I found another Way
Friday 24th February
I had been studying an ‘other route with public access (not normally shown in urban areas)’ marked on the OS Explorer from the corner on the road to Letton and running parallel to the side of the forest. I often walked the track in the forest only a field away from this ‘other route’ and I was curious to see if I could cross between the two; the possibility offered a more direct route when travelling to the west of the forest and the bonus of a pillow mound.
I took no phone, no camera, no map and no bag; whether from thought or absence of thought, I do not know. When I reached the corner before Letton (always a longer stretch of road than I think) there was a recycling lorry parked at the pull-in where I thought the route might begin; the driver eating his bait. I hesitated, then slipped (like Emmeline) between the truck and the hedge. It wasn’t really a track but rather a fenced-off-edge-of-a-field to allow tractor access to grazing further along. No stock remained (all sheep moved closer to home for the lambing I suppose) but a round feeder stood stuffed with soggy haylage. To my right, the other side of brambles and a stock fence, were a row of oaks. Initially I thought they were short and pollarded but then, at a break in the brambles, I realised they were growing from ground much lower than that on which I walked. There was the ‘other route’! It was cut down into the flat field, probably 20 feet deep, muddy bottomed but still navigable by foot or pony. I was thrilled to have discovered such an interesting path so close to home; to have found another Way.
It would not have been easy to climb down to the path and I didn’t want to backtrack to see if I had missed an opening from the road, so carried on walking along the top of the left bank. The end of the sunken way was gated and then became a muddy criss-cross of depressions. I was blocked from these by a double fence of rusty wire, too rickety to climb, and so followed the boundary, patched with bedheads and hurdles, up towards the forest to find a place to cross. At a low point in the wire I was able to lift Dot over and then step across myself. Ahead, I could see Lodge Farm perched on its platform at the edge of the trees, but the scenery was quiet and abandoned and that suited me. I walked downhill towards the muddy junction but Dot refused to move, lifting her front paws, left then right. I saw tiny, vicious nettles poking up between the dead leaves and so carried her for a bit until the stinging between her toes subsided.
Perhaps it was the absence of people that confused time and place; or perhaps it was my state of mind; most probably it was because I carried no map. I have recognised a tendency of mine to confuse a map with the ground; to use a paper representation of the landscape to try to determine where I step and to predict what’s around a corner. I need to remind myself that ‘The map is not the territory’. These old ways were not navigated by following a green/red, dotted/dashed line on paper/screen; they were navigated by the depression in the ground made by the footsteps of the people who had walked before. I could have been walking from Wigmore Abbey to Limebrook Priory or from Brandon Camp to the now lost village of Pedwardine. I stopped worrying about the ‘Right of Way’ and looked at the way the ground was pressed and moulded by human and animal traffic; at the incline of the hill and the dip in the horizon where one could pass into the next valley; at ancient trees that beckoned and nodded, ‘Safe journey, Traveller’ as I passed by.
It was time to walk home and I instinctively followed a linear hollow up from the pillow mound to the track on the edge of the forest; this little section not being a legal right of way. I was astounded to discover that I joined the track directly opposite a steep gully that I had walked many times before to transverse the forest to meet the deep, rocky holloway that cut down to Adforton. The synaptic space I had crossed; the hundred metres or so that lay between the way I knew and the new way I had discovered; was the simultaneous reawakening of a neural pathway in me and in the body of the landscape.