Spending so much time on the road in my taxi, it is easy enough to become over familiar with the roads which are travelled on a regular basis, often six or seven times in a day. Mundane road numbers like A34, A4015 and B4017 and the best ways of travelling between them are easily memorised, together with the location of their potholes, which I know to avoid before they are even seen.
In conversation with a customer last week about the best route to the John Radcliffe Hospital from Abingdon, I explained that we are supposed to take the shortest route, as the fare is charged by distance according to the meter. In their own car, they might take a route around the ring road, costing £5 more than going through the back streets of east Oxford.
On a rare day off, or if I have some time before the next fare, it has always been my preference to take the road less travelled. This invariably throws up some surprises, an interesting character along the way, or something new to be learned about one of the places in this county where I was born and have lived for most of my life.
Twice this weekend, I made the journey down the M40, turning off just before the cutting near Stokenchurch, following the winding road from Watlington towards the Ridgeway an ancient track, the origins of which are lost in time and used by people travelling through Oxfordshire for thousands of years.
Swyncombe must be one of the least populous parishes in the whole of Oxfordshire, with only 250 souls recorded as living in it at the last census. It consists of not much more than a hamlet of 2 or 3 properties. But the civil parish is spread out over a wider geographical area, tucked away in the south eastern corner of the county, near Henley.
Located on the Ridgeway, at Swyncombe is Saint Botoloph's Church, one thousand years old and beautiful in the simplicity of its architecture and churchyard. Every year for 22 years, over 3 weekends in February are the Snowdrop Teas and last Sunday afternoon, the blessing of the snowdrops by the rector, using holy water and prayer.
There is an opportunity to partake of simple pleasures like books, tea and cake and to view close up the thousands of snowdrops and winter aconites (or choirboys), which grow in the country churchyard. And on Saturday, there was a 'TweetUp', as they are termed, where I met in the real world, in the apsidal chancel, three friends from Twitter, completely impromptu.
It is the kind of place which is one of the glories of the Church of England. Faithful to the old ways of doing things - sung Eucharist and 1662 Book of Common Prayer once a month - a small band of souls, keeping worship alive.
In an age of uncertainty, places like Swyncombe, where Heaven touches earth in Oxfordshire, are needed more than ever before.
As published in the Herald Series on Wednesday, 14 February 2018
- South Oxfordshire District Council, Census 2011 Summary (pdf), page 8, Population by parish 2001 and 2011, 16 July 2014, retrieved 13 February 2018
- Ordnance Survey, Election Maps, retrieved 13 February 2018
- Parochial Church Council of Saint Botolph, Swyncombe, Annual Report of the Parochial Church Council, 31 December 2016, retrieved 13 February 2018
View a Gallery of images from The Blessing of the Snowdrops