First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A peaceful morning in Ascott-under-Wychwood. ‘Walking round the village?’ panted the runner as she passed us. ‘Do go into the church and see the Martyrs’ Tapestry – wonderful piece of work – ‘ and she sped purposefully away.
Against the north wall of Holy Trinity a beautifully embroidered tapestry depicted the labours of 19th-century rural women – harvesting, corn stooking, hay forking, glove making. Not just any females, but the ‘Ascott Martyrs,’ sixteen women from this village sentenced to prison with hard labour (two with tiny children) in 1873 for the crime of dissuading local men from breaking a strike called by the newly formed National Union of Agricultural Workers.
The Martyrs were exonerated by Royal Pardon. Queen Victoria sent each woman five shillings and a red flannel petticoat; and the NUAW, not to be outdone, topped up the largesse with £5 and enough blue silk to make a dress apiece.
The Oxfordshire Way headed west out of the village, an old country lane that passed a low green castle motte on the banks of the River Evenlode before reaching Shipton-under-Wychwood, bright with morning sunshine beside the river.
Beyond Shipton the Oxfordshire Way ran among cornfields, golden wheat stubbles and silver barley as yet unharvested. Crows bounced among the furrows, snapping up leatherjackets, worms and spilt grain.
We passed the paddocks at Heath Farm where the horses twitched up their ears and flared their nostrils to see and scent us go by.
Bruerne Wood, a scrap of ancient woodland, lay cool and dark under the blowy blue sky. A chiffchaff, not yet departed for winter in west Africa, gave out its two-tone call. A muntjac stag was barking like a cross old dog among the trees as we followed a ride north towards the handsome 18th-century country house of Bruerne Abbey.
Beyond the house we picked up the D’Arcy Dalton Way, another of the proliferation of long distance paths in these parts. The route ghosted across a golf course, then rose to the roof of the countryside at the Iron Age hillfort of The Roundabout.
Before descending to the river and the homeward path, we sat savouring the view across the Evenlode Valley. Reaped fields, plough and stubble made a 21st century rural tapestry under the last of the afternoon sunshine.
How hard is it? 9½ miles; easy; waymarked trails across farmland
Start: Ascott-under-Wychwood village green, Oxon OX7 6AA (OS ref SP 301187)
Getting there Bus 210 from Witney
Road – Ascott-under-Wychwood signed from A361 (Burford to Shipton-under-Wychwood)
Walk (OS Explorers 180, OL45, 191): Left along main street. At T-junction, right (297183, ‘Oxfordshire Way’/OW). In 500m, OW crosses railway, but keep ahead (291184, ‘Circular Route’). In ½ mile, just before house, left (285184, kissing gate); half left across field to A361 (282182). Left across river; in 300m, right (279182, OW).
In 550m, just past Crown Nurseries, left (278187) along field edge. In 150m, right (276187); follow OW for 1¼ miles to road at Bruerne Abbey (264204). Right to cross railway (268206). In 50m, right (kissing gate, ‘D’Arcy Dalton Way/DDW’) across golf course (DDW waymarked); on to cross road in Lyneham (280205); on for 1¼ miles. At top of rise DDW goes left (296212); but keep ahead to cross A361 (299213). Down Pudlicote Lane; in 1 mile pass Pudlicote House (313205); in another 200m, right (316203) on OW. After ½ mile OW sign points left, but keep straight ahead to gate on far side of field; follow OW back to Ascott-under-Wychwood.
Lunch/Accommodation: Swan Inn, Ascott-under-Wychwood OX7 6AY (01993-832332, countrycreatures.com)
Info: Witney TIC (01993-775802)