Tadpole Bridge & Golden Ridge

 


GPX File  Tadpole Bridge & Golden Ridge

 This is a pleasant, peaceful and undemanding route. Starting from Oxford Station, there is a short climb out of the town and the road into and out of Oxford is busy. Thereafter it is ride along mostly minor roads in flat, arable countryside in the Thames and Windrush valleys. It visits the market towns of Eynsham and Witney before turning south across the flat clay farming landscape of the Thames Valley, to cross the river at Tadpole Bridge. From there is a climb of around 35m onto the Golden Ridge, which separates the modern Thames Valley from the Vale of the White Horse and which you follow back towards Oxford.

Zooming In

Highlights are:

  • The flat vistas and wide skies of the Thames Valley.
  • Historic and handsome Eynsham and Witney.
  • The villages and views across the Valley from the Golden Ridge
  • Stanton Harcourt and the Devil’s Quoits, now ‘restored’
  • A diverse collection of heroes and villains.

The word ‘diverse’ is not loosely used here. In researching this tour I came across Old Nick, the Patron Saint of Bicester, King George 111, a Grand Prix driver and ‘ex’ of Fergie, King Cnut, Brian May from 'Queen', Tom Yorke from 'Radiohead' and sadly, the Colditz escapee who became a Tory Minister before being assassinated by the IRA and the expert of biological weapons who was found dead in mysterious circumstances in the run up to the Iraqi invasion.

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. In this case the whole tour is on road and should present no problems. Believe no other. So my main tip is, if you want to eat at the Trout on Tadpole Bridge, take your gold card. 

Zooming Out 

The countryside of the Thames Valley to the west of Oxford is mostly riverine clay sitting on a bed of chalk. There are exceptions; for instance Witney sits on Cornbrash, the dry limestone rubble soil that corn thrives on. The Golden Ridge is Corallian Limestone, younger than most of the Cotswold stone and made of the crushed remnants of coral reefs. You can see it there in the beautiful honey-coloured stonework on the older houses.  It used to be famous for its roses. And look out for fossils! 

As you might expect given that this isn’t far from the Stone Age wonderland that is Wiltshire, the area has been occupied for a long time. One legacy is the Devil’s Quoits, near Stanton, which are a Neolithic Henge. Now, following centuries of enclosures, it is a classic ‘planned’ and ‘improved’ landscape with large rectangular fields, drainage, straight(ish) roads, scattered farmsteads and comparatively few footpaths. 

Witney still has a medieval layout but was something of an industrial centre once, taking wool from the Cotswolds with fulling mills running on water power from the Windrush and easy access to London by road. Blankets made there became famous and prized around the world, used in Nelson’s navy and strapped to cowboy’s saddles. They even have an exhibition dedicated to them.

Waypoints

B.  Swinford Toll Bridge 

The Ford that gave Swinford its name has been a key crossing point on the Thames for centuries. The toll bridge that replaced it was built in the 18th c. The story goes that a coach carrying King George III almost came a cropper in the ford crossing the River and as a result the local landowner, Lord Abingdon was granted the right to build a bridge and charge a toll.

The bridge is actually privately owned (and was sold for over £1m in 2009) and is governed by its own Act of Parliament) which allows for the revenues to be tax free - which might explain the price paid! Worry not, bikes go free. 

Swinford Toll Bridge 

C. Eynsham

The centre of the old market town of Eynsham is focused on a pleasant little stone-built square. There is a reconstruction of the original market cross incorporating part of the original, which dated from around 1350. 

The place seems to have been important long before the Romans turned up, probably on account of its proximity to the Ford. After they left, tater, the Saxons and Britons fought over it. It seems that the Britons won the battle but not the war, there is evidence of Saxon buildings a little to the North of the current village .


Eynsham 

D. Stanton Harcourt: The Devil's Quoits & the Patron Saint of Bicester

The Thames has wandered around over time, and this intriguing little village is situated on a gravel plain it left behind.

The name 'Harcourt' comes from a 12th c. landowner. Stanton means 'The Farm by the Stones' which in this case probably refer to the Devil's Quoits, a prehistoric stone circle by the side of a lake just to the south of the village. Unusually, it has been been ‘restored’ with fallen stones repositioned and earthworks rebuilt. 

The photo below will give you an idea whether a diversion is worthwhile.  If so, follow the road through the village to the T Junction and turn left instead of right. 


The Devil's Quoits

The Harcourt descendants used to live in the Manor House here which apparently has 'one of the most complete surviving medieval kitchens in the country.' No Microwave then! 

You can easily see 'Pope's Tower' where, in the 15th c., Alexander Pope wrote the definitive early translation of the Iliad using ‘heroic couplets’. I have no idea what those are. More entertainingly, he also penned a verse for a local young couple who were killed by lightening. You can find it carved on a stone monument on the exterior of the south wall of the nave at the adjacent St Michael's church, a substantial part of which dates back to the Norman period. 

Pope's Tower

As well as a full deck of dead Harcourts, this ancient church also sports a shrine to St Edburg, a Nun and daughter of King Penda of Mercia, who is described by Wikipedia as being ‘a bit of a mystery’ but which didn’t stop her from becoming the Patron Saint of Bicester. (It is believed that her remains have been found there, under a block of flats, which would make this the first Saint's remains to be found in England. That is odd in itself given that it seems to have rained Saints in the Saxon era).

E. Witney & Cogges Manor Farm

Cogges Manor Farm is on your left here. It is a farming museum with a good cafe although I am not sure whether you have to pay admission to the Farm to use it.

The Manor first appeared in the Domesday Book as the property of one Wadward, a Norman who is pictured on the Bayeux Tapestry. He was probably feeling a bit insecure in these parts, so constructed a small 'castle', probably comprising a house within a defensive palisade & moat and situate where the play area is now. It's a shame its gone, the Kids would have liked it, but all that is left now are the remains of the moat

Cogges Farm, as seen in Downton Abbey! 

Witney is another handsome town that cashed in on a ford, in this case across the River Windrush. 

It was famous for its blanket-making industry, a type they claim was loved by everyone from cowboys to Eskimos. Now it home to the Wychwood Brewery which produces beers in its own name but also for Brakespeare's and others. Sadly it is now owned by Carlsberg. The brewery has a small museum, open weekends. That might be more enticing than the Town's Blanket Museum, which is on the left just after you cross the River on the way through the Town.

Witney

NB. The way out of Witney is aimed at minimising the use of main roads but is complicated so please pay attention to your route.

F. Tadpole Bridge

This is a lovely spot and I can confirm that the Trout gastropub is ‘nice’ but the food comes at about £1 a molecule. The Bridge itself dates back to 1780 . As you can see its construction is coursed limestone rubble with limestone ashlar dressings, a broached pilaster buttresses flank arch & blind lunettes to spandrels with an ashlar string course beneath parapet'.

Tadpole Bridge 

F. Buckland House

The rather grand Mansion here, which the pre-eminent architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner reckoned was the most splendid Georgian house in the country, is owned by (now very elderly) ex-Grand Prix racing driver Paddy McNally who subsequently made a fortune in sports related business. His other flops include places on the Cote D'Azur, Verbier, St Tropez and Ian Fleming's former home in Wiltshire. 

For a while he was dating Fergie, before she married Prince Andrew. Apparently one of the bedrooms here is a copy of Marie Antoinette’s bedroom at Versailles. How appropriate!

From here back to Cumnor the route follows a string of villages along the 'Golden Ridge' 

G. The Pusey Horn

Pusey is thought to mean 'Pea Island' and the Manor was in the Pusey family for centuries. Legend has it that it was given to them by King Cnut, famed for trying to halt the tides. The grant was a land title known as 'cornage' and was signified by the giving of a horn.

For what it's worth, Cornage is variously thought to refer to either a grant of land in return for an obligation to blow a horn in the event of invasion, or to a tax on horned cattle. (Horn is Cornu in Latin). The 'Pusey Horn', shown in the Pic, is now in the V & A Museum in London.

The Pusey Horn 

H. Hinton Waldrist

The Manor House here which was originally built c. 1550 for a Royal Physician. 

Just to the south of it are the earthwork remnants of Hinton Waldrist Castle. In medieval times the original Motte & Bailey Norman jobbe, was replaced in stone by the Bohun family, one of whom was Henry V's mum. Agincourt etc etc. 

Airey Neave, the Tory Minister blown up in Parliament Square by the Irish National Liberation Army in 1979, lived here in the Old Rectory. He had an interesting time of it in WW2 after being captured 1940. He escaped from Stalag XX-A  in Poland in 1941, was recaptured and sent to Colditz Castle. hence the Waypoint picture. He tried to escape again and failed because his cobbled together 'German' uniform was a poor colour match and didn't fool anybody. Apparently he was colour blind. But he tried again, succeeded, and became the first British Officer to return home from Colditz.

Kolditz

Odd claims to fame: 

A Victorian photographer, T.R. Williams, produced a collection of stereoscopic images of the village in 1856 when these were very much a novelty. These fell into the hands of Brain May, the guitarist from Queen, who was fascinated enough to reproduce them in a book. Hence the pic's. The man himselves, and Charles Dickens by Mr Williams. 


Brian May & his Steroscope

Charles Dickens

I. Longworth

Just to the north of Longworth is Harrowdown Hill. In 2003 when arguments were raging about alleged Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, David Kelly who was a key expert on these weapons was found dead here. This led to the Hutton Enquiry. Radiohead's Thom Yorke wrote a song about it which he described as 'the most angry song I've ever written in my life'.

From here, you follow the Golden Ridge back into Oxford via Cumnor.


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