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.