Country diary: shadows reveal a road less travelled in recent times

Kingswood, Northumberland: This track, a sunken green line much older than the motor-era road, hugs the hillside at an angle more suitable for horse and cart

The single track road, its potholes patched and repatched like a threadbare jacket, plummets down to the burn and up again in a steep V. Along its unfenced verges, the wind tugs at thistledown and at sparse clumps of gorse, the occasional hawthorn. Goldfinches flurry along. Impervious sheep graze the sloping fields.

This is where the Kingswood Burn runs through a cleugh, the Northumberland word for a ravine. Trees cluster the sides, delineating the watercourse, a thick-grown quiet place for owls and deer. There’s a mixture of holly and birch, hawthorn and sycamore, and, in the wettest places, alder. I look down on to this snaking wood and, over it, to the zigzag of the narrow road as it crosses ridge after ridge and think about the uphill walk once I have descended to the stream.

Down in the valley bottom there’s a little stone bridge. A group of red-legged partridges scurry up a sandy bank, their plumage a series of rusty bars over delicate grey. In the rough grass, shaggy ink caps cluster, some turning sludgy black as their spores develop.

As I start the climb, there’s a rhythmical line of beech trees to my left. They curve like a breaking wave, branches sweeping up from the west to bend down to the east, moulded by gales and weather. Growing closely, maybe they’re an outgrown hedge or planted densely to provide some shelter. Their roots wrap over boulders, trunks knuckle and bulge, branches weld together or gesture out at odd angles. It’s hard not to relate them to human forms with their hints of limbs and faces.

These trees inspired the Allendale printmaker Cat Moore. It was seeing her linocut at the Gallery in the Hills, a converted barn at the top of this hill, that prompted me to revisit these special beeches. Now, looking back down on the cleugh, I see what I missed before. This road could only have been made after the invention of the motor vehicle. A much older track, a sunken green line, hugs the hillside at an angle more suitable for horse and cart. Revealed by the shadows of the afternoon sun, it’s a subtle mark written into the land.

Trees alongside the road that runs down to the Kingswood Burn.
Trees alongside the road that runs down to the Kingswood Burn. Photograph: Susie White


Susie White

The GuardianTramp

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