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Wednesday 15th May 2013 ko 18.30

Oxon Senior League Division One

WATLINGTON TOWN 1 (Pitts 74)

OAKLEY UNITED 6 (Woodfine 11 17 A Rogers 16 P Brown 73 78p Keeble 75)

80 minute game

Att 20

Entry FREE

Nothing for sale

As a groundhopper I hanker after visiting grounds that I’ve driven past a lot. When I lived in Banbury trips to my former parents-in-law involved driving along the Shirburn Road. Its a just off Junction 5 of the M40, past the Model Farm (used for not-so-secret GM crop trials) and past the hamlet of Shirburn.

That’s where the interest starts, as the signpost is for a “Historical Church” not what lies at the end of the lane. In fact its the walls of Shirburn Castle, the seat of the Earls of Macclesfield, and its where in 1761 the astronomer Thomas Hornsby first observed the transit of Venus.

The present owner of the castle is the Beechwood Estates Company, the Macclesfield family estate management company. Following a long-running and acrimonious court battle, the 9th Earl of Macclesfield, Richard Timothy George Mansfield Parker, was evicted from the family seat at the end of 2004.

According to Sir James Dixon Mackenzie’s The Castles of England: their Story and Structure, “The castle is rectangular in plan, having a central open courtyard, and at each of the four exterior angles a massive round tower rising straight out of the wide and deep moat, which, supplied with running water from springs, encircles the whole fabric. Access to the castle is gained by crossing three drawbridges, and the summit of the walls is battlemented throughout; the main entrance is guarded by a portcullis.”

Its a real shame the castle doesn’t appear to be open to the public, as the history is fascinating. In in letter from Brunetto Latini, the tutor and friend of Dante, of Inferno fame dated 1802 he commented rather pointedly that,

“We passed through many woods, considered here as dangerous places, as they are infested with robbers, which, indeed, is the case with most of the roads in England. This is a circumstance connived at by the neighbouring barons, from the consideration of sharing in the booty, and these robbers serving their protectors on all occasions, personally, and with the .whole strength of their band. However, as our company was numerous, we had nothing to fear. Accordingly we arrived the first night at Shirburn Castle, in the neighbourhood of Wallington, under the chain of hills over which we passed at Stocquinchurque (Stokenchurch). This castle was built by the Earl of Tanqueville, one of the followers of William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy … It is now in the possession of a descendant of the said earl.”

I reflected as a drove the half a mile or so to the Recreation Ground on how I could miss something like that for such a long time.

You don’t actually see Watlington if all you do is visit the Recreation Ground. That’s a real shame, as its a fine market town, and there’s an interesting folly to find too! The Watlington White Mark was designed by local squire Edward Horne, who felt that the parish church of St. Leonard, when viewed from his home, would be more impressive if it appeared to have a spire. He had the unusual folly cut into the chalk escarpment of Watlington Hill in 1764. It is 36 feet wide at its base and 270 feet long. When you drive along the M40 through the chalk canyon near Junction 5 just glance towards Watlington and the mock spire is the other side of the chalk cutting.

It all puts the football ground rather in the shade to be honest. The club played in the Hellenic League from 1964 to 1977 and had one game in the FA Vase in 1976 a 4-0 defeat at home to Barton Rovers. These days there’s a pavilion and a permanently roped off pitch and really not much else. The vista is pleasant enough, but the neither of the town’s quirks are on show, but the players put on a decent show even if the game was trifle one-sided.

Its fair to say that Oakley are the form team in this division. Normally games this late in the season consist of teams whose grounds have drainage problems, but this one is because Oakley have been rather too successful! Their league record shows one blemish, a draw, against 19 wins. On top of that the Buckinghamshire club has made the finals of the Berks & Bucks Junior Cup,  and the Oxon Presidents Cup, losing both.

With the league title won on Saturday they were clearly focused on making sure the unbeaten league record stayed that way though this and the other 2 games left. And at no point did that statistic look like being shattered. They ran in 6 goals in batches of three and played champagne football in between. At the end of it all I suspect Watlington were happy to have got the game played and not been completely humiliated while Oakley march on to the Premier Division.