I have come to the borders of sleep,
The unfathomable deep Forest where all must lose
Their way, however straight, Or winding, soon or late;
They cannot choose.
Many a road and track
That, since the dawn's first crack,
Up to the forest brink,
Deceived the travellers,
Suddenly now blurs,
And in they sink....
Edward Thomas knew much of holloways and Robert Macfarlane quotes this poem in his latest book Holloway, produced with fellow writer Dan Richards and artist Stanley Donwood. The book is a slim but rich and intense fusion of words, observations and drawings compiled after the three returned to the holloway that Robert Macfarlane had explored with Roger Deakin in 2005. That excursion is recounted in The Wild Places...
'There is wildness everywhere,' Roger had written once, 'if we only stop in our tracks and look around us.' To him, the present-day and the close-at-hand were as astonishing as the long-gone and the far-afield. He was an explorer of the undiscovered country of the nearby.'
The holloway (known in Devon as a green lane) just a few yards from our front gate, has become a special place to us in the nineteen years that we have lived in this house, and as I Beat the Bounds with renewed enthusiasm I am getting to know every inch. I spot every new heap of badger or rabbit digging, each newly broken branch, each recently shifted stone.
It now occurs to me that this of course is the rabbit's own 'holloway'.
Our green lane is little known or used by anyone else; perhaps a few horse-riders, the man from the RSPB who comes to do an annual bird count, and may be just very occasionally some Sunday bikers who, having found it on the map, have to ride it perhaps on the Climbing Everest principle, because it is there. It occurred to me as I walked up with Nell the other day that it is largely us and our footfall that are now wearing and keeping the path patent and passable.
'They are landmarks that speak of habit rather than of suddeness. Like creases in the hand, or the wear on the stone sill of a doorstep or stair. they are the result of repeated human actions. Their age chastens without crushing. They relate to other old paths & tracks in the landscape - ways that still connect place to place and person to person.'
According to Robert Macfarlane none of these paths are younger than 300 years old, in which case maybe it's our turn in history to know and connect with this one, and we never fail to wonder about that history as we walk.
And we think about odd things too... what if a horse and cart were coming down as one was going up, well then what... that debate kept us going the full length of the holloway one day.
Can you drive a horse and cart backwards in a confined space...
And a special treat, some words especially for you all from Robert Macfarlane, and a request....
"I have come to realise, in the eight years since I first wrote about holloways, that many people share my fascination with these sunken lanes, which have been harrowed down into the landscape by the passage of feet and rainwater (and sometimes 4x4s...). People have sent me photographs of the holloways they know, the paintings and sketches they have made of them, maps with their locations indicated, or the stories, memories and folklore they associate with them. Something about the idea of a path trodden by unknown predecessors, something about the everyday pleasure of walking and following these lanes, and something more mysterious about the symbolic power of the holloway as an image (tunnel, rabbit-hole, vortex, portal to the underworld), seems to draw the imagination of many.
Last year, the artist Stanley Donwood, the writer Dan Richards, the letter-press printer Richard Lawrence and I self-published a small book about holloways from first principles. The first principle being a lump of lead. That lump of lead was melted to cast fresh type, which was used to set the text, which was then hand-printed onto soft thick Somerset wove paper pages, which were then ordered, stitched and bound, to make an ISBN-less book in an edition of 277. A year on, Faber and Faber have published a hardback version of that book, *Holloway*. They have also set up a site where people can post their own images of holloways and sunken paths. So - if there is a holloway you know or have known, it would be wonderful if you considered adding it to the gallery. The first few have begun to appear. I have this notion that, if the gallery gathers enough images, we might tag each of them to their location on a map, and in this way create a holloway cartography. The holloways don't need to be English or British, though, or especially old or deep. There's one from Normandy already up there. And perhaps the youngest holloways are barely a few inches in depth; perhaps holloways run through cities rather than only through the countryside.
The site is here: http://www.flickr.com/groups/holloway/ I'm told you have to be a member of flickr to be able to post; I'm also told that if you're not, it's easy to join. But I know little about the internet and its ways. If flickr defeats you, as it has defeated me, you can always send your photos to firstname.lastname@example.org, with a quick note saying they're for the holloway gallery, and with any info about location, photographer and such like for a caption. Thank you!"
My photos are in already so please do send yours too, and now scroll down where Magnus awaits with gifts.