FROM SCRATCHWOOD TO WYCHWOOD

Watford Gap Forever

was formed aeons ago, at the end of one of the last few ice-ages, when a huge meltwater lake formed over a glacier-edged Heart of England. This chill pool overcame its containment, and a rush of ice-water gouged out Watford Gap.

Rutland Water was all that was left behind.

It has been pointed out to me that Rutland Water is now the largest man-made lake in Europe. Nonetheless, there was a Rutland Water before 1977, when a new dam created this huge reservoir. Then, it wasn't the largest man-made lake in Europe, but it was the largest lake in Rutland (which isn't saying much, I suppose).

This has made life easier for canal navigators, the London and Birmingham Railway Company and the Ministry of Transport motorway builders. The only reason this building isn't down there amongst them is that the Romans preferred straight lines, and the straight line of Watling Street, followed later by the A5, missed the gap.

There's a paddock, a weed-infested smithy, broken-down horse-stalls, a hayloft, a courtyard and a string of multi-purpose out-buildings. It is an impressive structure. I wonder if the Blue Boar will last two hundred years.

When I first visited this old building - in the 1980s, it was derelict building - ripe, I thought, for restoration and yuppification.

Returning ten years later, time has not dealt well with it. It may already be beyond the help of even the most enthusiastic restorer.

Later still, I now learn that this building is being restored - along with my faith.

It doesn't take too much imagination to picture the scene in this Watford Gap's heyday. A noisy, smelly riot of people and horses. Arguments, entreaties, seductions, dastardly deeds discussed in the gloomy corners, over beakers of cloudy ale.

And, of course, coachmen discussing their favourite ways round the Edgware traffic jams.

It must have been a lively place, probably chaotic, unhygienic and over-priced. Not much changes.

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