My car’s in for a service today and the ancient Peugeot they gave me as a courtesy car to drive around in while it’s being fixed has nearly no brakes and far too much clutch, and makes the most alarming rattling and whining noises. So I decided not to return from the garage along the main road but to take a much smaller road which I occasionally use. It’s a magical little road, not a direct route but one I would infinitely prefer to be driving along if the little courtesy car decided to stop, or fall to pieces, or explode, any of which sounded a real possibility as we sputtered in ten foot hops out of the garage.
The road I chose used to be a coaching road a long time ago. Stage coaches pulled by sweating horses used to creak and jingle along it, bound from Bristol in the West to (presumably) London far away to the East. At some stage it was replaced by a busy A road that runs parallel a couple of miles away, then they built the motorway just over the hill that pulsates with the roar of modern coaches, the sort that have internal combustion engines, and the old coaching road was forgotten. They come and mend potholes occasionally, but it is officially ‘unadopted’, which means it can do its own thing. The trees crowd in at each side, but if you get out of the car and explore you can see that the original road was three times as wide as the strip of tarmac that is left visible. It reminds me of Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘The Way Through The Woods’:
Yet, if you enter the woods/Of a summer evening late …/You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet,/And the swish of a skirt in the dew,/Steadily cantering through/The misty solitudes,/As though they perfectly knew/The old lost road through the woods…./But there is no road through the woods.
Very few cars use it now and wildlife has taken it back. I once saw a mother weasel cross the road with her family, all the babies holding onto the tail of the one in front with their teeth so that the effect was of a long, furry piece of string crossing the road. I have often seen badgers and owls there, and once an enormous frog hopping down the middle. Today’s sighting was a snow white pheasant, very beautiful and stately, which slowly crossed the road in front of my awful little car. The contract between beautiful bird and battered old machine was most noticeable. The old coaching road saw us safely home, and I look forward to driving along it this afternoon to collect my car. It has an air of history, and mystery, and ancient England so strong you can practically touch it.