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April 22, 2024

Destination: Cotswolds


In this article

Wychwood: Our New Home in the Cotswolds

The Cotswolds have always been our home. The rolling fields and delightful stone cottages, amongst many other things of course, will always hold a special place in our hearts

And so, in 2024 we were thrilled to find a new home for Active England in the village of Shipton-under-Wychwood.

But as we loaded up the office printer, racked up our bikes and set course for Shipton, we had a thought. What does the name Wychwood mean? What are its origins? What is the history of the area?

Where is Wychwood?

Wychwood, or the Wychwood Forest is, today, a large wooded area in Oxfordshire, England. 

Although sizeable, at just over 1000 acres, Wychwood is 100 times smaller than the largest forested area in England, The Kielder Forest in Northumberland.

Today, the word Wychwood can also be seen in the names of three local villages: Ascott-under-Wychwood, Shipton-under-Wychwood and Milton-under-Wychwood. 

The name Wychwood was also used by a prominent local brewery in the nearby town of Witney – unfortunately, it closed in 2023.

A road through some of the remaining part of the Wychwood Forest. The dying light of an Autumn day makes for a moody image. Image: Cavan Images, Shutterstock

What does Wychwood mean?

The name Wychwood comes from the Anglo-Saxon word, Hwiccewuda. Hwicce was the name of the tribe in this particular patch of the English Midlands. Their territory ranged from modern-day Bath, north through the Cotswolds and to Birmingham.

History of the Wychwood Forest

The wooded area known as Wychwood, can be linked back to the time of William the Conqueror who forested a vast area of land for hunting. It is thought that from the 11th century until the 1800s the forest stretched for 120,000 acres. Kings of England, Henry III, Edward IV and James I supposedly hunted the deer that inhabited the forest.

Though the scale of the forest is much diminished today, the remaining trees form the largest forested area in the entire county of Oxfordshire. Walk amongst the Oak, Ash and Field Maple trees that grow in the Wychwood, and you’ll be amongst some of the oldest woodland in England. Indeed the area is a designated area of special scientific interest or SSSI.

The Crown Inn in Shipton, a building steeped in history. Image: The Crown Inn

In the centre of Wychwood is a large clearing, Newell Plain, which during the 18th century saw the beginnings of a small festival. Describing those early gatherings, here’s author Nick Hayes, in his passionate book on equitable land ownership in the UK: The Book of Trespass: Crossing the lines: “In 1790, a group of Methodists from a neighbouring village came here for a picnic. They returned the next year, and the next, with more and more picnickers, and by the early 1800s the picnic had turned into a fair.”  

Although it was founded in good spirits the fair began to attract the attention of the aristocratic landowners with forest rangers reporting on “vast numbers of idle and disorderly characters.” Here’s Hayes again, “The very last fair, in 1855, saw a dozen special excursions trains offloading revellers from London on newly built railway lines, who would crowd through… returning at the end of the day soaked in gin.” 

The spirit of the original Wychwood Forest Fair lives on today in two guises. Wilderness Festival described by organisers as “a weekend of escapism, high jinks, and wholesome hedonism” and Wychwood Forest Fair, a less commercialised offering celebrating “rural crafts, community and conservation in the historic Wychwood area.”

After various acts of Enclosure (sometimes written as Inclosure) between 1600 and 1900 were passed, all of Wychwood moved into private hands. In doing so, more of the old wooded area was lost. The timber was used to construct local housing and the land turned to agriculture.

Shipton-under-Wychwood sits in the River Evenlode Valley. Surrounded on all sides by arable farming. Image: Barbara Wheeler, Shutterstock

Our new home in Shipton-under-Wychwood

Shipton Under Wychwood, and nearby Milton and Ascott under Wychwood, sit in the Evenlode River valley, surrounded by hills which gently rise away from the village centre. The larger Cotswold towns of Chipping Norton sit to the North and Burford to the South.

The village is served by several pubs and shops. Though just outside the centre, the village has a railway station with a direct connection to London. Like most places in the Cotswolds, Shipton can be reached in just an hour and 20 minutes from London Paddington.

6 things to do near Shipton-under-Wychwood

When visiting the Cotswolds, travellers are spoilt for things to do. From country houses oozing tradition to historic Roman sites there’s plenty of choice, but if you were to find yourselves in our corner of the Cotswolds, then here are some ideas for what to do.

1. Visit the Wychwood Wild Garden

Address: New Beaconsfield Hall, Station Rd, Shipton-under-Wychwood, Chipping Norton OX7 6BQ.

The Wychwood Wild Garden is a scintillating place to spend an hour so, ambling amongst nature. The main entrance is the Gates and Avenue opposite the large Shipton Court, however, there is no parking here. Park in Dog Kennel Lane, walk down the rough lane a short distance and use the rear gate to access the Garden. If coming by car and you find yourself leaving the village towards Burford, then you’ve gone too far.

The 12-acre garden is managed by volunteers and is completely free to enter. Look out for the gigantic Cedar of Lebanon tree which is thought to be over 300 years old and the two ponds which are inhabited by a gaggle of ducks and moorhens

Want to stretch your legs further? Try a Cotswold river walk, along the River Evenlode. Head northwest out of Shipton-under-Wychwood along the Oxfordshire Way until you reach Foxholes Nature Reserve – a fantastic place to see Bluebells during a Cotswold Spring.

Path through the Wychwood Wild Garden. Image: Vic Powles, Shutterstock

2. Walk the Wychwood Way

Address: Market Street, Woodstock, OX20 1UY.

With enough walking in the Cotswolds, to last a lifetime, it’s been hard to pin down the best walk in the area, but for this article, it would be remiss of us to avoid the Wychwood Way – a 36-mile circular walking route. 

We’d recommend tackling this route over two days – with a short detour to The Swan in Ascott-under-Wychwood for your overnight accommodation.

Begin from Woodstock and walk in the footsteps of the Romans along a portion of Akeman Street. Head North West to the charming villages of Chadlington and Dean through classic Cotswold countryside, before resting up at your accommodation in Ascott.

Setting out on day two on the Wychwood Way you head uphill to Leafield and its lovely open village green. From here the route is a long, undulating descent through Whiteoak Green, Ramsden, East End and Combe.

Day two ends with a saunter through Blenheim Palace, a World Heritage Site before enjoying well-deserved refreshment at one of Woodstock’s many pubs and cafes.

3. Visit FarmED

Address: Station Rd, Shipton-under-Wychwood, Chipping Norton OX7 6BJ.

FarmED is a non-profit establishment, running a 107-acre farm. Sat on a hill overlooking Shipton it hosts many special talks, seminars and demonstrations and on most Friday’s there’s a farm walk. Tickets cover the cost of the informative and inspiring tour that criss-crosses the farm, plus lunch back at base.

FarmED sign, Cotswolds
FarmED nestled in the Cotswold landscape. Image: Lawrence Bywater

4. Get baking with flour from Matthews Cotswold Flour

Address: Cotswold Mill, Station Rd, Shipton-under-Wychwood, Chipping Norton OX7 6BH. 

Matthews has been milling at their site since back in 1912. Today, the mill produces over a hundred different types of flour – from basic Strong White Flour for bread and rolls to more specialist barley, rye, spelt and maize flour. Matthews even produces a special wheat flour named Wychwood. 

Although the Mill doesn’t accept visitors, you place an online order in their shop and pick it up directly from the mill. Alternatively, you can find Matthews flour in most farm shops in the local area.

5. Sink a pint at The Lamb Inn

Address: The Lamb Inn, High St, Shipton Under Wychwood, OX7 6DQ.

If you like the idea of a traditional British Pub, then you are spoilt for choice in the Cotswolds. But in Shipton-under-Wychwood, the go-to venue for a cool pint of ale is The Lamb Inn. The interior of the place reminds us very much of the pubs of yesteryear but re-worked for the 21st century. Alongside the various beers, ales, wine and spirits on offer, simple, yet delicious food is served at both lunch and dinner time.

A fine spread. Image: The Lamb Inn

6. Enjoy Coffee and Cake at The Cotswold Lounge

Address: Unit 8a Wychwood Business Centre Shipton under Wychwood, OX7 6XU. 

If you’re looking for somewhere for an afternoon tea in the Cotswolds, then The Cotswold Lounge could be at the top of the list. Not only is the coffee fantastic, but the sweet treats are too. We have a particular penchant for the Biscoff Brownie, the Sprinkle Cake (one for the non-chocolate lovers) or one of the several different types of cookies on offer. As you relax in one of the many comfortable seats inside, you can marvel at the incredible cakes made by the multi-award-winning owner Lyanda. Oh, and pop your head next door and say hello to us – Active England!

Fine coffee and cake, the perfect afternoon. Image: The Cotswold Lounge

There you have it, a potted history of Wychwood, Shipton-under-Wychwood and some things to do in the local area. It’d be great to see you in this corner of the Cotswolds.

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