The junction of Burdon Road and Nettles Lane looks more of a crossroad, but the way south only leads to a collection of dwellings that once were a farm and are now owned by people who keep horses that jump over fences. The road is not much of a road either. Potholed, covered in gravel and rock, more suited to tractor than car, and after a short way it takes a sudden dip and rise in the space of a hundred metres, before a declining zig-zag leading to a small bridge which crosses a beck.
The bridge itself is edged by short stone pillars that are capped by a run of shallow peaked coping stones. Of this original feature, only two-thirds remain, the rest victim of neglect, misadventure, or time. The rest, if you search between the overgrown shrubs and weed nearby, can be found breathless and defeated, a new home to more earthier creatures.
Underneath the bridge runs the beck, a pitiful weeping of wetness that trickles its way eastward toward Cherry Knowle Dene, to the boundary where Ryhope meets Seaham, and then, ultimately, the North Sea. To the west of the bridge the beck approaches through the curve of a tree lined meadow that, on any given day, would display every shade of green within any gods’ spectrum. Once the water passes through the bridge, a low sloping tree once permanently attired with rope swing hangs over a small pool that has formed over time – an erosion of earth and stone by water falling away from concrete.
The concrete is what lies underneath the bridge. Two shallow shelves either side of the beck, though water still manages to flow over them, and a deeper floor connecting the shelves that creates the feeling, when you are stood within it, of being inside a square tunnel.
And if you were to find yourself stood in it, you might make out the markings on the wall. Carved and scratched into concrete by penknife and dagger by children now as old as your parents. The names are hard to make out, for there is little light inside, and you may need to use fingertips as if reading braille to fathom what they tell. But if you do, they should speak from another century, whispers and cries passing by on a gentle breeze sucked through the tunnel. And if that faint wind should brush past you, then it’s probably because you are standing next to Isabelle Holt.
You won’t be able to see anything, but that’s where we left her.
Brief #5 Like the Prose 2021: Fictionalise local historic account
Copyright © 2021, Ray Hopkins, All Rights Reserved