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Neolithic Ploughman's Lunch

A Gastronomic Tour of NW Oxfordshire

"Wot u doing tmrrw?" read Jane's text message.

"Dunno; depends on an air stewardess", I texted back. In the event, a phone call put paid to any high-flying plans; so I leapt into the car with Jane, Cleo and Rupert on a sunny Friday afternoon.

"Air stewardess has flown to Jo'burg," I told them nonchantly.

"Crikey! Thought you were taking the piss," Jane replied, as we headed northwards. "Should've remembered you live out your fantasies . . . . or at least, try to!"

Are We Being Taken For Mugs?

We belted up the A4260 towards Cropredy and the Cup and Saucer Stone. Jane mentioned she'd heard something of this whilst at the Cropedy Festival, and wanted to investigate it further, but without hordes of revellers in the way. Following the directions in Bennett and Wilson's pamphlet 'The Old Stones of Rollright and District', we passed a rather splendid-looking pub, and swung round into an agreeable council housing estate. This conflicted with the 1930's advice in the pamphlet to 'cross the stile by the pub, and walk into the field'. Instead, we pulled up next to the helpful street sign reading 'Cup and Saucer'. And there, a few yards away, standing out proudly on the neatly trimmed grass verge, was the most bizarre structure.

As Jane rightly says, 'Cup and Saucer' is a real misnomer. Because it's clearly not such a thing. I've spent a week ruminating idly on this when I've had the time, and my main question is why is something that looks like a mug and spoon called the opposite? Cup and saucer is a very inoffensive description . . . one almost expects to find a nice piece of Battenburg alongside it on the ground. When I stood next to it (minus cake), I was very taken by the way the 'spoon' sat in the 'mug'; almost felt like a lever to another world, or something more than the sum of its parts.

Ad then it occurred to me. I'd seen this before in a few places. Perhaps 'Cup and Sword' would be a more appropriate name . . . and 'sword' can be very easily sanitised/Christianised to 'saucer'; because after all, the cup and sword feature essentially in pagan/wiccan practises. Has this actually far more to do with the old religion, then? What about the name 'Cropredy'? This from the village's website: "Cropredy, on the village Cherwell, has its roots in Anglo-Saxon times and its name is thought to be derived from the Old English "crop" meaning hill and "ridig" meaning small stream". Pure specualation now, but could 'crop' in turn be derivated from Koeur, ancient goddess of the harvest . . . ?

I would very much like to go back and look at the landscape more carefully. And as for the connection with the market cross and preaching monks . . . well, no surprises there; what better way to stamp out the old religion? Of course, this is all spurious reflection – but it always strikes me as odd when these objects cling on tenaciously, especially in modern developments. It feels to me there are more forces at work preserving them than English Heritage or a Civic Trust; it's as if a collective subconscious knows better than to tamper with these sites. This one is intriguing, and quite possibly, extraordinarily significant and powerful.

Who Ate All The Pies?

Moving on, we motored down to Chipping Norton, home of the now legendary Mr. Whippy; the glories of whom Jane had been alluding to frequently during the course of our journey, as a sop to her children's boredom. Unfortunately, Mr. Whippy did not appear to be at home, but the day was saved by Rupert, who unerringly spotted a magnificent pie shop. I've taught that boy well . . . . After dining on some wonderful sausage rolls, due to the pies having all been sold, we lurched round the corner to seek out the innocuous New Street Stone.

This delightful erection stands guard to the entrance of the New Street Long Stay Car Park, almost hidden beneath some impressive foliage. People bustle past it every day, spew exhaust fumes all over it, and probably never even notice its presence. But to a couple of hardened megaraks and two megaraks-in-training, it was clearly a standing stone.

The two foot square lump of oolitic limestone has obviously been in situ for some considerable time, as it is extremely weathered. Holes are to be seen all over it, and as Jane remarks, it suggests a particularly fine chunk of Gruyere, or maybe even a nice piece of Emmental. Crouching down to cuddle the stone and give scale to Jane's pictures, a jolly familiar smell emanated from the foliage. "Wow! It's a bay tree!" I exclaimed, wondering whether I should nick some leaves to top up my bay leaf pot; but then realised that a combination of Esso and Shell had knackered any culinary use it may have offered. It was a particularly cuddly stone, however, and it felt a bit special being able to slip my hand right through the largest hole. Don't suppose the spiders and woodlice enjoyed it much, though.

Interestingly, this standing stone lies in a direct line with the Rollright Stones, and appears identical to its limestone sisters . . . more food for thought.

From there, it was a whistle-stop visit to the puzzling cup marks on the base of the ancient church cross at Salford. In my mind, the jury's out on this one. I would very much like to find out more about the four lost stone circles at Cornwell, however. Four! That's a big important site! And Cornwell lies directly south-east of Chastleton Barrow Fort, with the attendant complexities of Chastleton Common. Hmmmm . . . .

All One's Geese Are Stones

Our objective for this excursion to Chastleton Common was to find, once and for all, the elusive gaggle of Goose Stones, of which we had heard so much. And did we find them? Did we heck. Rupert's really getting to grips with concept of 'trespass', however. (Although later scrutiny of the Landranger revealed the 'Macmillan Way' National Trail runs along the road, so that might explain why the man who saw us didn't bellow "Get orrrff moii laaannnd!" very loudly).

We followed baza's directions, and came across some very likely contenders for the Goose Stones, including a few that looked suspiciously like the remains of a stone circle. Looking at the OS map, there's a hill fort up there, a tumuli, and purportedly, a portal dolmen – Burnt Hill Dolmen, so why not throw in a circle as well?. Moving along the road, we also spotted the Goose Stone mentioned by Celia Haddon on her website (see baza's fieldnotes). This all reminded me that a year or so ago, the bewitching Fiona and I had tried to find this particular Goose Stone, but failed. We had stumbled across Chastleton Barrow, however, which seemed to be home to a few horses.

What is very noticeable about this whole place is the utterly breathtaking scenery to be seen stretching for miles in the north/north-west direction. (Ooo, cue for one of my favourite Hitchcock films). Goose Stones or not, it's clearly evident this place was of huge importance to our ancestors. Oh yes; and one other thing – it's on a direct line to the Rollright Stones. Also of interest is the fact that together, the New Street Stone, Chastleton and the Rollrights make an equilateral triangle. What's that all about, then?


Finally, we were definitely under orders for ice cream, so Jane figured our best bet would be the charming market town of Woodstock. Woodstock always seems to have something for everybody, and this was indeed the case on a late Friday afternoon. May I recommend a visit to the stunning Oxfordshire Museum? (Not least because my great-uncle used to be its curator!) After refreshments had been consumed in the well-appointed and bijou garden, we couldn't leave without looking at the ancient history/archaeology section. And there, encased in Plexiglas, beneath a powerful magnifying lens, was something that tied up all the sites we'd visited that afternoon.

Two tiny, blackened, ossified crumbs of 5,000 year old bread lay before us, suddenly injecting a real feeling of the human element into the megaliths we'd visited. I occasionally make my own bread, and it gave me the same feeling looking at these crumbs as it did looking at Italian Iron Age art on a pot in the Ashmolean Museum. Unexpectedly, the smallest things bestride the abyss of millennia, and give us a fleeting connection with the ancients from whom we are descended. How comforting, and what a trip this was; it's reverberations will continue in my psyche for sometime yet.

treaclechops Posted by treaclechops
6th September 2003ce
Edited 28th September 2003ce

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