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:
List of sites

This page gives a list of the sites in the Banburyshire Ancient Sites guide. They are also listed graphically in the sites map page.

The sites selected for inclusion are ‘old’ – which means Medieval or earlier. My next project is to develop a guide to more recent (post-Medieval) sites from Banburyshire’s social history. These will be listed in the new radical history section.

The sites are grouped according to their general type (use number as ‘hotkey’ to jump to that section – check other hotkeys here):

  1. Standing Stones & Circles;
  2. Barrows, Tumuli, & Earthworks;
  3. Camps & Settlements;
  4. ‘Other Features’; and
  5. Ancient tracks & Lanes.

The entries in each category are listed in alphabetical order by name.

1. Standing Stones, Circles, & Other Megaliths

Some years ago now, the starting point of this guide was walking the standing stones of North Oxfordshire. While our local pre-history ‘megaliths’ represent a spectacular link to our past, walking the stones can give access to a wider range of sites which convey a far better impression of the ancient local landscape than just visiting the stones alone. Hence while visiting these sites may be the goal of a journey, you will get a far greater reward by visiting more than just the sites in the list below.

The ancient standing stone kerbs around Churchill Churchyard
Churchill Churchyard’s Megaliths

Churchill Churchyard is an emblem of late Georgian prejudice. Built in 1826 (replacing the more ancient Saxon church which stands further down the hill) the tower dominates the landscape. But in a deliberate act of cultural supremacy, the churchyard is surrounded by stones robbed from a stone circle that stood in nearby Sarsgrove Woods, re-purposed as kerbstones and retaining walls.

A solitary standing stone hidden in a hedgerow
Churchill Standing Stone

This is an ‘Anomalous Megalith’, unremarked, buried in a hedgerow next to a road, seemingly at risk of damage each time the hedge is flailed. Its origins are unclear, as is its current status – as it doesn’t appear on the register of scheduled monuments.

Landscape image, ‘The Hawk Stone’
The Hawk Stone

For me, if there is one site that has to be ‘top of the list’, this is it. The Hawk Stone is the site I love to return to. It’s not just the stone itself; it’s the way it interacts with the location, and the landscape it sits within. It’s a very ‘special’ place to pause and take a break, irrespective of weather or time of year.

‘The Hoar Stone’ shines in a shaft of sunlight
The Hoar Stone

The Hoar Stone is ‘elusive’: I've known of people trying to find it and walk right by; I've known of people happening to pass there and seeing it by accident; sometimes its bathed in an eerie green light; sometimes, when the sun catches it through the small gap in the trees, it shines.

‘Kiddington Wayside Cross’ stands by the side of a rural road
Kiddington Wayside Cross

A roadside cross, probably 15th Century, a reminder that over the years the road priorities have changed. It pre-dates the nearby Ditchley Park, and leaves Kiddington Hall at the bottom of the hill in its shade. With the coming of the Woodstock & Rollright turnpike around 1800 – what is now the A44 – this route was sidelined.

‘Lyneham Long Barrow Portal Stone’ stands alone in a field
Lyneham Long Barrow Portal Stone

A large portal stone stands alone in the field, the scrubby mound beyond shrouding the earthwork of the long-barrow structure, the stones and chamber robbed for stone over the centuries. A strange location, alone at the fingertip of a promontory of land jutting out into the Evenlode Valley.

Landscape image, ‘Rollright Stone Circle and the Whispering Knights’
The Rollright Stones

‘The Rollright Stones’ are not a single feature. It is made up of three distinct sites which span 1,500 years of history. Set within a landscape which gives views over a wide area, it sits upon The Cotswold Ridgeway, spanning England from east to west; and very near to The Jurassic Way, running from Lincolnshire to Stonehenge.

Landscape image, The Rollright Stones, ‘The King’s Men’ stone circle
The King’s Men Circle

Frozen in their dance, ‘The King’s Men’ hold their circle amidst the trees. These ancient stones are almost certainly not arranged as they were laid out, though the location has lost none of its splendour.

Landscape image, The Rollright Stones, ‘The King Stone’ standing stone
The King Stone

Standing alone on the far side of the road, The King Stone enigmatically surveys the view, still unable to see Long Compton.

Landscape image, The Rollright Stones, ‘The Whispering Knights’ dolmen
The Whispering Knights

Across the field from the circle stand a small close group of stones; the knights ‘whispering’ their treachery against The King and his Men, cast out to the edge of the site.

Landscape image, ‘Sarsden Wayside Cross’ dolmen
Sarsden Wayside Cross

Seemingly a backwater today, Sarsden Cross sits at what a few centuries ago would have been a significant local crossroads. Probably restored from its original form, in keeping with the nearby 17th Century manor house, it still makes a lovely spot to sit and have a break after the climb up into Sarsden.

Landscape image, ‘Thor’s Stone and Taston Wayside Cross’
Thor’s Stone & Taston Wayside Cross

They are a strange pair: A large megalith protruding from a retaining wall; and a weathered, battered old stepped stone cross in the middle of the road. Millennia separate their construction, though in the modern-day both seem to be monuments from worlds unrelated to our own.

2. Barrows, Tumuli, & Earthworks

This section covers ancient earthworks which are not ‘forts’ or ‘camps’. Their condition varies, and of all our local ancient sites they are – despite their technical legal protection as ‘scheduled ancient monuments’ – the most endangered by modern agriculture and land management. Many have been lost to the plough in the last few decades.

Landscape image, ‘Besbury Lane Bowl Barrow’
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.

Landscape image, ‘Lyneham Long Barrow’
Lyneham Long Barrow

A large portal stone stands alone in the field, the scrubby path beyond shrouding the earthwork of the long-barrow structure, the stones and chamber robbed for stone over the centuries. A strange location, alone at the fingertip of a promentary of land jutting out into the Evenlode Valley.

Landscape image, ‘Wyck Beacon Barrow’
Wyck Beacon Barrow

What is special about this site is not so much the well preserved small tumulus, but it’s spectacular location at the top of a high hill, giving views across the Cotswolds to other significant ancient landscapes such as Crickley Hill and Condicote. In clear frost, or misty cloud, it always has a different perspective to offer.

3. Camps & Settlements

Though modern historians have called them ‘forts’ or ‘camps’, ancient local settlements – primarily from the Iron Age/Celtic era – offer a view of the landscape as the ancient dwellers of this landscape would have seen it; when the land was far less populous than today.

Landscape image, ‘The sun shines on Madmarston Hill Iron Age settlement’
Castle Bank

The remains of a large, ancient enclosure sit above a large groups of springs in a local hidden valley. Though not well preserved, it’s a lovely location to pause and take-in the surrounding landscape.

Landscape image, ‘The sun shines on Madmarston Hill Iron Age settlement’
Madmarston Hill

A major Celtic settlement, later overthrown by the Romans and translocated to the vale below. Today Madmarston Hill is a prime example of the slow destruction of our ancient monuments by agriculture, and portends a greater fate for us all.

Landscape image, ‘A frosty dawn at Rainsborough Camp Iron Age settlement’
Rainsborough Camp

Straddling the top of a 145 metre/476 foot ridge-line, Rainsborough Camp is one of the best spots to take in the local landscape. It’s an early Iron Age double-walled hill fort, in size on a par with many of the more famous sites along The Ridgeway in South Oxfordshire. Rainsborough also sits alongside an ancient trackway – The Portway

Landscape image, ‘Banbury Lane and the road through Tadmarton Camp Iron Age settlement’
Tadmarton Camp

Tadmarton Camp is a 165-metre diameter, circular, double walled Iron Age hill fort, sitting at the location where a number of trackways converge at the top of the ridge. Eroded by time, and the golf course to the south, the best place to see it is the bridlepath that runs around the north side towards Tadmarton.

Landscape image, ‘The Roundabout Iron Age settlement’
The Roundabout

A single-walled Iron Age hill fort, ravaged by time – its ditch filled in by recent agriculture, its southern flank quarried for stone. Not a grand site, but a well-located one, 196 metres/643 feet up on a hilltop with views over the Evenlode Valley, and where a number of ancient paths meet.

4. Other Features

This section contains a miscellanea of features that don’t fit into the general description of ‘ancient sites’. Some may be Roman or Saxon rather than ‘pre-history’ sites; others are more recent sites that are still remarkable features in the landscape.

Landscape image, ‘Arbury Hill and the source of the River Nene’
Arbury Hill

Arbury Hill is a curiously auspicious location: It’s one of the highest points in The Irondowns, and is the ‘county top’ of (what was) Northamptonshire; it sits at the central watershed of the South Midlands, near the line of a number of ancient green lanes, and is the boundary of three local parishes; and, unfortunately, it’s one of the most interesting but inaccessible hills in the area.

Landscape image, ‘A misty Crouch Hill and the dawn’
Crouch Hill

Crouch Hill is a popular informal space for walking and taking-in the view on the edge of Banbury. From around the flanks and from the modern concrete monolith of the trig point at its summit, the hill is a wonderful viewpoint over the local landscape for up to thirty miles. What many people do not realise is that the summit of Crouch Hill is quite possibly not natural.

Landscape image, ‘North Leigh Roman Villa’
North Leigh Roman Villa

In the middle of a meander of the River Evenlode, just south of where Akeman Street crosses the valley, North Leigh is the remains of a small 2nd to 4th Century Roman villa, built on top of an earlier Iron Age farmstead which occupied the site. An English Heritage site with public access, its a wonderful stopping off point for walks along the Evenlode valley.

5. Ancient tracks & Lanes

The emphasis in this guide is that sites should, wherever possible, be walked to. What adds to that sense of their place in the landscape is following the routes that ancient peoples would have taken, as it better conveys their ‘place’ in the landscape today. Irrespective of specific ancient sites, walking local ancient/old trackways, and seeing how they fit into the landscape, gives a greater appreciation of the countryside in this area.

Landscape image, ‘Akeman Street and the River Evenlode’
Akeman Street

A major Roman military road from St. Albans to Cirencester, Akeman Street crosses along the southern edge of North Oxfordshire from the edge of Bicester to Asthall – with much of that route made-up of off-road or minor road sections across rolling countryside. It avoids most pre-Roman sites, and between Tackley and Stonesfield the raised route of the road can be seen at points as it crosses open fields.

Landscape image, ‘Banbury Lane climbs Thenford Hill’
Banbury Lane

A Medieval and possibly pre-historic route, Banbury Lane traces a straight-ish north-east/south-west route following the form of the landscape through Northamptonshire, to the crossing of the Cherwell in Banbury, and then off towards Whichford Heath, The Rollright Stones, and The Cotswold Ridgeway beyond.

Landscape image, ‘Ditchedge Lane and the Jurassic Way’
The Jurassic Way

The Jurassic Way is a putative ancient north-east to south-west route following the escarpment of the Jurassic hills, from Lincolnshire down into Wiltshire. Locally it is a route which defines county boundaries and links many local historic sites. Arguably not a single road, its route is defined by local hills and valleys as a ‘corridor’ of routes all heading in a similar direction.

Landscape image, ‘The Portway climbs over Newnham Hill’
The Portway

Possibly Dark Age or Early Medieval in origin, The Portway runs from the crossing of the Thames at Wallingford, past Oxford, north on the east bank of the Cherwell into Northamptonshire. Though some sections are indistinct, many parts still retain their wide way-leave between hedgerows, with holloways on some of the steeper hill climbs.

Landscape image, ‘A frosty Salt Way and Madmarston Hill’
Salt Way

The brine of Droitwich (called Salinae, or Salt Works by the Romans) may have been used from the Iron Age, but it was the Romans who industrialised the process – which continued operating until the 19th Century. Salt Way started as a minor Roman route to take that salt to the Roman towns of the South Midlands, and on down to the Chilterns; and its use as a regional road carried on into Medieval times.

Landscape image, ‘Welsh Lane crosses Danes Moor’
Welsh Lane

Welsh Lane, or Welsh Road, was a set of Medieval or earlier tracks that intersected with The Portway and Salt Way, connecting north-west towards Coventry and Kenilworth and south-east to Buckingham and Aylesbury. It was a ‘drove road’ that paralleled Watling Street, used to drive animals cross-country, connecting the Medieval towns of the South East to North Wales.