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:
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.

Summary for ‘The Portway’:

Location: Medieval or earlier trackway; Wallingford, Forest Hill, Islip, Kirtlington, Heyford, Charlton, Farthinghoe, Thorpe Mandeville, Preston Capes, Newnham, Borough Hill.

Type: ‘Ancient tracks & Lanes’.

Condition: Some well preserved sections, but mostly minor roads or B-roads.

Access: Much of the route is made-up of modern surfaced roads, with not a high amount of traffic, and connecting off-road sections are passable by bicycle in dry weather.

Walks posts for site: {none yet}

Discovered by various local historians of the late Nineteenth Century, The Portway follows the roughly north-north-east trending ridge that runs out of the Thames valley. From the east side of the Cherwell, it crosses into Northamptonshire, heading towards Borough Hill, the Iron Age site east of Daventry.

There is some discussion how much of The Portway is Roman. That’s because its route: In the south of Oxfordshire is tied up with the Icknield Way around Goring and Wallingford; the minor Roman road that ran from Dorchester across Otmoor to meet Akeman Street at Alchester, near Bicester; and around Banbury, with the route of Salt Way.

The route probably skirted Oxford, across Garsington Hill to Wheatley, and then along what is roughly the B4027 past Forest Hill towards Beckley. Around the Woodeaton area the route becomes indistinct, as there are a number of crossing points of the rivers Cherwell and Ray in this area.

Most likely The Portway crossed the River Ray at Islip, and continued along the east side of the Cherwell valley. The panorama below shows the route north-west from here, viewed from near the top of Beckley Hill (notable across Oxfordshire due to the prominent transmitter mast on top).

The route becomes clearer once again after Hampton Poyle, where the old route from Oxford crosses the Cherwell from Kidlington over the broad water meadows. At this point, or a little to the south-east of here, Oxford Lane diverges to the east; towards Brackley and Buckingham.

On the far side of Kirtlington the route along Aves Ditch might be another strand of The Portway route, of a later age. Forming the prominent trackway which crosses the Ploughley Hundred, it bypasses Souldern towards Croughton and Rainsborough Camp

Perhaps Roman, the route past what was once the US nuclear bomber base at Upper Heyford is clear. Defined as a broad way-leave between hedgerows, and running in a straight line apart from the dog-leg around the end of the runway, this section is a lovely walk as the ground rises gently to the north. The broad grassy track ends on the edge of an escarpment, overlooking the Cherwell valley, where the M40 cuts through the limestone slab and descends into the valley below.

Here the route becomes indistinct once more, possibly going towards Souldern along Foxhill Lane, before heading across the valley towards Charlton.

Beyond Souldern the route is lost once more. The modern-day main road is a Georgian turnpike, made at the end of the 18th Century, over-riding the historic rights-of-way. The straight line towards Aynhoe and Kings Sutton is likely a Roman route to where Salt Way crosses the Cherwell at Twyford Wharf.

From Souldern The Portway goes eastward towards Croughton and Rainsborough Camp – where it joins the other route that earlier diverged along Aves Ditch. It may be that Aves Ditch was the later Medieval route (and is certainly easier to walk), while the route along the Cherwell valley represented an earlier pre-Medieval, possibly Roman route.

Beyond Rainsborough the route is mostly surfaced minor roads; following the ridge-line between the catchments of the River Great Ouse and the River Cherwell, through Charlton and Farthinghoe (one of the sources of the Great Ouse).

At Charlton or Newbottle, the Medieval drove road of Welsh Lane diverged to the west, through Purston and Thenford, heading towards Southam and Kenilworth.

To the east Welsh Lane may have merged with Salt Way heading towards Finmere and Buckingham – crossing Thornborough Bridge, the oldest Medieval bridge in Buckinghamshire, on its way to intersect Watling Street for the road to London.

Beyond Cockley Hill the route is lost once more, and might have gone via Greatworth or Marston St. Lawrence. Beyond Marston Hill the route becomes clearer near Thorpe Mandeville, where it crosses Banbury Lane on its way to Northampton.

The Portway runs between Sulgrave and Culworth, then heads north on the west side of Moreton Pinkney, and climbs the hill between Canons Ashby and Eydon. The route is a little indistinct here until it gets to Preston Capes where it converges with Oxford Lane – which first diverged back at Kidlington.

Though the original trackway is lost on this last section, the modern road from Preston Capes through Newnham still shows signs of its age. Crossing over the ridge towards Borough Hill there are thick ancient hedgerows, and the occasional holloways on the hill-climbs.

Crossing the busy A45, the route is lost once more, and may have passed either side of Borough Hill, meeting Roman Watling Street a few miles on the other side. Beyond there it is lost within a number of ridge routes that cross the hills along the Leicestershire/Northamptonshire border.