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Hook Norton's Towering Success

Explore delightful ironstone country before visiting one of Oxfordshire's more unusual buildings.

Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 164ft (50m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Field paths, tracks and bridleways, quiet roads

Landscape Undulating countryside close to Warwickshire border

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 191 Banbury, Bicester & Chipping Norton

Start/finish SP 355330

Dog friendliness Under control on farmland and on lead where requested

Parking Spaces in Hook Norton village centre

Public toilets Hook Norton Brewery Visitor Centre

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1 With the church on your left, turn right into Middle Hill. Follow it down to the next road and keep ahead to the bridge. Turn left into Park Road and follow it to the next junction. Continue ahead, keeping a row of bungalows on the left. When the road bends sharp left, join a waymarked bridleway and follow it out of Hook Norton. Pass the remains of the old railway viaduct and walk along to Park Farm.

2 Cross a cattle grid and continue for about 50yds (46m). When the track forks, keep left and follow the path to a gate. Continue along the field edge to the next gate and follow the obvious track as it curves to the right. Cross a ford at the footbridge and make for the next gate. Follow the field boundary and cross into the next field, keeping trees and a hedgerow on the left. Head for a galvanised gate and swing right at the bridleway sign. Head diagonally across the field and look for a gate in the trees in the top boundary. Follow the grassy path alongside the fence to reach a drive.

3 Turn right here, away from Cradle Farm, and walk along to some outbuildings at the point where the drive bends sharp left. Keep right here and follow the track alongside a pair of semi-detached houses on the right. Emerge from the trees to three tracks; take the middle track up the slope between fences to reach the road. Cross over to a galvanised gate and follow the bridleway between fences, trees and paddocks. On reaching a gate turn right to a wrought-iron gate leading into a field. Turn left and make for a further gate into the next field. Pass to the right-hand side of some fencing and make for a gate in the field boundary.

4 Turn right to join an avenue of lime trees. At length the drive reaches the road. Turn left, then take the first right for Hook Norton. At the first junction, turn right at the sign for Swerford and walk along to Hook Norton Cutting. Retrace your steps to the junction and continue ahead towards Hook Norton. Pass the speed restriction sign and keep ahead into the village. Pass Park Road on the right and take Middle Hill back up to the church and the pubs.

Hook Norton is one of those places that you are most likely to stumble upon by accident. Hidden away down winding lanes a few miles from the Cotswold town of Chipping Norton, this sizeable village, one of the largest parishes in Oxfordshire, is typical of many other settlements in the county - with one possible exception.

Tucked away in Brewery Lane, on the edge of the village, is the Hook Norton Brewery, displaying one of the most distinctive and unusual Victorian façades in the country. The tower brewing building, erected at the turn of the last century, has been described as 'an essay in brick, ironstone, slate, weather-boarding, half timber and cast iron.'

During the 19th century it was traditional for most towns, cities and even large villages to have their own brewery. During the 1880s Oxfordshire alone had almost 50. Today, the scarcity of independent breweries reflects the changing fortunes of the licensed trade. However, the Hook Norton Brewery has managed to fight off the big corporate companies and remain successful.

It was during the Victorian era, in 1849, that John Harris set up in business as a maltster by brewing beer in a nearby farmhouse. A year later, Harris built his own brewhouse, where he used pure Cotswold spring water. He soon found there was a great demand for his beer and so he established a small brewery with its own maltings.

When Harris died, his son and nephew assumed responsibility for the running of the business and by 1899 work on the present tower brewery was complete. The new building, comprising six floors, housed the latest brewing equipment and allowed the entire brewing sequence to be undertaken as a continuous process. It was at this time that John Harris and Company became the Hook Norton Brewery Company Limited. Following the death of John Harris, the task of running the brewery fell to his son-in-law Alban Clarke, who was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1917. Hook Norton remains a family business in the 21st century. The brewery is now run by Clarke's grandson, David, while his son, James, is Head Brewer and a director of the company.

There is nothing brash or hi-tech about Hook Norton. Much of the brewery's intricate machinery is original - the process of brewing has been the same for over 100 years and apart from a new laboratory, stainless-steel copper and cooling system, little has changed. One of the brewery's greatest assets is the mighty steam-driven, 25-horse-power piston engine, dating back to 1899. Today the Hook Norton Brewery has 42 tied houses and 42 employees. In September 1999, 100 years after brewing began in the existing building, Princess Anne opened a new visitor centre and museum, housed in the original maltings.

Where to eat and drink

There are several pubs to choose from in Hook Norton. The Sun Inn and the Bell both serve food and are both situated in the village centre. On the outskirts of Hook Norton, close to the brewery, lies the Pear Tree Inn, a brewery house since 1869. Low ceilings, beams and horse brasses add to the charm and character of the bar and outside is a popular beer garden. Light refreshments are served at the Hook Norton Brewery Visitor Centre.

While you're there

Tours of the Hook Norton Brewery are by prior arrangement and take place in the morning. Take a stroll along to the Hook Norton Cutting, now a nature reserve. The site is managed by the local wildlife trust, the only voluntary organisation in the region concerned with all aspects of local wildlife conservation. The wildlife trust manages more than 90 reserves within the Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire region, which are the haunt of rare and endangered species.

What to look for

As you leave Hook Norton, near the start of the walk, keep an eye out for the remains of an old railway viaduct on the disused Banbury-to-Cheltenham line. Seven stone pillars serve as a sad reminder of the golden age of rail travel. A key factor in the success of the brewery during its early years was the welcome presence of navvies who were engaged in the building of the line between 1865 and 1888.

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