On Roads and Footpaths


Icknield Way (1912) Spencer Gore

“Much has been written of travel, far less of the road. Writers have treated the road as a passive means to an end, and honoured it most when it has been an obstacle; they leave the impression that a road is a connection between two points which only exist when the traveller is upon it. Thought there is much travel in the Old Testament, “the way” is used chiefly as a metaphor. “Abram journeyed, going on still toward the south,” says the historian, who would have used the same words had the patriarch employed wings. Yet to a nomadic people the road was as important as anything upon it. The earliest roads wandered like rivers through the land, having, like rivers, one necessity, to keep in motion. We still say that a road “goes” to London, as we “go” ourselves. We point out a white snake on a green hillside, and tell a man: “That is going to Chichester.” At our inn we think when recollecting the day: “That road must have gone to Strata Florida.” We may go or stay, but the road will go up over the mountains to Llandovery, and then up again over to Tregaron. It is a silent companion always ready for us, whether it is night or day, wet or fine, whether we are calm or desperate, well or sick. It is always going: it has never gone right away, and no man is too late. Only a humourist could doubt this, like the boy in a lane who was asked: “Where does this lane go to, boy?” and answered: “I have been living here these sixteen years and it has never moved to my knowledge.” Some roads creep, some continue merely; some advance with majesty, some mount a hill in curves like a soaring sea-gull.”

The Icknield Way
Edward Thomas

I have commented elsewhere of my love for the writings of Edward Thomas, the collected poems are constantly open by my side, but before he was persuaded to turn to poetry he had a critically if not necessarily financially successful career as a travel/nature writer.  The above paragraph comes from a book published in 1913 about Thomas’s journeying along The Icknield Way, the oldest trackway in England.  It is sadly out of print (Little Toller, take note) and way overdue for a reprint.


3 thoughts on “On Roads and Footpaths

    • That’s interesting. I was searching through my own photos to illustrate the text, I had one in mind but decided it wasn’t right after all, so settled on a painting instead, and coincidentally contemporaneous with Thomas’s book.

      Liked by 1 person

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