Deep routes

Deep routes

Dust from this road
Once burned the eyes
Dulled the greaves
And worked its way between the toes
Of marching legionnaires.

Saxon farmers followed it,
Norman knights and squires knew it,
Drovers trudged between its banks
Behind ambling pigs, summered on the hill,
Winding down into the Weald
To feast and fatten on autumn’s mast.

Its winter mud rose high, beset the wains
Laden with timber, wool and wheat,
Rocked them wildly in its ruts,
Stranded cottagers like castaways till spring.

Time and feet and wooden wheels
Scored the roadway deep
Into the sandstone;
The lines on the face of the earth.

So what would those long-gone locals
Caked in clay, eyes hollow as the lane itself
With weariness at walking make
Of today’s contended, rich commuters
Who claim there is no way to live
Out here without a four-wheel-drive?

Sunken roads are a characteristic feature of the Wealden landscape. I ride them all the time, and I like the strong sense of following ways that have been used by locals for centuries: in fact, some date back to Iron Age times. Of course, they’re all metalled now, and the glutinous mud that once made travel all-but impossible here in winter is now confined to footpaths and bridleways. Yet it’s amazing how many of today’s village-dwellers seem able to convince themselves that living a mile or two from a main road makes a big off-roader essential. We really don’t know we’re born.


6 thoughts on “Deep routes

  1. I could do a full Victor Meldrew rant on four-wheel drive vehicles and those who drive them Nick, but shall restrain myself to this poem


    A Snowy Day in Leeds

    that sound
    is deadened
    by my hood

    I sense
    the presence
    growling up

    Backward glance,
    a black Range Rover.

    I anticipate
    but can’t avoid
    the freezing splash
    of muddy slush.


  2. Hi Nick,
    those sunken roads sound like the hollewegen in the more South of my country, made by the Romans and earlier. Those ancient roads and paths are subjects of many legends, and ghosts are supposed to live there. To walk on them gives you feeling of connecting with the past, it is special in a way :).
    I love how you picture those roads here. They should not be used by motorized traffic I think.

    I like Davids poem too 🙂 I think I read it on his blog.

  3. I missed this one when you posted it. I know those deep lanes and I love the sense of history you give us with those successive epochs of users. It’s really interesting to hear Ina speak of similar “hollewegan”.

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