|Way-heh! Another sunny Saturday, so treaclechops and I set out on a quest to pick out the long barrows in West Oxfordshire, just a 10 mile drive down the road. As the driver, this makes a pleasant chance from the usual long drives.
First stop Leafield Barrow is known locally as Barry's Hill Tump and Barry's Tump. I was told about it by my builder (who I can happily recommend to anyone!)
Standing proudly at the back of the village 650 feet above sea level, before the 1974 boundary changes it was the highest point in Oxfordshire. About 50ft in diameter the great earth mound reminds me bit of Hetty Peglars Tump, but there's no grand entrance, no stones to see, nothing. Just 6 great trees and a triangulation post sticking out of it. A water substation or something of this modern world leans right up against it. But its very much the king of the castle, and probably been saved from being ploughed over by virtue of its commanding position. Lovely. And you can see it for miles around. Which is nice.
Driving north out of Leafield on Hatching Lane we mosey on down for a mile or so to reach the west end of Wychwood, now part of the Cornbury Park estate, for which you need permission to enter. We entered at a gate at SP 322168, as recommended by the estates office and baza.
We were stopped and asked by a very nice lady on a horse if we had permission, and thankfully we could wave a piece of paper at her which said we did. She wasn't interested in reading it, mind, so if you attempt this without permission (don't) and are stopped, I recommend you say innocently 'yes I rang the estates office'.
Our ability to read maps and chart a course through the delightful forest on rough trackways meant we found Slatepits Copse long barrow more easily than I could have hoped. Its about 70ft long and appears to be melting back into the undergrowth of the forest effortlessly, as trees and scrub overtake it. The chamber is clearly visible at the front of the mound, whos profile undulates, its back broken by poor excavations in 1850 I believe, when three skulls were found. The only hint to the passer by (or trespasser!) to its existance on the ground are the three great flat stones which form the chamber at the western end. We sat in amongst the fallen branches by the chamber and enjoyed the utter peace of being pretty much alone (but for squirrels, deer, birds) in this fairy-like woodland.
Badly neglected, yet probably only still in existance by its position tucked away deep in a remote corner of Wychwood forest.
Following the track north again we walked on toward Churchill Copse long barrow. Some game keepers with big smokin' rifles cocked who were shooting squirrels approached us and said 'you're going the wrong way'. I said: 'no I'm not'. They wanted to know if we had permission to be there, and again, we just waved the piece of paper, which they didn't want to read. They turned out to be really friendly and interested in the long barrow.
A big roe deer galloped through the trees in front of us away from the gunfire.
Churchill Copse long barrow is virtually an unrecognisable ruin and had it not been sited in the forest would've been lost to ploughing years ago. As it is, the only way to spot it is that it's a lump at the track side which swings round slightly to get past it. There's no stones, no naffink. Just another ancient monument being reclaimed by its environment.
And talking of ancient monuments being reclaimed by their environment... try Ascott under Wychwood long barrow, which is not marked on my OS 180 at all, I found a note on this elsewhere, so we took a look anyway. Practically indistinguishable from an edge-of-farm-dumping-ground, this big tump stood hopelessly neglected surrounded by rusting tractors, discarded agricultural detritus and is hidden beneath a thick growth of scrubby trees. Climbing over the fence to trespass, I reached for my machete* and hacked my way through the brambles to climb it and walk round it. It rises about 12 feet from ground level and is badly pockmarked in its south side by badgers' holes. Very sad to see a once important place reduced to weeping in the corner of a forgotten field.
And things looked no brighter at Lyneham long barrow. Just metres from the busy A361, this once mighty construction is reduced to a vast mound of mossy rubble, with thorny trees growing in a tangle out of the top if it. Wrecked, ruinous and depressing to see it. The one bright spot is the beautiful square outlying stone, standing 6 foot tall, made of the same Oolitic rock as the Hawk stone and the Rollrights. Weather beaten, lichened and yet glowing in the spring sunshine, I grasped it as a pinprick of hope that the longbarrow might not be lost. Not yet, anyway.
I am left feelings hopeless about their neglect but am heartened to think of them as survivors. Just like the last bit of Wychwood forest that we walked through earlier.
* I lied about the machete.
Posted by Jane
15th March 2003ce
Edited 17th March 2003ce
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