Wheels must turn steadily, but cannot turn untended. There must be men to tend them, men as steady as the wheels upon their axles, sane men, obedient men, stable in contentment.
Crying: My baby, my mother, my only, only love; groaning: My sin, my terrible God; screaming with pain, muttering with fever, bemoaning old age and poverty—how can they tend the wheels?
‘Brave New World’ – Aldous Huxley
I guess they have always been out there; but it’s only when you look, really look, that you start to see them. And once you consciously embark on the process of looking you see them everywhere. I’m talking about wheels; wheels and their invertebrate siblings otherwise known as tyres. The first stray wheel to grab my attention and start this obsession was on a recent walk at low tide over to the island of Hilbre in the Dee estuary. It sat in a rock pool on the short stretch of sands between the islands of Middle Eye and Hilbre. Alone and abandoned; but still retaining its functional integrity as a wheel, as if placed at a strategic staging post should a replacement wheel ever be needed by a passing 4X4.
Why was it here and how had it reached this place, a point far from any road? Calculating the possible explanations took a hold of me. And then I started seeing them everywhere: abandoned wheels and tyres in hedgerows, in the corners of fields, on river banks and by the roadside.
The wheel is ubiquitous; an everyday object extant long before our recorded history and now found in all parts of the world. A vital tool for our industry, agriculture and transport. But the fascination for me, so I have recently found, is to discover wheels or tyres in places where they are not meant to be.
In most cases the wheels I have recorded appear to be merely abandoned, but sometimes one finds redundant wheels employed for purposes for which they were not specifically designed: I’ve seen them used for planters on allotments, as weights to hold down the tarpaulin on a compost heap and, in the case of the picture below, put to use as a poultry feeder.
But I keep coming back to those how and why questions; speculating about the story behind each abandoned wheel and the journey it has taken to reach its current resting point.
Take a map and consider the possibilities: plot the point where you found your wheel and look for likely directions of travel to arrive at that point. Did you find it near a road? Is there a farm nearby? You might want to look at the contours on your map; a wheel at the bottom of a slope conjures up a myriad of stories.
Taking my Hilbre wheel as an example, I plotted a number of possible arrival routes as shown below.
The most likely direction of travel for a vehicle would be from the Wirral shoreline at low tide, perhaps from West Kirby or Red Rocks. Less likely, because of the course of the river, would be someone driving over from the Welsh shore. But one also needs to consider the possibility that the wheel might have originated much further away and either have been swept downriver or have been thrown up on the Hilbre shore by the incoming Irish Sea.
Once you’ve plotted your lines on a map, walk each route outwards from the centre and note your impressions, in particular looking out for any wheel-related clues. Hopefully all the routes on your map will be on dry land, unlike mine!
So whether you’re walking in the countryside or in an urban environment, look out for them, they’re out there.
And the meaning of the title of this piece? Full marks to anyone who recognises it as a quote from Tennyson’s In Memoriam A.H.H.
Map – courtesy of OpenStreetMap
All pictures – by the writer