Council considers control programme for Blandford Fly

Steeple Aston Parish Council is investigating whether a control programme involving spraying the larvae of the Blandford Fly could be used to reduce dramatically the numbers of flies locally – and therefore the number of villagers suffering from their nasty, painful bites.

The Blandford Fly (sometimes called the blackfly) is a small 2-3mm insect usually found in East Anglia, Oxfordshire and Dorset. It’s most common during May and June. It flies low to the ground and normally bites ankles and legs. The painful bites can lead to swelling, blistering, joint pain and sometimes a high temperature.

The Blandford Fly is mostly seen in populated areas alongside rivers. It is thought that the River Cherwell is its local breeding ground. Its name derives from a major outbreak of people being bitten around the town of Blandford Forum in Dorset, in the 1960s and 70s.

Parish councillor Mat Watson has been in touch with researchers at Bournemouth University who say they have found a solution which has reduced the population of Blandford Fly by 98 per cent in affected areas from the Stour River. A posting he made about this on Facebook received a very warm welcome from villagers with over 70 ‘likes’.

Mat told February’s parish council meeting that it would cost about £4,000 for a local survey of where the fly develops and £6,000 for a wider survey of the whole of the Cherwell Valley. The survey could be done in April this year, but the spraying would have to wait for the following year.

Councillors agreed to contact other villages along the Cherwell Valley to see if they are interested in joining forces on this. They already know that two parish council are concerned. In addition, they are writing to local GPs to find out the extent of the problem. The local Health Centre at Deddington has the poster below on their website.

Oxfordshire County Councillor Arash Fatemian has confirmed that Deddington is particularly badly affected by the flies. He has offered to make enquiries and see if any funding may be available from the county council. The spraying programme in Dorset was county-wide and funded by the county council there.

With no prospect of spraying this year, the most important advice to gardeners and walkers during May and June remains to wear long trousers and tuck your trousers in to your socks!

But if you’re unlucky and get bitten, there’s more medical advice on or look at this poster from Deddington Health Centre.

Blandford Fly Advice Poster

Villagers consulted on 20mph speed limit plan

Oxfordshire County Council is consulting villagers on its plan to make roads within Steeple Aston subject to a 20mph speed limit. All the roads currently within the 30mph speed limit will be affected.

You can find out more and make your views known by completing a survey on the council website.  The consultation closes on Friday, 15th March.

In its announcement the council says:  

“Oxfordshire County Council wants to make our built environments safer and more attractive places to walk and cycle. To enable this, 20mph speed restrictions are being used to help promote alternative modes of transport for local travel. Further details on how the council is considering making 20mph the new 30mph for Oxfordshire communities can be foundhere.

“We’re therefore asking for your views on the proposal to introduce a 20mph speedlimit within Steeple Aston, replacing the existing 30mph speed limit in its entirety. The proposals are being put forward following road safety concerns raised by the parish, and form part of a countywide programme of works that seeks to deliver ‘a safer place with a safer pace’ for the residents of Oxfordshire.”

The following consultation documents give more details:

The proposed Traffic Regulation Order is scheduled to be advertised in the Bicester Advertiser newspaper on Thursday 22nd February 2024, and details are also available to view on the Councils consultation portal at the address below:

Red Lion pub re-opens with new tenants

New tenants, Harry and Hannah Dickson, have taken over at The Red Lion and the pub re-opened on Friday, 23rd February.  

This weekend will be a soft opening as there’s quite a bit of painting and decorating to be done before they are fully up and running. They will be operating the bar as usual but will have a limited menu for the first week or so.

Initial opening hours for this weekend are:

Friday 5.00pm – 11.00pm, kitchen (5-9)

Saturday 12 noon – 11.00pm, kitchen (12-9) 

Sunday 12noon – 8.00pm kitchen (12-5) 

Hannah says, “These are subject to change in the coming weeks as we firm up the team and complete the renovations. I’m in the process of gaining control of the social media pages and once I have access, I will update everyone.”

Former owner’s ashes scattered in Community Orchard

priests officiatingSarah Lucas, who donated the land on Water Lane which has become the Community Orchard, sadly died last October. On Saturday, 10th February there was a ceremony in the orchard to scatter her ashes and plant a tree in her memory. Pictured here are the Steeple Aston Rector, Revd Harriet Orridge and Father Benji who officiated.

Annie Bayley writes:

Visitors to the Community Orchard on Water Lane might be surprised to discover that it has another name, Randolph’s Piece, carved on a stone near the entrance gate. This is a memorial for Sarah Lucas, who generously gifted the land to the Parish Council some time ago, and died last October. Her mother’s family were Randolphs, and her Great Uncle Bos Randolph lived in the house at the top of the hill for many years, where she spent many summer holidays.


Visitors to the churchyard opposite the village hall will find that Sarah is also commemorated next to the two headstones that mark her parents’ graves, side by side.

Her family have kindly donated a new seat to the orchard and a young quince tree. This was planted at a ceremony in the orchard on Saturday, when Sarah’s ashes were scattered and poems were read. One was written by Morar Lucas, Sarah’s sister-in-law for 63 years, who said it was hard to describe such a wonderfully complex personality in just a few lines:

For whatever you say about Sarah
The opposite’s equally true:
she was blunt –
She was sharp –
She was generous and kind
But wilfully blind
To the impact on others of speaking her mind.

She had powerful opinions
And no inhibitions.
She would fiercely defend
Her right to offend
Those in charge, if they dared to cause friction.
Then, into reverse,
And she’d feel no remorse
At espousing complete contradiction!

But Sarah had charm and perception
which endeared her to friends and to family,
for we all of us knew
that her love filtered through,
lighting up her robust personality.

Poem by Morar Lucas, February 2024

The new quince tree was blessed with holy water, along with the pear tree planted last year in memory of Roderick Nicholson and the plum tree for Harold and Olive, the couple who worked as Bos Randolph’s gardener and cook for thirty years.

Thanks to Ben Wade-Martins for the photos.

Works by two village artists chosen for prize exhibition

Works by two village artists have been selected to appear in Banbury Museum’s Ironstone Art Prize Exhibition. A charcoal drawing called “Eyecatcher Raging” by Abigail Boisot and “Stifle”, an oil painting by Rebekah Tuluie both appear in this biennial exhibition which aims to showcase the best recent work by artists living within a 25-mile radius of Banbury.

Abigail with “Eyecatcher Raging”
Rebekah with “Stifle”

Abigail lives in Cow Lane and walks her dogs around the Eyecatcher field daily. Her quote on the wall at the museum reads, “The Eyecatcher folly at Rousham stands in the field just below my house, I can see it from my bedroom window. It has been my muse, my source of comfort, and a constant in my life during my father’s death, the birth of my second child and the pandemic.”

That second child (pictured below) is now aged eight and a pupil at Dr Radcliffe’s School. Ted proudly accompanied his mother to the exhibition’s private view.

Ted & Eyecatcher

Many villagers will have seen Abigail’s paintings and notecards of the Eyecatcher in many different lights on sale at village events. She also specialises in painting portraits, especially of dogs and horses.

She says she was very excited to be selected for the exhibition as the judges are people she particularly admires in the art world. They included the well-known broadcaster and art dealer Philip Mould, Paul Hobson, the Director of Modern Art Oxford, Deborah Smith, the Director of the Arts Council Collection and Finlay Taylor, Senior Tutor at the Royal College of Arts.

The text on the wall beside Rebekah’s painting says: “I can’t breathe… Probing at human fragility through tension between internal vaporous space and solid congealed matter. Shapes dissolve or patterns harden. Fragments of memories conceal themselves, while rhythmic spiky episodes blast or collapse. At last, a lightness of being emerges, relief…”


Rebekah, who has lived in part of the The Grange for nearly ten years, trained as a painter but then worked in the film industry for many years. She is still involved in a few film projects, but spends the majority of her time painting in the little studio she built in her garden.

She says, “It was a raw need to dive deeply into my own vulnerability that gave me the courage to start to paint again. The poet Ted Hughes said, “Every work of art stems from a wound in the soul of the artists… Art is a psychological component of the auto-immune system that gives expression to the healing process.” My paintings hover between abstraction and a recognisable presence. I see each as an intimate portrait. They embrace and probe at my sense of femininity and the complex cluster of feelings that entails. There are centres of tension and depth within an orchestration of sparseness and calm. There is imbalance next to poise, floating and sinking, vulnerability but with teeth.”

Rebekah shares with Abigail a love of dogs, and often walks around the Eyecatcher field with her two. She says she finds walking a very good way of thinking through the next steps when she is stuck on a painting. She also values the friends she has made in this “warm, welcoming and supportive village.” They include neighbour Hilary Magee who took the photo of her at the exhibition.

The exhibition has plenty of interest for lovers of all kinds of art including paintings, photography, sculpture, ceramics, digital art, glass, textiles and metalwork. The winners of the Art Prize and the under-21 prize have already been chosen by the experts, but if you go along to the exhibition and you can vote for a “People’s Prize” of £100 to go to your favourite artist.

The exhibition runs until 10th March. For more details and advance booking, go to The Banbury Museum website

You can see more of Abigail’s Eyecatcher pictures and more on her website and Instagram feed.

You can learn more about Rebekah and see more of her paintings on the Zuleika Gallery website 


First MCNP Engagement Meeting held in Steeple Aston

Cover of MCNP report

Steeple Aston was the first of the villages in the Mid-Cherwell Neighbourhood Plan (MCNP) area to have a Community Engagement meeting on the recently published revised Plan. The revisions include proposals for housing development in Steeple Aston as recently agreed by the Parish Council. 

The revised Plan is open for consultation until Friday, 23rd February. You can read or download the full version here.  And you can submit your comments by visiting the MCNP website .

At the meeting on Wednesday, 24th January, the Chair of the MCNP Forum, Martin Lipson, who is also a Steeple Aston Parish Councillor, explained that after the consultation period, the plan will be adapted in the light of the comments received. After Cherwell District Council’s further consultation on the plan, it will be sent to an examiner appointed by the Government.   The examiner’s recommendations will then be subject to the local referendum.

The proposals already agreed in Steeple Aston are for 10 to 15 houses each on  the field opposite Townend on South Side and the field bordered by Fenway and Coneygar Fields to be allocated for possible future development. A third site behind the east and south sides of Grange Park is to be held in reserve.

Julia Whybrew reports on more of the proposals outlined at the meeting:

The Plan has designated some areas as ‘local green spaces’ and in this village there are now three; the recreational area, the allotments, the field beside Paines Hill. The Community Orchard is now proposed as a fourth.  The designation gives the same protection from future development as being in a Green Belt.

The current version of the Plan has far more details than before about elements that need protection.  This covers both natural features and manmade issues such as soil erosion, light pollution and noise. The proposals cover preventing the loss of existing things and the re-instatement of others. The priorities here could be reflected in planning decisions.

The latest Plan has also identified ‘Local Gaps’. The idea is that communities can be protected from encroaching development if there are designated ‘Gaps’ between them, for example between Heyford Park and the Horse and Groom on the edge of Caulcott.

The new Plan has identified attractive viewpoints, mainly around the Cherwell valley which it would like to see protected.  This has to be a local issue and hence is not reflected in national planning policies.  In Steeple Aston the four views selected are two on Cow Lane towards the Eyecatcher and towards Rousham, one north from the shop corner towards the church and the fourth southwards from near Brasenose Farm.

The Plan has other proposals including the following issues.

  • Existing homes should not be allowed to have extensions if it means losing existing off-road parking.
  • Traffic calming measures may be needed to encourage safe active travel opportunities, with the connectivity between different parts of the neighbourhood being protected and where possible improved.
  • The MCNP would like to see a GP practice at Heyford Park as soon as there are enough residents to make it viable and there is a need for a new cemetery for Heyford Park.

After the presentation, villagers were able to raise comments and queries. They included the following:

  • The protected/existing trees would not have to be removed to build or get access to the site opposite Town End.
  • Perhaps, subject to agreement, part of the Cottrell Dormer old allotment site might be considered as a new cemetery.
  • Could the requirement for planning permission be waived for solar panels in conservation areas.
  • A community land trust might be the best way to make sure appropriate house sizes were built and continued to meet local needs, but this had to be subject to the financial viability of the development.
  • There was no accepted measure of light pollution making it difficult to control.
  • The proposed Local Gap at the Upper Heyford allotments might be made to join the Local Gap north of Caulcott.

Martin said the MCNP team would consider all the comments and ideas. His team are keen to hear from as many people as possible. So, if you couldn’t get to the Steeple Aston meeting, you are welcome to attend any of the other meetings listed below:

  • Kirtlington – 31st January 6:30pm – Kirtlington Church
  • Ardley w/Fewcott – 6th February – 7:30pm – Ardley w/Fewcott Village Hall
  • Somerton & North Aston – 7th February 7:30pm – Somerton Village Hall
  • Upper Heyford – 13th February 7pm – Upper Heyford Village Hall
  • Lower Heyford – 15th February 6:30pm – King George’s Community and Sports Centre
  • Middleton Stoney – 20th February 7pm – Middleton Stoney Village Hall
  • Duns Tew – 17th February 2pm – Duns Tew Village Hall
  • Heyford Park – 12th February 7pm – The Heyford

You can read or download the full version of the revised plan here. 


Heyford Bridge opens, but further closures needed

Heyford Bridge re-opened to traffic on Saturday, 9th December – a day earlier than anticipated. Residents of Steeple Aston were delighted that after six weeks of closure and the resulting lengthy diversions life would get back to normal.

However, their happiness was short-lived when it became clear that further closures would have to take place in the New Year because the road surface is uneven and could be a danger to cyclists.

Oxfordshire County Councillor Ian Corkin posted the news on Facebook on Friday, 15th December. He wrote:

In the final couple of days, when the bridge was being resurfaced last week, it was discovered that a gas main was closer to the surface than expected. It looked for an afternoon that the bridge would have to remain closed while it was sorted, which would have been a nightmare. However, the engineers eventually decided a compromise could be found and the bridge reopened last Saturday. Today I received the following email from OCC:

“Further to a site inspection today, it has been decided that at least ten number of the new gully cover and frames need to be raised. This problem has resulted from the late modifications to the carriageway surfacing levels to provide sufficient cover to the gas main and its concrete protection slab, which was found to be higher than anticipated. It was initially thought by our consultants that the differences in level may be acceptable at the gullies as these have been positioned behind a solid white line, such that general traffic should not run over these. However, on closer review it has been found that the surfacing steps rather than ramps down to the gully covers and that these steps pose a significant risk to cyclists, who may cycle behind the white lines, especially if they get caught between phases of the traffic signals.

Warning signs are being put out today, indicating “Uneven Road Surface” and cones at the low gullies as a temporary measure until the gully covers can be arranged to be raised which is likely to be in the New Year. It appears that the road will need to be closed again for a short duration to rectify this problem, possibly as a series of overnight closures to minimise disruption. Sorry for the bad news, but it was a difficult balance between getting the road open on time and addressing the engineering problems around finding the gas main protection slab was higher than expected during the last few days of the planned works, and a review of the safety of the finished works has prompted these undesired actions. “

Words fail me, but I’ll push for overnight work rather than a full closure and will keep everyone posted as I know more.

Grain Store Café opens on ‘chicken sheds’ site

The much-anticipated new local café opened on Wednesday, 15th November at The Hatchery – the new name for the ‘chicken sheds’, Hatch End Old Poultry Farm between Steeple and Middle Aston. The café is in the newly refurbished former grain store, hence its name.

Helen Taylor Sam Sinclair and Amanda Tosh in the cafe
L to r Helen Taylor, Sam Sinclair and Amanda Tosh on opening day

This is very much a local enterprise as its owners Helen Taylor and Emily Robinson, have both lived in Middle Aston for around 18 years.

Helen has given up her job as manager of White Stuff in Banbury to fulfil a long-held dream of owning a local café. She has lots of management experience. When she first came to the area she revived the Baby and Toddler group in Steeple Aston, which is still going strong today. But she’s always wanted to run a café here. When Middle Aston Limited took over the site, she asked them if she could have first refusal.

Emily, who worked at Dr Radcliffe’s for many years, is in charge of administration and business development. She will continue to work part-time at The Curiosity Box in Eynsham, but she loves baking so will be making some of the cakes on sale.

Chefs are hard to come by these days, so they’re pleased that their head chef is Amanda Tosh, formerly of Steeple Aston now living in Lower Heyford. And they have been lucky to recruit the very experienced Sam Sinclair as front of house supervisor. Sam recalls her very first job was at Fired Earth in Middle Aston many years ago. More recently she has managed the café at Chipping Norton Lido for the last three seasons.

Other local people who are involved are a variety of young people, including Helen’s son Teddy Taylor who will be chief barista. Steeple Aston photographer Nigel Francis is providing black and white photos of local scenes to put on the walls, and local garden designer Caroline Edwards is doing the landscaping for the outside seating area as well as the rest of the Hatchery site.

The emphasis on the local is carried over into their use of suppliers from Oxfordshire and the Cotswolds. All the furniture comes from Second Time Around in Banbury. Coffee is from the Missing Bean and cakes (when they’re not made by Emily) will come from the Barefoot Bakery, both Oxford-based.

Their state-of-the-art coffee machine, however, comes from Italy. They’re calling her Florence as that’s where she comes from! Before the opening all the staff had intensive training in coffee making from the experts at Missing Bean.

The café, which has seating for 42 inside and 20 outside, will be open from 8.30 in the mornings (except for Sunday) serving breakfast sandwiches and muesli. Coffee, tea, hot chocolate and of course cake will be available all day. Lunches will consist of toasties and soups and other light dishes. Everything will be available for takeaway.

It’s hoped that a friendly and welcoming atmosphere will attract a wide range of customers. Parents and children from the school are an obvious source, but Helen and Emily hope that local villagers of all ages will be tempted to pop in. Well behaved dogs on leads are welcome.

The Hatchery owners, Middle Aston Limited, were keen to have somewhere for those working on the site and nearby to eat. Now with the opening of other new businesses, there are visitors attending yoga, floral and art classes already, with Pilates and a Wellness Centre starting in the New Year.

The café will also be a good stopping off point for weekend walkers and cyclists. They may be attracted by a special delivery of fresh doughnuts on Saturday mornings! Cyclists will find a bicycle maintenance station on site, and inside there’s a book exchange along with workstations for those who want to come with their laptops to take advantage of the free wifi.

The Grain Store website has full details of opening hours, forthcoming events and more. Keeping it in the family, the website was built by Helen’s other son Freddie, working remotely from Canada.