As part of our own September Heritage month I decided to take a drive out from London to see what we could see at the weekend. As friends of ours were dancing at the annual Wallingford Bunkfest, that was our prime destination as we headed up the M40 on Sunday morning.
Turning off at the Lewknor junction with a pair of Red Kites swirling overhead, we dropped south to Watlington, with the route of the Icknield Way on our left running parallel to the road. There is debate in some parts as to whether the Icknield Way is truly part of a ‘Neolithic Superhighway’. Undoubtably there are sections of the Way that are extremely ancient, but whether the entire route was in use as a concerted whole cannot be proved.
At Watlington, the ‘White Mark‘ sits on the hill overlooking the town. The Watlington White Mark was designed by local squire Edward Horne, who felt that the parish church of St. Leonard, when viewed from his home, would be more impressive if it appeared to have a spire. He had this unusual folly cut into the chalk escarpment of Watlington Hill in 1764. It is 36 feet (11 m) wide at its base and 270 feet (82 m) long.
South of Watlington, the Icknield Way splits into Swan’s Way and the Ridgeway, rejoining south of Wallingford, and at this point we turned west toward Benson, the site of the neolithic Benson Cursus, now covered by an airfield. There is sadly nothing left to see of the cursus here.
And so into Wallingford itself across the medieval bridge, which still only allows for single file traffic. Bunkfest is named after the Cholsey & Wallingford Railway, also known as the Bunk Line, and is an annual celebration of music, song and dance. The main events are held on the Kine, a green area in the centre of town and there were several craft stalls, a small exhibition of miniature steam engines, the obligatory beer tent, and two stages for bands and the various Morris sides to perform.
Having met with friends and enjoyed watching a dance or two, we left Wallingford via the bridge again, and headed southeast, toward Henley-on-Thames.
Continuing east, Nettlebed has a brick kiln in largely good condition, and a couple of geological curiosities in the form of two large puddingstones (pdf link). Both of these items have information boards available, and kudos to the parish council for including QR codes linking to the local web site on the info boards!
Continuing through the atmospheric Nettlebed Woods southwest toward Henley, we turned north just before the town to follow the bend of the river then east again toward Medmenham, site of an Iron Age hillfort which sits on a bluff, overlooking the church and the river beyond. The site of a second fort also lies close by, in the grounds of the Danesfield Hotel.
Passing through Marlow, we then headed north on the A404 and finally east on the A40 back to London. Our final stop was at Bulstrode Camp, another Iron Age hillfort in Gerrards Cross. The camp is now a large open space surrounded by upmarket housing, largely used these days by dog walkers.
And thus our Heritage Drive came to an end. An enjoyable, if long, day taking in a plethora of heritage site from the Ice Age (Nettlebed) through to the present day, although there were doubtless a lot of heritage sites that we missed or passed close by to. If you’ve had a similar day, or are planning one this month, why not tell us about it?