Monday, 18 November 2013

Variations on the Great North Road

I've been working with photographer Phil Harris on a project involving tracing some of John Clare's travels, but we also set out to let ourselves get sidetracked, rather than following them too closely.

Yesterday, we traced the route of Sewstern Drift, a prehistoric trackway that later became a drovers' road, running parallel to the Great North Road (which would, by the late 18th century, have been a toll road).

Some stretches are now green lanes and bridle ways, but others are tarmac roads, recognisable by their very wide verges, which allowed the sheep and cattle to graze on their way to market in London. The stretch above is near Thistleton.

The route also largely avoids the centre of villages, instead just skirting round them - no one wanted noisy, smelly beasts just outside their front door.

At times the road takes a large detour round a World War Two airfield, or the only-just-closed RAF Cottesmore, with the drift itself disappearing and then resuming on the far side.

Sadly, the fields alongside are often the sort of arable desert that typifies much of lowland Britain these days - it was hard to find a bird other than a Woodpigeon in this open country. The lane itself, though, was much more lively, especially on its unpaved sections, with the hedges holding good numbers of species such as Yellowhammer. These stretches also had more trees nearby, either in little French-style avenues, or copses such as the one below, near Buckminster, where a water tower sprouts from the centre like an enormous mushroom.

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