Sunday, 29 March 2009

In the Busy Traffic's Boom...

A feature of my Kentish walk (see below) that is already, I suspect, being discreetly edited out of my memory is that it involved twice crossing the M25 - once by footbridge, once by underpass. Crossing a motorway by pedestrian bridge is a strange experience, the very opposite of driving along one in a car. Cosily insulated within a quiet, smooth-running modern motor car, one has little sensation either of speed or of noise. Looking down from a bridge at the passing traffic, one is only too aware both of the relentless din of traffic and of the astonishing speed at which it hurtles past, each vehicle creating its own Dopler whoosh as it passes. The necessity of making two crossings meant that a portion of the route was walked within the extensive 'aural footprint' (as I suppose it is called) of the motorway. To the eye, all was glorious, convincingly 'unspoilt' countryside - but the ear told another story, the sad truth that we live in a car-dominated, car-connected, car-ravaged land. The insistent roar of the motorway was an unwelcome accompaniment, but it gave the walking a certain bittersweet edge, making the survival of such beautiful country so close to the ever-spreading suburbs seem even more precarious, and even more to be cherished.
Then, today, out for a local stroll, I was walking at speed along an always busy (yes, even on a Sunday) main road, hurrying to escape into the fine large park that adjoins it, when an extraordinary thing happened. Suddenly there was not a car to be seen in either direction (a couple of hundred yards each way) and an unaccustomed, friendly silence had fallen - the car-free silence, full enough of birdsong and sporadic human voices, that only a few decades ago would have been commonplace, but now, in such a place, seemed almost a miracle. It lasted maybe 20 seconds, and then the din of traffic - the din we no longer even notice - resumed its sorry sway.


  1. In the late 1950s I was fortunate enough to spend some weeks on the Isle of Soay, a tiny island off the Cuillin mountains of Skye. At the time there was an active shark fishery owned by a writer called Tex Geddes, and partnered by Gavin Maxwell, the author of Ring of Bright Water. Allegedly it had previously belonged to James Robertson Justice who reputedly couldn't stand the smell. Access to the island was by Seine net boat (the Vital Spark's twin) The island was traffic free and had no metalled roads.

    Calling those few weeks ideal is an understatement, they were idyllic, the sound and fury of the sea and wind, gulls, the smell of boiling shark oil, the effect upon someone in their mid teens was dramatic, suburban life became unreal, off to the hills I went (until I moved to Kent some years later)
    The memories are still vivid as I listen to sound of traffic in the Tweed valley two miles distant but, on a windless day still audible.
    The number of wild places left in Britain today lessens every year and the effect the building of the M25 has had on the quiet of the countryside must be horrific.

  2. Good lord Malty - what a life you've led!

  3. on a similar (sort of ) theme - have you read 'London Orbital' by Iain Sinclair? I find the writing so horribly overblown that it's excruciating, but the central conciet is quite interesting, a tour around the hinterland of the M25 and the juxtaposition of the hinterland of urban sprawl and the countryside