Sunday, January 22, 2017

Wittenham Clumps

I love discovering interesting new places not far from home. Today's discovery is just 11 miles south of Oxford. We hiked to the top the Wittenham Clumps -- Round Hill and its neighbour, Castle Hill.  These two hills sit side by side, each surrounded by fields and with a clump of trees on top. Castle Hill was once home to a Bronze Age hill fort and the mote that protected the hill fort is still quite evident. 

When you climb to the top of either hill, you will be rewarded with stunning views of the county side, stretching as far as the Chiltern hills to the east and the Cotswolds to the west. Today the views were a bit obscured by a winter haze that made the countryside look soft and impressionistic. 

Known as Wittenham Clumps, the trees on both summits are the oldest known planted hilltop beeches in England, dating back more than 300 years. Also called the Sinodun Hills, the Wittenham Clumps are part of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Round Hill

The Wittenham Clumps were made famous by the British landscape artist Paul Nash. He discovered them in his late teenage years and he was immediately caught by their atmospheric shapes and mystical associations. The Clumps became a rich source of inspiration and he returned to paint them many times during his life. His first paintings of the Wittenham Clumps were made just over a hundred years ago, in 1912. 

Click here to learn more about Paul Nash and his painting of the Clumps

The view to the north

The mighty Thames at Dorchester

Castle Hill

The view to the west

This is what I call British "Snow".  It is a deep frost that melts only when the sun shines on it.  We have frosts like this in our garden, woods, and paddock nearly every night during the winter months.   

I look forward to coming back and exploring more on a clear day and when  the wildflowers are in bloom.

For more information about the Wittenham Clumps:

Wittenham Clumps Wikipedia

Click here for directions for a 4 miles walk that includes the Wittenham Clumps

Thursday, November 17, 2016

UK's Strangely Named Places

One of the many things I love about the UK are the creative and odd names of places.  Some of the best include: Dull, Lost, Nasty, Great Snoring, Matching Tye, Horrid Hill, Donkey Town, Loose Bottom, Blubberhouses, Upton Snodsbury, and Rest and be Thankful.  I especially like that last one.  It's a great name and good advice, especially during these unsettled times.  

I'd love to hear about your favorite oddly named place and where it is located. Let me know.  


Sunday, October 2, 2016

White Horse Hill, Wayland Smithy Long Barrow, and the Great Coxwell Barn

Recently my daughter came for a visit.  Kate loves to explore places that are off the beaten path so one day we headed south west to see the Uffington White Horse Hill and to explore the unique complex of Iron Age sites that are found at the White Horse Hill and in the surrounding area. 

Our first stop was the Blowing Stone, a perforated sarsen stone that apparently makes a booming sound when anyone with the required skill blows into one of the perforations in a particular way. According to legend, this was how King Alfred summoned his Saxon troops for the Battle of Ashdown, against the Vikings. Also, according to legend, a person who is capable of making the blowing stone sound a note that is audible atop Uffington White Horse Hill will be a future King of England. 

The Blowing Stone wasn't easy to find. Best to go the Blowing Stone Pub and ask for direction.

Next stop was the White Horse which is created from long curving lines made of trenches dug in the hillside, then filled with chalk, each up to ten feet wide and about 365 feet long. The horse dates back to 1200 to 800 BC . Why it was created and what it's purpose was remains a mystery.

From White Horse Hill you can see Dragon Hill, a small roundish hill with a flat top.  This is said to be the site where St George, England's patron saint, slew the dragon.  You can also see for miles in each direction. On a clear day you can see to six different counties from the top of this hill.

This small valley is called the Manger and has steep rippled sides that were created during the last Ice Age. The ripples are known as the Giant’s Steps and were possibly used in the earliest form of terraced farming in England during the bronze age.  

On the top of this hill is a Iron Age hilltop fort known as Uffington Castle.  It forms the highest point in Oxfordshire at 860 feet above sea level.  

About a mile away, as the crow flies, is Wayland Smithy's Cave, a large chambered long barrow neolithic burial site. The site originally started out as a wooden mortuary structure with a stone floor surrounded by sarsen boulders and chalk. 

Human remains found on the site indicate that 14 people were interred in the earlier burial structure between 3590 and 3550 BC. Between 3460 and 3400 BC a second far larger barrow was constructed on top. This burial ground is older than the most famous pyramids of Egypt! The cave entrance is, of course, sealed off. 

There are four large sarsen stones at the entrance to the chamber; there were originally six, three on either side of the entrance. The four remaining stones were found lying in front of the monument and restored in 1962.  

On the way back to Oxford we came across the Great Coxwell Barn -- a large 13th-century tithe barn on the northern edge of the village of Great Coxwell.

The barn is built of Cotswold stone, with rubble walls and ashlar corner stones for buttresses and window and door openings. The entire building is topped by huge slate roof of Cotswold stone. 

The 13th century tithe barn was built by the monks of Beaulieu Abbey in Hampshire. At that time the abbey held a monastic grange at Coxwell (a grange being a farm worked for the abbey's benefit). The grange was operated by a combination of hired servants and lay brothers, and this barn would have been just one of numerous farm buildings need to operate the grange. It's the only surviving building from the grange. 

When Henry VIII dissolved the Beaulieu Abbey in 1538 he appropriated their estates. Two years later in 1540, he sold Great and Little Coxwell to the bailiff of the Faringdon estate, one Thomas Moore. In the 18th century it became part of the Coleshill estate, and large doors were added in the gable ends of the barn, to admit large farm wagons. The tie beams were reinforced in the 19th century, and rafters replaced. The barn was gifted to the National Trust in 1956.

The barn is 144 feet long and 38 feet wide, with an internal area of 5,502 square feet. There is what appears to be a dovecot above the east door.

William Morris, the father of the Arts and Craft movement in England, called the barn the most impressive building in England, and 'as beautiful as a cathedral'. He often brought guests here to marvel at this impressive medieval building. I can see why. I also can't imagine that we build anything today, especially any kind of barn, that will last 700 years and look this incredible. 

For a lovely day of beautiful countryside, great views, interesting walks, neolithic sites, and spectacular 700-year-old tithe barn, head to the Berkshire Downs and the Uffington White Horse. It will not disappoint. Below are links with more information on the Blowing Stone, the White Horse Hill, the Wayland Smith's Long Barrow, and the Great Coxwell Tithe Barn.

The Blowing Stone

Uffington White Horse

Wayland Smithy Long Barrow

Great Coxwell Barn

Our route on Google Maps