An Ancient Track

If I told you I walked over one of England’s oldest, still-in-use bridges last Sunday, where might you think I’ve been? London? Kirkby Lonsdale? No, Barnoldswick. Local historian Stanley Graham argues that this pathway at the bottom of the town’s Forty Steps is built over an ancient bridge spanning Gillian’s Beck. By the ‘bridge’, the beck meets a seventeenth-century dam and weir, but the Forty Steps path itself was part of ancient trans-Pennine trackway connecting Britain’s western and eastern coasts. This trackway would have been used for the export of Irish products to the Baltic peoples, and goes back over 3,000 years. Today, it follows the course of Forty Steps, Park Avenue and Lower Park Street, disappearing again into the fields beyond.


So we have a 3000 year old trackway covered over by Victorian streets and a 1500 year old bridge hiding under a nineteenth-century path. Such things cannot be proved beyond all doubt, but Graham makes a convincing case and he’s right about many things.


Park Road, covering that ancient trackway

As I returned home from my historical walk, just a few hundred yards from my home, I imagined millennia of ancient feet pounding that track. Though some is now covered in modern tarmacadam and other parts by Victorian cobbles, I pondered the fact that many of our roads and lanes followed much older courses. Indeed, our chapel is built on, or adjacent to, a Roman one. Archaeologists could quite literally dig below the surface of these streets and find all manner of detritus and lost objects belonging to people long forgotten.


Today’s Christians, though increasingly deemed marginal or quaint by their contemporaries, are following a very ancient path. As the centuries have come and gone, the old trackway of grace has become cluttered and hidden by the world’s deceits and sin’s distractions. The road on which we pass is far older than most realise. It was not Luther or Calvin who built it, nor even Paul or Moses. Before Abraham was, it existed, traced right back to Eden, when the Creator told our fallen parents that a return route to Him would be made. By trusting in God’s grace, some humans in every generation have journeyed back to Eden, traipsing through this sin-scarred world. The path back home has sometimes seemed hard to find, built upon and overgrown, a camoflauge in which the enemy has taken delight. 500 years ago, he cluttered it with scholastic theology, rituals and priestly corruption; 150 years ago by insipid respectability and hard-hearted formalism. Today, he covers it with veneers of science, godless explanations of the universe and a dangerous illiberalism.

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. Matthew 7:13-14

The trans-Pennine Bronze Age track, running between some innocuous chicken sheds and allotment gardens