On the last day of 2018 I walked with my visually-impaired friend, Marika Kovacs, from Burford in Oxfordshire, in the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. I used to do this walk with my partner Chris when he lived in Burford as editor of The Countryman magazine.
We set off eastwards along the River Windrush towards Widford. It’s a peaceful path over the fields. Soon we came to a ‘stile’ which was dangerous even for those who are not visually impaired: the barbed wire strung round the posts is plain nasty and the structure in no way conforms with the British Standard. This route is popular with families.
A bit further, on the boundary of Burford and Winbrook and Widford parishes, we came upon another awkward structure with a broken step.
Here a sign proclaims that the farmer receives a grant from Defra for managing the land under the Environmentally Sensitive Area scheme, so it is particularly poor that the stile should be in such a state. I trust that, under the forthcoming agricultural-grant scheme, farmers will be required firstly to remove any unnecessary structures and secondly to ensure that any essential structures are in good order.
We came to the tiny mediaeval church of St Oswald at Widford, with its exquisite wall- paintings. Widford was a small enclave of Gloucestershire until 1844 and Pevsner says that the church is ‘unspoiled and unsophisticated’. He also says that to the west are the clear remains of the earthworks of a deserted mediaeval village, although I didn’t think they were all that visible.
Then we walked up Dean Bottom, coming to yet another obstructive stile.
I have reported all three stiles to Oxfordshire County Council.
We reached the lane at the top of the valley and took the restricted byway towards Paynes Farm, turning onto a footpath which was slightly further but proved to be a worthwhile diversion. For if we had not gone this way we would have missed the little copse at Handley Plain. As we walked through we heard long-tailed tits and so we stopped to listen. We were rewarded with a whole host of chirruping birds—blue, great and marsh tits, goldfinch, nuthatch, robin and blackbird, with a buzzard calling overhead and two red kites in view. We stood there for some time listening.
Then we continued to Paynes Farm and took the footpath first north-west and then south-west across the fields to Fulbrook. We sat in the churchyard for a bit and then went into the church. It has a Norman door.
‘Shut the door,’ said Marika, so I did. She knew that it would be silent in there and indeed it was, the thick walls screening any sound. Again, we stood listening to the rare silence. I hear so much more when I am with Marika
We walked the last lap to Burford on a footpath alongside fields and then on the road, with a great view of the church spire over the meadows. A lovely way to end the year.