Mappa mundi

Land lines

In Witches Lane the spell is cast,
And suddenly it’s clear to me:
In all the signposts I have passed
There is an ancient poetry.
Sheepwash, Slugwash, Snatts and Scallows
Soften with their euphony
The unquiet echoes of the gallows
On Hanging Birch and Deadmantree.
Lost village life in Pump and Pound,
Gun and Thunders wreathed in smoke:
How blessed was the peace once found
By travellers on Resting Oak.
My bicycle and I now follow
The tracks of long-dead industry
Down Tanyard, Scrapers, Pit and Hollow,
Up Powdermill and Nursery.
Shepherds, Sharlands, long and steep,
Markstakes winding through the trees
Rocks and Sandy, driven deep
By feet and wheels and centuries.
Ragged Dog, Darp and Dern,
Through Langtye’s sweeping bends I fly,
Take in Potato, Ham, then turn
Down Robin Post to Bird-in-Eye.
A thousand years of history
Enshrined in Hill and Road and Lane.
They share their tales and mystery
And lead me safely home again.

I’ve accumulated 13 years and literally tens of thousands of miles cycling the lanes around my home, but it was only the other day that I really started thinking about their names. They’re historic, quaint, comical and vivid by turns: I can’t quite believe it’s taken me so long to realise this, and then string some of the choicest together to make a poem.

7 thoughts on “Mappa mundi

  1. Hi Nick,

    This wonderful poem shows the rich history of Sussex, and your years of cycling provided you with a treasure of landscape images to use. Some names puzzle me (Snatts?)

    Deadmantree reminds me of Doodemanskisten (deadmancoffins), a lake in the dunes here. I am writing a post about it now.

    I take it that the places you mention are criss cross through the county of Sussex, not one tour, though it would be fun if Potato and Ham were near each other, with suburbs Small Potatoes and Pie.

    as always 🙂


    • Some of them puzzle me, too – I have no idea what ‘Snatts’ means either! Probably someone’s name way back when. And a place called Deadmancoffins definitely needs a poem written about it. You’re right, the roads I’ve mentioned cover a fair spread of Sussex country, although I quite like the idea of trying to put together a ride that included all of them…it would be a long one, for sure. You’ll also be pleased to learn that Potato Lane and Ham Lane are actually on opposite sides of the same village – with Goat Lane in between!

  2. I love this Nick.

    The ability to take something which is so familiar that we do not really notice it and look at it anew is surely a way of renewing our enthusiasm and keeping us young.

    My favourite lane name is a place in Whitby. It is called ‘Arguments Yard’. I never fail to smile each time I pass it.


    • Thank you David – like Ina’s Deadmancoffins, I reckon Arguments Yard is definitely worthy of a poem of its own. It’s already got me thinking…if I had to pick a favourite from my local lane-names, it’d have to be Resting Oak Hill, just for the music of it. Although we do have the rather wonderful Earwig Corner, too…

  3. This is lovely Nick!

    There are certainly some strange names around. Your poem brings to mind our family holidays to the east coast at Bridlington, years ago. After we had passed through Malton I always became excited as my father began to pronounce some very strange village names as we traveled through, putting in there several of his own made up ones! I chuckled all the way to the beach; it was part of the holiday not to be missed!


    • Thnak you Christine – very pleased to have brought back some happy memories! We lived in Pickering for a while, so I know there are some odd ‘uns in that part of the world: Hole of Horcum, Rievaulx, Great Barugh, Chop Gate, (which the locals, confusingly, pronounced Chop Yat). And I always liked Roseberry Topping, which to me sounded like something you’d put on ice cream.

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