(December 2020) Ditchedge Lane

The ancient track or bridleway known in the parish of Sibford Gower as Ditchedge Lane is part of a well-known long-distance trackway variously called in this area also Beggars Lane, the Macmillan Way, the Jurassic Way, the Darcy Dalton Way, all designated in green as an official Recreational Route on the latest OS maps. This is the central portion of an ancient trackway that runs diagonally across England from the Bristol Channel to the Wash, with its meeting point at the Rollright Stones.

The trackway was first noted in the 1920s by Sir Cyril Fox as ‘the Jurassic Way’ linking a succession of Romano-British settlements on either side of it along a ridge of upland jurassic stone across central England. It runs a few miles south of the first Roman frontier, the military Fosse Way; clearly the Romans placed their frontier road to incorporate the main ancient British settlements, despite the fact that they therefore chose a low lying and less defensible frontier.

It follows that the trackway must be pre-Roman, and its association with the Rollright Stones suggests that it goes back at least to the Late Neolithic period (ca 3500-3000 BC), though it could be earlier, since the trackway surely precedes the place of worship established at its midpoint.

After more than five thousand years much of the trackway has disappeared or lies under modern roads. The best preserved section of it was studied by the famous W.G. Hoskins in his landmark book The Making of the English Landscape (1955) ch. 8. It runs from Traitors (probably Traders) Ford to the B4035, and across that road to the eastern section known as Beggars Lane (B4035 to the Tysoe road), past Heath Farm, owned by the Town Estate Charity of Sibford Gower. In the whole of this section it exists as a double hedgerow, striding across the high ground, loved by long-distance walkers local ramblers and horse riders alike. Close study of the 1: 250000 Ordnance Survey map (1972) shows that the Beggars Lane section lies in Oxfordshire, whereas the Ditchedge Lane section is assigned to Warwickshire, an anomaly hard to explain.

Nevertheless the continued importance of this trackway is shown by the fact that for more than a thousand years it has served as the boundary between bishoprics and counties; at Gallows Hill the original gallows stood until the early twentieth century, to show the horror of executing a human being except between two parishes, for fear of haunting.

Both sections are currently gated with a padlocked farm gate to prevent vehicular access; presumably the keys are held by the relevant farmers. Whoever is responsible for the Ditchedge section of the trackway, it would be sacrilege to turn this best preserved section into a right of way with vehicular access for motor bikes and quad bikes. This is one of the most beautiful and most ancient pathways in England, a national asset comparable in importance to Stonehenge or the Ridgeway. Instead Warwickshire and Oxfordshire, the two County Councils responsible for its preservation, should be asked as a matter of urgency to have the trackway formally designated as a historic monument by English Heritage.

Oswyn Murray, Glebe Farm, Sibford Gower