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Oxfordshire Oddity

On a quintessential English summer's day, with the sun blazing out of a deep blue sky, I had the choice of sitting inside in the dark, watching England succumb magnificently to the South Africans in the Second Test, or doing something constructive. Either way, it would probably involve beer. Increasingly fascinated with peeling back the layers of Oxfordshire's history (and increasingly frustrated with our run scoring ability), out came the Landranger, and I found an earthwork I had never noticed before . . . Bladon Round Castle.

Fortunately, what appeared to be a little gem was within easy cycling distance of Oxford, made even easier by the wonderfully hot weather, and off I set in eager anticipation. Trundling into Bladon - burial place of Sir Winston Churchill and hordes of other Spencers/Churchills - it didn't take long to slog up the steep hill to Bladon Heath. Not entirely certain about which way to proceed, but was able to accost a very pleasant lady who advised me on the best entry point to the woodland that hid the Round Castle. She did say she'd never found it herself, but definitely knew of it whereabouts.

Shortly, traipsing along a ridge that afforded a good view over north-east Oxfordshire, I was surprised by the amount of non-mechanical silence around me - the hum of the A44 was very muted, and the loudest noise was the swishing of my boots through the grassy pasture. Everything was hot and still, except for the grasshoppers and crickets, who chirruped, whirred and sawed away fit to burst. The heat ensured I was already glowing brilliantly, as only ladies do . . .

I had been advised to look for a gap in a fence before a gate, but as ever, had veered slightly off course (if anyone would like to buy me a full set of 1:25,000 maps, I would be eternally grateful), and spent twenty minutes tramping through two fields before finally picking up the right path in the woodland. This was not all bad, however, as I flushed out a young and handsome muntjak stag; we spent several minutes observing each other before he bounded off incredibly gracefully into the wood, melting into the undergrowth. Fab.

After much dead-ending, I found a path through the tangled, silent and forbidding woodland that led to a private road, which in turn, led directly to the Round Castle. Sure enough, after five minutes ambling along the tarmac, and past the reservoir, I came to a gate across the road. Skipping over this obstacle, I moved deeper into the still and brooding woods. Above me, a kestrel or sparrowhawk kewwed plaintively. Just as I reached the site of the Round Castle, another bird's alarm call screeched through the heavy atmosphere, soon followed by enthusiastic kewwing from the raptor - clearly, a murder had taken place. This ominous event suited what I ran into, as it was certainly not what I had envisaged.

Bladon Camp — Fieldnotes

A massive thicket of vegetation laid before me, all the plants about 4.5-5’ high, with the exception of a single leggy tree standing gallantly from the centre of the circle. Dense didn’t come into it; and even more intriguingly, a very solid wire, timber and metal fence was built round the circumference of the site. The whole thing was inpenetrable.

The size of this pen was so vast, it had to be constructed on the line of the earthwork; but I couldn’t help wonder what the hell it was supposed to hold. It wasn’t a pheasant pen, as the height was too short, so after walking round half of it, I concluded that due to the construction of the access gate, it was intended for wild boar. Either that, or the estate are breeding compsognathus dinosaurs on the quiet.

As it was extremely hot, and I was sweating like a horse, I decided to retrace my steps, and head for The White House pub in Bladon. I thirsted for an ice-cold lager, and felt I’d earnt it, all things considered.

Bit of a disappointment, but a nice walk.

Later, sitting in the garden of The White House, sharing my beer with a wasp the size of a wren (a hornet, Jane told me later), I reflected on this unusual use of an Iron Age earthwork. I would love to know what the earthwork look liked beneath the thicket and fencing; as originally, it must have commanded splendid views of the surrounding area, and across to the rich neolithic homeland of north-west Oxfordshire. Meanwhile, I shall be like Obelix, and keep an eye open for locally-produced boar in Oxford's Covered Market . . . !
treaclechops Posted by treaclechops
4th September 2003ce
Edited 30th September 2003ce

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