The trees colonised the old roads far quicker than anyone had anticipated. When the cars stopped working, when the people finally gave in and realised that they would not be motoring anywhere ever again, when the big supermarkets realised that their carefully hoarded profits were all going to be spent on keeping their dinosaur lorries rumbling along in their accustomed ruts, when even the Prime Minister’s incantations and repetitions became ineffective, the trees moved swiftly.
First were the sycamores. Some who took an interest in this new field of arboriculture were surprised by this, but these pioneers had always stuck enterprising roots into the cracks at the side of the roads. Now that there were no machines to poison them or council workers to sweep them away they gripped more tightly and threw their whippy little trunks skywards. Their growth outstripped even the weeds. The dandelions and mares tail thrust their concrete-cracking stems through new gaps in the road surface but they could not grow as tall as the sycamores. The hawthorns and elders sheltered a little behind the weeds, and were content to proceed in the shadow of the first trees.
Within a year the roads were becoming less distinct in their verges and cuttings. Overpasses too succumbed to the green commuters, sprouting buddleia and smaller plants to begin with. The bees became more numerous. Rabbits were sometimes seen in city centres, venturing from the undergrowth into the last remaining patches of clear tarmac. The human inhabitants of the cities suddenly began to boast of what variety of wildflowers grew on their balconies and rooftops.
After five years the roads became easy to see again, because they were corridors of youthful trees, birches and holly, enterprising bird cherry trees and some escaped apples. In ten, there were young oaks and elms, fine pine trees and fruiting plums, pears, apples and cherries. The people took to wandering along the leafy roads gathering salads of fruit for themselves. The larger junctions had colonies of bees, their upkeep paid for by the supermarkets who sold the honey and wax products. Some areas of motorway had been carefully cultivated as meadows to provide some of the other things that could no longer arrive by truck. The canals which had fallen into disuse had become commercial concerns again. There was a thriving holiday caravan trade, parked on the roadways alongside the canals and other, quieter, spots. The problem was moving the vans to the picturesque roadsides, as there were no paths wide enough and no tarmaced surfaces.
Also rumours had begun about the dangers of the roads. Some of the papers warned about faceless evil people who were living in the trees and conducting all sorts of horrible business. Most dismissed the claims as sensationalism but nonetheless children were warned not to play on the road in case the bad man got them.
The network of foothpaths that had sprung up through the woods, as they had done on disused railways in the past, began to fall into disrepair in places. Some of the motorway flyovers were condemned and demolished after an unfortunate series of accidents around the country. Thankfully no one was hurt, but it was a close thing and almost everyone agreed that it was only a matter of time before something more tragic occurred.
The avenues of trees no longer ran into one another. Conservationists and the city wildlife experts made calls to preserve overpasses where possible as invaluable wildlife corridors. The recently thriving butcher trade lent their support to the cause as well, relying as they did upon the catch of the urban hunters to supplement the rare shipments of preserved beef and pork. Every town now had a herd of some meat animal, but demand was high from a populace used to cheap chicken and air-freighted beef. They were becoming used to deer and rabbit, supplemented with homegrown chicken and the odd pig. To let the flyovers all fall down would be disastrous, the butchers argued.
All the same, after twenty years it would not be economical, the government argued, to keep trying to repair the lofty overhead forest tracks, riddled as they were with strong tree roots. Some in the relevant ministry professed the belief that the trees must have received help from their misguided predecessors in government as there was no other explanation for how quickly and how thoroughly they had colonised patches of tarmac in the sky, however the ministers stressed that they could in no way be blamed as calling an election took such a long time now that communication had slowed again.
The uncleared stretches of motorway had become uninhabited and untouched, filled as they were with rumours and vagabonds. There had been a spate, a few years back, of fugitives running to and hiding in such patches of forest as they realised that the police would not follow them into the green darkness. Even the criminals would not now venture into the woods though, as few of them seemed to emerge from the other side, and everyone had heard the noises at night or at least knew someone who had. Wicked children were told of Hansel and Gretel and were threatened with abandonment to the forests if they did not behave.
People complained that it was no longer safe to forage even at the edge of the forest but the government could only say that the town-centre routes and reclaimed car parks would do for cultivation. There were complaints for a while of travelling gardeners, living in the wrecks of motor vehicles and tending the town crops for a share of the produce or some other small consideration. The travellers were found to be more reliable with news than the mainstream media outlets and they also knew of some paths through the trees, so soon they were welcomed as a blessing on a town. There were many people who found themselves on the other side of a road from their extended families, it was always useful to know someone who had up to date knowledge of the way through the trees.
After seventy-five years the majestic groves of trees were viewed with reverence. They were properly wassailed, people would only gather fallen wood from the edges of the forests and sickly children would be passed through a tree to heal them. The people became more insular as the phone lines and cable underground were torn apart by the trees. They worked, farmed and lived locally. The supermarkets became town markets, lots of small stalls in co-operation as the parent companies could no longer bring produce into a town.
In a hundred years, a young lad was idling away his afternoon under the shade of a venerable chestnut tree. He alternated watching the sun flashing between the gently waving leaves with reading a very old book he had found in the library basement. It gave plans and details for something called an internal combustion engine. The boy understood from history lessons and some muddled remembrances that, once upon a time, there had been vehicles for people to use which were powered by these things. He thought that if he could build one, perhaps from the various bits and pieces still to be found under straw in the darkest reaches of the farm sheds, maybe he could power one of those vehicles and then he could bring people and supplies from the next town far more quickly than the carters did, and with less risk. Still, he thought, if he managed to build such a vehicle, it would need a smooth surface to run on...