Nobs and Yobs


GPX File of the Route      Nobs & Yobs GPX         

This route mostly uses minor roads to tour the Eastern Cotswolds, an area lived in and  loved by well-to-do ‘nobs and yobs’.  It takes in some lovely countryside, chocolate box villages, sights to see and some political and celebrity gossip. 

It starts from Charlbury on the River Evenlode and runs northwards through higher ground to Chipping Norton before crossing a river valley to visit the famous Rollright Stones. From there it continues through Hook Norton, home of the eponymous brewery, and Great Tew, the epicentre of the rural celebrity wonderland. From there, it turns south and generally downwards, back through Stonesfield and the along the Evenlode Valley to return to Charlbury. The hills are numerous but not steep. There is one small but irritating stretch of off-road.

The area has deep history. Stone Age people left their 'barrow' graves all over the place. Later, the area played in a big part in the medieval wool trade that paid for some of the fine buildings. Ethnologically, this remote area is inhabited by the 'Toffs' tribe. They don't have much communication with most of  modern society but are of great interest to sociologists, anthropologists, gossip columnists and paparazzi. So I have added in some celebrity gossip.

Route Tips 

If your app provides notes on the road surfaces etc. keep in mind that they are automatically generated and only as good as the underlying mapping. The only problem you might wish to avoid here is a short stretch of Woodland footpath after you have left Great Tew and crossed the River Dorn. The minor road runs out beyond the airfield. I reckon the ‘views’ make it worth the walk! If you don’t, there are easy alternatives. Consult your map. 

Zooming Out

The lovely stone is 'Oolitic' limestone, laid down under a shallow sea in the Jurassic period which, whatever Hollywood would like to think, wasn’t overrun with huge dinosaurs until very late on.  Oooliths' (or egg stones), are formed by lime mud and formed when calcium carbonate coats sand grains on a shallow sea floor. This would have happened some 150m or more years ago in the Jurassic period. It is rich in fossils but in many places and in particular around the valleys, the limestone is buried under a thick layer of clay. 

In some parts of Oxon...?

Since then this malleable landscape has been folded, dissected by rivers, eroded and generally mucked about a lot in subsequent eras as this part of the earth's crust enjoyed a world cruise while the climate changed on a scale that dwarfs our present pre-occupations

As you would expect the landscape was folded, dissected by rivers, eroded and generally mucked about a lot in subsequent eras as this part of the earth's crust enjoyed a world cruise while the climate changed on a scale that dwarfs our present pre-occupations. If you are interested there is a proper description here: Link: Cotswold Geology

One particularity of the Cotswolds is Cornbrash, a loose rubble soil which forms on limestone and apparently provides a nice place to grow corn. This is described by the Oxford Geology Group as “bioclastic wackestone and packstone with sporadic peloids; generally and characteristically intensely bioturbated and consequently poorly bedded”. So, if anyone asks you, now you know.

It has deep history. Stone Age people left their 'barrow' graves all over the place. The Rollright Stones, which are on the route, straddle both the stone and bronze ages and also lie on a network of Roman roads which are still followed in many places today. Throughout, sheep farming was a major activity even though the southern part of the ride was originally within the boundary of the Wychwood Forest. It suffered along with everywhere else from the travails of the 1300’s but thereafter played in a big part in the medieval wool trade.

The enclosures were the next major cause of change in the landscape. These started out being organised locally but later on could be arranged through an Act of Parliament The process continued into Victorian times. But the landscape (and the views of much of the populace) didn’t lend itself to the sweeping imposition of rationalised pattern of large rectangular fields and straight roads found in the wide valleys, and while there is evidence remains refreshingly varied.

Ethnologically, this remote area is now inhabited by the 'Toffs' tribe who don't have much communication with modern society and who are of great interest to sociologists, anthropologists, gossip columnists and paparazzi. ‘Clarkson’s Farm’ (which is close Dave Cameron’s farm on the route but is not on it) is not on a direct line of descent from the rural forefathers!                                                                       

B. Dave's Country Cottage

This is where David Cameron held his 'Kitchen Suppers' with such iconic figures as Jeremy Clarkson and Rebekah Brooks, the former spouse of Ross Kemp, a key character in the tabloid phone-hacking tabloid scandal, who also lived nearby. The night before that particular storm broke, the 'Cotswold Set' were apparently at Rupert Murdoch's daughter's house in nearby Burford. It must have been a jolly hangover!

Clarkson's gaff is across the fields to the North West.  Named Diddly Squat Farm, it is a new replacement for his old farm residence, Curdle Hill Farm, which he blew up in 2016, literally and to the intense annoyance of the neighbours! You can’t see it from the route but if you want to detour to his farm shop, from Spelsbury follow the signs to Chadlington and from there to Chipping Norton. After about a mile, you will pass it. 

The new place is twelve times the size of the average new English house and has a basement cinema, a walled garden & orangery, garaging for 5 cars (obviously), a horse yard, and five bathrooms. A just reward for his immense contribution to British culture although he now seems equally engrossed in his contribution to our agriculture. 


Dave's Gaff 

C. Chipping Norton

This is the highest town in the Cotswolds so there is more down than up from here on. 'Chipping' is derived from the Saxon word for 'market' which you can also recognise in 'Cheapside' in London & elsewhere. 

The town used to have a thriving wool & tweed industry and the impressive  building with the chimney that can be seen to the west of the town and looks like a giant upturned loo brush is Bliss Tweed Mill, a relic of the industry that has been converted into flats. 

A surprising and more recent industry is the town's role in the pop music business. There were recording studios in what used to be the British Schools building in New Street. Gerry Rafferty's 'Baker Street', The Proclaimers 'Sunshine on Leith' and Status Quo's 'In the Army Now' were all recorded there, also stuff by Cutting Crew, Alison Moyet, Dexy's, Radiohead, Jeff Beck, Duran Duran, Marianne Faithfull, Chris Rea and XTC. 

They might prefer you to forget the association with Wet Wet Wet. But also and far, far worse for those with a long memory, the Bay City Rollers.  The really scary thing is that they are still going, hence the photo below. A good  cringe might stretch your aching back. 

In 2018 a Telegraph writer wrote 'I, for one, expected that this upmarket market town.....would be a riotous orgy of right-wing celebrity. Murdochs and Camerons cosying up in the tea shop. Alex James drag-racing Jeremy Clarkson down cobbled lanes. Secrets shared and media empires wooed over flat whites, artisan cheese and organic veg. Our lizard rulers unsheathing themselves from their human skins the moment the last visitor leaves'. 

Clearly he/she was disappointed; in fact these folks live in the surrounding area, as you will see. Beyond that it isn’t an exciting place. Maybe once; perhaps when the hung the vicar from his steeple in Henry VIII's time for refusing to use the new Prayer Book. But now one of the main attractions is the churchyard grave of Phyllis, the rat-catcher's wife. And it was the home of Edward Stone, a Vicar who gave scientific credibility to the idea of using willow bark to alleviate pain, which led to Aspirin. Thanks Ed, for helping me deal with the legacy of the Bay City Rollers. 

From Beyond the Grave: The Bay City Rollers. 

D. Rollright Stones

This monument is no Stonehenge but is atmospheric nonetheless. The oldest stones were placed in the 'New Stone Age' or Neolithic period and are around 5,800 years old. The newest were erected around 3,500 years ago in the early Bronze Age. Statistically, one of the builders was probably an ancestor of yours. Maybe the bloke in the smelly skins, the ancient precursor of heavily used lycra.

Legend has it that a local King was travelling along the ridge when he met a local witch. She made a bargain with him, saying 'seven long strides shalt thou take, If Long Compton thou canst see, King of England thou shalt be.' The king thought this was a good deal replied, 'Stick, stock, stone, as King of England I shall be known.' He then took his seven strides only to find his view blocked by the mound known locally as The Archdruid's Barrow. 

The witch cackled 'as Long Compton thou canst not see, King of England thou shalt not be, Rise up stick and stand still stone, For King of England thou shalt be none. Thou and thy men hoar stones shall be, and myself an elder tree'. The King is now the large stone and his followers became the stone ring. The moral of the story is don’t parley with witches.


Rollright Stones

On closer examination you will see that the Stones do not actually appear to be made of petrified King. Rather, they are made up of tiny spheres called ooiliths form in seawater when sand grains get coated in calcium carbonate and then glued together in lime mud, which in turn are compressed over aeons into stone. 

E. Hook Norton Brewery

Lovely brewery. Lovely beer.  If you want to visit you have to make a quick diversion off the left as you enter the village.  Apparently this is the oldest 'tower brewery' in the country produces some terrific beers. You can sample them in their excellent café or in the Sun Inn in the village itself.

The Brewery also has a museum featuring the story of the village, how they fought off the Viking invaders all by themselves. In fairness there has been some archaeological evidence to support the suggestion of a dust up with Norsemen here. Maybe someone spilled a pint?

Hook Norton Brewery

F. River Swere / between Towns

This is the Swere. It flows into the Cherwell so its waters end up in the Thames. Talk about lazy place-naming! The village ahead of you is Swerford. It has two parts. Church End to your right is where the Church is located, obv. This route continues eastwards to the part of the village known as East End, through a relatively open patch known as 'In Between Town'.

There was a 'Motte and Bailey' castle in the fields on your right, in front of the church. All that is left of it is some earthworks which are shown in the waypoint pic. And there was also once a decent pub called the Boxing Hare  which, in the true spirit of this part of the Cotswolds is now a Michelin starred restaurant. No doubt it is a vibrant hub of village life.

G. Great Tew - Make yourself at home!

Bronze Age Britons, Romans and Saxons all settled hereabouts. Tew was part of a manor given by William the Conqueror to Odo, his Brother in Law who he made a Bishop while still underage. He fought at Hastings and is believed to have commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry, which ascribes a prominent role to him. 

The Great Park was created in the mid 1700's, at the expense of the local farming peasantry. The first manor House was owned by Sir Lawrence Tanfield, an old Etonian like Dave and the equivalent of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was renowned as a spectacularly corrupt and harsh landlord. 

The Manor itself is now owned by Rupert Murdoch but is not for for occupation and in true ‘Homes Under the Hammer’ styles ‘needs a lot of work done’. unoccupied and in need of repair. I think we can assume that it won’t be a DIY job. 

Great Tew Manor

Most of the houses in the village date to the 1800's but some (including the pub) are probably older. Many were left to decay in the early 1900's but the original tenant farmers were levered out and the buildings restored. Apparently Prince Harry & Meghan Markle leased a converted cowshed here and the Beckhams paid £6m for a converted barn before, to the irritation of the neighbours, building a mansion sized treehouse for their kids, Brooklyn, Romeo, Cruz & Harper.

This is Cameron's constituency. Once, during an election, I recall someone coming into the café with an armful of 'Vote Dave' window posters and being told that they were pointless because so few people thereabouts that had windows that could be seen from the road! 

In under a kilometre after leaving Great Tew there is a turn-off on a minor road which is fine for 1.5 miles to Enstone aerodrome, but then peters out into  a woodland track which is always rough and also muddy after rain. If you don't fancy that ,it is easy to devise an alternative route from the map. But if you do stick to the proper roads, you will be missing the Soho Farmhouse, playground of the young & loaded; and the aerodrome………

H. Posh Boys and Petrol Heads

On your right as you reach the valley of the River Dorn, is Soho Farmhouse, a rustic (!) outpost of Soho House, an exclusive international club with branches from Great Tew to Malibu. Both Prince Harry and David Beckham are (or were?) members along with sundry other youngish royals, the Clooney's and other celebs. Meghan Markle had her 'bachelorette' party here. 

A Typical Cotswolds Barn 

It is known as 'Butlins for Toffs' and at over £6000 a night is probably not for me n' you Jack even if you are riding a Pinarello. (And if you are riding a Pinarello, Lord help you over the next kilometre or so

They are expanding the accommodation for the nobs here, adding what looks to me from the plans like corrugated iron Nissen Huts and which the local rag reported that locals say will 'look like 'something from the smart part of Soweto'.

As you come out of the small valley, on your right is Enstone Aerodrome and at the end of the old airstrip is a race track of sorts which is (was?) one of the locations used by Top Gear for their ‘Celebrity Face Off’. As a committed Pootler I have never watched Top Gear and don't recognise most of the celebrities associated with it, but maybe you will. 

Petrolheads

Another Petrol Head with an interest in the airfield is an American businessman named Mullin who has outraged locals with proposals to build a a motoring museum here, partly financed by building expensive houses. They seem to enjoy outrage, this lot. Not so much NIMBIES as BANANAS i.e. Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anybody.

Some way beyond the Aerodrome the track is rough for several hundred yards. You were warned. 

I. Glympton - A bit of Oxfordshire that is forever Saudi

The village of Glympton used to be on our route but around 400 years ago it was moved it 500 yards to the South East to make room for additional grounds for the Manor which was then altered and renovated many times over the following centuries, but probably most entertainingly in 1992, when it was purchased by a Trust created by Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia, an ex-head of the Saudi

Intelligence Agency who also owned a ranch in Colorado that was apparently bigger than the White House. He reportedly spent £42m doing up and fortifying Glympton House and extending his local

land ownership and creating a pheasant shoot. You would think that the game birds might have picked up a tip or two from his staff! As you would expect he has many houses, but solves the commuting problem with his personal Airbus 340. If you want some cold detail, look him up on Wikipedia. There are five uses of the word 'allegedly' and nine of 'rumours' .


Fighting Back 

J. The Killingworth Castle.

Yet another posh pub eatery with a Michelin accolade, this one a former haunt of Winston Churchill, presumably when he found himself in need of a pint & pork scratchings. A bloke called Killingworth built it in 1637 as a bet on trade on the main road from London through Worcester to Aberystwth. A Happy Eater of its day! 

 

 "When I was younger I made it a rule never to take strong drink before lunch. It is now my rule never to do so before breakfast" (Winston Churchill)

K. Cornbury Park

This old Royal Hunting Estate, dating back to the Domesday Book, is the much altered 16th century gaff and 5000 acre back garden of Herbert Robin Cayzer, 3rd Baron Rotherwick. The 1st and 2nd Barons were also Herbert Robin and both the heir apparent and his son are Herbert Robin. Again, we find a singular lack of nominative imagination in Oxfordshire. The Cayzer family made their name in the shipping business although the current Baron

worked for Barings Bank, leaving before Nick Leeson wrecked it, which partly explains why he is a billionaire now. A charitable fellow, he is Patron of the National Association for Bikers with a Disability. This ride hasn't been tough enough for you qualify for membership.

The Park hosts the well known (i.e. I had heard of them) the Cornbury and Wilderness Music Festivals. 

Cornbury

L. Charlbury 

There are several cafes and pubs in Charlbury if you finish the ride with a bit of time to spare. The town was once noted for its Quaker population and for clock and glove-making. Ho hum.

Keeping Up in Charlbury


 




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