All Saints Church in the leafy village of Sutton Courtenay, has more than one claim to fame. It's churchyard contains a British Prime Minister and a famous writer. The vicarage is at the other end of the village, so I am not sure how you obtain the key. It used to be available from one of the nearby houses.
The church tower dates from the 12th century and has a nice Norman arched door. The one-handed clock dates to 1700 [when I last visited, this had been removed for repair]. On the south side of the church is the main red brick porch, which I believe is 16th century. Over the door is a carving of a barrel (tun) and a beacon, representing Thomas Bekynton, Bishop of Bath and Wells, who lived in the village.
The churchyard has some notable occupants.
Eric Arthur Blair (1903-1950), or George Orwell, author of 1984 and Homage to Catalonia is buried here. Many people come here to see his grave. Orwell was friends with another local family, the Asquiths. Violet Asquith chose this village as his final resting place. His grave is directly east of the church, about 3/4 of the way towards the boundary wall.
Orwell's friend, rich liberal newspaper owner and son of Britain's first woamn MP, David Astor (died 2001), is buried just nearby.
(Lord) Herbert Henry Asquith, British Prime Minister 1908-16 is buried here, as are several of his family. You will see the large tomb not far east from the church.
Closer to the church is another notable local interrment - Martha Pye. She reputedly died aged 117 years old and is alleged to have walked to Abingdon and back when she was 100!!!
Happy grave-spotting :-)
Sutton Courtenay is a picturesque village 2.5 miles southeast of Abingdon. It is a great place to stop for a drink, or meal in one of its pubs. Or there are some pleasant river walks by the Thames. It has a long, long history, the highlight of which was the 18 years of my residence there ;-)
Matilda, wife of King Henry I gave birth to the king's two daughters here. The Royal Palace is now part of the Manor House, which is (a now private house) behind trees opposite the village green. King William (the Conqueror), Henry's dad, visited the village.
Robert de Courtenay built the Norman Hall in 1192. It still exists behind gates opposite the church.
Next to the village green is All Saints Church, dating from the late 12th century with its nice Norman arch front door. The churchyard has some notable occupants, including George Orwell [see separate tip]. The small house next door to the church has a false window. See if you can spot it. This dates from the time when windows were taxable!
There is also a 15th century Abbey building in the trees to the east of the Green. It is occupied by a spiritual community and occasionally open for various events and exhibitions.
You can take a very pleasant walk along the causeway that divides the River Thames from the mill-race. Find this at the far north corner of the village. The village once had a large Paper Mill here. You will pass the converted boathouse of Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith.
There are several nice pubs in the old village, all well worth a visit. The Swan, George and Dragon and The Fish, are well-regarded. Nice meals available at the Fish on Appleford Road.
As for getting to Sutton Courtenay, these days it is probably best to drive. There is a bus service from Didcot to Oxford which can drop you off in the village.
On the summit of Castle Hill, at Wittenham Clumps, is the Poem Tree. Although it died in the 1990's, enough still remains for the poem carved into its trunk to be visible (although not readable).
Joseph Tubbs was so inspired by the views and the history that he carved his poem into the bark in 1844/45. Fortunately, it was traced in the 1960s, so his industry survives (even if only on the accompanying plaque).
As up the hill with labr'ing steps we tread
Where the twin Clumps their sheltering branches spread
The summit gain'd, at ease reclining lay
and all around the wide spread scene survey
Point out each object and instructive tell
The various changes that the land befel.
Where the low bank the country wide surrounds
That ancient earthwork form'd old Murcia's bounds.
In misty distance see the barrow heave,
There lies forgotten lonely Culchelm's grave.
Around this hill the ruthless Danes intrenched,
and these fair plains with gory slaughter drench'd,
While at our feet where stands that stately tower
In days gone by uprose the Roman power
And yonder, there where Thames smooth waters glide
In later days appeared monastic pride.
Within that field where lies the grazing herd
Huge walls were found, some coffins disinter'd
Such is the course of time, the wreck which fate
And awful doom award the earthly great."
Wittenham Clumps is now a nature reserve encompassing the Sinodun Hills, about 10 miles from Oxford. I'm not sure whether they are in Berkshire or Oxfordshire at the moment (they have changed county on occasion!) so I've duplicated this tip under both counties.
A huge hill-fort (Castle Hill) lies on one of the hills, dating at least from the Iron Age although there is evidence of settlement long before that. Its massive ditches and ramparts still survive; a magnificent feat of engineering.
There are coppices on the summit of both hills, evidence of 18th century landscaping. That on Castle Hill is now closed, due to the danger from falling trees, but one can still visit the 'Poem Tree' (see tip below).
As the surrounding countryside is so flat, there are wonderful views from the top of both hills, from the Thames and Dorchester Abbey to the Chilterns.
The site is managed by the Northmoor Trust, which works to maintain its wildlife and flora.
An excellent place to visit for a bracing walk on a windy day!
East Hagbourne is a pretty village a short distance south of Didcot. It was the location for the filming of a series of the cult BBC TV programme "Doctor Who" in 1975. 'Android Invasion' starred Tom Baker (the guy with the very long scarf) in the lead role. East Hagbourne performed as the fictitious village of Devesham!
The real village is filled with many black-and-white timber framed houses which date back to the 17th century. There is a pleasant church and a magnificent ancient village cross.
Only a few years before the Great Fire of London (1666), East Hagbourne had its own terrible fire, which destroyed most of the houses. The population of London held a collection to raise money to help the Hagbourne homeless and, after 1666, the Hagbourne-ites sent money to London to return the kindness!
You can take a pleasant walk across the fields to the equally pleasant village of Blewbury. Tennis star Tim Henman lives in the nearby village of Aston Tirrold.
East Hagbourne has two pubs. The best is the Fleur-de-Lys, which also starred in the Doctor Who Programmes. The pub serves good beer, hot meals and has a folk music night on a Wednesday each month.
It is possible to walk from Didcot to East Hagbourne (only a mile) but easy to get lost on the way. Didcot is on the main railway from London and also has a Railway Museum.
Blewbury lies cross the fields from East Hagbourne and a couple of miles from Didcot and the main A34 road. It is an extremely pretty village of pubs, streams, thatched cottages ...and thatched walls. There is also a pleasant church at the centre of the village, next door to two delightful almshouses adjoining the graveyard.
Apparently the village was owned by four farms. Each quarter of the village was connected by paths, which exist today and are lined by walls topped with their own 'roofs'.
There are three pubs and a petrol station/shop for refreshments. At one corner of the churchyard is a large illustrated noticeboard with historical information about the village.
Kenneth Graham, author of "Wind in the Willows" lived in Blewbury. See if you can spot the 'Ratty, Toad and Mole' weather vane on Westbrook Street :-)
Well, ok, I mean Didcot Power Station. It dominates the flat landscape of South Oxfordshire. The 635 foot high chimney and six enormous cooling towers are major features of the area and can be seen for miles and miles. Didcot is not famous for much and many people have quite affectionate feelings to these features! As a small child in a neighbouring village I remember massive pieces of turbine being dragged through the streets to complete it, in the very early 1970's.
The location of the power station was so sensitive that architect planner Frederick Gibberd (1908-1984) was called in to lay out the site. Here the six towers are deliberately spread out, into two sets of three. Therefore from many angles Didcot Power Station adds a composition to the landscape. Unfortunately the very recent addition of Didcot "B" (Gas) Power Station has made the composition more cluttered.
Sir Frederick Gibberd was also the designer of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, which really is a cathedral :-)
Didcot "A" Power Station uses 95% coal and 5% biomass. You will see the vast piles of coal if you pass through Didcot on the train from London to South Wales.
NPower can arrange guided tours of the power station for community and educational groups.
Listen to a radio interview about the power station on BBC Radio Oxford:
For three weeks in May every year, Barn Galleries (near Henley) host an excellent ARTSPACE event. Occasionally during the rest of the year there are other events too.
Barn Galleries are a collection of very old timber, brick and flint farm buildings. The oldest and most impressive barn dates from the early 18th century. Filled from floor to the rafters with paintings it looks superb.
There are also 8-acres of grassy gardens with a large pond. The gardens become filled with sculpture of all shapes, sizes and materials.
The art is really superb. Very professional stuff, with prices to match. Not your usual 'Sunday painters'. And it costs nothing to look around. Tea, coffee and cakes are available in one of the barns.
The only unhappy thing about all this is it only happens for three weeks!
LOCATION ~ A couple of miles east of Henley, on the main road from the M404. The turning off the main road is signposted during the events, but keep your eyes peeled.
Located in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, it's the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill (there's an exhibition about him at the palace) and the home of the 11th Duke of Marlborough. The gardens are enormous and very beautiful. There's a maze, a butterfly garden and a herb garden.
Don't miss the Pitt Rivers Museum and adjacent Oxford Natural History Museum -- a treasure trove of fascinating anthropological and natural pieces from dinosaur skeletons to collections of primitive baskets. Nice, small shop, near University Parks and Keble College.
The Natural History Museum and the Pitt Rivers Museum are great for rainy days and kids love them. The Natural History has huge dinosaur skeletons, and also skeletons from more familiar creatures like elephants and horses. There are beautiful displays of butterflies, beetles and birds as well as living colonies of bees, cockroaches and stick insects.
The Pitt Rivers Museum has a variety of displays from shrunken heads to totem poles and hours of other fascinating items collected by Oxford professors and scholars over the years.
Free admission to both, but donations are welcomed.
St John's College, on St Giles, has free admission to the public, is well endowed with great gargoyles and has a beautiful garden.
Across the road is the Eagle & Child pub where CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien used to hang out with their friends, drink beer and read to each other from their works.
Evensong at one of the Oxford Colleges is spectacular. Particularly good are Christ Church and New College, both of which have daily services at 6pm. Services last about 45 minutes.
The picture is of Christ Church Cathedral which is the college chapel of Christ Church College.
If you are interested and want to meet an amazing artist and poet, if you are lucky you may come across Zoe Peterson, an ex-don in literature of one of the Universities... Polish/Austrian poet and artist. She sits in the Christchurch meadows, early afternoon drawing and talking to her animal friends. Ask to buy some of her poetry printed with her drawings in handmade books, or cards that she has done also. She have a wonderful outlook on life. A very interesting woman... if i had more time i would have liked to sit with her drawing all day, everything she says is poetry.
Even though it was the height of the season (August) we did not meet many people. It was lovely, it was as though we were the only two people left in the world...no cars, buses, motorways, police sirens, motorbikes.....aaaah just perfect!
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