Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Old Ways

It is my birthday next week (I have stopped counting, so don't ask) and friend G has bought my present already (she always is an early present-giver). It is Robert Macfarlane's latest book "The Old Ways".   As you know from my blogs I am a tremendous fan of Ronald Blythe, Richard Mabey, Roger Deakin and Robert MacFarlane.   This book does not disappoint.

He talks about the old ways in the countryside - not just in this country but around the world.   We tend to forget in these days of dashing from A to B along the motorways, or meandering more slowly along B roads, that for far longer than there have been roads of any kind there have been 'ways'.

Many of them are still there even if they are secret to all but a few folk.   We have several footpaths round here.   Two cross our land and are well-used by ramblers and dog-walkers.   But in the centuries gone by they were well-used by anyone who needed, for any reason, to get to our village (there has been a village on this site for centuries).

The other things which have stood here for centuries of course are the field boundaries.   Many of ours are stone walls - a real feature of the Yorkshire Dales, but we have quite a few hedges too.   It is said that for each species in a hedge you can say the hedge has been there for a hundred years (don't ask me how they come by this arbitrary figure).

Our hedges have field maple, blackthorn, hawthorn, holly -that's four hundred years for a start.   And in addition most of our fields have a name.   Peacock's - why is it called Peacocks?   No idea but it is called that on the map, so presumably sometime in the distant past it belonged to a Mr Peacock.   Another one is calledd Commons - does that mean that it was once common land - presumably.   But the one I like best is the latest field which the farmer bought just a couple of months ago - on all the maps it is called Todelands.  I presume this is Yorkshire speak for 'the old lands'.

How much history there is lying around us.  I read in his book that a Holloway is a footpath which has been trodden lower and lower over the centuries until it becomes deep in the ground.  Near to where we lived for many years in Wolverhampton was a road called just that - and I must say I had never though of it, in spite of the fact that the road has indeed very steep banks on either side.

Do get hold of a copy if you can - it is an interesting read. 

14 comments:

Dominic Rivron said...

Re birthday presents, I'm pleased I now know you've read Holloway. I've seen it and it looked just your kind of thing.

MorningAJ said...

That "arbitrary" figure is arrived at by lots of careful studies of hedges that have planting dates! Then they extrapolate to others.

Em Parkinson said...

I love the names our farmer friends' can tell us for their fields, some ancient, some fairly new. Trigger's field is 'The Warren'

Bovey Belle said...

Our field behind the house is Kitchen Field. The field to the left of it is Castle Field, because there was once an Iron Age enclosure in there. Up the lane there is Park (yup, has trees in the middle of it) and Limekiln Field, which used to have one of those.

I had Robert McFarlane's book The Old Ways for my birthday too. It is a wonderful read and I wish I could go exploring like he did, though walking out SO far on the mudflats after a retreating tide put the bejeebers up me!

Kristi in the Western Reserve said...

My library here in northeast Ohio has a copy of this book and I requested it to be sent to my branch. Thanks for the recommendation!

Gwil W said...

I like to walk and follow the curves and contours of the old green lanes and bridleways. I guess they have more personality than modern roads.

Cloudia said...

YOU are an intersting read, P!

"Todelands. I presume this is Yorkshire speak for 'the old lands'."

So cool. The Hawaiians were great ones for paths and ways, some of which are still known - as yours - to certain folk. Thanks.


ALOHA from Honolulu
Comfort Spiral
=^..^= <3



Hildred said...

It is the people who trod those old pathways who appeal to my imagination, Pat. I envy you living in the midst of such history.

Virginia said...


Happy birthday for next week.

I've looked up the Robert Macfarlane book and it's in our local library. It sounds like a good 'going to bed' book so I"ll pop in tomorrow and borrow it before someone else does!

New Zealand is too 'new' to have those wonderful names in english, but of course there are many Maori place names which are beautifully descriptive.

I do hope the weather is kind to you on your birthday and you are suitably spoiled.

thelma said...

Macfarlane's book is a lovely book, there is the 'Wild Places' as well.
Ian Nicholson's Sea Room about the Shiants Islands, near the Isle of Lewis is also enchanting.....

Heather said...

I haven't come across Robert MacFarlane but have books by the other authors you mention and am fascinated by sunken paths and holloways. I shall try to get a copy - it sounds just what I'm looking for.
Enjoy your birthday when it gets here - I've ordered some sunshine for you, but no guarantees.

Edwina said...

I used to write for various county magazines on this kind of subject, traditions, customs and so on, so have a lovely collection of old books related to the topic, mostly about Norfolk since that is where I live. I love having a browse through them now and then. Will look out for yours.

Elizabeth Musgrave said...

I have just read this! Loved it and am about to press my husband to read it too.

Pete Thompson said...

the Old Ways is a great book although I do prefer The Wild Places. I don't know Robert McFarlane personally but he was, of course, a good friend of Roger Deakin who I became friends with back in 1970 and we worked together for several years around the time he bought and started retoring Walnut Tree Farm. We lost touch but renewed the friendship shortly after the publication of Waterlog. Such a sad loss - he was a truly wonderful person and I have many happy and very amusing memories of him. McFarlane's passages about Roger bring a tear to my eye.