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Tuesday 13th November 2018

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Route: Kings Sutton Station, Walton Grounds, Rainsborough Camp, Charlton, Kings Sutton

Distance: 9.9km/6⅙ miles, 2½ hours

Ascension: 140 metres/460 feet

An Autumnal Trail to Rainsborough

Following golden tracks and fieldpaths to find 'deep time'

There are a few locations in this area where the noise and pressures of the modern day can, momentarily, be escaped. Places where the land exudes a stillness and timelessness – particularly around local standing stones and earthworks – that allow you to put the world into a bigger, slower, deeper perspective. Near to Banbury, Rainsborough Camp is one such place; and in the Autumn the walk and the views it gives are a tapestry of natural colour and texture.

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An unexpected visitor; son home from university, wanting 'Daddy food' and a countryside walk. With everything else thrown into chaos by all of this, I thought I might as well take a few hours off for something seasonal. Most of the options were too far. Given the early sunset now, others were too long. Then it occurred to me; Rainsborough. In the almost 40 years I've been wandering off there it's rarely disappointed.

Rush down to the station, get there with some time to spare, for the stopping train to London that calls first at Kings Sutton – for about the same cost as a cup of coffee at a station these days! It's only a few minutes to travel; the train barely reaches cruising speed before it begins to slow once more.

There are many eastward routes out of Kings Sutton station. Few to the west because there is no easy way across the River Cherwell and the Oxford Canal. Out of the station, then right-turn up the hill, and you can cut around the edge of the village to the routes south and south-east out across the fields.

Today, as it's just after lunch, we avoid the road; too many delivery vans and cars. Instead we head across the fields for a shorter, safer section of road that puts us on the track to Walton Grounds – where paths fan out in all directions. Around the farm, across the ford, and a left puts us on the bridleway to Rainsborough Camp.

Leaving Walton Grounds farm on the track to Rainsborough

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Well after two now, the sun is already beginning to drop in the sky. Copper-coloured oaks begin to flouresce as the reddening sunlight shifts the reflected colour spectrum; the red soils along the flanks of the valley begin to take on a warm glow too. It's about a 40 metre ascension from the farm – where you leave one emanation of the ancient Portway track – along field margins and ploughed land to the top of the ridge.

As you climb the view behind opens up. After its constriction above Kings Sutton, the Cherwell valley broadens as it is joined by the floodplains of the River Swere and Sor Brook – the land rising in ridges, lumps and bumps until it reaches the undulating skyline of recognisable hills – from Whichford Heath around to Shenlow Hill, over the undulating level of Edge Hill, to the hills around Farnborough, Boddington and Priors Marston.

Looking back over Walton Grounds across the Cherwell valley

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Eventually the squat mound of Rainsborough's earthworks come into sight. It's huge; covering an area of over 6 acres, and getting-on for half a mile in circumference. Though the northern half has been eroded by the movement of stock, the south end, along with its double ditch and wall is more well preserved, as well as offering the best views because it sits directly on the crest of the ridge.

We stop for a drink and a snack, seated in the tree roots of one of the great chestnuts, sheltered from the cool breeze by the scrub of hawthorn and dog rose.

The northern end of Rainsborough Camp under a new crescent moon

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"We have to move now or we'll miss that train", I say. Noises off; to the effect of, 'too comfortable to move'.

That's what I found then I came here all these years ago. This place, whatever the weather, has a relaxed feeling – a connectedness – about it.

In Autumn especially, perched-up here on the ridge, the view across the undulating landscape is a sea of orange, yellow and copper-gold. Even in the snow and frost though, open to the wind, it takes on a more mysterious role as the snow sculpts itself to the branches of trees and the banks and ditches of the ancient earthwork. Haw-frosts are even better, with the trees and grasses covered in big crystals of ice, refracting rainbows from the sunlight.

Eventually we move. The sun is heading for the horizon now, and the cloud massing from the west is mixing with the low angle red and orange light to accentuate the colours of the trees across the surface of the land.

Coming down the track into Charlton we pass the 'monkey tree'. It has a burr that looks a bit like a chimp.

Into the immaculate village, left by the 'Chelsea tractors' near the pub, and then out on the ridge-route footpath towards Kings Sutton.

This path is the other 'special' feature of this walk at this time of year. The setting sun aligns with the valley from Charlton down to Walton Grounds; and in the distance, where the glow of sunlight marks a sharp edge on the horizon, you see tree-covered ridges of first Irondown, and then Little Tew, with the slightly higher ground of Ditchley and Wychwood almost visible just beyond.

Time it right, and you can have a spectacular half-an-hour walking into the sunset, with just enough time to get down into the village and the railway station before the light goes.

There is one more excellent viewpoint though – just as you cross the ridge on the path down into Kings Sutton:

Panorama over Kings Sutton, Banbury and Cherwell Valley

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Time is advancing. The evening rush has started and we have to carefully weave down the road through the traffic to get to the station. A little further away, the M40's constant hiss has stiffened to a steam-horn roar as the volume of homeward-bound traffic increases. As we jog up and over the footbridge the train is approaching the platform. After it disgorges its complement of Oxford commuters, we dive on for the short ride home.