Banbury & North Cotswolds
Banbury is an interesting place, with its triangular-shaped marketplace – a legacy of Viking invaders –
and several buildings that allude to great prosperity. Its importance as a market town rose with the completion of the Oxford Canal in 1790, but its famous Cattle Market closed in 1998 after more than 1,000 years of trading.
Banbury is associated with the nursery rhyme 'Ride a white horse to Banbury Cross', which has made the town famous throughout the English-speaking world, though the actual cross referred to was torn down by puritans in 1600. Then there are the delicious Banbury Cakes, pastries filled with currants; and even a song entitled 'Banbury Ale'. It has also been a home of the Gulliver family, of which Tony Gulliver is a descendant. Their tombs in St Mary's churchyard inspired Jonathan Swift to a name for his famous protagonist. Some of the Gullivers became publicans in the town.
Nearby Broughton Castle is the ancestral home of the Fiennes family, headed by the Baron Saye and Sele. Complete with moat and great hall, the castle, which dates back to the 14th century, has been used as a backdrop in several films, including Shakespeare in Love, The Madness of King George and Jane Eyre. It also featured in the BBC’s adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. East of Banbury is Sulgrave Manor, once home to a branch of the Washington family, who left England for Virginia after the Civil War and eventually produced George, the first president of the United States.
VILLAGES AND ANCIENT SITES
Banbury makes a good starting point for exploring the quaint villages of the North Cotswolds, including Wroxton and Great Tew. Near Little Rollright are the fabled Rollright Stones, consisting of groups of limestone monuments and a stone circle dating back to Neolithic times. Hook Norton is home to the eponymous brewery where one can take a guided tour. Further to the north the ridge of Edgehill was the scene of the first major battle of the English Civil War (1642). Burford, Stow-on-the-Wold, Chipping Camden and other well-known Cotswold villages are all within easy reach, via beautiful drives across the hills.