When I started these walks nearly five years ago it was just me and a map. I was then joined on a regular basis by architect Roger and then last year by the retired airline pilot. This month two regular readers of the Four Shires asked if they could join us as well.
I explained to them that the walks were more like gentle strolls – and this time we visited a couple of churches, got chased by a man with a chainsaw and had lunch in a mortuary!
Our start point this month was The Carpenters Arms in Middle Barton. Before we left, very kindly,the landlord came out and asked if we wanted a coffee and enquired what time would we like him to open up for our return!
We declined his kind offer and set out along North Street to explore Middle Barton, one of the three villages that makes up the group know as The Bartons. Steeple Barton and Westcote Barton make up the remainder. Middle Barton is divided by the River Dorn with the predominantly modern part of the village to the north and the older part to the south.
We take a left down to Mill Lane, past some picturesque cottages to the fast running river which can be crossed by a ford or a raised footpath if you want to keep your feet dry. Here we meet a retired local man who told us a great story involving his father in the 1930s. The local scouts were taking part in ‘bob-a job’ week and were using the ford to wash people’s cars. Many vehicles were washed but sadly all the detergent being used was carried downstream into the lake in front of Barton Abbey. Much to the owner’s annoyance it disagreed with the fish resulting in many of them not surviving the day!
Usually on these walks many of the older properties give a big clue as to their former uses, The Old School and The Old Post Office being just a couple of examples, but the Barton Historical Society saves us a lot of work. Their magnificent website not only gives detail of the former use of many properties in the village but also shows the variety of business that the village supported. In 1903 there were three general stores, three surgeries and three pubs.
We continue exploring the old village, tracking along South Street, Fox lane and Kiddington Road before arriving back up on the main road through the village. Here we turn left onto the Enstone Road where we pass our second pub of the morning before we reach the first of our churches of the day, the 12th century St Edward the Confessor.
You enter it from the road through a gate with a very complex lock. Its construction reminds me very much of a mediaeval chastity belt! The church itself is locked but the key is available from the rectory next door. We spend some time in the churchyard pausing to admire the headstone of the fabulously named “Bubbles Pratley”.
We also bump into an old friend, a Four Shires reader, “Barry the Postman” and his wife. They are regular readers of our walks and often visit those places we have been to, although it is a bit of a mystery as to how they got to this walk before we did!
We back track to Mill Lane and this time climb up the path into South Street and pick up a footpath that heads south across the fields and into open country. Here we see skylarks, buzzards and red kites before turning left onto a lane that takes us down to Steeple Barton, where a grass bank is already full of snowdrops and aconites in the first week of January.
Now those of you that read The Four Shires regularly will realise that we have been here before. The little loop this time is for the benefit of our two guests as it is one of the nicest of all the walks we have done.
But before we do, we spend a little time in our second church, the Church of St Mary the Virgin. This is the parish church of Middle Barton to where the population of Steeple Barton decamped following the plague outbreak in the Middle Ages.
There are two interesting items in the church. A plaque set in the south aisle to Sir Phillip Constable of Yorkshire who died in 1664 having had his estates confiscated because of his loyalty to King Charles I. As well as the civil war plaque there is a war memorial to commemorate those who went from the parish to the modern wars. This scroll lists whether they were imprisoned, lost, wounded, killed in action or returned home safe and sound.
A footpath takes us from the corner of the churchyard down to the lake in front of Barton Abbey and then across parkland through a small wood to a track where we turn left deeper into the woods. We are searching for a Hoar Stone, as indicated on our O.S. map.
The Hoar Stone turns out to be a massive lump of stone which when originally in its upright position would have stood over 10 feet tall! It marked an ancient long barrow…a Neolithic collective tomb.
We back track through the wood where we spook three deer, one of them almost grey in colour with huge antlers. We also see herons, pheasants and muntjak deer.
We pass though parkland. For the second time in two years we admire the idyllically situated Steeple Aston Cricket club before crossing the main drive to Barton Abbey and take a footpath behind some old fishponds and up a bank into a fairly dense wood.
We can hear the sound of a chainsaw buzzing away in the distance but choose to ignore the workman. We shouldn’t have! Although we are on a well marked footpath, we had strayed into a ‘designated workplace’ and were in contravention of health and safety regulations. Having pointed out the error of or ways, he gave us a very interesting talk on the forestation and harvesting of the Douglas Fir Tree.
The rooftops of Middle Barton were beginning to appear above the fields in front of us and before too long we were sat in front a fire in The Carpenters Arms. Enjoying real pub food washed down with a couple of pints of Hook Norton, we weren’t certain if our new friends are ready for a bottle of red yet.
Dave the landlord was full of information and gave us a great history of the pub, pointing out that the room above where we were eating was once the village mortuary!
So another great walk of about six miles around the Four Shires There was lots to see, do and discover. I think our new friends enjoyed themselves…they have both asked when the next one is.
First published in February 2015 issue of Four Shires Magazine