Thursday, 9 April 2009

What is travelling?

If I walk into our town centre, a matter of a few hundred yards, it usually turns into a journey and in my book, that is travelling.

For instance, I met someone I haven't seen for many years and stopped to chat, and within three minutes, three other people joined us. One said she had met a friend of hers on that same spot just half an hour before. It was as if that place, just outside an optician's shop, on a corner in the middle of the town, was one of those 'perfect places', which has clearly had that function of gathering people together for a few moments, for years - centuries, even.

Meanwhile, back in my own street, the archaeological dig which has been going on for the last few weeks has reached some sort of finish. No more digging. There will be houses built on the site shortly, but for now, the golden brown subsoil is revealed in a fantastic pattern of holes, gullies, pits, trenches, caverns, scoops and smooth-sided craters. There have been eight or nine skilled excavators working here, using trowels for the most part. We could see the bones of a buried dog, and pieces of brickwork and old stone floors gradually revealed as they worked. Now I hear one of them will be on site during tomorrow to explain what they found...a Saxon house, lots of pottery going back to the seventh century, coins, a bucket, a thimble, pins and more. It seems the alignment of the dwelling was not for our present street, but at right-angles to that, relating to the road to the church. St Mary of Charity is currently approached at this point by a small, meanly scaled road with small Victorian cottages on one side and huge redbrick industrial scale walls from the old brewery towering up on the other side. The church is quite cut off from the rest of the town, and access is either through this 19th C street right up to the grand West Door, or by a lovely wide footpath which crosses right in front of the building but which is quiet and rural in character.

This Saxon house seems to indicate a quite different layout for an earlier part of the town's history and one which makes a lot of sense. The house would have faced onto a road coming up from the Creek - indeed Quay Lane would have been the continuation of that road - at a point where we know there was a water pump, and a place where fishermen cleaned their catch. The church would have been much more directly related to the water and the work of the place, and not sequestered behind some cottages and a now-defunct brewery.

The Saxon house and the church would themselves have offered one of those magic meeting places, like the present spot in the town where I met my friends this morning. And travelling can be seen as an activity in time as well as movement in space.

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