Tuesday, 12 February 2013

The Jurassic Way

Having been confined to the house by snow yesterday I felt the need for a good walk so, setting off from Charwelton, I walked a short section of the Jurassic Way. This long-distance footpath takes its name from the Jurassic rocks which form the backbone to the landscape in west Northamptonshire. In places the rocks are rich in fossils and many stone walls show remains of belemnites, brachiopods and so on.  Between Charwelton and Byfield these rocks were also worked for their iron ore until being replaced by richer ores from Sweden, Australia, etc.

On the Jurassic Way

I set off over gently undulating ground to cross the infant River Cherwell (usually pronounced "Charwell") as it begins its long journey to join the River Thames and head for London. The walking was less easy than I'd anticipated. Beneath about ten centimetres of snow the ground, far from being frozen, was wet and very sticky. A very slow thaw was underway and the snow itself was getting wet. 

Rooks were excitedly gathering around their nests, grouped in a clump of oaks; a Raven, twig in its mouth, steered clear of its smaller brethren, appearing rather aloof. A couple of Snipe, feeding in a wet field, took to the air with a zig-zagging flight and a whirr of wings as I approached.
Charwelton Church,
12 February, 2013

Charwelton church is rather isolated from the village (which is actually little more than a hamlet) but people still make the journey of a mile or so to attend services. There were once two villages here, Little (or Church) Charwelton and Great (or Town) Charwelton. For reasons which are unclear Little Charwelton began to lose inhabitants at an alarming rate leaving what is now simply Charwelton, on the A361. A few bullocks seemed disinclined to move but these "stirks" are inquisitive rather than aggressive and soon lost their nerve as I approached.


The church is an unfussy, four-square sort of building, now far too big for the usual handful of worshippers although the funeral of a local worthy can still fill the pews. A couple of fine sycamores flank the building and in a few weeks the churchyard will be ablaze with daffodils. I surveyed them last year for insects but, sadly, these highly-bred plants do not get many visitors. For the first half of my journey I was never much more than a stone's throw from the track of the old Great Central Railway. Remarkably Charwelton did have a station and a few traces of it remain. The bridges still appear to be in a good state of repair and, had the proposed HS2 used any of this old route, little work would have been needed on these structures.
One of the many bridges still spanning the
old track-bed of the Great Central

I plodded on, often having to tread warily as I approached farm gates, the ground being just a sea of mud; it would have been easy to lose one's footing. The last mile or so was relatively uninteresting and I was glad to see the buildings of Woodford Halse come into view. By now I had left the railway behind but sixty years ago I would probably have seen clouds of smoke and steam as I looked towards this small town. A huge railway shed was sited there (technically called a Motive Power Depot but always known to "gricers" as a shed). It was closed in June, 1965 bringing an end to an era. What modern planners would give for the Great Central to be still open today!

I approached the Woodford Halse to Byfield road and was glad to have firm tarmac beneath my feet for the last few hundred yards. A Treecreeper worked its way along a hawthorn hedge beside the road, looking somehow odd as it scaled "trunks" little more than a metre high. Above, at the other end of the size scale, a buzzard soared, mewing plaintively. No doubt it was hungry - and so was I. And shortly afterwards i was tucking into very welcome hot food and coffee!

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