Here is a road that starts at the busiest part of the greatest city in the world. For miles
it carries and looks on the gods of commerce, and for miles it is the frontage of the
mansions of these leaders of commerce. At length it breaks itself away from the
crowded city and shallow suburbs, and on a polished surface strides into verdant country, level, with cornfields and long-grass meadows lining it, with sleeping farms and golden orchards. Here it lifts and falls gently, each fall showing a nook of leaves and a meand-ering stream, each rise between high hedges of hollyhocks and honeysuckle, giving a glimpse of brown tilled land, of nestling thatched cottages and of gardens ablaze with flowers.
The bustle of a town again, stone setts, quays and monster vessels, a coast line with all
its serrations, low hills coming down to the water, the ever restless sea, isolated hamlets, little villages, tiny towns. The road is there, the insidious black string still marches on, nothing can stay it, and when it’s farthest goal is reached it turns and strides back through the streets, along the coast, over the mountains, up the valleys and across the moors and plains to the suburbs and crowds of the greatest city. Man may choose to give it names, it may be the exalted Great North Road, it may be the Holyhead Road or the Exeter Road or the Portsmouth Road; man may label it A1 or A6 or B99, it’s black coat may be renewed it’s brown hide replaced, it’s corners may be shaved off or its borders widened, but the Road will always be the same, for man cannot take away it’s romance, it’s personality. And what romance lies beneath its skin! What a story could this greatest of all humanly engineered monuments tell were it only endowed with the power of speech!
This land, uninhabited by man, except savages as wild as the animals themselves lies in great intangible forests, impassable swamp, arid plain and forbidding mountains. Strange animals of an unknown age pad their way through thicket and round swamp, beating with successive ages, a path. With the dawn of reason man drives the animals away, and defines the paths, always making for the sea, for there is the salt that gives him life.
Beside them he builds his encampments, and as the centuries pass, learns to till his land and makes new ways to suit his requirements. He becomes apart from the savage of bygone days, and with his stone and wooden implements he makes these saltways wider and firmer and drags vehicles along.
Perchance if you go on the Road some moonlit night and go with eyes and mind to see,
you may see this Pageant of History and Romance the Road has known. You may see
the scene change to intangible forest, and the road as a mere track down which strange
animals pad their way, and strange wild-eyed savages creep fearfully. You may see the
track widen and the forest thin, and the peaceful Neolithic tending his kine.
On yonder green road that runs straight over hills and across dales may be seen an
army in glittering accoutrements, with chariots and well groomed steeds; you can hear
their feet in rhythm on the hard surface, you can hear their arms rattle as they reach the summit of yonder ridge and fade away into the night. You may know then that this is the road the Legions trod, and are treading yet in ghostly, unseen silence – unless you have the eyes to see. The Pageant continues.
You see the wary Celt retreat before the Saxon foe, you see the Norman conqueror, the
raiding Scot, the harassing Cumraeg under the great Glyndwr, the rival factions marching against each other on this road; the jaunty Cavalier and the sturdy Roundhead on that road, the futile Jacobite. Then the stage in the age of travel, you can hear it approach; it rumbles past with it’s top-heavy load of passengers, horses straining in the shafts, coach swaying and creaking, the ‘Flying Fiend’ en route for Manchester or Liverpool or Holyhead.
Somewhere in yon dark copse a horseman waits, masked, pistols primed, ready for the unwary lone traveller. There’s money on the Highway! And on the horizon, dark against the sombre night sky stands the gibbet with it’s grotesque, swinging victim.
On that northward bound highway are two figures on horseback, racing for very life, and
behind, gaining perceptibly, are more mounted figures. Ah,Gretna Green! Romance!
We cyclists’ make our bow to the next of this Pageant of the centuries – the pioneers of
the greatest game extant, gaunt, much derided figures astride the lumbering old ‘castors’, followed by the high-seated ‘Penny-Farthing’ advocates. As this pictures fades from sight the moon slides behind the night clouds and with gleaming lamp on darksome road you wend your way back to the confines of streets and industrialism.
So next time you feel like grumbling at the dreariness of this road and the roughness of
that, think of the romance and history that lies beneath the surface, and visualise the
passing pageant of the centuries, and I’ll warrant you find it interesting enough
The long white road has crossed thus far
A land of marvels without end.
It bends upon the ridge, there are-
Still greater things beyond the bend.