Reaching for the Past ... ...
In which Bob walks back into the 1940s, retraces the lanes and fields of his youth, and remembers friends who have gone on before him.
We visited England in May of 2011, and stayed for a while in my Home Town, Watchet. One sunny day, I decided to take a solo walk to find – if they were still there! – the sites of some boyhood adventures.
My country walk, for which I've prettied up the photos, starts at the block of shops where Mum and I lived from 1939 until 1957, when I left for a new life in Canada. (Oh yes, here's a map of my route.) The Builders Yard just beyond the shops, with its abandoned sheds, was a fabulous playground! (The war stopped work on extending the block until well into the '60s.)
First stop was "Splash Point", an access to the beach where the seawater ruined several precious pairs of my shoes. (Actually, yours truly did the damage, by failing to avoid rocky pools and incoming tides!) This was wartime: shoes were hard to get, rationed and expensive; rubber boots were, of course, unobtainable. During Spring Tides, when the incoming waves are highest, the sea would surge along the harbour wall and crash against the foreground cliff top.
Spectators could watch from the shelter of an overlooking WWII Pillbox, of which only the rear wall remains. The tides have taken the rest of it!
"The Game" was to go to the bottom of the steps, watch for an incoming wave as it swept along the wall towards you, and climb hurriedly back up before you got soaked! To add to the "frisson", there was always the chance of being swept off the stairs, but it never happened ... we were very agile! (Note: the outer wall in this photo was built after our time. Kids today? Ha!)
The other game (which, to avoid confusion, I'll call "The Other Game") was to go out across the rocks to meet the incoming tide, and see who'd stay longest on a particular rock before the sea covered it. Sort of an oceanographic version of Chicken!
A little further up Liddymore Road is the Chip Shop, which hasn't changed – apart from a fresh coat of paint! – since the years when I used to scrounge chips from the "Yanks" who came into town to the "cinema" most evenings!
At the end of the road the town ended at a wooden gate to "Ghost Train Lane". In my youth, this was a narrow path between tall hedges, the start of the country proper. Why the name? The Ghost Train was a 1941 comic-horror movie about ... a ghost train. (How do they think up these titles?) Well, once the sun went down, the path became VERRRY SPOOKY. One of the big kids would be the death-dealing train, while the rest of us crept nervously along the gloomy path, waiting to be run down. Hey, beats the heck out of Xbox!
The lane ended at a stile leading to open fields. Many things have changed in the intervening 60plus years, but not this: I found it exactly as it had been. Oh, except that ... we used to have to clamber, today I just stepped over!
Crossing one large field led me to the start of what is still called "Watery Lane". This usually lives up to its name, but when I walked it England had had the dryest spring in years. It was a lot wider than I remembered – bigger tractors, perhaps? – but as I walked on, it got to be more the way I knew it.
IIf you're wondering where we are now, take another look at the map.
Within sight of the road, I hit a modern obstacle. Many farmers hate Public Footpaths, and these heavy metal gates are everywhere. Theoretically they are openable, but the latch is often buried in stinging nettles and thistles. So ... Over The Top! And here our intrepid explorer is – on Doniford Road, a winding country road between Watchet and Williton.
A short walk (most walks are short in England!) along the road, and here's another unchanged spot: the stream where we fished for sticklebacks.
The unfortunate captives were kept in jam jars, where they quickly expired ... what, you have to keep them in FRESH water?
By now it was lunchtime, so I walked into Williton to enjoy a beer and a ploughman's lunch (Google it!) at the Wyndham Arms. While I'm partaking of refreshment, why don't you go to Page Two of my adventure? See you there!