I spent time walking up and down a 580m length of the Long Causeway last week. I wanted to get a feel for the old packhorse route, to see if today there was any resonance of the past, any connection that placed me in the same sense of being there as someone two hundred years ago.
The section between Stanage Pole and the junction with the bridleway from Stanage Plantation is still beautifully paved with the original stone setts. The setts have a concave surface, worn by hundreds of years of cartwheels as they trundled between Sheffield and Hathersage. The causeway is a strong feature in the landscape, a line placed by human hand but perhaps following thousands of feet before.
Stanage pole bears the mark of the Virgin Mary, VM, a signifier of a place of worship by the Roman Catholic community who in the time of the reformation sought out of the way places to practice their faith. Three and a half miles directly south as the crow flies sits Padley Chapel where priests were found celebrating mass. For their pains, they were hanged, drawn and quartered at Derby. Directly north of Stanage Pole is said to be the place where the Catholics worshipped, a rock. It has yet to be found. So there is much that resonates in the surroundings.
The line of the causeway must have been surveyed for
the setts form perfect lines running slightly off an east-west axis away from the boundary of Yorkshire and Derbyshire, Mercia and Northumbria. The same boundary exists today, has existed for hundreds if not thousands of years and much nearer to our own time. A little further along Stanage Edge is a stone bearing the markings, CP96, a boundary stone that had to be beaten during the annual perambulation by the great and good of the Lordship of Hallamshire accompanied by members of the church. They would have first called at Stanage Pole, beaten the rock with their sticks, said prayers then moved on along the line of the Long Causeway to the rock sits near High Neb. It is a route thousands of people walk today, perhaps we never walk anywhere new, but are guided by unseen ancient hands.
So as I stand there thinking all this and looking, walking back and forth along the stone way I wonder if people back then thought someone in the future would be trying to touch their existence. I wonder if in two thousand years time someone will try and touch my thoughts and feelings that day. I headed back east towards the pole and my eye was caught by a small homemade plaque screwed to a fence post. It was beautiful in its simplicity. A memorial to John Hartle facing south-west over Stanage Edge. A modern-day signifier of who had gone before me. I wondered who he was, a runner perhaps, maybe a walker. Why in this age of data and information do we know so much about the past yet so little about today?
Is this an indication of our disconnect with the landscape or our relationship with it that defines it as an amenity to be used and enjoyed at our will. Did the Mercians, Catholic, burghers of Hallamshire view it in much the same way? Is this the connection I have been looking for or have I missed the one I truly wanted, not the people who used the Long Causeway but those who made it?