Friday, 23 September 2011

The Straits (part 3)

As previously stated life was happy and free for the few children that were around The Straits at that time. Bernard Taylor, who was a bit younger than me and Robbie Woodward who was a bit older were the two boys I spent most of my time with over the years I was living there. We wandered around the fields and woods doing all the sorts of things country boys did in those days. Many of which were determined by the seasons and time of year.

More of those matters in later editions when I will deal with them in greater detail. But the woods known as Stephenfield Copse on the O.S map and the hanger listed as Jude Copse was where we spent more of our time than other places. Stephenfield Copse, although I had no idea that was its name, was particularly valued as it had a large yew tree in the centre of it and towards the highest point of the hill. Given that playing Robin Hood was most popular with us, this tree represented The Greenwood Tree. We hid under it when it rained and we climbed it to get views of all around. I hope it is still there. I expect most Kingsley readers will be familiar with the term hanger as it is a local term as in Oakhanger. It is the name given to a wooded bank and I believe unique to Hampshire where there are many of them around the county. Anyway Jude Copse was and I imagine, still is a hanger. There we roamed between Wheatley Hill and around to South Hay lane.

The place I loved the most has, sadly long gone, and most readers will not now know of its existence. For me it was a magical and mysterious place, far enough away from home to represent a bit of an adventure and hard by Alice Holt Forest.

On the O.S map if the route of the old railway line is followed from Sickles Road, where the old Halt was, toward Alice Holt Forest and turn right off the line where the footpath and stream cross. Follow the footpath and stream down the edge of the forest and between it and the little copse. Just beyond the little copse, along the route of the footpath there used to be, and probably still is, a raised pathway. There is actually what looks like a small pond in blue at this point on my map. At the time I am writing of this raised pathway was wide enough to permit a vehicle, (tractor), to cross. The sides of this raised area were then supported by brick or stone work along its faces. To the east was the long narrow field known then as Forest Field which ran for a considerable distance along the edge of the wood. Upon the raised area itself were a row of huge and beautiful Elm trees, these were to the east side. To the west was a large pond. I imagine the raised and walled path was there as a retaining wall for the pond and its water. The pond was probably around half the size of the present Kingsley pond in the village. It will, therefore, be understood that it was not small or insignificant. Much bigger than the small blue area on my present map. It did not seem to have defined banks but just merged into the surrounding field with large areas of marshy ground. The pond contained fish. I don’t know what they were as I was still too young to fish. I know there were fish in the pond as a result of seeing herons catch them and the small silver creatures wriggling in the bill of the birds.

I spent long hours hiding in the small copse which allowed me to observe the comings and goings of the wildlife that visited the pond. For the most part the place was quiet and undisturbed save for the seasonal agricultural activities. It was a wonderful place for a little boy to be. Foxes, Hares and occasional Deer were all visitors. Herons were common and frequent visitors so were large numbers of small waders. Mostly Snipe but also others that I couldn’t then identify. There were also large flocks of Lapwings. These nested in the surrounding fields. Dragon Flies were numerous and the marshy area attracted large numbers butterflies. It was just so lovely. When not in the copse I would sit on the wall above the water and just soak up the beauty of the place. It was here on the wall that I first learned how to squeak a fox. This can be done by pursing the lips and making a squeaking noise which sounds like a trapped rabbit. Any nearby foxes will come to investigate in hope of an easy meal. The secret is to be well concealed and not to move as the slightest movement will send the fox running away.

One day I went to visit my secret place and the tractors were there, not this time cultivating the fields but dumping large amounts of rubbish in the water. As long ago as it was I can still feel the lump in my throat and the feeling of nausea in my stomach.When the dumping was complete the tractors began pushing surrounding soil into the pond and filling it in. Eventually after several days the pond was no more, the place was changed forever. I cried. It was a long time before I returned to the spot. For a long while afterwards the area remained boggy, (perhaps it still is), and the snipe continued to visit. I was eight when we moved from the Straits in 1953 so the above would have occurred sometime before then. I would guess that I was probably six or seven, therefore, the pond was probably filled in during 1951 or 1952. I hope the little blue spot on my map does indicate a pond, however small, is still there and has managed to thwart the efforts of the tractors so long ago. I shall visit the spot when I next return to Kingsley.

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