The nature and use of the footpaths has changed considerably over the last two hundred years. Whereas most tracks, or Rights of Way as they are now called, are now used for pleasure, in days gone-by they were used as the normal route to get to places. For instance, the route to Abingdon was along Abingdon Path from the end of Barrow Road and there are villagers who can remember using this. Livestock was driven to Abingdon Market along Cow Lane from the end of Townsend, farm vehicles went to Chilton along Holloway and pub-goers went to the Packhorse and on to Steventon diagonally across the present Grove Farms from Talbots Lane. Nearly all people now travel to these places by vehicles over metalled roads.
The maintenance of the road system was taken over by the Local Government in the mid-1900s whereas the Rights of Way were not formally acknowledged until 1952 when the Register of them was set-up. Any Way which can be proved to have been used by the public for twenty years can be registered.
Not too much is known about the footpaths and ways within the village until the nineteenth century. Before that there was a much stronger road system to the east of the village with the road from Didcot curling south along the east side of the village to the Church (1752 map). That appears to have been lost until the Cleave from Burr St to King’s Lane was reopened in the present century. The Parish Award map of 1852 [?] does not show this part of the Cleave but most of the others are as they were then.
In recent times, some paths have been formally diverted but one of interest was lost almost completely in the present century. The Twitchings ran parallel to the High St from Church Lane to the Crispin and was used presumably because the High St was muddy and dangerous due to its use by horses and carts. The section from King’s Lane to the Crispin still exists and the point where it started in Church Lane can still be seen. Neighbouring landowners began to take other sections in 1908. The Parish Council minutes record that one person built a wall across it, as a result of which the Council sold sections of the path, probably without any power to do so, for 1d per foot.
The other factor which has had a great effect upon the tracks from the village are the various large establishments which have been built around the Parish: first the railway to the north, followed by the military depots on the far side of the railway which became the Trading Estate and the Power Station, then the aerodrome which became AERE to the south and finally the new A34 road. The Winnaway to the aerodrome was christened the Burma Road by the airmen, a name which stuck for many years. Fortunately there are still many people who wish to use the registered footpaths.
The byways remembered by older inhabitants seem very different. Captain Hazel used to walk from Rowstock House to the village returning across the orchards along “The Withies” joining the Abingdon-Newbury Road by the small thatched cottage (now much enlarged). No doubt one encountered on these paths the odd vagabond or packman, maybe an old Romany on the edge of the village making his rush mats or a weary traveller asleep in the hayricks. Many of the walks were very pretty running alongside the thatched clunch walls, where bees made their home and children picked with sticks to see what mischief they could do.
WAYNE BICKERDIKE says
I remember walking the “Burma Road” from AERE Harwell to Harwell village when we would go to evensong at St Matthews church in 1968.
It came out near the Chequers pub which was the first pub in Harwell I went in, as a 16 year old!