The Goblin Road

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Local history , these days, is mostly relegated to the enthusiasts, the elderly group that meet  at the back of the library; the place where the silent sun peeks in through the windows, in yellow slats of dancing dust. The good old days.

There are things about where we live that have been buried by the heavy and unrelenting march of time; there are rich sweetmeats banished between the pages of forgotten books or dimmed by the fading light of memory.

There are things that have been buried in these places for a reason.

Behind my house lies the old waggonway, it snakes, unseen and largely forgotten in a thick, green artery that pulses with undisturbed invertebrate and insect life. Nearly completely overgrown, its paths are just visible between the coils of thorns, birds nest in the ruins that poke like jagged teeth and intervals along its course. As kids, we called it the ‘tram track’; made dens beneath its looming trees and its wild, earth-smell stayed on our clothes and in our hair until bath time.

As the local history group in the library would tell you, the waggonway round here carried coal and fireclay from the Colliery pit  to the staiths on the banks of the river. The photographs from back then show a well kept rail route; the buildings beside it, proud homes.

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The 1800s saw the end of the pit. It closed only a year or so after its official opening in 1864; yet unlike the other collieries in the area, this one is only touched on briefly in museum archives and online; ‘all seams abandoned’ is the only available explanation to be found for the desertion and swift desolation of the once proud mine, before it disappeared below the earth.

So what went wrong here all that time ago and what are the origins of the rhyme hat echoed from my own childhood as we played on the silent,  tangled paths of that ancient place?

“Don’t cut short me lad, no don’t cut short me bonny boy,

For if ye run that goblins road, my son, thou’ll leave no mark

They’ll mak’ you into leaves and bark.”

The trees that line the waggonway are thick and unkempt; they lean over the path, closing out the daylight in a gambrel of interlocked leaves. They have watched the slow march of time, seen the horse carts go back and forth as the years went by, the rails rust and vanish and the way fall silent.

The council have erected fences; tight and tipped with rolls of silver thorns where the old colliery once stood. Faded signs proclaim the road is unstable and warn of hidden shafts; Ivy and weeds reach like trailing fingers from the sink-hole, 9 fathoms deep. We used to hurl stones beyond the fence and run; never waiting to hear an answering echo as our missiles disappeared into that dark place.

Digging a little deeper, in those old dusty books and the smudged print of archives; there are few passages concerning the old mine. Certain pages have been deleted, nothing left but torn edges and only the mystified stare of the librarian to answer of their whereabouts. What is left makes for perplexing reading.

The paths through the trees was there long before the mine, it seems and it was referred to by the locals as the ‘Gobba’way’.  What remains of local monographs on the subject (that are not missing or despoiled) are whimsical in the extreme and fresh with an idiosyncrasy that can only be explained as the ravings of madmen or an elaborate joke.

One such transcription speaks of ‘I shalle not forget as long as I live, the hand that grasped my shoulder from the trees of the Gobbaway. Its skin the dead brown of brittle leaves…’  and later, a different  ‘…the eyes of the fyends [SP] that gazed at the lads from the trees send their steeds into a frenzy and the marras mad with rage and godly terrors.’

London’s early 1900s publication ‘Mining Magazine’ reported on the trouble that dogged the digging of the pit itself.

…escaped beasts from a travelling menagerie have troubled the steeds along the Gobbaway; ‘the nags rolled their eyes in fear and their mouths frothed as the trees above head rustle with the unnatural rush of feet over hands’….   

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According to this same publication, a troupe of Dowsers reported ‘…strange and ungodly motions of the sticks above the pit‘ and draws its speculation to a halt at ‘the unwelcome rhythm below the earth

A sinkhole swallowed the colliery a year or so after its abandonment and there are little traces of anything left in its place, save for the sound of the wind that wails up from that derelict chasm and the ruins of the houses where people watched the wagons winding their way to the river.

To walk along that old path today is far from a peaceful or comforting experience. Even in the extremes of summer, the shade of the old branches casts a foreboding shadow over the place. The green tunnel seems to expel a foul and cloying air – something leftover from the fathoms of the old pit? There are rustlings in those trees which do attune to the disturbance of avian life, but that one is trespassing on the territory of something that does not wish to for company here.

Sometimes one is sure that there are shadows moving from all sides; shadows that can be explained away by the movement of sun through dappled leaves and foliage. The gnarled and spiny hands that brush against and clutch the exposed patches of your own flesh, the back of the neck and the soft temples of your skull are not hands but trailing branches. Overgrown thorn bushes, thistles or curious flies. You tell yourself this as you run home, the old rhyme beating a maddening tattoo between your ears and remaining long after you have caught your breath behind the thick walls of home.

For if ye run that goblins road, my son, thou’ll leave no mark

They’ll mak’ you into leaves and bark.

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About Matt Wesolowski

Matt Wesolowski is an author from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in the UK. He is an English tutor and leads Cuckoo Young Writers creative writing workshops for young people in association with New Writing North. Wesolowski started his writing career in horror and his short horror fiction has been published in numerous magazines and US anthologies. Wesolowski's debut novella ‘The Black Land‘ a horror set on the Northumberland coast, was published in 2013 by Blood Bound Books and his latest horror novella set in the forests of Sweden is available in 'Dimension 6' magazine through Coeur De Lion Publishing. Wesolowski was a winner of the Pitch Perfect competition at 'Bloody Scotland'; Crime Writing Festival 2015, his subsequent debut crime novel 'Six Stories' will be available through Orenda Books in the spring of 2017 View all posts by Matt Wesolowski

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