As the winter solstice approaches (only a week away) it is a time to seek delights in buildings rather than flowers and fungi. So I chose to explore a group of South Oxfordshire villages on the one sunny day of the last fortnight. I was over ambitious with the length of walk - it turned out to be 12.5 miles which is quite hard to fit in to such a short day, I rather hastily completed the walk just as the sun set. Here is a map of the walk:
My start point was Warborough that is just east of Shillingford Bridge over the Thames. I last visited the village eleven years ago before I started the blog. The church of St. Laurence looked fine in the bright winter light. A sexton was busy re-erected a gravestone in the churchyard. The church has elements from early 13th century as well as 14th and 15th with the tower dating to 1666.
Inside was a lovely old font. I have been collecting pictures of fonts for some years and already have quite a collection. The font is usually the oldest thing in the church and the designs are many and varied. These embossed lead fonts are quite rare, I have seen only two others at Long Wittenham and at Sparsholt. The lower 'ghostly' figures are abbots or bishops.
I then headed out over the fields following a rather muddy track east. Along the way were some attractive looking fir cones.
The next village was Berrick Salome which is not that far from Britwell Salome and is a village I had only once driven through in the dark. It is a small village with some nice old houses and cottages. I took pictures of over a dozen thatched houses on the walk, this will stand for them all. ‘Salome’ (pronounced Salem apparently) is a corruption of ‘Sulham’ and as that is the nearest village to home I feel a bit of a connection it means ‘hamlet in a narrow valley’. It seems ’Aymar de Sulham’ was the owner of ‘Sulham’ ‘Britwell Salome’ and ‘Berrick Salome’. ’Berrick’ is a barley field.
Nearly opposite the cottage, the sun was highlighting a weather cock. When I walked closer I could see rather than a cockerel this one has a whale to make the weather vane.
The detour to the church was well worthwhile. The church of St. Helen (quite a rare dedication to the mother of St. Constantine and for a long while considered of British ancestry) looks more like a Tudor mansion than an austere church. It looks homely both inside and out. It has a 13th century 'bee' in stained glass but the remaining glass is plain and that adds to its charm. Apparently Berrick Salome is on the old route from Dorchester-on-Thames (once a bishopric) to St. Albans.
The church has an interesting early font too. The rather crudely carved circle design is not one I have seen before. The date could be Saxon or Early Norman so a thousand years old.
I struggled to see that much of interest in the countryside at this time of year, the paths go through farmland with very little space set aside for wild-flowers. I saw lots of birds though. On top of a post I did find this lichen which has an interesting form.
The next village on the trek was Brightwell Baldwin ('bright well' - clear chalk spring water), a hamlet that is on quite a busy road. The large church is manorial - on the edge of the estate of the Lord of the Manor so that his tenants could come to services and be reminded of his control over their lives. The church has some rather bold and creepy monuments to the ruling Stone family.
I then joined Shakespeare's Way long distance footpath, this runs from Stratford to London via Oxford and Marlow. I had done a section of it through Russells Water and Cookley on my last long walk. The first portion goes through the fine parkland of the manor house and had some very old Lebanon cedars.
Also in the parkland a red kite was perched on top of a dead tree. It got bored with me trying to get a good picture of it and to my delight just caught it as it was taking to the air.
The next village I came to was Chalgrove. When I planed the route on the previous night I had noticed there was a war memorial just north of it. I went to investigate even though it cost some precious daylight time. It is a monument to a battle of the English Civil War that took place on 18th June 1643 and was a significant victory for the Royalists under Prince Rupert. The monument is to one of the Parliamentary leader John Hampden who died at the battle, it was erected in 1843 to mark the 200th anniversary. This was an important battle because the Earl of Essex's methods were shown to be deficient and the Parliamentary side turned to Oliver Cromwell for a new style fighting force. The Earl of Essex had moved up from Reading towards Oxford. It is probably a little known battle because the losing side won it.
I visited Chalgrove church which is still in the process of renovation, but not as interesting as the previous three churches. I passed a Mahonia bush in full flower and it was buzzing with honey bees who had been tempted out in the very mild temperature for a winter snack.
The village of Chalgrove has a rather strange arrangement. There is a chalk stream running along one side of the main street and there are a number of old 'black and white' houses intermixed with modern ones. Quite a few ducks were living a precarious life a few feet from the road. When I left Chalgrove along Shakespeare's Way I found myself walking through a set of allotments and here I spotted one plant in flower - it is the herb rosemary so it probably does not count.
I then had to trudge across a recently ploughed clay field. My map reading was then challenged by a poorly marked out path taking me back south. I saw in the distance two roe deer looking my way and holding their ground, they were joined by two more. As I got closer they tried to leap over a fence - two managed to leap six foot or so but two could not make the jump and instead fled down the field I was in, I managed to catch one showing off its white rump.
Towards the village of Newington I spotted a pheasant on the fringes of a farm.
I visited the church at Newington - another manorial church in the estate of the local lord but it was locked and the churchyard too small to get a good picture. Still five churches in five different villages is not too bad for a day's walk. As I approached Warborough again the sun was just about to set. On the horizon are the Sinodun Hills (Wittenham Clumps) on top of which are Iron age fortifications.
I couldn't resist including one final shot. A pair of border collies were soaking up the last bit of winter sun (a very mild day) on top of a wall. I was amused to see them bark at an HGV as it thundered down the road passed them.