The rolling landscape where Gloucestershire shades into Oxfordshire is thickly woven with footpaths and studded with villages of mellow gold stone.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
In this north-east corner of these delectable hills you can walk in classic Cotswold countryside, but without those camera-clicking Cotswold crowds. However, if you would like to hook up with a merry bunch of fellow-walkers … then 21 May is the date for your diary. That’s when thousands will be converging on Blenheim Palace for the Breast Cancer Care charity’s annual Pink Ribbon Walk – 10 or 20 miles (you choose) through gorgeous countryside to raise money and awareness, to hear and share stories, and to have a damn good party into the bargain.
On a brilliant day of blue sky and balmy weather Jane and I set out to explore this overlooked corner of the Cotswolds. From Stonesfield, as pretty as a picture among its trees, the Oxfordshire Way took us up among big yellow fields of oilseed rape where yellowhammers in the hedges wheedled for a-little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheeeeese. An invisible lark poured out song like the trickle of a brook. Views were big and broad, with a heat haze softening the dark green of spinneys and windbreak woods.
Down in the valley of the River Evenlode, swallows skimmed the stone-tiled roofs of Fawler. Dark Lane led us between hedges carefully tended by the Friends of Wychwood Hedge-laying Group, up a cowslip-spattered valley to Finstock. On through the environmentally-friendly farmland of Wilcote Farm with its generous field headlands and vigorous patches of yellow archangel. All around lay evidence of a countryside loved and cared for, its wildflowers and birds given the elbow-room they’re so often denied in more rapaciously farmed regions.
At North Leigh we went into St Mary’s Church to admire the north chapel with its fan vaulting and richly carved 15th-century alabaster tomb of Sir William Wilcote and his wife Elizabeth. Over the chancel arch hung a splendid medieval Doom painting, the Saved and the Damned all naked and prayerful, with a coal-black Devil and his red-faced acolytes jeering the Damned into eternal fire. Outside, all seemed a dream of peace – horses cropping the meadows near Holly Court Farm, the smooth gurgle of the Evenlode round its meandering bends, and the splashing and laughter of picnicking families by the river as we made our way back up the old cart track to Stonesfield.
These Oxfordshire Cotswolds really are beautiful country. I wish I could be a fly on someone’s trainers on 21 May. The Pink Ribbon walkers are going to have the most amazing day of it.
Start & finish: near St James’s Church, Stonesfield OX29 8PT (OS ref SP 394171)
Walk (8½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 180): Park in ‘square’ (actually a triangle!) by St James’s Church, Stonesfield. With your back to church, bear left along High Street. Opposite Methodist chapel, left down walled lane (‘bridleway’). At bottom, cross road and go up stony bridleway (390173; ‘Oxfordshire Way/OW’). In 400m, ahead over crossroads along tarmac lane. In another 400m pass end of woodland belt. Road bends right by Hall Barn Farm Cottages, but keep ahead here (383177; blue arrow/BA) through gate (OW) and on down right side of hedge. In ½ mile, at crossing of bridleways, left off OW (375180) on bridleway (BA) descending to Fawler. Left along road. Opposite bus stop, right down lane (372170; ‘Finstock 1’ fingerpost). Cross under railway and over River Evenlode. Follow path on far bank and through shallow valley. Keep ahead at ‘Right of Way’ arrow among trees (368166); on up Dark Lane to Finstock.
Right past Plough Inn (362161); left up side of Plough (fingerpost) on path on right side of pub car park. On (yellow arrow/YA) through kissing gate, up field edge. At far end, through kissing gate (362159); don’t turn right here, but keep ahead with hedge on left. Path doglegs left and right, then crosses field; through Ramsden Mill Longcut woodland strip (364156); on along wide field paths to road (367151). Left for 20m; right (‘Wychwood Way’/WW fingerpost) through Holly Grove wood. At end of wood (372143), on along hedgeside track (YA) for 2 fields to turn left along North Leigh Lane. In 300m pass footpath diverging to left (374136; fingerpost); on next bend, bear left (‘WW’ YA) along path in tunnel of trees. In 400m, right along End Farm drive (379134); in 20m, left (‘Church ½’ fingerpost) across fields (kissing gates, YAs) to St Mary’s Church, North Leigh. (NB For Woodman Inn or Mason’s Arms, turn right from church to top of hill, then right to pubs).
Continuing walk from church – left along road; in 20m, left (‘bridleway’ fingerpost) along farm drive. In 400m, right over stile and down hedge; cross brook (385140), through gate and up fence to road (386143). Left for 50m; right down Holly Court drive (‘Bridleway, Ashford Bridge 1’). At buildings bear right to T-junction (386147); left and continue, following BAs by brook for ½ mile to road near Ashford Bridge (385154). Right to crossroads by bridge; right (‘East End, Hanborough’), following path on right bank of Evenlode (‘Stonesfield 1½’ fingerpost). Under railway; on to kissing gate; aim across meadow to cross footbridge (383164). Up cart track opposite; at road, forward to Stonesfield ‘square’
Walk as described covers only part of Pink Ribbon Walk.
Lunch: Plough Inn, Finstock (01993-868333; www.theplough-inn.co.uk); Woodman PH (01993-881790) or Mason’s Arms (01993-882005), North Leigh.
Breast Cancer Care (www.breastcancercare.org.uk) Pink Ribbon Walks 2011 at Scone Palace, Perthshire (14 May); Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire (21 May); Cholmondeley Castle, Cheshire (4 June); Petworth House, West Sussex (11 June). Info: 0870 145 0101 or www.pinkribbonwalk.org.uk