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Times and Places

Driftway 2

If you take a literal step back from the fields and study the patterns of the streets, you can see patterns appear. Here, as the edge of the city becomes visible, the road names feature the word Gate over and over again. Sometimes, they’re named for the far away cities that they point to.   A boundary and a suggestion of destination. That’s one of the things that the Driftway does.

Romans built a road here; if you follow pieces of it down into the valley, you reach the river. At least three generations of children have shared the ghost story about grey and faded centurions marching through the trees, past the speed camera and the ice cream van. Imagine the clink of armour and short sword, outside the snack bar and the paddling pool. There are more stories about this place, things not from forward or back in time, but perhaps from sideways; small green figures, swirling misty shapes, and silent lights overhead late at night.

 Follow this road far enough and you reach the drowned villages, the concrete and steel authority of the Water Board, as they once called it. It’s the place where they have legends about the silent planes that fly suddenly out of nowhere over the waves. I know that I’ve seen one, except that I also know full well that I haven’t. The memory of a Lancaster almost skimming the waves on a sunny afternoon, with the water almost golden; I saw that. I didn’t. I think it’s a dream, or words that I heard that became pictures when I was very young.

  There’s a story about a wildman, an actual woodwose crossing the road here. Not five hundred years ago, but in the 1990s, in front of family day trip cars waiting at the lights. If you were lucky enough to have day trips as a child, remember that feeling at the end, too tired, baked air in the car, dreaming, almost feverish, sun starting to get lower, Sunday afternoon getting later. Imagine that, and the shadowy primeval shape striding from the hills towards the water.

I once read about a journalist who saw a great shining thing hovering over the water, as if reaching down. To me, both stories are about something coming in from the outside to drink. We share our drinking water with the unknowable. Who knows what might come of that?

Everyone knows about the villages they drowned to build these reservoirs, the broken steeples that you used to be able to see in high summer, the high streets that we could imagine, swept up in silt and peat floods. This Atlantis had a pub and a corner shop. That feels very Driftway to me, Atlantis with a petrol station and a tea room. Just like the concrete and steel bridges, the 70s warning notices, the Derbyshire sasquatch crossing the road with the lights – turn right and you can be in suburban streets in ten minutes, following a road made for an empire long gone into ghost stories, battle veterans smoothing out elegantly into rumour.

The Lost Patrol following the river into the land of factory units. Both are powerful. Both are full of stories and secrets. Never make the mistake that one is lacking in someway, because Drifting links it all together.

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