The Lockdown Rambles #3

The Lockdown Rambles #3

Bridges and Pathways

While on lockdown rambles to explore the nearby countryside, the further I ventured, the more places previously unknown revealed themselves. These discoveries captured my attention; and with that, my imagination.

Having taken plenty of photos of the things I saw, later I started looking at the images from a different perspective, in a different light. The object of the eye might be a tree, a structure or a bridge, but the edited photos – or not – exposed an alternative perception of what the pictures had captured. It inspired something within me.

“Bees blew like cake-crumbs through the golden air, white butterflies like sugared wafers, and when it wasn’t raining a diamond dust took over which veiled and yet magnified all things.” 

– Laurie Lee, Cider with Rosie

The third in a new short series. This one is on bridges and pathways.
Its title: Solitude Will Settle Upon Uneven Ground.

One of the perfect pleasures of wandering aimlessly out of town is being confronted with the simplest of choices: to continue down a lane, to cross a field, or to venture into a forest. How historic these routes might be, their former uses and who might have passed along them cannot be told, allowing the imagination to roam.

Becoming lost has been a running theme, which is fine by me – even if I really should learn how to properly use a compass – but sometimes there are unforeseen obstacles, such as this curiosity . . .

There was only one choice here and, with the sun already going down, that was to retrace my steps

“Who’s that tripping over my bridge?” roared the troll . “Oh, it is only I, the tiniest Billy Goat Gruff, and I’m going up to the hillside to make myself fat,” said the billy goat, with such a small voice. “Now, I’m coming to gobble you up,” said the troll.

– Peter Christen Asbjørnsen, Three Billy Goats Gruff

The not-entirely-unenjoyable fear that I used to have as a child, of what might be hidden beneath a bridge, still resonates – the true magic that words upon a page can inspire, and, no less, the timeless images alongside them.

With the land leading to the rustic bridges becoming sodden and then so churned by footfall, I find that they’re often a good place to stop, listen to the birds and kick off some of the mud that I picked up along the way. Bridges feature in both of my novels, the characters using them as a spot to breathe and reflect. The sound of flowing water, or the general tranquility found there, perhaps even simply that it is a solid stopping point, they’re always a strong place for contemplation.

“When Booya came to the bridge he felt compelled to stop and look. It was a wooden-slatted bridge, coloured grey by decay . . . on one side of the river was the old country that Mammand Paw had told him about, the fields that held secrets of death and destruction, secrets it would never yield, lifetimes hidden beneath corn and cotton. But on this side of the river was a world eager to move on.”

The Reputation of Booya Carthy

“I used to come here when I wanted to be alone . . . I would sit on the banks by the stream and look at the little arched bridge. Or stand on it, just as I am now. I don’t know why I never come here anymore, the calm neutrality of its environment, away from the horror show of the town. I watch small birds flitting in and out of the shrubs and trees . . . I stand and I stare. My reflection stares back at me, a hopeless dummy floating in the water.

The Shame of John Slade (NYR)

You’re very likely to be a few thoughts ahead of me: How can bridges be mentioned without hearing the thoughts of the “Best Bear in the All the World“, the wisest pal that anyone can have? It’s safe to say that Winnie the Pooh very much agrees about seeking answers and inspiration in a lazy stream . . .

“Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.”

A.A. Milne

Rare would it be to happen upon a bridge without first having wandered down a road, a lane or a pathway. It is reputed that Daphne du Maurier was inspired to write Jamaica Inn when she became lost in the fog on Bodmin moors. There, she discovered an inn, where the landlord told her tales of smugglers, very much the theme of the novel. The scene is recreated, in part, for Mary Yellan, when she leaves a pathway, fleeing from the “furtive hands” of a smuggling pedlar, “fighting for possession” of her.

Whenever Daphne du Maurier describes the Cornish countryside, she captures so perfectly how constricted some of those lanes are, how bleak the countryside can be, reflective of Mary’s desperate situation.

“She crawled on uncertainly, the path widening and the fog clearing, and the wind veered in her face once more . . . with the land sloping up on either side of her, while not fifty yards away, and directly in front of her, were the high combing seas breaking upon the shore.”

Daphne du Maurier, Jamaica Inn
This is part of the external wall of the Minack Theatre, in Cornwall – where I was very fortunate to spend parts of lockdown.

While it is oh so easy to imagine smugglers and rogues travelling around the Cornish landscape, there is also a rich smuggling history throughout the south east of England, where I live, thirty miles inland. The hollow ways and sunken lanes would have been well used by those contrabandists and their runners. Even if revenue agents were hidden alongside pathways, they would have needed quite a number to have taken on the bands that trooped their illicit wares along these routes through the countryside.

However threatening these grisly characters were – among the worst villains this country has seen – who doesn’t enjoy imagining what smugglers really got up to. Especially when we still use the legacy of their routes to explore.

These wild landscapes are definitive glimpses back in time, undisturbed places just as they were, protected from developers and absolutely free to explore. As mentioned at the beginning, there are enough distractions to get the heart rate going, sounds and scents to alarm the senses. And, should you dare to look, perhaps even the odd troll to be found beneath a bridge.

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there”

George Harrison, Any Road

The Lockdown Rambles #1

Trees

The Lockdown Rambles #2

Buildings & Structures

2 thoughts on “The Lockdown Rambles #3

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