Section of the Ridgeway near Wayland’s Smithy, Wiltshire. Image credit Moss

A broad green track runs for many a long, long mile across the downs, now following the ridges, now winding past at the foot of a grassy slope, then stretching away through a cornfield and fallow. It is distinct from the wagon-tracks which cross it here and there, for these are local only, and, if traced up, land the wayfarer presently in a maze of fields, or end abruptly in the rickyard of a lone farmhouse. It is distinct from the hard roads of modern construction which also at wide intervals cross its course, dusty and glaringly white in the sunshine… With varying width, from twenty to fifty yards, it runs like a green ribbon… a width that allows a flock of sheep to travel easily side by side.

Richard Jefferies (1848-1887)

Richard Jefferies was a novelist, naturalist and a mystic; he grew up in a house (now the Richard Jefferies Museum) close to Coate Water on the outskirts of Swindon, Wiltshire. The above quote is from his book Wildlife in a Southern County published in 1879. Two hundred years earlier, on the other side of the world, Matsuo Bashō (松尾 芭蕉) was born.

Bashō was introduced to poetry at a young age, and after integrating himself into the intellectual scene of Edo (modern Tokyo), he quickly became well-known throughout Japan. He made a living as a teacher, but renounced the social, urban life of the literary circles and was inclined to wander throughout the country, heading west, east, and far into the northern wilderness to gain inspiration for his writing. The Narrow Road to the Interior (奥の細道, Oku no Hosomichi). The first edition was published posthumously in 1702. It was an immediate commercial success and many other itinerant poets followed the path of his journey. It is often considered his finest achievement… (source Wikipedia).

The Tōkaidō as photographed by Felice Beato in 1865. Source Wikimedia

Every country has a road laden with history and meaning – from the Neolithic Ridgeway in southern England (top) the Tōkaidō (東海道) which was the most important of the Five Routes of the Edo Period that connected Edo (modern-day Tokyo) to Kyōto in Japan (above) to the little-known stretch of a Roman road on the North York Moors shown below – a road still in use and still displaying the stones placed there by hand nearly two thousand years ago.

Section of a Roman Road on the North York Moors © The Heritage Trust

Is there an ancient road or track near you with a story to tell – if so let us know.