Aston Wood and Juniper Bank
Aston Wood and Juniper Bank are two contrasting areas of beech woodland located on opposite sides of the A40 road on the Chiltern Escarpment in Oxfordshire northwest of Stokenchurch. These quiet woodlands are ideal for walking, and they are great places to see woodland wildlife.
Aston Wood is located on the south side of the A40 and forms a curving block on a plateau and the north-west facing Chiltern Escarpment. About two thirds of the wood consists of beech forest, which once provided the materials for local furniture industry, but a number of other trees share the canopy, especially ash and cherry, but also oak, whitebeam, sycamore and hornbeam. Holly, hawthorn and elder form the sparse understorey, with rowan and hazel coppice stools at the eastern end. In the late spring there are carpets of bluebells. The eastern third of Aston Wood is dominated by ash with oak and beech, the boundary bank being marked by three large stools of small-leaved lime trees.
Aston Wood is a great place to look out for red kites, buzzards, fallow deer, Muntjac deer and many species of woodland birds and butterflies. The beechwoods contain a number of large flint and chalk pits, which once provides the materials for local house and road building. Smaller hollows may have been sawpits associated with the furniture industry.
Juniper Bank, located north of the A40, contains particularly diverse woodland including beech and ash forest, and stands of alder and field maple. There’s also a steep bank consisting of mixed scrub and chalk grassland and juniper trees.
Running uphill, through the centre of the wood is a wide track, which comprises a short section of the medieval ‘London Weye’ from Oxford to London: once the main road between the two cities. However, the road had its problems. A Parliamentary Committee was told in the early 18th century that the route ‘was frequented by wagons and other heavy carriages and had become so very ruinous and out of repair that in the winter season it was dangerous to travellers’.
In an attempt to remedy this, the road became a turnpike (toll road) in 1719, maintained by the Stokenchurch to Wheatley Turnpike Trust. Despite the improvements, one section was so steep that extra horses had to be stationed at the bottom of the hill to help struggling stagecoaches to reach the top. In 1824 this route was 'found inconvenient' and was diverted to the southwest along the route of the present A40, so as to be more 'commodious to the public'. Today, most of the heavy traffic uses the M40, about a kilometre to the west.
Aston Rowant National Nature Reserve
Both Aston Wood and Juniper Bank are close to the Aston Rowant National Nature Reserve, where there is a car park. The Aston Rowant NNR is managed by Natural England assisted by the Oxford Conservation Volunteers. A large part of the reserve is a biological Site of Special Scientific Interest. There is a voluntary parking charge, which is used towards the upkeep of the nature reserve.
You can also visit all three sites by following the Aston Rowant Discovery Trail, a walk developed by Aston Rowant Parish Council, which starts in Aston Rowant Village at the foot of the Chiltern Escarpment.