The Old Ways Part Two : Mastiles Lane Revisited and Meet the Author

Well, it finally happened a few weeks ago in the middle of July, I walked the length of the Yorkshire old way, Mastiles Lane. The weather stayed reasonable and it’s a dry track most of the way but there was a fair wind blowing on the top. Amazing to see the remains of the Roman Camp – how did those soldiers feel about the winds and rain up there in such an exposed location? – and we managed to spot for sure one of the two remaining stone cross bases where the monks from Fountains placed crosses along the way.

“Along the lines of monastic roads it was the custom to place crosses at prominent points, partly to stand as landmarks pointing the way and partly as a symbol of consecration or dedication to the service of the church. Crosses were usually a very plain and rather stumpy shaft, roughly squared or sometimes bevelled to a rough octagon and set in a socket cut in a large base block but in others it is squared up and tooled. five of these crosses lie alongside the old road across Malham Moor, one near Strete Gate.” [Malham and Malham Moor, by Arthur Raistrick]

Most Dales hikes that I undertake tend to be circular but it made a nice change to do a there and back one and my fellow hikers agreed. Mastiles Lane starts in the village of Kilnsey.

This high limestone landscape is unsuited to arable but the monks of Fountains Abbey brought their flocks of sheep to this area and the lane itself was established by them. Mastiles Lane is almost totally for its full length a walled lane and those walls are just a small proportion of the dry stone walls that criss-cross the county (and other counties too, of course).

We reach Strete Gate

About ten days before the walk I had the good fortune to meet Robert Macfarlane author of The Old Ways book. He was speaking at The Buxton Festival. I was interested to hear him talk about how landscapes shape us and he talked (and wrote in the book) at length about the East Anglian walker and writer George Borrow who was one of the first people to note the connection between walking and health and memory-making and re-walking in the memory. His (Borrow’s) walks were full of meetings and conversations with people. A fine example is his book Wild Wales.

From Borrow Robert moved on to talk about his walk along The Icknield Way, which he chose because of its proximity to Cambridge where he lives. Edward Thomas’s “The Icknield Way was an inspiration to him as well. Thomas in turn was influenced by a poem by Robert Frost :

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost
This poem prompted ET to sign up to serve in the army during The First World War. He was killed at The Battle of Arras on Easter Day (8 April), 1917. Thomas and Frost had become friends and Frost encouraged ET to move from prose into poetry. There’s much more in The Old Ways about the two poets, about Thomas’s war service and death and about the South Downs Way. And Macfarlane asked, do we trust Frost’s poem?

9 comments on “The Old Ways Part Two : Mastiles Lane Revisited and Meet the Author

  1. ms6282 says:

    I’ve not heard of this route before – probably because it’s on the other side of the Pennines. Hope the weather wasn’t too wet!

    Must have been great to meet Robert MacFarlane

  2. Nilly says:

    I always loved the Robert Frost poem – now I’m wondering about its wisdom! Thank you for this fascinating post and introduction to R MacFarlane’s book. His ideas about how landscape shapes us interests me greatly. Any place that I inhabit, explore or re-visit seems to have a profound effect on & significance to me. Or perhaps I’m just getting old!

    • Thank you, Nilly. I had to dig out my old university textbooks – W G Hoskins in particular. I suppose my interest in the landscape is a little less personal but I found Robert’s choice of Borrow and E Thomas very interesting so perhaps I’m also now moving that way (ie getting older!!).

      • Nilly says:

        There does seem to be a hint of psychogeography in this view of landscape & place, though I’m never quite sure what psychogeography is! I have a nephew who walks both the streets of Leeds and also ancient landscapes with megaliths, intent on some sort of deeper experience. However it is very hard to get a straight answer from him!

  3. dianabirchall says:

    This is a wonderful post, and so rich I could spend all day on it…or more. You unveil a wondrous hike that I’d give my eye teeth to take, and probably never shall…so magical so English so beautiful…looks Hadrian’s Wallish without the people! As if that wasn’t enough, you mention meeting Robert McFarlane, the Buxton Festival (what wouldn’t I give to go to that!) and then evoke the magic name of Edward Thomas. THEN you do what not every blogger would, and give us a direct link to his book The Icknield Way, which I never knew about and now am devouring. In my mind are thoughts of his wife – remember we read his wife Helen’s books a few years ago on the Dove list, and I can’t think of either of them without remembering the other’s side of things! I wish I could find a copy of Icknield Way for less than $30, but perhaps shall try to figure out how to put it on my iPad. His knowledge of the country and its history are so rich and deep I can only be envious of anyone lucky enough to grow up and spend his entire life in England and walk its ways. I am at least glad to know you, who understand this and are not wasting your opportunities to soak up England in your own mind and person.

    • Thank you for this glowing comment, Diana! I also didn’t know about the E, Thomas Icknield Way book until RM mentioned it. I wish you success in finding a decently priced copy. Oh yes indeed I remember The Tempestuous Petticoat. I loved it. What a woman. I’m happy also to have your acquaintance and friendship and your appreciation of all the English places that I visit and describe. Thank you.

  4. I am catching up slowly Barbara and this was a joy to see and read. Robert mentioned at Port Eliot how lovely it was to be meeting Team Old Ways members as he did talks around the country, and to hear how much the book had inspired us in our different ways. I know that I actually think quite differently as I walk now, and love the idea that I too can invoke all those spirits of place as I do so, and I’m not sure I have ever thought quite so keenly about what lies beneath my feet either. It really has been a special book for me and thank you again for being a part of Team Old Ways, I will link to this from dovegreyreader via a blog post very soon.

    • I’m also catching up, Lynne. So, sorry to be a while replying to your most welcome comment. I have followed the goings-on at the dovergreyreader tent at PE with great interest. Do please post a link in one of your posts. I don’t think I have linked to it in Teamoldways group yet, either. I have been too busy travelling around for you all gathering information and photos for Miladys 😉 .

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