A beautiful winter morning, piercingly cold, under a blue porcelain sky spread across the gently undulating landscape where northernmost Oxfordshire runs hand-in-hand with Warwickshire. First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
This is ironstone country, reflected in the burnt orange hue of the cottage walls in Sibford Gower. As we left the village, the low wintry sun washed the fields. Every leafless tree stood footed in a giant shadow. It was a morning to savour, and we felt more than ready for it – incessant rainstorms had been drowning the country for the past month, and another was forecast for this afternoon.
Green ranks of winter wheat squelched underfoot, and a stodge of puddles flanked every stile and gateway. We strode out with all the energy that a brisk wind lends, across stubble gleaming with sunlight in gold and cream. A flock of sheep lay at ease in a turnip field, slicing and chewing the sweet white flesh of the roots with their strong yellow teeth. Down in Epwell we leaned on the churchyard gate and admired the scene, everyone’s dream of an English village setting, the mellow stone church with centrally placed tower leading the eye along to a row of sunlit cottages.
Little hard green crab apples spattered the hedged path that took us on from Epwell over the fields to find the rutted thoroughfare of Beggar’s Lane. This ancient trackway runs under many names – Ditchedge Lane and Traitor’s Ford Lane are two more – connecting with other old green roads oriented from north-east to south-west, reputedly linking York and the west country at its extremities. Hereabouts it runs as a snaking lane 18 yards broad between hedges of oak and sycamore, devoid of leaves in this cold season, but with tiny scarlet buds on every twig as a promise of spring.
A horse came dashing by with a clatter of hooves and a splatter of divots, its rider’s crab-claw profile reddened with wind and weather. ‘Hope you don’t mind us cantering past,’ he called, ‘only it’s nice to give him practice at not shying at everyone he meets!’ We didn’t mind at all – it seemed a timeless image, the muddy horse and rider pelting along the ancient greenway, a moment snatched from any winter’s day in the past five thousand years.
Start: Wykham Arms, Sibford Gower, Banbury, Oxon, OX15 5RX (OS ref SP 352378). Park at pub – please give them your custom.
Getting there: Bus – Service 55A (www.stagecoachbus.com/), Stratford-upon-Avon to Chipping Norton
Road – Sibford Gower is signposted from B4035 between Lower Brailes and Swalcliffe
Walk (6 miles, easy, OS Explorer 191): From Sibford Gower follow road to Burdrop. Left (‘Swalcliffe’); in 100m, take footpath by Cubbs Cottage (358379); follow well-marked D’Arcy Dalton Way (DDW) north via B4035 for 1½ miles to road in Epwell (354403). Left past Chandlers Arms PH; on left bend, right (DDW) to road by church (352405). Left round right bend; left (‘Macmillan Way’/MW; fingerpost) up path. Through gate (MW); right to another gate (350404); don’t go through, but bear left up field edge to road (348401). Right for 50m; left (‘Beggar’s Lane’) across field, aiming for stile to right of communications tower (345401). Left (MW) along Beggar’s Lane to B4035 (344394). Right for 250m; left (MW) along Ditchedge Lane for 1¼ miles. Where lane begins to descend towards Traitor’s Ford, turn left (339373, yellow-top post, blue arrow) across field. 50m beyond Haynes’s Barn, left through hedge (342372, fingerpost); follow path (yellow arrows/YA) down to cross stream (345376), up far side to top of field (349378). Bear left along field edge; in 100m, right over stile (YA) into lane. Left; immediately right through gateway; follow lane into Sibford Gower.
Lunch: Wykham Arms, Sibford Gower (01295-788808; wykhamarms.co.uk) – well-kept, friendly pub.
Accommodation: Gate Hangs High Inn, Hook Norton (01608-737387; gatehangshigh.co.uk)