Roads form the physical connections between our human settlements – towns, cities, villages or even single houses. Most of us use roads every day as a vital means of communication.
In our area, many of our modern roads can trace their history to a web of tracks that took our ancestors from A to B for all their various purposes, from collecting food and fuel to marching to war. I find old maps are a fascinating source of detail on the places visited by people in the past and the roads that took them there. We can often see how busier routes developed and others fell into disuse as settlements changed according to the needs of their inhabitants or sometimes due to other external factors.
The road in my header image climbs to the top of the hill from our village as it connects our valley to the Tyne valley to the north. In Summer we like to walk up here to admire the view from the hilltop. On a clear day we can see as far north as the Scottish border and a good few miles south too, across the North Pennines. As quite a busy route, this road has gradually been resurfaced and widened over the years. Originally, around 400 years ago, this section of the road would have been a track leading from the village squire’s grand hall up to an adjoining hilltop road that linked to other significant properties nearby.
It may be snowy but the old road through our woods is always a very popular route. This single track road used to be the main road that linked our village to other villages nearby and it is still well-used for this purpose though it is no longer the main road traffic route. Its route travels over the Victorian railway bridge that I’ve written about previously. In 2002 the road was closed to road traffic and adopted by the Forestry Commision. To preserve the old stone bridge, use of the road is now restricted to walkers, cyclists and horse riders, with vehicles being restricted to essential access only.
The main road into our village drops down from the north east, twisting and turning as it goes. Here is one of those turns as the road suddenly lurches rightwards along the valley side. Driving towards our village along this road, it is at this point the whole vista of the valley comes suddenly into view. Impressive cloudscapes, Winter sunsets or just many layers of grey in a classic demonstration of aerial perspective draw the eye south westwards through the river valley. This photograph is taken from the ‘end’ of the old road through the woods that I showed you above. The route heading right in this image links the two adjacent villages and developed into a main route sometime in the late 19th century – the same time as coal mining became a prominent industry in the area which created increased transport needs in itself as well as via an increased population.
This river ford is part of another interesting old road in our valley. The old road that crosses the River Derwent here is known as Clockburn Lonnen – lonnen is a local dialect word for ‘lane’. In the past this lane formed part of the main route from the cathedral city of Durham to Scotland and I believe it probably originally dates back into pre-Roman times. From the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 through to the English Civil Wars in the mid-1600s, war and conflict between England and Scotland feature regularly in our local history here in North East England. As a main thoroughfare in those days, Oliver Cromwell’s baggage train, complete with heavy guns drawn by teams of oxen, travelled via Clockburn Lonnen and the Derwent ford on the way to the Battle of Dunbar in the September of 1650. This old road must have been rather wider then than we see it now in the foreground of this photograph.
In my final photograph the scene changes from countryside to coast. We often visit this part of the North East coast during the Summer months and enjoy the picturesque walk along the clifftops overlooking the sea. The National Trust now take care of this section of coastline with its fascinating limestone rock formations and the Souter Lighthouse. When our walk is done we make out way out onto the coast road here, halfway between South Shields and Sunderland, and wait for the bus to take us back into the town centre.
I hope you have enjoyed roaming along with me and taking in some of our favourite roadscapes. Do take a look at Cee’s Black and White Photo Challenge for more roadscapes this week.
J Peggy Taylor