, and after a short walk, we arrive in Lower Slaughter. I have never visited here before, but it must be one of the most picturesque of the Cotswold villages Every house and cottage a little gem with the stream and footbridges adding to ones romantic imagination of 17th Century village life. Unfortunately, my sat nav plays up as we leave the village and I inadvertently take a wrong turn up a very steep hill and only realise my mistake halfway up, so there is a very disgruntled Tom as we retrace our steps. The route we should have been on takes us through beautiful meadows. In one field there is the charming sight of three mares with their foals, two of them flat out sunbathing. We cross the stream into Upper Slaughter. Perhaps not quite as picturesque as Lower Slaughter but still pretty.

We now turn west and make our way to another lovely village which one senses is not on the tourist trail. It has an excellent pub, The Black Horse. There is a well-known racing yard nearby, and we meet a couple of jockeys, one of whom was the nephew of one of our walking companions. We are met by a dear man called Ralph who had driven his motorbike all the way from Monmouthshire, as a ZANE supporter bringing his ZANE banner which he uses to fundraise locally.

Our journey back to Bourton was following the River Windrush. I imagined we would be wandering along the valley beside the river but unfortunately not. Our route takes us through the forest above, with lots of undulating paths, a bit of a strain on tired and hot bodies, although nice to be in the cool of the forest canopy. Away from the wood, we walk across rough grass fields, and I am thrilled to find field mushrooms which we very much enjoyed eating for breakfast.

We arrive back in Bourton by 5pm.

Day 10 Bewitched Otmoor

Today we are walking the rather desolate and mysterious landscape of Otmoor to the East of Oxford. A canvas of fields and hedgerows that seems to have been bypassed by the rest of the country. A curious ghostly stillness pervades the wilderness, which has been described by various writers romantically as 'the forgotten Otmoor ', 'bewitched Otmoor' and 'sleeping Otmoor' cast under the spell of ancient magic.

We meet up with a number of fellow walker at Charlton-on-Otmoor, many who know the area well so hopefully this will not be a day that we get lost! The countryside is flat, having been marshland until it was drained in 1820 for farming, heavily resisted by the local inhabitants at the time, including riots in Oxford where the inhabitants took the side of the locals. Lewis Carroll was supposedly inspired by the view of the primitive 4,000-acre landscape to write about the giant chessboard in. Alice Through the Looking Glass. John Buchan also wrote about it in detail in his novel 'The Blanket of the Dark'. Many of the tracks we take are along wide pathways with ditches on either side - apparently an ornithologists and butterfly specialists' heaven. We cross the new Oxford Marylebone line on a number of occasions, the first time having to find our way to a new bridge as the right of way has been closed by the new railway.

We walk into the attractive village of Islip and are surprised to find both the pubs are closed because of COVID. We have a pleasant picnic sitting on a wall under a beautiful oak tree outside the large parish church in the sunshine. Our afternoon walk is along similar lines. The RSBP apparently owns a large section of this area and have allowed many of the drainage ditches to revert back to marshland to encourage the birds and other wildlife. We walk through the tiny hamlet of Noke and are met by my good friend Mary and her husband Allan, who have driven out from Oxford to wish us well. Along more lanes, we are furious as we are confronted by an official metal kissing gate tied up by a cable tie. With great difficulty, Tom and I manage to climb over it, and then one of our companions give the gate a push, and it opens, much to the amusement of everyone else.

Further along, we are stopped from continuing on our prescribed path by a barrier which is lowered when the military rifle range is in use. We can hear the shooting in the distance. The detour takes us back to our start point rather sooner than planned.

Day 11 Leafield/Finstock

We approach Leafield down a very narrow lane with an incredibly poor surface, and we are amazed that this is the direct route to this village from the main road. We meet up with Josey, her daughter and niece. Josey lives in the village, so we are off to a good start. According to her, Leafield used to be in the middle of the Wychwood Forest with no metal roads leading to it. It was considered by the other locals to be a lawless place, much looked down upon by its neighbours. It's not clear when this part of the Forest was removed and farming took over. Wychwood Forest now sits north of the village, and we won't be walking in it today.

Much of today's walk is along wide tree-lined grass tracks hemmed in by old stone walls which I imagine were the old routes into the village in the forest. We cross the Witney to Charlbury road, which is closed due to a serious car accident, and there are 2 ambulances at the scene. We send up an arrow prayer for those involved. We walk through an ancient woodland, once part of Wychwood Forest and pass the Lady Well which according to folk law is where the local women came to perform fertility rights. The path takes us to the door of the Plough at Finstock, where we are warmly welcomed by the publican. Here we are met by our good friend David who is walking with us this afternoon.

Refreshed from our break the route back to Leafield is straight forward down the Roman Road now called the Wychwood Way. It is certainly very straight! The only quibble we had was as we arrived near Leafield, the local farmer had recently ploughed up the right of way making walking difficult, particularly for hot, tired legs.

Day 12 Chadlington /Churchill

Another glorious day although a bit colder due to a keen wind at the start. We are 8 walkers today, so Charles and Angela, who have walked 4 days with us previously have agreed to leave earlier and be our trailblazers. They have very kindly been gathering sponsors for their walks on our behalf. I realise this morning that we must now have walked well over 100 miles since the start as we only have 4 more walks to do and they have all been about 10 miles long. We walk up old grass lanes and spy to our left a huge new house which according to one of our walkers belongs to, and was built by, Jeremy Clarkson. Quite a pile for a new build but I have to admit it has a stunning view but rather exposed at the moment. Hopefully, he has planted trees to soften it a bit. At least it is in Cotswold stone, so it blends in quite well. We walk along the ridge above the house, and on this amazingly clear day, we can see for miles. This is not hilly countryside like some of the places we have recently walked, but the gently undulating landscape provides us with huge vistas in all directions.

We see the tower of All Saints Church in Churchill standing on a hill long before we reach the village of Churchill. It's imposing tower is a scaled-down version of Magdalen College, Oxford. As the choristers of that famous establishment sing from their tower at dawn every May Day, so too does the choir of All Saints! The church was built in 1826 by James Langston, a mover and shaker in the village at the time. We admire the impressive gargoyles at the top of the tower. I am not sure if these too are a replica of Magdalen College. We stop and have the best lunch of the trip at the Chequers Inn. Fantastic food in pleasant surroundings.

We set off again in high spirits and walk through the Sarsden Estate, a large beautifully kept privately owned establishment, the house unfortunately not visible from our path. At the end of Estate is a recently cleared wooded area with a number of headstones to dogs and an imposing stone seat dedicated to a previous owner of the land in 1870 who enjoyed the view which we could enjoy today. We mused that this landscape must have been the same for hundreds of years, not a road or electric pilon in sight. We end our walk down another very straight lane, probably a Roman Road, back to our start point at Chadlington.

Day 13 Stonesfield/ Finstock

Today we are getting to be walking in more familiar territory for us. Stonesfield is well known to us, partly because of walks we have done from here and partly because the excellent garage we use is in the village. Today we are joined by our daughter Clare, our son-in-law John, who organises all the routes and puts them on the satnav and their good friend Alannah. With them is their little cockerpoo Layla, Moses's best friend, so their greeting is chaotic and very noisy Also our friend Jane, who joined us earlier in the week, is with us again which is a joy.

Stonesfield is best known for the famous Jurassic slate quarries extracted from the landscape around and unique to this part of the country. It was of very high quality. As well as being used for roofing many local houses in Oxfordshire, it was also used by most Oxford Colleges.

We start our walk through a beech wood leading down to the Evenlode river. A popular swimming and picnic place for locals, and much loved by our dogs, who love to swim there after sticks. After their swim, we set off through rough pasture, much used by dog walkers and eventually cross the railway line and the river and walk into the village of Finstock. We were there 2 days ago, and we enjoy another good lunch at the Plough Inn, warmly welcomed by the publican. We will be there again tomorrow.

Our afternoon walk is through some beautiful mixed woodland, much of it along the side of the Evenlode river. The effect of the slate quarrying can be detected on the bank opposite our path, now covered by grass but the lines of quarried stone still visible. Apparently, the last mine was closed before the First World War. We arrive back at the swimming place and walk up the very narrow and steep rocky path back to the village. On our left is a well-maintained conservation area providing some interesting plants including some rare orchids earlier in the year.

Another lovely day of walking with good company.

Day 13 Charlbury/ Finstock

Today we start in one of my favourite small towns, Charlbury This very attractive village of lovely Cotswold stone houses by the side of the Evenlode looking over the Cornbury Park to Cornbury House is a quintessentially English town. We meet our fellow walkers at the station car park. Today we have two of our ZANE Trustees, also Tim and his 2 boys aged 7 and 9 the youngest doing the first half of the walk and swapping with his older brother at lunch. We stayed with Tim and his wife 2 years ago on our walk from Eastbourne to Oxford. The boys fell in love with Moses then, and they were excited to see him again and apparently have talked about him ever since. The pressure on their parents to get a similar dog is running high after today as Moses comes up trumps for them again. I promise to see if I can track down Moses's breeders to see if they are still having puppies. Loyal Charles and Angela join us again and set off early again so as not to be over 6 walking together.

Another lovely day we walk along a lane above the Evenlode river, through the tiny hamlet of Walcot which apparently was much larger in its hey-day. We eventually walk into the largest section of Wychwood Forest. The Forest was a royal hunting ground, a place where deer were preserved for the Kings use. A status symbol for the Norman monarchy. We have a glorious walk along wide grassy rides surrounded by beautifully preserved mature deciduous and evergreen trees. One can imagine the royal hunting parties galloping along these wide tracks. We glimpse some of the man-made lakes by Cornbury House and a touching burial chamber looking over the nearest lake which was erected after the death of a disabled son of the then Earl of Danby. Out of the forest, we walk along a wide track to Finstock and another lunch at the Plough Inn. They are getting to know us well.

Off again into the business park, all part of the Cornbury Estate, past the well-stocked trout fishing lakes seen earlier, where we bump into Andrew who had walked with us on Monday, back from fishing with his grandson. We then pass along the side of a huge deer park, teaming with very attractive Silka and Fallow deer. The footpath takes us around the side of the 2 imposing lodges leading to Cornbury House which can be seen from a distance up a long straight drive. We cross the Evenlode river back into Charlbury. We pass the beautiful Georgian house belonging to the Duke of Marlborough which can be glimpsed through the yew trees on the side of the road and then back to our cars at the station and fond farewells to our friends.

Day 14 Stonesfield/Combe/ Blenheim

We have finally reached our last walking day and have a sense of euphoria mixed with sadness as it has been a surprisingly happy two weeks, meeting up with old friends and making new ones. Charles and Angela join us for the last walk with us. Charles has completed 9 walks, and Angela 7, which is a brilliant effort and Charles has been a helpful map reader, especially the first week when my Satnav and I were having some issues. David joins us too, having left Paddington at 6.30 in the morning and after a nightmare journey when buses and trains did not coincide as planned, he finally arrived by taxi from Woodstock bang on 9.30.

This is a walk familiar to us having completed it on a number of occasions over the years. We walk down the steep path to the river which we walked up on Friday, over the river this time heading to the well preserved 2nd Century Roman Villa in North Leigh. As well as visible foundations of some of this substantial dwelling, there is also a building containing a well preserved mosaic floor. This dwelling was occupied until the 5th Century. Today we have not the time to linger here, and we continue on under the railway line over another wooden bridge over the Evenlode into the village of Coombe. The centre of the village has a large green, including a cricket pitch and open grassland. At the end of the village, we are intrigued by a little thatched cottage which has been recently extended to more than twice its size by adding a huge glass-roofed room as well as a large building extension. We are amazed by how they got planning permission. Off the road, we walk over to the Blenheim Estate exterior wall climbing a ladder into the park. This is a stunningly beautiful area of old woodland dispersed by wide lush grass rides similar to those we walked down yesterday in Cornbury Estate. Blenheim had also once been a Royal hunting ground, the land extending from its present location as far as Swindon. The current park was designed by Capability Brown in the 18th Century for the first Duke of Marlborough after winning the Battle of Blenheim.

We walk down the north drive to the gate and look back at the fine view of the imposing Column of Victory with the Duke's image on top. This part of the park is full of sheep, most of whom seem to have chosen to defecate on the tarmac making walking a touch hazardous.

Out of the gate we walk to the Duke of Marlborough pub for lunch.

After lunch, we return to the park and join the Akeman Street Roman Road, which takes us back over the wall and back to Stonesfield in a very straight line. Moses enjoys a final swim chasing sticks in competition with a three-legged Labrador. The Labrador wins most of the time despite his disability!

Back up the steep path to the village, a good final day!

We are both feeling a sense of loss that it is all over, as well as a big sense of relief that we have done it!

You can read Tom’s much fuller Blog on www.zane.uk.com


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