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Things to do in Long Wittenham, Oxfordshire

Long Wittenham, or ‘Witta's Ham' is a small village near the Thames in south Oxfordshire, apparently named after a Saxon known as Witta, who settled in the area in the 6th century. According to a local historian of the early 20th century, Queen Edith who was the wife of Edward the Confessor, once held Long Wittenham.

It is a tranquil village featuring a variety of architectural housing styles while still retaining its rural ambience with hens scratching away in gardens and the occasional cock crowing.

Numerous remains of early man have been found during excavations here over the centuries. For example, it was here that the Long Wittenham sword, one of many objects apparently ceremonially offered to the Thames in about 100 BC, was found and which can now be viewed in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. Also an unusual glass bead found in an Anglo Saxon woman's grave was excavated here in the late 19th century. Some say the owner of the bead may have believed it possessed magical powers. It is now in the British Museum.

Long Wittenham is famed for the Pendon ‘Indoor Model Village and Railways' Museum. This is a fascinating and nostalgic museum featuring model villages and steam trains portraying rural life in the long lost English countryside of the 1920s. The showpiece is an extensive miniature landscape of the Vale of White Horse with steam trains running through accurately recreated villages. There is a beautiful Dartmoor scene with a Brunel timber viaduct and the famous Madder Valley Railway scene. The museum often holds special events, details of which can be found on their website.

Saint Mary's Church, flying the Saint George's flag, is well worth a visit. Christianity was first brought to the area in the 7th century when Pope Honorious I sent a bishop called Birinus to convert the Anglo Saxons of the Thames Valley to Christianity. Saint Mary's is a Norman church, built by Walter Giffard, the 3rd Earl of Buckingham in about 1120. It has a lovely, soothing atmosphere and contains many interesting features such as a Jacobean pulpit and panelled parish chest; a 12-13th century lead font, and a flagon inscribed ‘this plate belongeth to Long Wittenham church 1717'.

There used to be several pubs in the village but gradually they have disappeared. The Plough remains, however, and is a traditional English pub offering good food and beer and in summer is a delightful spot to enjoy a pint of real ale in a garden that runs down to the river. Or, if you wish to travel a mile or so further on, you can sample the atmosphere of the Barley Mow at Clifton Hampden where Jerome K Jerome described the pub in his story, ‘Three Men In A Boat.'

By taking a short digression to nearby Little Wittenham, there is an interesting walk through fields and woods maintained by the Northmoor Trust. Their visitor centre at nearby Hill Farm, Project Timescape, contains exhibitions on natural history.

The Thames valley is mostly flat so you can't really miss Wittenham Clumps, a hill topped with trees, also part of the nature reserve managed by the Northmoor Trust. More accurately referred to as the Sinodun Hills there are in fact two of them - Castle Hill and Round Hill. Both give panoramic views of the Thames, Day's Lock (where the famous annual World Pooh Sticks Championships are held) and of Dorchester Abbey nudging through the trees.

The ancient hill fort on Castle Hill dating to the Bronze age has produced finds such as the bodies of a male buried with a female whom archaeologists believe may have been offered as a human sacrifice.

A short scramble through the woods on Castle Hill can take you to the Victorian poem tree, unusual in that it has a poem carved into the trunk. This was allegedly the work of Joseph Tubb of Warborough Green in 1844 - ‘Such is the course of time, the wreck which fate and awful doom award the earthly great.'

There is an atmosphere on the Clumps and shades of Edgar Allen Poe spring to mind when you hear of the legend that a money pit lies here guarded by a huge, black raven and woe-betide he who tries to plunder it. A path passes over the clumps and down towards Dorchester over Day's Lock. But before that, a short detour to Little Wittenham Church is worthwhile to see the resting place of Mary Cromwell, the aunt of Oliver Cromwell.

Description by Trudie Evans

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