let me count the ways

When I was out walking the other day, I came across this lovely angle, where the Grand Union Canal crosses the railway track.

Initially, I thought of Frost’s “two roads diverged in a yellow wood”, but that wasn’t quite right, as there were no steps down to the train line so I had to keep following the towpath, whether I wanted to or not.

A train went by, under the canal, and I got to thinking about where all the passengers had come from and where they were heading, which was more like The Pedlar’s Caravan:

Where he comes from nobody knows,
Or where he goes to, but on he goes!

The train rushed quickly out of sight, but I was struck by what a lovely little microcosm of communications I had found: within a stone’s throw of where I took the picture, it’s all bridges and aqueducts looping and linking at all different levels.

The canal had passed over a river a short way back; on either side of the railway there are footpaths that lead off across the fields; just beyond the photo’s left-hand edge, there is a footbridge over the track; and a bit farther ahead there is a bridge that takes the main road over the canal.

The ways in the photo are presumably on foot, by boat or by train, although I had to keep stepping aside to let cyclists pass on the tow-path and, once upon a time, I suppose, there must have been horses, pulling the barges. If it had been the Shropshire Canal, perhaps the ghost of “Captain Webb the Dawley man”, would have appeared, but the only swimmers I saw were ducks.

The general impression, then, was one of communication and connection, but that isn’t really the whole truth, as there are lots of places where the different ways cross at different levels, with no access between them.

There are plenty of railings, walls and fences, too, as well as places where man and nature have decided to join forces to block the way.

barbed wire and old bramble

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

4 thoughts on “let me count the ways”

    1. I did think of Spaghetti Junction as I was writing about this small knot byways in the Midlands, but decided this one has the advantage of mixing and matching – the M6 is all just roadways, after all.

      Roads and routes do seem to inspire poetry and other creative writing – the interconnectivity also made me think of A. J. Deutsch’s A subway named Mobius. Maybe I should follow up with my Getting around on the underground – “You can’t go all the way on the Circle Line any more…” – but the long lines will cause formatting problems, which is one reason I’ve never posted it on the blog.

      There doesn’t seem to be a single Ode to the M25, so I wonder which you meant?


      1. In the heat of the day or the dead of the night
        Here’s a thing that is certain to bring you delight.
        If you’re driving to Oxford, to Richmond or Staines
        Or heading for Gatwick to look at the planes,
        If your journey’s for pleasure or you’re off to work,
        Whether driving a Ford or a Nissan or Merc’
        Alone or with auntie asleep in the back,
        Wearing your best suit or scruffy old mac,
        The way you must travel – you’ve really no choice –
        (Even first class in your Jag or Rolls Royce!)
        Is to follow that superbly circular highway
        And not be diverted on some minor byway.
        You’ll tangle with juggernauts ‘til you’re insane
        And play with boy racers in the fast lane,
        Maybe toil behind caravans bound for the coast,
        Be boxed in by truckers all making the most
        Of their sixteen-speed gearbox and twelve litre mill,
        A Ferrari goes past you like you’re standing still.
        Then just as you think you’re done with it all
        The whole lot slows down to a terrible crawl!
        They’ve now closed your exit and coned off your lane
        So you drive to the next one and then back again.
        It only adds twenty more miles to your trip;
        By the time you get back there you’re ready to flip!
        “Better to travel in hope than arrive”?
        I think that’s the motto of the M25!

        Les Derbyshire


      2. I found that one, but I also found this one by Martin Newell, which I rather preferred:

        I’ve remembered other poems of mine that would have been pertinent to traffic discussions: one starting – “Somewhere between Heathrow and Milton Keynes”; another – “There’s no poetry in traffic jams”; and this one:

        M1 Northbound, March 2011

        It could be autumn. A lone hawk
        hunches in a tree. Bare branches stretch
        to scrape a solid sky, and greasy rain
        streaks the coach windows. Black against
        the shrouding opalescence, a slow rook
        flaps homeward; twigs straggle from its beak.

        Liked by 1 person

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