Benches 79 and 80: St Mary's Lane
We're at the western end of town, out past Westgate Fields and the little development that used to be the trout farm, but not as far out as either the building that was Deighton Close school, or Thorpe Hall. These days walking out here is an annual event; the beginning-of-winter traipse to the bonfire and fireworks event held somewhere near the 5th of November on land by the former school.
The benches - a mismatched pair of them, one Victorian in design, another of relatively recent local Interskill manufacture - are on a traffic island at the junction of Westgate and St Mary's Lane. The boundary marker is here; we're at the edge of town. There's a path to the benches, and a bin, and the seating is given some definition by a bit of low walling. Not enough to offer real protection from a careening lorry, but more than sufficient to give last year's leaves somewhere to drift against.
I'm here early doors; half five in the morning on a summer's work-day. The roads are silent. I haven't seen a pedestrian all the way here. There's not even traffic noise from the bypass that's only a couple of hundred yards away, out past Thorpe Hall.
I can hear the chuckle of the Lud flowing. Westgate bridges the river not far away. That was the launching point for a downriver expedition once; tractor inner-tubes as vessels, down the Lud as far as you can get. I think we got to the eastern end of James Street, not that far from Bench 11, before a mix of cold, wet, the novelty wearing off and the very real possibility of not daring to go anywhere near the fast-running water by Bryan Hall's former mill on Ramsgate Road took over.
St Mary's Lane might well track east-west, shadowing venerable Westgate from the north side of the river, but it's nowhere near as old. Originally known as Paradise Lane, St Mary's Lane links the Lincoln road with High Holme Road and Keddington Road, allowing you to bypass old Louth to the north, more-or-less following the boundary of the North Field common land.
The housing stock's perhaps surprisingly recent. By any measure a beautiful bit of road, all undulating curves and overhanging mature trees, St Mary's Lane wasn't developed for residential use until late into the 19th century. These are good-sized properties, many back from the road, but there's little heritage here. If you want Georgian, then Westgate's your man. The lane brings you out onto Grimsby Road by Bench 63, passing the Old Cemetery - St Mary's Burying Grounds - along the way. That's another site marked for a blog entry.
I sit here a while. Midsummer's a handful of days away. It's cool and it's bright. Could be late evening or early morning. They used to say this stretch of road was haunted; Louth's most famous phantom, the Green Lady, was said to stalk the territory, a lovelorn Elizabethan spirit perpetually lost in grief, anchored to the spot by the trauma-memory of suicide. There's been no sighting for almost a century that I'm aware of. Perhaps spooking vicars off their bikes has lost its novelty. Maybe she's right behind me, and I'm not sensitive enough to notice.
A sound that might be laughter. It's just the river. I get up and peer over the parapet; I take a couple of snaps on my phone. Later, when I get home, I check the photos I've taken. There were a couple of the benches showing the traffic island, the town boundary marker also in shot. But they've come out blurry. I fiddle with the on-board editing software, but I can't do anything to improve the pictures. No matter; I make do without.
The pictures are smudged; camera shake, I tell myself. Serves me right for not standing still enough. I move to delete the pics. The wobble-smear makes the backgrounds shimmer. There are trees and walls, the road, bushes. But the shake's made it so there could be anything in the background. Foliage becomes low clouds, a ballooning skirt, a shade of green. Fabric and skin tones.
I check again, but I've not captured a spook. Or if I had, she's moved on, her job of raising a question completed for now.
The Google Street View map is from May 2011. You can make your own Google-ghosts by moving the image forwards and backwards and having pedestrians appear and disappear.
Here's the updated map of benches visited to date.