There’s something unexpected in the car park of the local Tesco superstore. It’s not new, in fact I’d estimate it’s at least two hundred years older than the car park itself. And it’s more a ‘them’ than an ‘it’. It’s a grand avenue of ancient beech trees, complete with raucous rookery.
When we first moved here it struck me as odd that an out-of-town superstore in a retail park jammed up against the motorway had this outbreak of nature bisecting its car park. I had my suspicions. Consulting an old map (I like maps) increased my suspicions. One day last summer I took a walk through the pedestrian no-man’s-land of roundabouts and overpasses, out towards the open country on the far side of the motorway, to confirm my suspicions.
The motorway I needed to cross was one of the recent, controversial ones. A couple of decades ago activists were chaining themselves to earth-movers less than a mile from here. This might be why the motorway junction abutting the superstore was so carefully sculpted and replanted. The sprawling main roundabout is landscaped with well-maintained cycle routes and a careful assortment of native shrubs. The shrubs have grown into small trees now, and even with the shredded plastic bags adorning the trees on the windward side and the droning thunder of traffic, it’s a surprisingly pleasant place, for a roundabout.
On the far side is a barricade of earth, thrown up by the excavation then, in another gesture of small recompense, planted with a hedge. I’ve rarely seen such an explicit border between town and country. But there’s a gap for the cycle-path and when I walked through the gap my suspicions were confirmed. The concrete cycle-path abruptly became a road. Or rather, it ended at the truncated single-track road which had been hacked away when the developers built the motorway and retail park. And by hacked I mean chopped to a sudden and jagged edge. Stand on that edge and face east and you’re looking down a quiet country road rolling across chalk downland. Turn around and your view is of traffic amongst replanted trees with the blocky mass of the retail park beyond.
Except for that avenue of beech trees. There they are, lined up precisely with the now-dead country road. Because of course, the road used to go between them before it was excised. No doubt the trees had a preservation order on them. No doubt Tesco’s were annoyed about that, because it meant losing space which could have been used for extra parking.
Yesterday I parked next to the beech avenue. Most of the baby rooks have fledged now, and the trees are in full and magnificent leaf. As I hefted my shopping into the back of the car I considered walking the avenue, because you can; the space between the trees is put down to gravel but otherwise untouched, and freely accessible. I decided I didn’t have the time, that I was already running late.
The funny thing is, I’ve considered walking the beech avenue before, but have never set foot in it. I’m not sure why. Is it sacrilege? Am I afraid there will be ghosts? Am I afraid there won’t be ghosts? Because there should be ghosts, or at least an unique atmosphere, when such an enduring natural space is besieged by faceless modernity. Confirming that the avenue is just some trees in a car park would be a disappointment.
The beech avenue throws up all sorts of contradictory emotions in me. Triumph. Grief. Comfort. Curiosity (always curiosity). Then there’s that fascination I’ve always had with liminal zones and contradictory juxtapositions.
There are two ways to resolve this. One is to walk the avenue. I still might if I’m feeling brave, or in the right company. The other is to write a story. That’s what writers do: stories are how we make sense of the world. I’ve no idea what the story might be about. It will probably be SFF, because that’s what I write. It is unlikely to feature Tesco’s, although it might. It might have actual trees in it, or it might not. But it will be my way of exploring, and passing on, the moment I stood at the end of the dead road, turned, and saw the its ghost in the avenue.