Wash Lanes

But today (as with so many other days) Wash Lane remains unvisited by the I of these words. A morning run led close by but little thought was paid to the Lane. Until now (a now that will stretch elastically across days to find pockets of writing opportunity). A form of attending arises and the ‘desktop’ becomes the locus of activity; something of Wash Lane becomes apparent a kilometre northwards of its gravelly course. The unremarkable Wash Lane has (unwittingly) left traces other than (or rather, in addition to) the slowly altering stuttering series of gently rising curves.

Of course, the cartographers have been (t)here. Certain aspects of the Lane are given a form of permanence through theodolite, measure, pen and paper—an endeavour not without sweat and physical exertion for the ‘plotters’—and more latterly, the assistance of satellites, seemingly so remote from the gravel and oaks, projects the Lane’s course into digital space.


Initially the cartographic renderings are easy to keep count of: two 25-inch and three 6-inch maps courtesy of the Ordnance Survey through the late-1800s and into the mid-twentieth century. Two 1-inch maps from 1899—on one version, the cartographer’s hachures exaggerate the prominence of the fold of land that Wash Lane sits within. The outline edition quietly accepts the Lane’s line. The 1940s bring colour, although none to Wash Lane. The dotted line of the parish boundary running along Dove Lane is familiar to most of these chart-views. Over time the renderings multiply and updates and alterations begin to occur at ever shorter intervals augmented by the aerial photography of the last sixty years (a process which itself has increased in frequency).

Prior to the modern mapping came the Tithe map of the 1840s. Wash Lane runs unlabelled here but is clearly found as the lines of lanes and roads has changed little in the intervening years. What has changed are the enclosures that accompany the Lane. Today’s one field to the west of the Lane was five enclosures (Nos. 66 to 70) two of which had their eastern limit set by Wash Lane at the time of the Tithe. On the east side five enclosures had their western boundaries defined by the Lane (Nos. 59 and 62 to 65). Wash Lane itself is numbered ‘204’ and its then ownership will one day reveal itself to a writing I. This ownership is a trivial point perhaps but all part of the Lane’s story; a story that is impossible to give any value to especially on the part of the Lane itself. If the Lane can be described as a self.

The manner of writing (above) has given the Lane an agency that it does not possess in a traditional way; its identity is born from a usage reinforced by a subsequent naming. The Lane must be seen elsewise, perhaps as a multiplicity that has the (mis)fortune to have risen to enough prominence to be awarded a nominal presence. And yet, in its usage it collaborates with users and inhabitants as the geology, morphology and ecology impact how the Lane is encountered and followed; whilst, reciprocally, the Lane is altered through use. It could also be suggested that it grows recursively as the fractal narratives multiply, interweave and die back.

It can easily be imagined that Wash Lane, its course, was born from necessity—a need to move from what is today the metalled road down to Dove Lane (or vice versa). Maybe the strip enclosures to the north of Dove Lane needed better access from the direction of the hamlet or the farm. The Tithe map sets a latest possible date for the Lane but there maybe exists an estate map or manuscript that more clearly sets out the line, purpose and ownership of this brief course.

This further introductory writing arguably does not go anywhere, much like the Lane ‘itself’ but, like the cartographer and the surveyor, the writing I is laying out marks to triangulate from to get to know the meaningless meaning of the Lane. And to remember a care with/of/for words that may have been recently lost.


Wash Lane: an introduction

Wash Lane climbs ever-so gently (slightly west of) southwards away from Dove Lane through 450 metres of stuttering gentle curves and kinks. It is possible to imagine the lane once continued onwards across the metalled road at the top as the hedge-line of the fields opposite continue on a similar bearing for a further 300m, but no cartographic evidence supports this.

On the large-scale Ordnance Survey map the 35 metre contour line runs west-east towards the Lane and then turns abruptly south to loop back round the top of the Lane, where it meets the metalled road, and then shadows (albeit divergently) the Lane back down along its eastern side. This contour feature, a large re-entrant, morphologically offers up the origin of the Lane’s name—the water washes down here in times of heavy rain. The conditions underfoot conform to this explanation too, as the parallel lines of tractors passings expose an aggregate Lane-bed of sand,  pebbles and flints in contrast to the stickier loam and leaf-litter mix of Dove Lane.

Wash Lane is not an uncommon name for tracks, green lanes, byways and country roads hereabouts—only a mile to the north-east another Wash Lane (labelled on the 1840s tithe map as ‘The Wash Lane’) seemingly diverts a stream onto its course and is made up of a similar sandy, pebbly bed and is prone to waterlogging, especially through the wetter seasons.

From a distance Wash Lane is inconspicuous; a loose single line of (mostly) oaks chart its northern half whilst its southern half has a more obvious delineation by trees (oak, ash, beech even, along with blackthorn and holly) that forms a hedge on its eastern side. Several of the trees are of substantial girth and underline the Lane’s established place in this landscape. At the top of Wash Lane a culvert with modest brick portals guides the ditch-stream under the road from the field opposite. After negotiating a fly-tipping of tyres any water has a reasonably clear run down the eastern side where the hedge runs, but lower down the ditch disappears under a tangle of brambles and collapsed undergrowth only showing its full form once more at the junction with Dove Lane.

Centuries of use have attempted to force the line of the Lane into some sort of hollow way but the geology does not permit any great excavation of depth and users of the lane never fully disappear from sight. Especially not in the winter months when the Lane-side vegetation has died down to a muted armature of stems and stalks.

One large field lies to the western side of the lane whilst, to the east, three fields (of decreasing size north to south) have their western limits defined by the Lane. The smallest field is grass for livestock but the other three emphasise a preference for arable in these parts. At the point where the two larger fields’ boundary line meets the Lane a small ditch meets that of the Lane and across the space is slung an improvised barrier of pallet and barbed wire; an assemblage which conspires with the surrounding brambles and holly to guard against leaving the Lane.

Away from the Lane and at the screen the various databases offer this area as a landscape of archaeological possibles; parch marks and chance finds from fieldwalks sketch out millenia of occupation and passage. All this historic activity flattened by the lens of archaeological reports lends the landscape a lie of bustle but this is to show the landscape’s stories in concentrated form. For today, all is relatively calm and subdued, greys, browns and winter greens punctuated only by the bright orange of a shotgun cartridge and a multi-colour Haribo wrapper caught in a puddle’s surface tension.

The puddles shine out with grey December light and reflections of the trees’ bare branches are disturbed by a rising westerly wind. Rain tomorrow.