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"Last Chance (HS)To See"

Thirty years ago the construction of the M40 had an indelible impact upon the landscape of the area. There are so many times since that I wish I'd recorded the landscape before construction, if only to make it easier to convey the state of the area today.
Now HS2 is coming. This time, I am able to record the event.

"Last Chance" collection: Index Central Area North Area South Area Soundscapes About

This is quite likely to be your 'last chance' to see…

This map outlines the indexes that cover each section of the HS2 route. Click inside the green box to access each index:

regional map

For some time I'd been wondering about how to mark the arrival of HS2.

Thirty years ago I watched the construction of the M40 slowly gouge a channel through the landscape around Banbury. But, even after the initial scars had softened with the growth of new vegetation, the effects took time to perceive. Problem is, without having kept a 'record' the scene before, it was difficult to properly demonstrate the effects after.

In this section of the Banburyshire Rambles Photo-Journal I am going to collect together photographs along the route of HS2 before construction begins. These will, I hope, give a sense of what the landscape was like before, so that we may more accurately consider the impact after.

Over the last four decades my 'local' ramblings have taken me from the Chilterns up to the edge of Birmingham and Coventry. Coincidentally, the route of HS2.

That's also why, when I look at the map of the route, I have an idea of the impacts that HS2 might have upon the landscape – and where I should go to take some representative photographs to show that impact.

As I walk across this area I'll pick out a few representative scenes. Some will be large landscapes that the track will cut through. Others will be a close-up microcosm – a small unique piece of the countryside that will be irrevocably changed as a result of the construction project.

As that's such a large area I'll break the route down into three sections – North, Central and South. The map on the right shows the boundary of each area (click the box to access the index).

And please, if you like the look of these places, go and walk there! This is, after all, 'your last chance to see' before they are changed forever.


Numbered index to scenes:

  1. Trafford Bridge, Winter
    Standing next to the 'Edgcote Viaduct' at Trafford Bridge on a late Winter's day
    In a few years time, where I am standing now will be over-shadowed by the bed of the proposed HS2 'Edgcote Viaduct'. This is an ancient site, where the old Portway track from the Thames Valley to the East Midlands crosses a narrow point in the Cherwell Valley. The significance of this crossing also makes it the site of two historic battlefields.
  2. Danesmoor Battlefield, Edgcote
    A historic battlefield on the crossroads of British history
    It's ironic that one of the places you could go locally to find peace should be a nationally significant battleground – twice-over. Once during the 10th Century battles with the Danes that created a united Saxon England, and a second time during the 15th Century Wars of the Roses that created Tudor England.
  3. Danesmoor Valley
    A local beauty spot with a tranquil atmosphere is about to be 'degraded'
    This sheltered pocket of land between the parishes of Edgcote, Culworth and Thorpe Mandeville is a little-known local gem. It has great views, it is a good site for wildlife, and because of its isolation it is really quiet – a rare thing around here with all the major roads. That will end soon.
  4. Blackgrounds, Edgcote
    Sinking shin-deep into a spring on the edge of Edgcote
    Just beyond Edgcote Park there's one of our typical 'upwelling' springs in a small valley. Water just seems to bubble up from the ground, making it very boggy. Though some might have been turned into small ponds for livestock, many have been deliberately drained over recent years.
  5. Cubbington Woods
    Enjoying bluebells and the cacophony of bird song in the late Spring woodland
    If you carry on past the church, the pub and the school in Cuddington, beyond the children's playground you enter some fields, and then the broad expanse of Cubbington Woods – or rather the South wood, as the northern half lies beyond the Rugby Road. The woodlands are beautiful at any time of year, but today, in the latter-half of Spring, they are alive with birdsong. And in contrast to the light green leaf canopy above, the ground all around is a carpet of deep purple bluebells.
  6. The Leam Valley from Hunningham Hill
    Taking in the expanse of the Leam valley, from Lillington to Eathorpe
    The Millennium Way crosses the Leam at Hunningham bridge, then climbs the hillside towards the top of the hill where it meets the Fosse Way at the top of Hunningham Hill, and the long shady walk along Ridgeway Lane 5½ miles all the way to Ufton. Crossing the valley on a high embankment, HS2 will dominate the view to the west as it crosses the River Leam.
  7. Ridgeway Lane, North of Longhole Bridge
    One of the most beautiful cross-country routes in the Leamington area is about to be re-engineered
    Ridgeway Lane, running five-and-a-half miles between Hunnington Hill and Ufton, is an ancient trackway. Crossing the high ground on glacial sands and gravels, keeping the route dry (though muddy, due to its use by 4x4 vehicles), it is a nearly unbroken tree-lined lane and an important local wildlife corridor. It is a rare survivor in an area where intensive farming has progressively removed such features.
  8. Longhole Bridge and the Grand Union Canal
    A peaceful intersection for countryside recreation is about to get a noisy neighbour
    Longhole Bridge, on the Grand Union Canal's Warwick & Napton branch, is where the foot and cycle path from Warwick to Long Itchington meets the 'unclassified county road' of Ridgeway Lane. For those walking and cycling in the area it's a significant link which allows longer-distance travel in peaceful, uncluttered countryside.
  9. Ridgeway Lane, South of Longhole Bridge
    Admiring the late Spring trees of Long Itchington and Ufton Woods
    Ridgeway Land, running down from the Fosse Way, changes its character after Longhole Bridge on the Grand Union Canal. The thick hedges disappear, offering views across the countryside around – and on the rising slope to the south-east, the blanket of Long Itchington and Ufton Woods drapes over the hilltop and falls into the valley. HS2 will radically change the view as you climb the hill towards Ufton, crossing the valley and diving into the hillside in the heart of the woods.
  10. Halse Copse
    A cocphony of crows on the route of HS2
    Walking from Farthinghoe, Halse Copse is visible on the horizon across the valley at the source of the River Great Ouse. Crossing the ridgeline at Halse Water Tower, the whole expanse of the woodland, running downhill from the Radstone-Stutchbury bridleway, comes into view – with the route of HS2 running directly in the foreground.
  11. Radstone Bridleway (AX22)
    A viewpoint across the rolling hills of southwest Northamptonshire
    This scene is fairly representative of this corner of the county. The geology of South Northamptonshire has more in common with the Costwolds than North Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire – made of hard Blisworth or White Limestone. On top of that, however, sits a thick layer of glacial deposits – a mixture of fine silts and clays full of variously smooth and angular gravels, stones and cobbles. Hence why this corner of Northamptonshire, sitting between the Nene and Great Ouse valleys, is a fairly flat plateau coated in clayey soils with undulating valleys cut by small streams.
  12. Radstone Hamlet, North
    A view from the old byway to Halse and Stuchbury
    Crossing the countryside from the northwest, from either Halse or Greatworth and Stutchbury, the old byways bring you to Radstone. With the arrival of HS2 this level approach into the the hamlet along the ridgeline will be fundamentally transformed.
  13. Radstone Hamlet, South
    A view approaching Radstone from The Worlidge
    Leaving Brackley to walk to Radstone, avoiding the busy and narrow Radstone Road, the easiest route is via Halse Road and then The Worlidge green lane. That brings you to the point in the image above, looking into Radstone hamlet from the southwest.
  14. Radstone Water Meadows, West
    Remodelling the landscape to manage HS2's surface water
    One the key problems created by the massive scale of HS2's engineering, in particular the large surface area of its 'green cuttings', is the management of surface water (especially from sudden heavy rainfall events). This has to be controlled to prevent flooding at the drainage points from the route – Radstone being a prime example.
  15. Radstone Water Meadows, East
    Changing the surface ecology to east of HS2, perhaps for the better
    Changes to the landscape east of HS2 near Radstone could have a beneficial effect on biodiversity. What will determine that is the precise nature of those changes, which are not clear. What we are left with then are the evident changes to the biodiversity of the 'improved' grasslands of the water meadow, the effects of which will again depend upon the scheme put in place to manage surface water from the HS2 route.
  16. Kingsash from Cobblershill
    All change at the top of the Misbourne Valley
    Approaching Wendover Dean from the south the Misbourne valley flattens before it drops into the Aylesbury Vale at the Wendover gap. To traverse a small side valley running up to Kingsash HS2 passes from a cutting over a large viaduct and then back into a cutting once more. Due to the angle and location this will dominate the view up the valley, and especially from the opposite ridge line south of Cobblershill.
  17. Chiltern Tunnel Portal from Coneybank Wood
    Re-engineering the view across the (once) source of the River Misbourne
    From just north of Great Missenden the valley forks and a long ridge rises up – providing a wonderful walking route, through woodlands a lanes, all the way to the escarpment at Coombe Hill. Just over 100 feet above the valley floor, from Coneybank Wood you get a view up and down the valley. Opposite, you will get a view of where HS2 will emerge from the Chilterns Tunnel and follow a cutting along the opposite side the valley.
  18. Park Farm Footpath
    Viewing the groundworks for HS2 near Great Missenden
    The footpath to Park Farm leaves the dry bed of the River Misbourne, and via a convenient underpass, rises up the side of the valley towards the top of the ridge. I've come here today to make a photographic baseline of the area before construction…
    Too late! It's started!
  19. Chilterns Tunnel Portal, Frith Hill
    Enjoying the birdsong near Bury Farm at the end of the 'Chilterns Tunnel'
    Directly out of Great Missenden, walking up Frith Hill, the footpath eventually levels out and you arrive at a patch of woodland which covers some old earthworks. This is where HS2 emerges form the Chiltern Tunnel into a cutting on its route north. To 'protect' the earthworks and woodland, the small farm track around edge of the woodland marks the edge of the excavations for HS2.
  20. South of Wendover
    Looking down the route of HS2 at the Wendover Gap
    This isn't transquil location, beneath the pylons and next to the London Road. What it is is a very useful way into the woods and hills of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
  21. Bacombe Lane from Bacombe Hill
    Looking across the gap to Wendover Woods and Haddenham Hill
    The best view across the Wendover gap is from the hill above Wendover Woods, on the way over from Haddington Hill. The other is from the green lane that runs from Wendover up to Coombe Hill – pictured above and below.
  22. Coombe Hill-Aylesbury Panorama
    A bigger perspective on HS2 crossing Aylesbury Vale
    Coombe Hill is an excellent viewpoint across Aylesbury vale, and allows views: from Whitehorse Hill and the Lambourn Down in the west; across the hills around Oxford and the eastern Cotwolds in the north-west; Banburyshire and south Northamptonshire to the north; and to the north-east across north Buckinghamshire to the Greensand Ridge in Bedfordshire. It also gives a panoramic view of HS2 as it crosses Aylesbury vale from Wendover to Quainton.
  23. Featherbed Lane, Mixbury
    The unused Great Central line
    The now quiet Featherbed Lane once connected the village of Mixbury to its nearest station, Fulwell and Westbury, half-a-mile away on the Banbury to Verney Junction Branch Line. This bridge carries the lane over the route of the Great Central Railway. Now, in the field beyond the bridge, HS2 will pass in a shallow cutting.
  24. Mosseycorner Lane
    A beautiful green land is about to get a radical overhaul
    On today's walk this green lane connecting Mixbury and Westbury was a 'must see'. It's a beautiful, undulating lane that crosses not only the Great Ouse, but also many notable landscape boundaries which affect the character of it. The coming of HS2 will significantly change the landscape as it cuts first below the lane, and then dominates the scene to the west as it crosses the Great Ouse valley on a viaduct.
  25. Westbury West
    HS2 intrudes on the informal recreation spaces around the urban fringe
    This green lane is a somewhat less wholesome mirror of Mosseycorner Lane south-east of here. The location of Brackley Sewage Works near the bottom of the lane also detracts from the country scene somewhat.
  26. Turweston South
    Low intensity landscape changes
    Many of the sites selected for inclusion in this blog have been chosen because they represent a stark landscape intrusion. This site has been selected as a 'random' location that, theoretically, should present the opposite extreme; a barely perceptible intrusion.
  27. Turweston Green
    Ploughing through the last remains of the Medieval parish's field system
    Turweston is an ancient settlement that, for much of its history, had a system of open fields. These were inclosed relatively late, around 1813, and since then many of these features have been obliterated by ploughing. There is one clear example of this open field system left in the parish – HS2 will plough straight through the middle of it.