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This report is taken from PN Review 268, Volume 49 Number 2, November - December 2022.

Travels on the Loop Clara Dawson
On Google Maps, it’s a thin green line tracking the A6010 across south Manchester. Switch to satellite view and it’s more of a grey arrow-streak, fringed with cauliflower trees like a toy train set. A carved-out corridor, the inversion of city space from green fields to Victorian railway line and back to trees again. Since the pandemic, cyclists have reclaimed it from the gangs who used to leap out of bushes to steal the bikes from under them. On this sunny spring afternoon, violet bluebells pop and white blossom drifts as I cycle through. My cheap electric bike stops propelling if I cruise so I’m caught in an insistent rhythm, no meandering as the tarmac rolls beneath me. The Fallowfield Loop, the name a swerve that takes me arcing out of diesel fumes and into embankments of April’s neon green. Surely there are no such straight lines in nature, I think. But it’s better than my home patch in Levenshulme, where green space is a planter of stunted rosemary outside a café on the Stockport road.

I’ve been reading John Clare’s poetry lately and this old railway line laid down in the Industrial Revolution makes me think of him. A Romantic poet who found exquisite beauty in the tiny world of a yellowhammer’s nest or the glorious detail of an insect’s wing, Clare was distraught at the loss of connection with the natural world that his era heralded. His poetry is shadowed by the Enclosures of the early nineteenth century, when landlords realised they could make more profit by shifting rural labourers off the land, upending their rights to ...

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