Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Danger of Death 1925.

Last Thursday I managed a brief lunchtime wander in Peterborough. I had my lunch in Central Park, in the seclusion of the Sensory Garden. I had considered sitting outside the cafe, where I'd purchased coffee. But the tables had all been taken by a large group of octogenarian looking people clad in what I presumed were army uniforms. They looked like elderly members of the Boys Brigade.

On leaving the park, I passed three more elderly people. A man and a women both wore what looked like mayoral chains of office. A third man wearing a suit, bowler hat and carrying an umbrella appeared to be their assistant. I assumed they were about to convene with the ''boys brigade" for some sort of ceremony or ritual.

Across the street from the park I headed along a fairly pleasant residential street. Among the houses was a bizarre building housing (I assume) electricity. The top half looked like it may have been residential at some point, while the bottom was basicallyb large windowless cupboard with a yellow 'danger of death' sign warning against any attempt at entry. The building, date stamped 1925, and resembled a giant mock-Tudor tardis. A brief (but admittedly less than thorough) internet search revealed nothing about it. The buildings mysterious quality remains intact.


A few minutes later I was on Eastfield Road. A sun-shrivelled man, probably in his 50s, spoke to me as I passed in an indeterminate accent. I couldn't understand what he said but he was seemingly offering me the chance to purchase the items in the plastic bag he carried. I didn't break my stride so didn't properly see what the bag contained. It appeared to be blue cartons, possibly cheap unlabelled cigarettes, or maybe knock off prescription pills or Viagra.

5 minutes later I was back at work.


Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Telegraphs, Gas and Anarchist Hobby Horses in Norwich

Changing trains at Norwich, the plan had been to stop off and have something to eat at the Coach and Horses, and get a later train back. I walked down Thorpe Road but before I reached the pub noticed a footpath signposted as leading to Rosary Road. Beside being one of those paths that draws you in, Rosary Road rang vague bells. I took the diversion.

The path led behind some houses, on.hiher ground. Soon it forked. I took the left turn, shortly to emerge onto Rosary Road. The place was familiar and a few seconds later I saw the pub, The Rosary Tavern. I had been here before, some years ago following an afternoon at Norwich Beer Festival. I had stubled across the pub on a convulted walk back to the station by happy accident. It was mentioned in the beer festival programme as being 5 minutes from the station (I hadn't seen the ad until I was actually in the pub). It was only 5 minutes using the path I had just taken. But at the time went a different way, only having a vague notion of the direction of the station. It had taken 30 minutes.


The building was still there but on closer inspection it was no longer a pub.  A plaque on the wall showed it had closed in 2009, having been a pub for over a century.  The pub sign simply reads '95'. Above the windows, where the name of the pub had one been it now says, in wording just about visible, 'Rosary Appartments'. Serviced apartments I think. In the old days the pub had been part of a planned estate housing employees of the gas works. I was sorry to see the pub gone.

I made my way downhill back towards Thorpe Road, past the 60s low rise flats next to the pub and a semi-brutalist car park/office block opposite. Eventually I came to a left turn and headed to The Fat Cat and Canary for a swift half and a pork pie. It was sunny and the front yard was occupied by builders who had knocked off for the day and their vans.

Suitably refreshed, I carried on along the road for a bit before turning left, having decided to try and do a circular walk back to the station. I found myself on 'Telegraph Lane East'. The road quickly became a steep (for East Anglia) incline and a tree lined road with some largish houses. A bit reminiscent of Hampstead, but not quite as posh.  Late I discovered the area is known as 'Thorpe Hamlet'. Parts of it had a feel of a village within a town, a sort of separate state resisting the encroachment of its surroundings. Keeping the riff raff out.


I noticed a number of blue signs that I first thought pointed to cycleways. Coming from Cambridge, why would I think they were anything else? But they were signs for pedestrian routes, which is something you don't see everyday and was heartening. And useful for someone not really knowing where he was going. Up to a point anyway as most of the nomenclature was meaningless to me.

I passed a primary school, and notice one lone parent with a pushchair up ahead. No one else around. I crossed the road and saw up ahead what looked like a water tower. Closer inspection confirmed this. A water tower with an added bonus of a TV/radio or maybe mobile mast on top of it. It seemed unusual to encounter a water tower within a city. Victorian proto-brutalism at its best!


Further along the road seemed narrower and more like a lane. The woman with the child in a pushchair I'd seen earlier had paused ahead. When I passed she stopped me and asked if I lived round there. There was a starling apparently in distress, and she didn't know what to do. I apologized and said I wasnt local and didn't know the drill for injured birds except to advise her call the RSPCA. She thanked me but looked uncertain. I thought the encounter a bit odd. The woman was middle class and confident sounding but had no idea about what to do about her concern for the bird. I left the scene, feeling a bit guilty for not offering to call the RSPB, as well as puzzled as to why the woman hadn't thought of doing this herself. I was wearing a suit so maybe I was projecting some sort of air of importance or authority that I really don't possess. The encounter showed how deceptive appearances and first impressions can be. Anyone can buy a suit from M&S for less than a ton, and anyone can cultivate a middle class accent should they so wish (I never bothered). Both part of 'spectacle' and facade.


Shortly after this the road became 'Telegraph Lane West'. The lane narrowed and started its decline downhill. I passed a splendidly decrepit sign for a pub, The William IV'. I couldn't actually make out where the entrance was but seeing the sign for sports screens I  didn' investigate further.

Telegraph Lane West continued, tree lined and narrow.


I passed a metal gate, festooned with indicipherable graffiti tags. Frustratingly I couldn't make out what lay beyond it.


A little way further, near the end of the road I encountered a magnificent gas holder. A water tower and a gas holder on the same stretch of road, in a city, not in the 'edgelands'. I felt almost blessed.


When I got to the end of the road it was apparent that at some point it had changed from Telegraph Lane West to Gas Road. Stands to reason I suppose.

At the bottom on the corner was the Lollards Pit pub. Coincidentally I had seen the pub on TV a few weeks ago in a programme presented by Dr Alice Roberts about Tudor Norwich.  The pub is so named since the Lollards, seen as heritics, were killed and buried on the site which at the time was outside the city walls. The site was shunned for a period but these days the pub features most of the hallmarks of a thriving decent boozer with a heritage angle. Apparently there is a well in the garden (I didn't have time to look) and it had a fairly convincing old world feel, despite Jimmy Somerville pleading not to be left this way from the TV on the wall.


A bizarre flyer, featuring a ghostly looking hobby horse caught my eye. Robeet Kett led a rebellion in Norwich following the enclosures and resulting hardship caused the to people of Norfolk in the 1500s. He was hung soon after. Ketts horse, and the morris/molly troup accompanying it, appear to be harnessing the rebellious spirit of this part of Norwich which goes back through the layers of it's history. I hadn't detected much of a spirit of rebellion in Thorpe Hamlet but it was only Wednesday afternoon.

'No one man is the horse. We are the Kett's Horse Society. We are the Guild of the Glad Man Ribnoners. We are the resurrected skeleton army of Stump Cross. We are the stump cross Ex-Residents Club. We are the Now or Never! drinking club'.

Over the road, I found myself on the officially sanctioned Riverside Walk. A sudden shift away from the arcane memories contained in the Lollards Pit, and the odd combination of edgelands and Hampstead that was Thorpe Hamlet. Soon after the path forced me through the beer garden of The Compleat Angler pub and across the road to the Station and home.




Friday, 11 May 2018

Rural wandering in South Cambs X 2

Peterborough walks have been on a hiatus lately due to business at work  and working away. Then the bank holiday, when I spent a couple of afternoons walking with my partner around some of the villages just south of Cambridge.

My partner is much more rurally orientated than me, which means I occasionally venture out to a place I previously wouldn't have bothered with much before: the countryside . Left to my own devices I'd have been unlikely to go out into the sticks very much. In the past I considered the countryside a bit boring, conservative, remote, difficult to get to (and more importantly from) and lacking in amenities. More recently, I've learned to drive so going to these places is more possible and forces me to practice. Going anywhere by car is still my least preferred  mode of travel, but does have its uses on these occasions. Before my attitude had been if somewhere couldn't easily be reached by foot, bicycle or public transport (preferably train, not bus) then it probably wasn't worth going to. My view has shifted in recent years, and i'm nearly as happy going for a rural wander as an urban one. I don't know if this is because of gentle coersion by my partner, learning to drive, or just getting older and appreciating different things.

Walk 1: Eversden Woods and environs.

The first walk involved parking up in the village of Great Eversden. My memories of the village itself are already a bit vague. Nothing remarkable, bigish houses and big gardens indicating fairly well off residents, no pub (apart from one now operating as an Indian Restaurant), no shops or cafes. There was a church (more of this later). We parked near it and headed off down a footpath. The objective of the walk was to go to Eversden Wood where we could catch the last bloom of bluebells. We thought it would be less busy than the other bluebell woods in the area which were more well known being managed and advertised by people like the Wildlife Trust. The irony of going out to the countryside to get some peace and tranquility away from town, only to be thrust among a mob of families and their dogs was something we wanted to avoid.

Before reaching the woods we stopped for a rest on a ridge, overlooking a farm, the village and towards Cambridge. The behemoth of Addenbrokes Hospital could easily be seen in the distance, as could Eddington and the wind farm near Fleam Dyke near the village of Fulbourn. There was nobody about on the ridge. It was peacful yet strangely surreal. It's not often you get up high in Cambridge (I'm talking very relative, it wasn't Ben Nevis). It was a bright and sunny day and lhe light was reminiscent of that on 70s TV programmes I remembered seeing about the Countryside as a child. At that time it seemed another world, one I wasn't particularly interested in. One where a patronising man told you to follow the country code and notices told you to keep out of fields. The light had a strange quality in these programmes which seemed to be slightly off kilter with real life. Maybe it's the type of film they used. But it seemed to mainfest itself on the ridge.

We got to the wood. Suddenly in the shade, out of the sun which was getting a bit much for me being a pasty faced individual with little tolerance for it. The bluebells were competing with a profusion of other plants and brambles. We saw nobody else as we progressed into the wood along a path that became increasingly quagmire like the further we went. A prolonged wet spell had left it's mark.

My choice of footwear was a bit ill advised for this sort of thing. Roamers 'Jason' suede slip on desert boots are ideal for walking in an urban environment (or anywhere dry and not too lumpy really). But they are neither water or slip proof. Just as things were starting to get awkward I found a large stick which I could use as a steadier and to gage the depth of puddles. I felt like a character in one of those terrible dungeons and dragons games, who finds a significant object that will assist in the quest. In this case to get to the other side of the wood without slipping into water, nettles or brambles. The staff of stability! I briefly fancied myself as a sort of Merlin, as he was portrayed in the film Excalibur. But a subsequent near slip brought me back down to earth. A panama hat wearing middle aged buffoon would be closer to reality.


The path widened into one where vehicles had obviously been used, adding to the quagmire. At this point the walk became a bit like a rural version of the Crystal Maze, circumnavigating edges of puddles trying not to fall into nettles and brambles while avoiding the mud and pools of water. A mysterious dustbin like object ahead appeared like a poor quality dalek. It turned out to be a device to feed pheasants. I'm not sure I really agree with breeding pheasants to shoot and eat. Apart from being cruel, it seems a lot of effort to go to given the tiny amount of meat they have on them. Like other 'country pursuits', foxhunting, hare coursing, horseracing etc I don't really understand the appeal or approve. But then, I'm not from round these parts. I'm sure the Barber Jacket and welly wearing contingent would remind me of that and tell me I wouldn't understand their country ways. And I'd agree with them.


Out of the woods and into the brightness of a field. We followed the quagmire path above, rather than the dryer path that appeared to have been the result of spraying some sort of dangerous weedkiller. A reminder that farms and much of the rural environment they govern are industrial in nature..literally.  I recalled, vaguely, the Sunday lunchtime TV programme 'Farming Diary'. I can remember a panel of two or three men presenting it, looking like Bob Fleming from the fast show. The commercial break was reserved for adverts relating to farming. Enormous radioactive looking orange sacks of fertiliser, combine harvesters and sprays to kill weeds and insects. I also remembered the smell eminating from the Fisons factory in nearby Hauxton when my friends Dad, who worked there, took us fishing at the mill pond in the grounds and to the social club, where the crisps tasted of the same smell.


Some time after crossing the partially poisoned field, and resting in an apparently unpoisoned one inhabited by a number of crows (or maybe rooks) and pigeons, we came across the concrete circles of a reservoir. At the same time, in the distance, I could see the white disk of a radio telescope. We had moved from depressing Sunday afternoon  advertisments for poisonous agricultural chemicals to an environment reminiscent of the Quatermass mini TV series from the 70s. Both dystopian, but the later at least offering some hope.


Within the compound of the reservoir was a trig point, reminding us we were still at relatively lofty heights (for Cambridge).

An orangy stone had been left on the fence. I wondered if I should have collected this to complement my staff, but decided against it. It resembled a russett apple. I thought it looked good where it was. With the trig point, this added to the sort of stone circle like atmosphere of the compound.


A notice nearby warned of the laying of a 'relevant pipe'. This didn't look like it was going to be much of an impediment. Work had started, but had only progressed a few feet. I'm not sure exactly what a relevant pipe is. Can you have an irrelevant pipe?

It's relevance to us was that it was pointing in the same direction we wanted to go, back into the village (I suppose a pipe taking water away from a village might be the irrelevant sort).

The path lead eventually back to the church. We had a look round the churchyard before we left. The whitewashed building was unusual and impressive. Somewhat marred by the sign next to some gravestones showing sponsorship by lottery funding. They say lottery ticket money is dead money...


Walk 2: The Shepreth Barrington Meldreth triangle.

This walk may have been rougly triangular, or possibly more of a rhombus,  but didn't really feel like it. The main road from Shepreth to Barrington was closed. We enquired at the café (the tea and cake sort, not a grease caff) and the man helpfully found out for us that pedestrian access remained, only traffic couldn't get through.

But we didn't go that way, we followed a footpath/lane that eventually lead to a large field of oil seed rape. A path carried on, a stream or ditch on the other side. The oil seed rape, a type of brassica, resembled a yellow inedible version of purple sprouting brocolli close up. From a distance a sea of monotonous yellow. We followed the field round and crossed a stream/river over a wooden bridge then down a grass path walked off by two high hedges, as green as the grass. Like a maze except straight. Further along was an open iron gate, leading to what appeared to be a graveyard. There were only four or five graves and we concluded it was probably someone's garden. A bit weird but we thought best not to investigate further.

Soon we were on the main road through Barrington, bifurcating Barrington Green. This consists of a very large grass verge each side of the road and a large village green with a cricket pavilion. We stopped on the village green for a rest. No one was playing cricket (no one was there apart from the odd passing car). I recalled the scene in the film 'The Shout' where Alan Bates' character is revealed to be a mental patient, helping keep the score in a cricket match between villagers and inmates, before he loses it and get carted off. The film was set in Devon and this was Cambridgeshire. But village greens all look pretty similar. Another, maybe tenuous, rural/folk horror connection was the pub The Royal Oak which can be seen up the road from the Green. A woman who dressed as a witch used to be the landlady. I was aware of this at the time but didn't know where Barrington was then and never saw her. Walking past, I noted it has not retained any trace of Addams Family/Witchy connections.

Just past the pub, over the road is stream including a sort of pond resulting from damming (not the large concrete sort obviously). We sat and observed the pondlife. Waterboatmen, snails, pomdskippers and fish (of the tiddler variety). Within the pond was another world containing these creatures, swaying aquatic plants and air bubbles gently drifting to the surface, which was easy to become emersed in. And we did for some time. I remembered David Bellamy's backyard safari, where the presenter was 'shrunk' in order to observe ants and snails from a different perspective. I don't remebere if he ever dived into a pond.


We headed down the road back toward Shepreth. This was the road closed to traffic, which as walkers was in our favour. At a small (and empty) car park we found the entrance to a meadowy environment around which the river could be followed. We took the path that sort of followed the river and at some point we stopped to looked at a willow tree with a large hollow.

In the hollow I noticed what I thought was a  discarded  packed lunch box. Closer inspection revealed this to be a Geocache box. It contained a lighter, a toy police badge and a cotton real. I've never done Geocaching and am unaware of its finer points. I didn't have anything to leave in the box and didn't take anything. I put a note in the log book including my blog web address. Maybe I'll be regarded as a 'muggle' in the Geocaching community for doing this. But I wondered if there was some crossover with Geocaching and psychogeography, and I'd not maybe there should be. Geocaching encourages walking and a certain amount of exploration, as does (did?) the more virtual Pokémon. But maybe there's too much purpose involved, too much of a point to it. There's enough of that sort of thing in day to day life. I considered my intervention by leaving my note in the book as a psychogeographical ''wave' to the Geocaching community, a friendly amd mischievious disruption of their possibly more serious pursuits. And a shameless plug for my blog.


Across the other side of the meadow, we entered another sanctioned path in a woody area. The boozy detritus left behind in this pool indicating a more upmarket outdoor drinking fraternity. No strong lager or Thunderbird here.


I can't recall much else of the wooded area. We emerged onto a road, which would take us to the edge of the village of Meldreth.
The road was one of those with no path, and no obvious speed limit making it potentially hazardous but traffic was luckily light.


We passed through the outer edge of Meldreth. The village sign was a sort of wrought iron affair, not the usual type. Slighty sinister. When I was younger I heard tales of a gang that often got on the train at Meldreth and were to be avoided if possible. The Meldreth Mafia may well have been the figment of someone's teenage
imagination. But if they did exist I imagine they could have been responsible for burning down an earlier village sign. This one looks more fireproof.

                     
Just outside of the village, we entered L-Moor, a scrubby sort of meadow now under the control of the Wildlife Trust. The explanatory sign at the entrance gave an explanation of the history, but I was distracted by the image of the Manx Longhorn Sheep, with its Baphomet like horns. The area a bit of a strange and archaic atmosphere, which I imagined being more intense on a misty winter day, when the sheep were grazing. They had been banished for the summer so disapointingly there were none to be seen.


The ground was lumpy with ant hills, having not been cultivated since the 1800s. It was divided by the railway line which was passed under via an old foot tunnel.



There were different coloured bits of plastic tied to a fence just the other side of the tunnel. I'm not sure what the significance of this was. Maybe they had been put there officially for some mundane reason. Or maybe they were the remnants of some sort of ritual, involving the Manx Sheep and dancing through the tunnel naked on the Sabbat.


Short after this we stopped for a rest. The electrified railway on one side, and an electricity pole on the other. In my line of sight to the pole was a flower, rare and known as a milkmaid according to my partner. On the railway line, two engineers wandered past talking in Brum accents, clad in radioactive Fisons orange. Like a couple of alien observers, keeping to the track just to be sure.


After leaving L-Moor we followed a path back to Shepreth. Just before coming out near the church, we passed a sort of agricultural machinery graveyard. A ramshackle array of tractors, lorrys and bits of plough, in various stages of ageing, rust and decay. Giving off a Texas chainsaw massacre/Dukes of Hazard sort of a feel. The gate was locked or I'd have been tempted to wander around it.


We arrived at the church. Less remarkable than the whitewashed one in Great Eversden, other than the roof. No spire, presumably there had been once, but a newer roof giving a more ominous feel, reminding me of 'The Black Tower'.



A lumpy and lichen infested gravestone was the other odd feature of the churchyard. Looking like it had become diseased or had been squeezed by a giant hand.


We emerged back into Shepreth, a village fairly indestinguishable from Great Eversden at first sight. It does have a pub, The Plough. We stopped for some water.  The pub looked like it had received the 'Farrow and Ball' treatment and we were expecting it to be poncey but quiet. But the garden was given over to a children's playground and Queen was being played at high volume indoors, where a handful of regulars dwelt. We decided to head home.