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.

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