There are places where the modern world has been laid over the countryside but the countryside keeps breaking out. At times it’s as if, the more ostentatious the footprint, the less the real world has been changed.
Earlier this week I had to go up to Penrith for an evening meeting and so I decided to give the afternoon to the king. I drove north just after dinner and came off the motorway at Tebay and parked up in a layby just along the Orton road.
From there, equipped with Wellington boots and a decent map, I set off into the underworld. A path takes you under the motorway, and then swings across some land that’s virtually moorland. Again in the way that the modern and transient rubs shoulders with the old world, the path takes you not far from Tebay motorway service station. For those who don’t know it, it is one of the few that’s a shopping destination because of the farm shop.
Yet when I took the picture of the service station, I turned left and took a photo of this. Just a ruined cottage, move along, nothing to see. It was one of three that I came across, all within a mile of each other. As farming became more marginal during the twentieth century, houses and farms were abandoned and up here they weren’t snapped up by commuters.
My path took me to the railway, the West Coast Mainline, which I crossed where it’s bridged by a little used lane and from there I walked down another path which took me to the Birk Beck. This is a tributary of the River Lune and is a reasonable enough river in its own right for round here.
On this walk my route was constrained by the railway, the motorway and the river. But all of them had any number of little known underpasses or bridges. So I was able to wander happily whilst the world passed over my head at over 70mph.
It did strike me that we have a thriving genre of Urban Fantasy. Fantasy stories set in modern cities. There’s ‘Rivers of London’ by Ben Aaronovitch, ‘Neverwhere’ by Neil Gaiman and a number of others. Is there perhaps a rural fantasy genre out there waiting to be written. In the shadow on the motorway, can we find Midwinter and the Spoonbills? (Midwinter by John Buchan.) The old world going about its business, ignored by and ignoring the modern world that passes heedless through its very heart.
But still, I hit the river Lune at the point where the motorway crosses it. The presence of the Lune is the reason for both the railway and the motorway. It’s the Lune Gorge that provided a viable economic route for both of them.
And whilst the world scurries along above, somebody has decided that the motorway bridge is a perfect place to feed sheep in winter.
And then finally across a footbridge and along a quiet footpath which crept up through the village of Tebay and left me at the back of St James’s Church. Tebay was created by the railway and it’s only fitting that it was the railway company that provided the bricks and the skilled labour to build the church. Indeed even in my lifetime the church got its gas and electricity direct from the old engine shed.
OK so wandering about minding other people’s business for them is never going to be a glamorous hobby, but it often keeps me out of trouble.
At this point I’d tie everything up together by pointing out I’d written a fabulous fantasy story peering at the world behind the mask, a work that would define rural fantasy for a generation.
Pity it only just occurred to me then. Still I did write a fantasy novel about a young man who does spend a fair bit of time within the rural world. It’s even available in paperback as well as an e-book!