Monday, July 10, 2006

Six milestones

Ian Hamilton Finlay has said: “A milestone is poetical though it only tells the way” (‘Six Milestones’, 1992). For those of us encountering milestones in the context of project planning they are anything but poetical (just as ‘slippage’ conjures up no images of scree slopes or crumbling river banks and ‘gateways’ never open onto interesting paths). But to encounter a real milestone in the landscape is always poignant, the eroded surface signifying all those years of journeys briefly punctuated.

Ian Nairn and many others have criticised the excessive signage obliterating the countryside and milestones are the antithesis: simple, functional, almost ‘natural’. They now seem as ancient as runic stones, but milestones are never really more than a few centuries old. The first ones appeared on the Dover Road in 1663 and milestones gradually becoming more prevalent until they were made compulsory on the turnpikes in 1773.

There are some poetical milestone photographs on this Oxford history site and some links on this milestones site. Ian Hamilton Finlay’s proposed milestones were realised and temporarily installed along the banks of the Floriade lake in the Hague in 1992. They were then acquired by Zoetermeer council, although sadly according to this SKOR site “one of the six stones has disappeared”, a fate that has overtaken many of the milestones that once marked the English landscape.

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