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Jarn Mound - a Wild Garden and a Wonderful View

Discover how a local archaeologist moved the earth to protect a fine view of

Distance 5 miles (8km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 150ft (46m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Field paths and tracks, roads (can be busy), 11 stiles

Landscape Hilly, well-wooded country south west of Oxford

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 180 Oxford

Start/finish SP 496005

Dog friendliness On lead at Jarn Mound and on farmland

Parking Limited spaces in Sunningwell

Public toilets None on route

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1 Walk along the village street towards Abingdon. Pass a pond on the right and the church on the left and, as the road bends left, turn right into Dark Lane. Keep the cricket ground on your right and soon the lane becomes a concrete track. When it curves right, keep left, following a rough track between hedgerows and then across open fields. Didcot Power Station can be seen from here.

2 Take a track running to the right towards farm outbuildings and cut between them. Continue on the track between trees to the road and turn right. Follow the verge to a sign for Old Boars Hill and take the path. Cross the open field, pass through a boundary hedge and keep ahead towards a white house. Look for a stile in the field corner beside it and cross the lane to a stile and gate.

3 Follow the metalled lane to The Linnings, a riding school. Keep to the right of the buildings, crossing three stiles. Go diagonally across the paddock, passing under power lines, to reach the boundary hedge. Cross two stiles, avoiding stiles in the left and right boundary of the field, and follow the path beside a high wire fence enclosing a reservoir. Keep ahead at the fence corner to a galvanised gate and stile on the right and follow an enclosed path beside a paddock towards the houses of Wootton. Cross a stile and turn right, passing the entrance to Stones Farm.

4 On reaching the entrance to Wootton End on the left, keep right here, following a track. Go through a galvanised gate and keep to the right of a pond. Head up the slope to a stile and cross Matthew Arnold's Field to a stile leading out to the lane. Turn left and walk along to the junction with Jarn Way. Climb to Jarn Mound, then descend the steps and turn left by the seat, keeping the memorial stone on the left. Keep parallel with the road, veer left at the fork and follow the path to the road. Turn right, pass a house called Holly Dene and go down to the junction.

5 Go straight on into Berkeley Road, passing the former Open University building on the right-hand side. There is a clear view of the Sheldonian Theatre and many of Oxford's other historic landmarks from this stretch of the road. Walk along to the T-junction and turn right. Head for Lincombe Lane and a sign for Sunningwell. Follow the road round to the right, pass a footpath and continue all the way to a white gate and a kissing gate. Follow the field path towards Sunningwell church. Go through a gate at the bottom of the field, emerge at the road opposite the church, and return to the start of the walk.

When the archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans (1851-1941) built Jarn Mound, it was with the intention of providing a panoramic view aross Oxfordshire towards the neighbouring counties of Warwickshire and Berkshire. However, if Evans were to climb the steps to this noted viewpoint today, he would be dismayed to discover trees and modern housing development had radically changed the character of the landscape.

It was in 1928 that the Oxford Preservation Trust purchased 64 acres (26ha) of land here on Boars Hill in order to preserve the view of Oxford and her dreaming spires. A local resident and a leading figure in the world of archaeology, renowned for his discoveries at Knossos in Crete, Evans suggested to the Trust that it go one better in an effort to preserve the view from Matthew Arnold's signal-elm, which looked towards the Berkshire Downs, the Vale of White Horse, the River Thames and Oxford.

With the support of the Trust, Evans pledged to create an artificial mound to provide a wider view of the area. For as long as anyone could remember, the site had been known locally as Jarn. This was possibly a corruption of the French word for garden.

Despite huge problems, including constant soil slippage, work on the mound was eventually finished. It took nearly three years and was completed in November 1931. The task was perfect for Evans, the epitomal archaeologist, and he revelled in the challenge of erecting a 50ft (15m) high mound. On the summit was placed the dial plate indicating the distances between the mound and significant places of interest in the area. A bowl of freshly minted coins was placed inside.

But Evans didn't stop there. He was keen to enclose the mound so that it blended with its surroundings, and to achieve this his next project was to establish a wild garden of British plants, having first gained the approval of the Oxford Preservation Trust. He imported appropriate soils to allow a variety of native flora to thrive here. The pit created by the building of the mound was transformed into rock and bog gardens and a pond, which was partly re-excavated in 1992.

Most people would applaud Evans's efforts to raise Jarn Mound and create this garden, and it seems ironic that, after everything he did to provide a magnificent viewpoint for people to enjoy, the vistas he intended to preserve have now become so restricted. In fact, other parts of this hilly district, including a stretch of road on this walk, offer much clearer views of Oxford's glorious skyline.

Where to eat and drink

The Flowing Well at Sunningwell has been a pub since about 1950. It was originally the local rectory. Recently refurbished and given a new image, the pub serves food daily, as well as a traditional roast on Sunday.

What to look for

As you undertake this walk, you'll find information boards telling you about the Oxford Preservation Trust, which was founded in 1927 and is thought to be the oldest amenity society in the country. Its aim is to protect and improve historic Oxford and preserve its unique green setting. The Trust works to protect the city's architectural heritage, and, among many successful projects, has restored Magdalen Bridge, one of Oxford's finest landmarks. Matthew Arnold's Field is owned by the Oxford Preservation Trust. Arnold described this part of Oxfordshire in The Scholar Gypsy and Thyrsis and the Trust considered this wonderful heritage site too valuable to be lost to development.

While you're there

Sunningwell church, at the start of the walk, is famous in Oxfordshire for its curious, multi-sided porch built by John Jewel who was rector here and later became Bishop of Salisbury. Roger Bacon, the famous 13th-century scientist, used the tower to make astronomical observations.

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