A soft moor road

Nythe Road is closed.

It must be forty-five years or more since the new bridges were built on Nythe Road was closed. It was officially closed for weeks at the time, but farmers could not be cut off from their fields and temporary wooden bridges were placed across the River Cary and the Eighteen Foot Rhyne. Of course, if a bridge would bear the weight of a tractor and trailer, it would easily bear the weight of a family car and the journey to Street or Glastonbury took little longer than it had done ordinarily.

The problem is again one of subsidence. The bridges remain serviceable, even if it is hazardous to cross them at much more than twenty miles per hour, but along one stretch of the road, the verge has slipped into the ditch beside it. But what else might one expect from a road in such a place? It crosses a peat moor and no matter how much money is spent on improvements, there will still be places where it will be liable to sink into the soft soil.

Nythe Road is a tiny microcosm of the perennial struggle with the natural world. No matter what is built, no matter how high, how strong, how expensive, nature will always take its toll. The capacity for things like bacteria and other micro-organisms to cause damage is extraordinary. The power of the elements to erode, to undermine, to bend and to break, is well-known.

One of the earliest natural phenomena encountered when working in a parish was what was described as “spawling.” Water would penetrate the surface of the porous sandstone with which the Strawberry Hill Gothic church had been built, then when there was a frost, the water would freeze, cracking the stone and causing flakes of it to fall away. Spawling was not such a problem elsewhere, instead there would be dry rot and wet rot, and woodworm, and weeds taking root on ledges and roofs, and rain coming in through slates displaced by storms. The struggle against the weather was relentless. Even sunshine could be a problem. Excess heat would soften the lead in which stained glass was mounted. The weight of the glass would then pull the lead downward, causing either or both to crack and bringing costly repair bills.

If humanity disappeared tomorrow, how many of our artefacts would endure? Unrepaired, would Nythe Road just disappear into the black soil beneath?

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