Roman road

Roman Road

Hot tarmac dwindling away.
Air thick as a swarm of bees.
I breathed hay and salt
husks and seeds as I drove.
Then the sky broke and
shards of rain fell on the road.
Steam-wraiths rose up
writhing beneath the tyres.
The hills either side
fell away to blankness,
whiteness.
I went slowly on through
chalk-light up a stony track.
A hare leapt from nowhere
jinked ahead –
a bone-raddled
automaton
leading me on.
I drove transfixed by
vein-marbled ears
moulded skull,
by limbs
loosely sleeved
in grey-brown
rain-soaked fur.
As it ran before me
the hare glanced back.
I saw its ancient
beckoning eye –
and would have followed
anywhere.

Eggardon Hill

I took the old narrow road to Eggardon Hill – ‘The Roman Road runs straight and bare/ As the pale parting-line in hair’ (Thomas Hardy). The hedges either side were stark against the pale December sky, a few leaves still clinging to the bare whips despite the gales. Dog wood and coppery beech leaves added touches of colour to the otherwise monochrome landscape. A buzzard flew up in front of me like a shape cut from the hedgerow.

Eggardon Hill in West Dorset is the site of a prehistoric hill fort. A dramatic chalk escarpment bears the remains of an Iron Age settlement. Bronze Age tumuli top the skyline and the whole area has an ancient atmosphere. I have known it since childhood, but found out later that, in the Middle Ages, a gallows was sited in the centre of the hill fort. There are traces of henges and ring barrows which pock-mark the hillsides when the winter sun is low in the sky.

I took the single-track lane west where strange happenings have been reported over the years. I remember in the early 1970’s hearing about a strange blue light sighted here, and of cars’ engines stalling suddenly. It is said that raised voices have been heard here – perhaps the sounds of a battle from long ago.

The track-way is raised like a causeway above the fields either side and, several years ago, I was driving along it in thick fog at twilight. The mist swirled around me like a sea and it was quite difficult to stay on the track. I stopped at the cross roads at the end and suddenly two white deer appeared in the middle of the road. They hesitated for a moment as if on the cusp of the real world and the underworld before disappearing back into the mist.