The Midvale Ridge is a low, irregular outcrop of limestone within Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire rising above the surrounding clay vales. It runs approximately from Swindon in the west to north of Aylesbury in the east and is cut by the Thames Valley at Oxford. The landscape is made up of woods and pasture and arable fields with numerous distinctive small villages. The Character Area contains 15% urban land with 85% open countryside, of which 6.7% is woodland. It does not include any areas designated as National Park or AONB or within a LFA.
1. Settlement & Development This area lay on the boundary between the West Saxon/Wessex and Mercian kingdoms. Oxford developed as an important fording point of the Cherwell and was fortified to defend the area against the invading Danes. The Oxford Colleges developed from the 13th century onwards. Swindon, largely developed as a railway town in the 19th century, is now a large urban area containing commercial, light industrial and residential development.
Nucleated villages, often with greens and mostly located on spurs, hilltops and ridges are characteristic. Buildings are mostly of limestone and clay tiles, stone slates and thatch are common roofing materials. Springline settlements area found at the foot of the limestone ridge in Oxfordshire.
Within the Oxfordshire part of the character area landscape parks are a common feature.
A number of windmills provide distinctive landmarks throughout the area.
2. Agriculture Historically, this area was recognised as good quality corn land and remains predominantly arable and grassland.
Medium-high concentrations of pre-1750 farmstead buildings. Loose courtyard farmsteads are typical with one or more barns, mainly of 17th – 18th century date, stables granaries and cartsheds ranged around a yard. The earlier farmsteads are located in villages and in some places barns attached to the farmhouse and fronting the village street can be seen.
3. Fields and Boundary Patterns Open field agriculture extensive in medieval period. Ridge and furrow survives across the area, with nationally-important survivals of Ashendon, Dorton, Quainton and North Marston.
Parliamentary enclosure resulted in characteristically large and geometric fields although in the east of the area fields were generally small-scale and result from piecemeal enclosure. Small fields often surround villages.
4. Trees and Woodland Woodland cover tends to be most extensive in Oxfordshire whilst on the hills of Buckinghamshire small woodlands and isolated trees are more typical. Ancient semi-natural woodlands survive in, for example, the oak-dominated Bagley Wood. On areas of plateau gravels there are some large areas of coniferous woodland.
5. Semi-Natural Environments Remnants of ancient woodland survives from the former Forests of Shotover and Bernwood.
6. River & Coastal Features The Upper Thames cuts a steep valley between the limestone hills around Oxford, springs at the base of the escarpment. Further east, streams and springs drain the lower slopes of the limestone hills south-west to the river Thame.
Navigation of the Thames was enhanced in 1624 by an Act of Parliament that opened up the river from Burcote to Oxford. In 1790 the Oxford Canal was completed, providing an important link to the rest of the canal networks.