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.