From The Side Of The Ridgeway

August 28th, 2008 | brainjuice

The Ridgeway is Britain’s oldest known road: a trackway running eighty-odd miles across the south of England, curving over the tops of hills from the Ivinghoe Beacon to Avebury in the west.


Last week I had to walk a couple of miles of it for the first time, arcing from the White Horse cut into the chalk hill at Uffington down along the Ridgeway to reach Wayland’s Smithy.

Did you ever walk a road that’s five thousand years old? People have been crossing the country on The Ridgeway since Neolithic times. In some context: when the Ridgeway first came into use, the average lifespan was around 35 years. And those people were in the grip of massively disruptive conceptual revolution: the revolution of farming. The Ridgeway was the connective tissue between these new things, settlements, forming on the dry chalk hills. And with the advent of the continuity of a generation or two in the same place for the first time came the first inkling of history. The Ridgeway predates the White Horse, and Wayland’s Smithy, and very probably Avebury and Stonehenge. This is the path people walked when they first thought about how to talk to time.


I’ve read that it used to run longer — that it used to run down from the west to the southern coast of Dorset, and east all the way to the sea at Norfolk. A diagonal cut across the country from sea to sea.

Funny thing: walking the Ridgeway, everyone who passed gave a smile and a sunny "Good afternoon!" or "Hello!". Everyone, in other words, suddenly became terribly English.

Notebook for 2008-08-26

August 27th, 2008 | notebook

  • my notebook, August 20 1998 – almost exactly a decade ago


August 27th, 2008 | shivering sands

I was just sorting through a stack of CDs, and found this somehow interleaved between them. I’d gotten some old photos from my stepmother when my father died a few years ago, and this was among them. God knows how it got separated from the others.

My dad was a sailor for a while: he always said he simply couldn’t resist the idea of being paid to see the world. And, as far as I know, he served chiefly on the Oriana. I think it may have been the first passenger liner of its type to have a swimming pool — he was certainly under the impression it was. His career as a sailor seems to have been as fraught as his career in the Queen’s Lifeguards (where he was once complicit in giving the Queen a horse with the shits for a public appearance), the high point probably being his missing the ship entirely during shoretime on Fiji and being "imprisoned" for jumping ship in what was basically a hut he was politely asked to return to at nights.


He was in his early twenties when he sent this postcard — presumably nicked out of the ship’s shop — to my grandma. I’m not sure which direction the Oriana would have been steaming in, at this point. Research tells me that she was off Long Beach in March 1962, getting a gash cut in her side by an aircraft carrier. Dad never mentioned it. He never talked a lot about those years, because it bugged my mother, who had never gotten to travel and somehow resented my dad for his experiences. So I never got many details: just the sense that travel was worth doing, and that my dad believed he’d been made a better man by it.


I didn’t get to New Zealand and Australia until my early thirties. But I got there. It’s a weird thing, I suppose, to see the path of your father’s footsteps curling around the entire world. But I like it.

I also like that the silly bastard’s pen ran out during that unintelligible squiggle at the end and he just had to get a pencil to explain that.

Links for 2008-08-26

August 27th, 2008 | brainjuice