Feb 102024

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
near Aston Tirrold looking back down Access Land dry valley 1 Access Land dry valley Access Land dry valley with juniper bushes fields above Aston Tirrold on the way down from Lowbury Hill, a linnet (I think!) braided ridge path on Aston Upthorpe Downs looking back down Access Land dry valley 2

A sunny winter sky over the Oxfordshire downs. We sauntered a circuit of the back lanes of Aston Tirrold – St Michael’s Church with its ancient doorways, the weathered brick and flint of the Manor House and street walls, the great weatherboarded barn, and round the corner in the twin village of Aston Upthorpe more handsome houses.

Once across the rush and swish of the A417 we followed an old mossy byway towards the low-lying downs south of the village, with cold wind and dazzling winter sun in our faces. The sky above the downs was bathed in a nacreous sheen. Partridges scuttled away among green beet leaves, a robin trickled out a dribble of song from the scrub of nettle and elder along the lane, and there was a feeling of being deep in agricultural countryside, far from any city.

In the spring of 1967 the youthful members of psychedelic folk-rock group Traffic installed themselves at Sheepcote Farm in this peaceful cleft in the hills to ‘get it together in the country’. Jamming night and day with only the hares and pheasants as audience, they soon nailed the songs for their debut album ‘Mr Fantasy’. Traffic didn’t last long, but their rustic sojourn fixed the name of Aston Tirrold in rock history.

The muted sun cast a bristly halo behind each teasel head along the byway. Soon we turned off the track to thread a lonely dry valley in Access Land. Juniper bushes prickled the slopes among heaps of white flints kicked out by burrowing rabbits. A couple of red kites came to circle overhead and issue high-pitched whistles as we climbed to the braided ridge track at the top of Aston Upthorpe Downs.

The shapely hump of Lowbury Hill rose alongside, site of a splendid Saxon warrior’s burial. Archaeologists found him interred with sword, shield, spear, a comb in a leather sheath, and under his back a tiny pair of shears.

Irresistible to speculate that it was for the enormous views north that the warrior’s tomb was sited on the eminence of Lowbury Hill. Descending the homeward track between hedges where linnets bounced among the dried elder and haw berries, we savoured the prospect over the wide valley of the Thames and thanked our lucky stars for this beautiful winter’s day as the sun set slowly behind us.

How hard is it? 6 miles; easy; downland tracks (some slippery).

Start: St Michael’s Church, Aston Tirrold OX11 9DJ (OS ref SU 558860)

Getting there: Aston Tirrold is signed off A417 between Wantage and Streatley.

Walk (OS Explorer 170): From church, left along Aston Street, then The Croft. At junction (556863, ‘Aston Upthorpe’) round left bend; follow road past ‘Olivier at Chequers’ and on (Spring Lane) to cross A417 (553853, ‘Byway’). Up byway; in ⅔ mile at corrugated shed, fork right (551844; ‘Byway leading to Restricted Byway’). In ⅔ mile fork left past square tank to gate into Access Land (545836, sign). Up valley. In ½ mile through gate and on (543829). At top of valley, through kissing gate (539827); left along byway. In 350m, left along ridge trackway (538824). In ½ mile at multiple arrow post, left down byway (545826, orange arrow). In 1 mile fork right off byway (549840, blue arrow) and follow hedge. In ⅓ mile left along farm drive (556848). Cross A417 (556852); along Chalk Hill; in 500m, right (556857, ‘Aston Street’) to church.

Lunch: Olivier at the Chequers, Aston Tirrold (01235-850800, olivieratthechequers.co.uk) – a restaurant, but you can have starters and sides. Book in advance.

Accommodation: Beetle & Wedge, Moulsford OX10 9JF (01491-651381, beetleandwedge.co.uk)

Info: theastons.net

 Posted by at 05:25

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