Burton Dassett Country Park certainly cuts an impressive sight, its lofty plateau being set high above the surrounding Warwickshire Countryside. Having moved to North Oxfordshire in recent times, it has become one of my favourite haunts of a Sunday morning, particularly when the day is bright and clear, as the 360 degree views from the top of Gallows Hill are expansive and breath-taking.
The 100 acre site was long mined for ironstone – for which the area is well-known. You will see that most of the local buildings have been hewn from its deep earthy tones. However, such a dominant feature of the landscape must have been venerated or inhabited for countless generations, and indeed, mining in 1908 uncovered a Saxon burial ground, dating from the sixth or seventh century.
An example of an ironstone building, so associated with the South Warwickshire / North Oxfordshire area.
Today sheep graze the deserted hillside, and it is a wonderful place to walk and find peace. In the summer, I am assured that its pastures are covered with wild flowers, the soil a perfect place for the flowers to proliferate, unpolluted as it is by the rigours of modern day farming and the profligate use of pesticides. However, we – my mum (wrapped up in the picture below!), sister and niece – visited in late February, when the burgeoning spring was still being held at bay by a determined winter.
We fought to get out of the car intact, as strongest winds I have ever encountered tore across this most exposed of locations. It was difficult even to stand as we were buffeted along, managing eventually to take temporary shelter in what remains of a once prosperous medieval village of the same name. Signposts at the centre of the park (near the pay-and-display machine), point toward the village and church. It is worth a visit, as All Saints Church is heralded as ‘the cathedral of the hills’; its expansive interior and rare medieval wall paintings giving tell to the importance of Burton Dassett in earlier times. As the brochure detailing the history of the church says,
All Saint’s Church is an architectural and historical gem. Its position on top of Burton Dassett hills is unique, and the interior, magnificent in its simplicity, contains a number of beautiful medieval wall paintings.
Medieval wall painting in All Saints Church, Burton Dassett
We took fifteen minutes to catch our breath, admiring those wall paintings, Norman carvings, medieval tombs and its tranquil interior, before wrapping up again and stepping back out into the spring morning.
The Battle of Egdehill and the Village of Ratley
The park itself lies just 4-5 miles away from the site of the Battle of Edgehill; the first, and inconclusive, battle of the English Civil War. Here 1,500 souls perished on what is now a peaceful meadow grazed by livestock. There are some lovely walks that take in site of the battle – and which we will come back to in another, separate entry. However, on this occasion, we headed to nearby Ratley, to explore the 900 year old inn, located at the heart of this sleepy, little village.
This dog friendly hostelry is perhaps not the most luxurious pub that you will encounter on your travels, but history seeps from its ancient stone walls, and one of the great fireplaces is said to be haunted by the ghost of a soldier who fled the site of the nearby battle, as it raged on the 23rd October 1642. He was captured and beheaded in the village. The barmaid gleefully related how many other trapped souls haunt the inn; stories of the contents of locked cabinets being mysteriously moved around, doors being bolted and locked when no-one had touched them, and the spectre of a lady who sits in the corner, silently watching the comings-and-goings of today’s thirsty visitors.
The Rose and Crown, Ratley
We enjoyed a hearty Sunday lunch in front of a roaring fire; roast beef, roasted vegetables and Yorkshire pudding – or if you are vegetarian like me, a second Yorkshire pudding instead of the meat. Highly recommended! As you leave, note the adjacent church is one of the few to be dedicated to St Peter ad Vincula, although its lovely medieval exterior does not foretell of such riches inside, which clearly has been thoroughly ‘Vistorianised’ Yuck!
Overall, a lovely half a day out, particularly if the weather is fair and clear. This trip will be of particular interest to those of you who love the great outdoors, and who enjoy combining your [dog] walking with a little bit of medieval history.
Transport: A car is necessary to move easily between sites.
Relevant Web site / Information Sources:
For The Rose and Crown – http://www.thegoodpubguide.co.uk/pub/view/Rose-Crown-OX15-6DS. Always book for Sunday Lunch at any English pub to avoid disappointment.
For Burton Dassett Country Park: http://countryparks.warwickshire.gov.uk/country-parks/burton-dassett-hills-country-park/. Note: there is a £1.50 charge for parkingon site.
Other historic sites within 30 minutes drive: Edgehill (The Battle of Edgehill) and Broughton Castle.