Milcombe to Hempton

Peter Jones walks around Milcombe and Hempton (First published in March 2013)

For this month I have something a little different, as I don’t end up where I start. I do however, find a funfair in the middle of nowhere, get trapped by the floods and meet a stunning lady waiting for me at the top of a hill.

I am starting my walk this month in Milcombe and ending up in Hempton, stopping off to explore Barford St Michael on the way.

I would obviously have a little logistics issue if I end up several miles away from the start.

There are several ways to overcome this problem however. There are plenty of buses from Banbury to Milcombe and likewise back to Banbury from Hempton via nearby Deddington.

You could however, use two cars and a Four Shires reader to give you a lift!

We leave one car in Hempton and drive back to Milcombe and park up there to start our walk.

On this occasion we were very lucky with the weather.

After having to abort the walk early in the month and with editor Jeremy getting twitchy over deadlines, we walked on Valentine’s Day in brilliant sunshine with no sign of the snow that had covered north Oxfordshire the previous week.

Our walk starts at that well known local land mark, the Milcombe Dovecote. Built in the 18th Century it was part of the Milcombe Hall Estate and after many years of neglect was refurbished in the 1990s and is now a scheduled Monument and Grade 2 listed building. It’s set in the middle of what is known as ‘The Dovecote Open space’, maintained by Cherwell District Council it is a well used and popular part of the village.

Immediately opposite is a gate and stile where we join a well marked footpath that cuts diagonally across two fields to where we reach the busy road to Chipping Norton. Carefully crossing this we climb another stile and follow the footpath which runs alongside the hedge.

To our right is the first of many barn conversions we will see on this walk. Whilst they are beautiful conversions, they all look a little bit stark, often built in well exposed situations.

To our left is the slightly surreal sight of a funfair ride appearing over the hedgerow. It’s amazing what we keep finding in the middle of north Oxfordshire!

The footpath is taking us steadily down hill which makes the walking fairly easy even though the ground is getting increasingly claggy. Remember, if you are going down one side of a valley, sooner or later you are going to have to come up the other side.

With the masts of USAF Barford St John appearing to our left we carried on to where the footpath signs take us over another stile.  This brings us out alongside a rather large pond from which a stream is gushing to join the River Swere below us. We should have taken more notice of this watery excess!

Another warning greeted us at the next stile. ‘Beware of the bull’! We got through this field very quickly but there was no real need to worry, as he was very likely drowned in what lay in front of us.

We were now on the valley floor and the River Swere was in full flood after the previous night’s heavy rain and the previous week’s melted snow. Barford St Michael was in front of us but on the other side of the river and even though we found a couple of wooden bridges they only led you into flooded field.

We were either very brave or very stupid but with ice cold water above our ankles we retraced our footsteps and picked up a footpath that took us through a farmyard and into Barford St John. Here we turned down the lane to Barford St Michael.

This was a good move as the Swere had  flooded the road making it difficult for cars, never mind two walkers. Luckily the footpath is elevated and took us over the river bridge (another listed building) and into the village.

As usual, many of the cottages and houses in the village are named after their former uses, though the standout one is the uniquely named ‘Woodworms Hilton’ the former home of Fairport Convention and Jethro Tull bass guitarist, Dave Pegg.

The very first building on your right as you enter the village is the former recording studios where Fairport and many other bands performed.

Many houses in Barford proudly fly their national flags in front of their homes. The union flag and the Cross of St George I understood. But I  was intrigued by a rather large house flying the flag of Finland: to quote Lloyd Grossman, “I wonder who lives in a house like this?”

The plan was to have a drink and a bite of lunch in The George, a great village pub. Sadly we had not researched its opening hours and had to miss out.

We now had two choices for the climb up to Hempton, both start near the phone box. You can either take the bridleway which is an extension of Summer Ley or walk slightly up the hill to Horn Hill and take the footpath that cuts diagonally across the fields.

We took the bridleway as walking around north Oxfordshire is great fun, but not when most of it is stuck to your boots!

The track is arrow straight and very easy and comfortable walking. After about half a mile it turns sharp right and this is where you remember that what goes down must come up. We climb nearly 200 feet from the valley floor up to Hempton.

The footpath we chose not to use crosses us halfway up and heads off towards Deddington and we pause to admire a couple of kestrels. Whilst getting our breath back we notice a lovely lady waiting for us at the top of the hill.

Very appropriately her name was Val, as not only was today Valentine’s Day it was also her birthday. She was six years old and her master told us she loves people and had spotted us from some distance away. She was excitedly  barking and wagging her tail, waiting till we got up to her.

If you have any breath left have a quick look around Hempton. Also take a moment to look back at where you have been. The stunning views make it all wort while. Next time however, choose to do the walk when the ground is dryer as the wet conditions made the first part of the walk one the hardest I have taken on!