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:
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 (the ‘agger’) can be seen at points as it crosses open fields.

Summary for ‘Akeman Street’:

Location: Roman road, St. Albans, Berkhampstead, Bicester, Kirtlington, Stonesfield, Asthall, Cirencester.

Type: ‘Ancient tracks & Lanes’.

Condition: Some of the best preserved sections not surfaced as modern roads are in North Oxfordshire; can be very muddy in places when wet.

Access: Mostly public footpaths.

Further information: Wikipedia.

Walks posts for site: {none yet}

It’s perhaps a sign of how times change that what was once one of the principal routes of Roman Britain, is today a route that allows you to get away from ‘civilisation’ into the open countryside.

At the Bicester end it’s rather noisy, due to the M40 and A34. The road section past Weston-on-the-Green is a fast rat-run. This is most easily accessible from the rail stations at Bicester and Islip, or the S5 bus service at Wendlebury.

Once you head west ‘off-road’ beyond Kirtlington, though, it's a very interesting linear walk through the landscape. The most accessible route via public transport is from the railway station at Tackley to Hanborough or Charlbury (as Combe and Finstock stations are effectively closed).

It’s also possible to access the route via the S4 bus service at Sturdy’s Castle. From there it’s possible to follow the route in either direction. This area also has some wonderfully preserved old byways, connecting the Dorn and Glyme valleys to Wootton, Woodstock and Rousham.

After crossing the River Evenload, on the south side of the route you will find North Leigh Roman Villa. It’s worth a visit, if only because the footpath that passes it to re-cross the river is one of the easiest ways back towards Combe and Hanborough.

Beyond Stonesfield the route is less well defined, ending abruptly on the edge of Crawley parish. On public transport the best option is the 233 bus service. From Hanborough or Charlbury you can follow the Roman route to Minster Lovell (also giving access to the ethereal ruin of the hall), or Burford. Then take the 233 bus back to Hanborough station.

Where the route ends between Crawley and Field Assarts, the minor roads to the north of the Windrush are walkable. The most pleasant route is to head down towards Crawley, and then pick-up the field paths along the River Windrush – though in Winter these are often muddy and/or flooded.

One of the most notable sections of this route is through Blenheim, most easily accessed from the S3 bus service. From the busy A44 at the ‘First Wootton Turn’ stop, diving through the scrub at the side of the road you come to a large wooden door in the wall. Passing through you enter the park.

The Roman road crosses the main driveway from Ditchley to the palace. Here the Roman road carries straight on towards Stonesfield and the crossing of the River Evenlode – where you can turn upstream towards Charlbury or downstream to Combe and Hanborough.

One of the best routes to Hanborough station, though, is to leave the Roman road at the main drive. Walk down the drive towards the palace, turn right around the main lake, full of waterfowl during the Winter months, and up to the beautiful woodlands of the ‘High Park’. This leaves the park at Combe Gate, where you can follow the road past Combe station, then across the river and left along the trackway into Hanborough. Entering Hanborough there’s a good view up the twists of the Evenlode valley, with a bench to sit and view it from.

If Akeman Street is representative of anything, it is that, like sheep, humans are creatures of habit. After almost 2,000 years, the route of the road persists, yet all around it the world has changed – to the condition in which we find it today.