Kate Green: I found another way
I had been studying an â€˜other route with public access (not normally shown in urban areas)â€™ 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.