Ghost Roads

I love old roads that have fallen into disuse, or been relegated to the role of footpath.

There is one a few miles away on the edge of the next town. It used to be part of the road running from London to Hastings, but when the ‘A’ road that now serves that purpose was built, it not only rendered it redundant for the purposes of long distance travel, but the new cutting actually sliced through it, so it now ends at the top of a hill. From that point, there are only a couple of footpaths leading away in different directions.

Almost fifty years ago (really? Ye Gods!) I cycled along there on my way to the coast from the London suburb in which I lived as a teenager. Many of the roads I used that day are now very much wider, and all are much busier, save the one on the edge of that town. When I walk there from my house, it feels that for that part of the walk I am on a ghost road. I can still think myself onto my cycle, into that year, and the absence of traffic feels weird. If I think hard, I can almost feel spectral traffic going past. What adds to that effect, is that I often walk that way in the evening and the light – or lack of it – only encourages those feelings.

I think of it as a Ghost Road, but that definition really refers to a road that is haunted. Such a road is the B3212 that crosses Dartmoor, and on the stretch between Postbridge and Two Bridges it passes the cluster of buildings known as Powdermills. Powdermills is so-called because most of it was built for the manufacture of gunpowder. The buildings are spaced far apart in case of accidents (translation: the gunpowder blowing them to Kingdom Come), and for the same reason the roof of each building was of tarred paper. This allowed the blast of an accident to disperse upwards, hopefully giving the occupants of the building a slight chance of survival.

Anyway, there were many such accidents and many deaths. The B3212 is supposedly haunted at the bend nearest Powder Mills, just where it passes over the Cherry Brook, by a pair of hairy hands that try to wrench the steering wheel of unwary drivers that pass that way, causing them to crash. I admit to occasionally slowing down at that point and taking my hands off the wheel to see if anything happened.

It didn’t.

But I still like to think a Ghost Road is one that has fallen into partial or complete disuse. Perhaps old Roman roads that survive as footpaths are ghost roads; there are certainly stories around the country of spectral Roman legions marching along them at the dead of night.

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I think there is something magical about any road falling into disuse and gradually becoming overgrown. A road constructed for wheeled traffic used only by foot traffic. It has a special feel when you walk it, different to the feel of other footpaths.

A country lane at night can feel like a Ghost Road, especially in the light of a full moon.

Another type of Ghost Road is the ancient trackway. These paths criss-cross the British countryside and are often of great antiquity. Formed originally by the passage of feet, both human and animal, but used later by carts and other four-wheeled vehicles. These also seem to have that magical feel, although in this case I feel I’m sharing the passage with the ghosts of countless other travellers over thousands of years.

And in the midst of the lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic we seemed to acquire a few more of these Ghost Roads – an unexpected benefit of the pandemic, in my opinion. It seems a real shame they have become busy again.

41 thoughts on “Ghost Roads

  1. Colin Barrett

    There are some of these Ghost Roads in Cornwall that I’ve walked along, old roads that now lead nowhere. My favourites are the ancient tracks and trails of which there are a multitude, many are old mining tracks. The one I remember best is the ‘Saint’s Way’ which crosses Cornwall from the north coast to the south, I walked this in my youth and had a constant feeling that I was being followed by a cowled figure using a staff to assist him. There were some moors to cross and it was foggy and it became really eerie feeling him just behind me, just out of sight and reach.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I may have walked a few of those too, Colin. I particularly think of the tracks I used to cross Bodmin Moor and the footpaths from Penzance to St Just in the 1970’s, and from St Just round towards Zennor. Probably just as eerie now…

      I’ve never done the Saint’s Way, but you’ve got me wanting to, now!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I’m in North Cornwall, and there’s a ghost road not far from our house–unpaved, washed out, navigable only in a 4-wheel drive or a car you’re prepared to sacrifice. It’s a beautiful walk–not a long one but steep.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Until you went back a few centuries or more and mentioned carts, I’d forgotten some of our best ghost roads: places like the Santa Fe trail, where the ruts left in the land by the ox-carts and prairie schooners and other such conveyances used by pioneers moving west still can be seen. They are magical in their way, as are the little mounds of earth that still are visible: graves of those who died along the way, and were buried by necessity where they fell.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Both magical and sad, I guess. I think if you believe we are capable of leaving a faint impression on the landscape that endures after we’ve gone, these trails must certainly be haunted, although perhaps not necessarily in the sense most people mean by that word.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. John Bainbridge

    I must say, many’s the time I’ve tried to summon up the hairy hands. Never worked. There was apparently at worker at the Powder Mills who used to eat his lunch as soon as he got to work, lest he blew himself up before lunchtime – or so they say. Yes, the ghost road are quite fascinating and well worth seeking out. Would you mind if I reblog this please? John B.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Around here, we have “low maintenance” roads, which occupy the netherworld between barely useful and abandoned.

    Me: So what level of maintenance does the township do with low maintenance roads?
    Neighbor: They put up a sign.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I remember having read many haunted incidents in books during my teenage years. Incidentally, a large number of such stories are set in the UK. I always use to wonder why there are far more haunted places here than anywhere else? Is it because of fixation with ghosts? Well, I have no answer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do wonder. I think there are two main reasons:

      1) The history of the UK is bound up especially with Christianity, and so lots of stories of the devil tempting folk, often in the guise of demons, leading up to the mania connected with witchcraft a few centuries ago.

      2) Those tales of hauntings and witchcraft especially influenced many writers of fiction, giving rise to a huge number of ghost stories.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Ghost Roads ā€” Mick Canning – Walking the Old Ways

  7. These ancient trackways sound wonderful, walking where others have for thousands of years. We don’t have any paths that ancient, or Roman viae in New York, but quite a few miles of disused roads. Closest to my hometown, are former military roads. During WWII and subsequent wars, thousands of acres in this county were used for naval and air force training and a huge army depot. Miles of roads were built, and most of them are disappearing. I walked there recently, in the area that’s been made into a park, and on some stretches, had to duck under tree limbs and push through honeysuckle bushes, etc. The tree roots push up and destroy the paving. The ghostly aspect is enhanced by seeing all-white deer sometimes, a genetic quirk in a herd that was trapped behind the fencing in 1942.
    My other favorite “ghost roads” are in rural areas of the Finger Lakes and Catskills, usually due to damage from floods, where the cost of replacing bridges & culverts was prohibitive, given the very few people using them. One of them, blocked off from traffic, was our favorite sledding hill, but the road is now almost engulfed by shrubs & saplings, and there’s just a narrow path, used mostly by deer. I find it reassuring, to see nature reasserting itself, but I’ll miss the sledding!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. A great observation, Robert, that ‘recent’ roads can quickly become ‘ghost’ roads when they fall into disuse. The thought of roads being used by the army, even if just for training, throws up the thought of ghostly platoons marching under the full moon at midnight.

      And the roads becoming disused through the destruction of bridges and culverts seems a great way of accelerating their re-wilding. It must be fascinating to see, over the years, the road surface gradually disintegrating through frost and flood and because of plants forcing their way through, while other plants encroach and gradually smother the road from above. Finally, like your wonderful white deer, the animals take them over as their regular footpaths.

      Brilliant!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. maryplumbago

    Iā€™d love to be able to stroll down ghost roads of any type, but here in the US, for a single women, it perhaps would not be safe. Too many “not so right in the head” people out there.

    I also love old abandoned buildings…you get a different feeling …a rather unlinear time long ago mixed with a time standing still feeling.
    Your pictured captured it well.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Mary. Ooh, abandoned buildings…could be another post in there, somewhere!

      It’s a real shame about not being able to take a stroll on your own, that’s something I’ve heard from women in one or two other places, too. But a stroll in company down a ghost road can be just as good, I suspect.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Love this, we really like discovering those old tracks and roads that fallen into disrepair but where you can see glimpses of their busy past all around. Fascinating to walk down and explore. Lots seem to now be turned into cycle tracks which is great. Even better are old railways lines that have been rescued or reimagined.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are indeed some great paths on the routes of old railways. I do sometimes just wonder whether it’s an over-active imagination, but I find it easy to imagine myself back in time when I walk those paths, imagine a connection going back a long way.

      Like

  10. Pingback: Ghost Roads ~ Mick Canning | Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

  11. I love those old roads too. My name for them is “two-rutters,” because of the two tire impressions with vegetation in between. Ghost roads is a better term. Here on Vancouver Island there are a lot of old logging roads that have been decommissioned (i.e. a ditch dug where they branch off a main road), but they can still be explored on foot. Many of those areas have been replanted and it’s encouraging to see the trees coming back, although the second growth is nothing like the ancient trees that were cut down. The “ghosts” here would be spirits of those trees.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like the idea of ghost trees – I’m sure they must exist. And ‘two-rutters’ is a great descriptive term! I would imagine on old logging roads those ruts must be pretty deep!

      Thanks for the visit and comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I suppose the nearest thing we have to ghost roads around here are forest service roads – roads the timber companies built to truck out their cuttings, and abandoned afterwards. Ghosts of trees, perhaps?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Audrey commented on that on here. I’m sure they must have exactly that kind of atmosphere. And I love the idea of ghosts of trees – there is a really spooky short story about that by Algernon Blackwood – ‘The Man Whom the Trees Loved.’

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Me too! I often take old roads instead of freeways because they are scenic and more relaxing. In California many old farm-ranch roads have become fire roads or mere trails we can hike on. Decades ago these were my “discoveries” … now everyone uses them. I pass old cabins and barns and imagine their previous lives.

    Liked by 1 person

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