Banburyshire Rambles Photo-Journal:

Start again…

Time to get out while the opportunity presents itself. We could all be locked down again soon! Out early for comets and sunrises, I plan a long-haul route back to backpacking.

Sunday 12th July 2020
Route: Banbury, Southam Road, Hardwick Hill, Little Bourton, Great Bourton, Hanwell, Dukes Meadow, Banbury.
Metrics: Distance, 15.2km/9½ miles; ascension 180m/590ft; duration, 3⅓ hours.

Go to the Banburyshire Rambles Photo-Journal main index

Out early, well before dawn – avoiding the complications of social distancing as you never see anyone! I went out the other morning to see Comet Neowise but didn’t take a camera. I thought I would try again today, leaving a little earlier to capture the comet and other planetary bodies before dusk transitioned into dawn. How apt, in these troubled times, that a comet should be discovered a few days after lockdown started, and be visible during all this time.

Straight up Hardwick Hill (yes, ‘Hardwick Estate’ is built upon Pinhill, but the new ‘Hanwell View’ Estate, from which it’s impossible to see Hanwell, is built upon Hardwick Hill – such is the logical nomenclature of housing development). North of the town is by far the easiest way to go if you want to quickly reach the darkest skies for viewing the night sky.

Behind me, above the lights of the town, the bright almost visible disc of Jupiter hangs a little above the horizon; to its left, the dimmer bright point of Saturn. Just rising above the north-east horizon, like a bright lantern or headlight on the ridge above Wardington, is Venus. Though, oddly when you look at it, not a disc – it currently being at half phase, like the first quarter moon.

To my dismay, right where the comet should be on the horizon to the north-north-east, a bank of cloud is draped across the hilltops.

The air is windless, cold and still. Almost a chill that seeps in to tell you that the solstice has passed and now the days are growing shorter. To my right in the flat floor of the Cherwell valley the cold air is subsiding down the flanks of the hillsides and collecting as a puddle at the bottom – creating a temperature inversion within which a mist is rising, scattering the early light of the dawn and seeming to glow like the eerie fog in the eponymous John Carpenter film:

Panorama from north to east from Little Bourton

Use the slider to move the view from side to side
Load a map of this location

I pause on the back lane between Little and Great Bourton, perusing the almost-dawn with a drink and a scone. It’s quiet. Though the noise level has been growing in the past few weeks as lockdown has been released, being Sunday morning it’s back down to a minimal level.

Feeling I’ve gawked too long at hills that I’d really like to be walking over right now, I pack and continue; along the lane and left across the field towards the main road junction with the road to Hanwell. As I reach the high point, walking down the empty roadway, the sun rises to my right over Appletree and Redhill.

Hanwell was technically the ‘first place’ I walked to. Aged around nine or ten, but having an instinct for map-reading, one day I walked out from the town to visit my grandparents in Hanwell: Commotion; Tea and cake; Phone calls; Parents come to retrieve.

By the third or fourth repetition the retrieval part of that list never materialised, and so I walked home again too.

Within a few years I started to walk, cycle, and backpack and camp, all over the place.

Descending the hill, across the motorway to the valley floor, the sun sets behind me. I walk, almost like entering a cool pool, into the temperature inversion at the foot of the hill – with wisps of mist flowing, on the stream of cold air gently flowing downhill towards the town, across the floor of the valley. Climbing the other side towards the village the sun rises again, warm, on my back.

Today though I decide to avoid the village, and instead take a left and head via the more direct route around Hanwell Park – what was once the grounds and fishponds of the ‘castle’. Though it doesn’t give the great views of the Medieval ridge road from the village (the current ‘Warwick Road’ is a Victorian turnpike route) coming this way passes the ancient woodland around the fishponds – which this morning are a cacophony of birdsong.

Climbing the winding fieldpath up the hill on the other side I turn to take in the view up the valley towards Mollington and Farnborough:

Panorama from north to east from above Hanwell Park

Use the slider to move the view from side to side
Click here to load a map of this location.

Coming back here is almost like a return to the beginning; a remembrance and also a continuation of that trend. I’d planned a couple of interesting backpacks for this year – after last year’s lovely effort. By February, walking longer distances with heavier weights, I was well on track for that. Those ideas were shelved with the lockdown. I’ll just have to do it all again next year (given we’ll likely be locked down again for the second wave in the Autumn).

For now, we just have to focus on the intricacies of the weeks ahead.

I reach the ancient ridge route at the edge of the new housing development and follow to the “Northern Guardian” – the huge old ash tree that sits atop the ridge by the footpath, visible from across the town, with its 180° view from Warmington Hill in the north to Newbottle and Rainsborough Camp in the south (it’s the tree you see on the horizon as you descend Oxford Road into South Bar). The bright sun, veiled by cloud, highlights the ridges of the Cherwell catchment as its light is scattered in the misty valleys beyond. Right turn; back to “normality” – whatever that is these days.

Panorama from northeast to southeast from Hanwell Fields

Use the slider to move the view from side to side
View a map of this location.