For Cee’s Black and White Photo Challenge this week, we are looking at the ground. I often find the ground quite interesting because it is full of history.
The first image I’ve chosen shows an example of the Concretionary Magnesian Limestone on our North East England coastline. If you’re a geologist, you’ll certainly have heard of this well-known rock formation. The rocks were formed during the Permian period, over 250 million years ago, after rising sea levels flooded the adjacent sand dunes. The UK was still part of a large landmass at that time and lay just north of the equator. I always find it fascinating that we can just look down at the ground and look back so far into pre-history.
Another aspect of this particular spot that always strikes me as we walk across it, is the contrasts in texture. The sand is smooth, soft and usually cool, as the rising tide is normally casting its white foamy fingers across it. The Concretionary Magnesian Limestone is, by contrast, very rough. It really does look like concrete, with lumps of stone set into it, created entirely by the forces of Nature without any human help.
My second image is of the old road that runs through our woods. It still retains its old surface of local sandstone gravel, though some parts have been reinforced with newer limestone. Unsurprisingly, this road is known as the Stoney Road and a hundred years ago was the main road linking our village to a neighbouring one. We often walk along the old road when we go into the woods, to see the carpets of bluebells in Spring or the carpets of leaves in Autumn but it is also a cool green tunnel in high Summer. I’m sure this old road would have many tales to tell, if only the ground could talk!
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.
We live on a hillside so all roads into our village go either up or downhill. In the header image above, the road drops down into the village from the north. The south side of our valley is just visible through the blue haze of Summer. We sometimes walk up the hill here to see the panoramic views of our valley and further afield. On a clear day you can truly see for miles from this road – north to the hills on the borders of Scotland (over 50 miles away) and south over our valley and the North Pennine moors.
The old Stoney Road was one of the ‘main’ roads into our village a hundred years ago, wending its way through the woods. This road crosses over one of the old railway bridges I showed you in last week’s post (look for the bridge covered in snow). You can see the parapets of the bridge in the distance of this picture. It is to preserve the old bridge that this road has been declassified and is no longer used as a road for vehicles. I think the Stoney Road has been resurfaced with new stones a few times, as parts of this road are subject to frequent erosion from rainwater run-off.
My final road for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week was taken with this challenge in mind, whilst we were out and about this week. We had been to visit an 18th century windmill, then our return coastal walk brought us to Souter Lighthouse which you can see in this picture. Souter Lighthouse was built in 1871 and was the first purpose-built lighthouse to be powered by electricity.
Roads are such a significant part of our landscape. Most of us rely on them every day to enable us to access the places we want to go. We had been to see some local history exhibitions before we went off on our coastal walk. From images we saw, this well-used coast road looked much more like the old Stoney Road in the past too. It is interesting how some roads develop into modern transport routes and others become superseded and are left behind in the past.