Oxford to Banbury
Find stately homes and ancient landmarks on this Cotswold tour
Follow the route - Oxford to Banbury
> Leave Oxford on the A44 and turn left along an unclassified road towards Cassington. Turn right on an unclassified road, right on the A4095, past Bladon, then left on the A44 to Woodstock.
You can stop off in Bladon, to visit the churchyard where Sir Winston Churchill and his wife and parents are buried, before continuing along the road to Blenheim, where he was born. Blenheim Palace was given to the Marlborough family by Queen Anne as a reward for the 1st Duke of Marlborough’s victory over the French at Blenheim in 1704.
Just outside the park is the town of Woodstock, with its mellow stone buildings. Kings of England came here for the excellent hunting in the Forest of Wychwood, but modern visitors have gentler interests. A quiet hour can be spent in the Oxfordshire County Museum, in the town centre, where the history of the people and the changing landscape is conveyed in exhibitions ranging from the Stone Age to the present time.
Places to stay near Woodstock
> From Woodstock take the A44 turning left on to the B4437 to Charlbury and then the B4026 to Chipping Norton.
Visiting Chipping Norton
Gateway to the Cotswolds and historic market town, this was the market for the sheep farmers of the area, and the wide main street is a relic of those days (the name ‘chipping’ means market). There are many fine old stone buildings, including the church, market hall, pubs and big houses, but it is the fine wool church which dominates the town, one of over 40 in the Cotswolds. Paid for by the proceeds from sheep farming, it is mainly 14th- and 15th-century, but much of its stonework has been restored. Another of the town’s landmarks is the chimney of Bliss Tweed Mill which is an important reminder of local history.
Places to stay near Chipping Norton
> Take the B4026, then go north along the A3400 for just over a mile (1.6km) and turn left along an unclassified road signed Little Rollright.
Visiting the Rollright Stones
This Bronze Age circle, which dates from earlier than 1000 BC, was nearly as important as Stonehenge in the Neolithic period. Nicknamed the ‘King’s Men’, it measures a full 100 feet (30m) across. Over the road is the King Stone, a monolith, and nearby, just along the road, is the group of stones called the Whispering Knights, at the site of a prehistoric burial chamber. The surrounding countryside is patterned with stone walls of weathered limestone.
Places to stay near the Rollright Stones
> Return to the A3400 and turn south before branching left on to the A361, then turn left in Bloxham along unclassified roads to Broughton.
Broughton Castle is a fortified manor rather than a castle, turned into an Elizabethan house of style by the Fiennes family in about 1600. Surrounded by a great moat lake, it is set in gorgeous parkland, and has a stone church nearby. The present owners, Lord and Lady Saye and Sele, are descendants of the family that has lived here for centuries. Celia Fiennes, the 17th-century traveller and diarist, was a member of this family. William de Wykeham, founder of Winchester School and New College, Oxford, acquired the manor and converted the manor house into a castle. The medieval Great Hall is the most impressive room, and suits of armour from the Civil War are on show.
Places to stay near Broughton
> Drive 3 miles (5km) east along the B4035 to Banbury.
Banbury is a town of charm and character, with its interesting buildings and narrow medieval streets. Famous for the nursery rhyme ‘Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross’, the town is also known for its spice cakes, which have been made here since the 16th century. The unusual church with its round tower replaced an older one demolished in the 18th century. There is still a weekly street market, which has been held regularly for over 800 years, and there used to be a livestock market, too, but nowadays the animals are taken to a permanent site on the edge of town, Europe’s largest cattle market.