Today (Saturday) I start my exploration of the Devils Highway a stretch of Roman Road that runs from Bath to the centre of London.
I set off at 8 a.m. intending to walk from Crowthorne through to South Ascot, a walk of about 10 miles, straight through the forests around Bracknell, between the two small towns and bisected by the busy A322 road.
This is part of a short project to walk the length of the Devils Highway from Silchester to London which inspired the poem at the end of this post.
My walk starts well, making my way off the main road through the margin of woods along its side I pass a man exercising a young pony in the woods and set off across the first (and as I belived from the map the only) golf course of the day, the sun is rising across the perfect carpet of green as I find my way to the Devils Highway… with its ominous “dead end” sign.
Finding my way through the housing estate that has been built on the line of the Highway proves more difficult than I thought and I end up following the main road until I pick up the route again outside of Crowthorne, and begin to head into the forest estate behind the infamous Broadmoor hospital.
I stop for a bite to eat while I watch the mist rising in the early morning sunshine feeling more peaceful and gently moved than I could have imagined at the rear of a high security hospital.
With much of the UK underwater and bracing itself for more flooding it is a time to stop and think about how life is being lived at the moment, bombarded as we are by encouragement to consume more, coupled with admonishments that we have not spent enough over Christmas and new year, I find myself increasingly at odds with how I feel we are being asked to live our lives.
So I set out to live life in some balance with my environment, within my means, and as interestingly as possible, I deliberately follow the road less travelled where I can.
I find myself looking deep into the reflections of dark puddles on the woodland as the tall Scots pine sway gently in the Winter sunlight as I “scry” my path, seek my chosen route, find my way.
A busy road cuts over The woodland and the Devil dips down into the underpass underneath…
Tempted, I travel on along his path and soon find trickery and mischief at work… The way becomes difficult to identify as cycle and walking routes mingle, and damage from water and fallen trees obstruct my way I become lost and uncertain as to which way I need to head …
Reluctantly I turn to my technology and use my sat-nav to find my way out, I would have asked the way but the only other travellers on the route are joggers (i-podded and eyes fixed on the goal) or groups of mountain bikers who I find a little intimidating and also in a hurry I am the only walker.
Things get much harder as I leave the woods and cross the dual carriage way to try to pick the highway up on the other side. The path is obliterated by roads, lay-by detritus and a swampy marshland that borders the next golf course I find myself venturing across as I skirt the boundaries of trespassing..
I eventually reconnect with what I can identify with as the Devils Highway about a mile up the dual carriage way… as a path it has become somewhat overgrown and underused.
I eventually end up trapped behind electronic gates of yet another private golf course and venture into the club house to be released, the wife of the Chairman lets me out and informs me that the Devils Highway no longer runs along the edge of the course as a path it simply doesn’t exist anymore.
The devils highway is the hidden path, the less trodden way… There were times today when I could have turned round or walked back to the road to find the easier way but I chose to carry on, to find my own way forward. I used the tools at hand map, compass and, yes satellite navigation but I used them to keep in the adventure of the day.
When I finally get to talk about the day, in the car on my way home with Hana, I see that for all the frustration of the day it has been absolutely worth it, seeing the place I live in from a walkers perspective often leads me into uncharted (literately) territory, neglected and difficult to navigate, they are the lost places. I like that there is still uncertainty in my life, the map doesn’t always tell the truth, the experience tells me
“don’t rely on what you read, seek out your way”
… as we travel the short distance home the music of Boards of Canada plays … “Found a Way”
The Devils Highway
and so it came to pass that I lived near the cursed town of Silchester for 6 years
one year of tears
one year of anger
one year to heal
and then walk
and then smile
and then love
and then, arrow straight, nine miles as the crow fly’s
the Devil took me home
…the crown of thorns
the ride took me back
the briar patch
the bear in the woods
…weather the storm
In the thicket,
in the pines
lay in wait
I catch the memory
to change things in an hour ago
I capture the golden path
all I am, illuminated
then the Devils highway.
and so it comes to pass that I reach the cross road, the tipping point
between the past and the future
the towns of London and Sichester
one fallen and cursed the other on the edge of history
wild eyed and week willed, empty of vitality.
Stay on the edge
Sway on the edge
one foot in the past, one in the future
on the apex of the rise and fall of the holy roman empire.