There’s a muddy track nearby that forms part of my occasional early morning cycle route. I imagine that once upon a time it was used by cars and bigger, but no longer. Its surface is irregular, full of holes, riddled with lumps and bumps. It’s a challenge to ride along its length without losing all the fillings in my mouth. Otherwise it’s rather pleasant. It has bushes and trees growing along its edges as well as the usual wayside vetches, nettles, docks, oraches, etc, you name it. And blackberries to be picked at the right time of the year. There a birds aplenty and I’m always watching out for my first fox sighting – no luck so far. There’s a name-plate at each end of the track: Clay Lane, they read. Is that a surprise? Not the name, the fact that it has a name. I wonder.
The thing about Clay Lane is that it serves very little purpose for anybody or anything other than the dog-walkers and the odd cyclist like myself; apart from the dog walkers I’ve never seen any other pedestrians or runners. Zilch. I see other bikes from time to time, always pedal bikes, mind you, no internal combustion. Oh, and horses; horse-riders use it despite the surface being less than friendly.
The lane doesn’t actually lead anywhere. It does have a start and a finish but, well, it’s more of a destination in itself. I like it; it has character and it’s relatively unknown. Mention Clay Lane to most people in the area and their eyes glaze over, they stroke their chins, scrape the ground with the toes of their shoes, they hum, haw, shake their heads. “Nope, can’t think where, rings a bell, sorry, lived here for over twenty years, doesn’t ring a bell.” Some people will mention a Clay Lane from their childhood in Stockport or Burnley or Heptonstall, but not from here. It’s really just not known.
The good thing about Clay Lane is that it doesn’t offer any surprises (although I would like to see a fox). It’s always there when you want it to be there and it’s where you expect it to be. The people you see along it are the sort of people you expect to see and the dogs and horses are sorts of dogs and horses that are just right – they belong. In a word, Clay Lane is reliable, stout and solid. It has grit, it has integrity. And puddles.
The lane runs north to south, or south to north, if you prefer that, which means that apart from high noon, it’s shady most of the time – those bushes and trees doing what they’re meant to do.
Well, as I say, the lane doesn’t lead anywhere. Which I like. I see something of myself in it. Isn’t that nice.