Tuesday, 29 January 2013

A Forgotten Place


Harry in the Lane
So the snow has melted; leaving little, fast-flowing streams and shallow pools of water on the smallholding and across the local countryside.  Everywhere is wet - and because I'm finding it hard work making my way across the sticky, heavy soil of the ploughed fields, I decide to walk my dog Harry along a local lane, which is muddy enough, but easier going.  It's also a fascinating walk, because this is a lane that had a purpose once, leading from one village to the next through a local hamlet, but which now leads to nowhere at all.  Instead, after a mile or so, a gate, fence and signs forbid the walker to go further, because there is a large reservoir ahead.  The distant fields - and the rest of the lane - are now under water.

The reservoir was created in the 1950's; a hamlet of farm houses and farm cottages was destroyed so that it could be built.  There is not, contrary to popular belief, a church with a ringing bell under the water, but there is a strangeness, almost an eeriness, about a community that has simply vanished. A sixteenth century manor house was also demolished; apparently it was a fine building with a great entrance hall, Elizabethan panelling lining the walls and huge fireplaces.  The grounds were said to be beautiful.  And it also had slightly notorious connections, as it was (supposedly) visited by the plotters of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 - and a later inhabitant was also suspected of plotting against a king (this time Charles II).

The Sixteenth Century Manor House Demolished for the Reservoir
I don't know how old my lost lane is; but I've found it on a map dated 1805.  I imagine that it once saw traffic passing backwards and forwards; from tramping, farm labourers to the motorcar.  Then, after the reservoir was built, it fell silent, with only the occasional walker or horse rider or wild animals, using this path.

At the entrance to the lane, there are three cottages and then a barred gate preventing vehicles from going further.  I happen to know something about these cottages because I know some of the people who once lived in them.  These cottages were all farm cottages until the late twentieth century.  I knew a man who was raised in one of them with his twelve brothers and sisters and as I walk by the cottage, I remember one of the stories he told me about his family.  It goes as follows: The ground behind his cottage was used for village fairs, and the highlight of these was a competition to climb a greasy pole to win a haunch of meat.  Visiting the fair one year was my story-teller's ancestor, who was a man with a reputation for using his fists too readily and so, because of this, he was forbidden to take part in the competition.  But he went ahead anyway, climbed the pole and won the meat, defying anyone and everyone to stop him claiming his prize.  Today, the fair is no longer held, and a private house now stands on the land.

Woods by the Lane
It's January, late winter, and the lane is not looking its best.  A landowner has recently flailed some of the hedges, so that they look broken and torn.  There is something a little sad about the lane at this time of year, which is so different to being here in spring and summer.  In June, honeysuckle weaves its way through areas of the hedge, and the scent is beautiful.  But the highlight of the year has to be late April, when I hear a nightingale singing from a patch of woodland by the side of the lane.  Whether the nightingale is passing through, or it stays, I don't know, but I always love to hear it.

There is wildlife here today; a flock of long tailed tits flit along the hedges beside me and a muntjac deer barks from the woods.  Another muntjac deer stares at me for a while from further ahead, before disappearing. I remember that I saw a hare in the lane a long time ago.  This countryside was once rich in hares, but many were lost before the reservoir flooded the land and I would be very surprised to see one in the lane again.


The Lane meets the Reservoir
As the lane meets the reservoir, I am amazed by the sight of a vast, new, reed bed area for natural recycling that has been constructed over the past year on agricultural fields.  But I soon realise that there has been little impact on the lane itself, because it isn't used to reach this development.  Instead, a shiny new access road enters the reed bed area from the other side.  So the lane remains silent, and in the summer, the reed beds will be hidden anyway behind trees and hedges.

I reach the end of the lane and the reservoir.  A skein of geese fly over my head and before me there are the sounds of birds calling and squabbling on the water.  New wildlife inhabits this area now.  In the last few decades, human intervention has completely transformed this landscape - and the story of this place with it.




16 comments:

  1. A fascinating story and sad too that a community was destroyed. Wildlife soon takes over though so all is not lost. A great place for walking the dog too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes; there is still plenty of wildlife here - a mixture of wildfowl on the reservoir, and woodland wildlife around the edges.

      Delete
  2. A beautiful evocation of times gone by, and a sensitive account of this rather strange time of year.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I agree it is a strange time of year; it feels as though winter should be over, but it certainly isn't just yet.

    ReplyDelete
  4. What a beautiful account Wendy - thanks for taking us on your walk along with you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wanted to find out as much as I could about this place; but I know I've barely scratched the surface. There's so much history here.

      Delete
  5. What a wonderful post, I really enjoyed reading this, and simply fell in love with Harry.xxxxx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Harry is a lovely dog, but, as the photo shows, he's looking a bit scruffy at the moment (he's in need of a bit of haircut).

      Delete
  6. Really enjoyed this, especially the story about the pole climbing! We have many lanes here too that used to have a purpose and now are hardly used. There is a lovely one which goes over the ridge into the next valley but no one uses it now. They all go the longer way round by a much faster road. That is what cars do for you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes - so many old lanes now are little more than footpaths/bridleways.

      Delete
  7. really interesting blog Wendy, thank you. Am guessing you are nearby, judging by your description of the reservoir, which if I am right is currently undergoing massive construction works? I have a cut flower orchard not far away, over by the Tower. This is the first year - great timing eh? and I am planting to support the insects and wildlife, as well as develop a pickery, along with the flowers. Today is as cold as I can remember it being, and I am telling myself its a good time to catch up on admin, and not to get too dispirited.....beginning to sound a bit bonkers even to me as the siberian wind lashes around my little plot......

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello - and thank you. I like to do many different footpath walks in Essex but this one is a favourite, partly because of the history here. Good luck with your planting and encouraging wildlife. I agree that it seems as cold today, in April, as it has been all winter.

      Delete
  8. I remember reading about a connection with the Gunpowder Plot and Fremmels Manorhouse on exhibits at the Hanningfield Reservoir. On a google search today, your account is the only record I could find mentioning this. Well done.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello - and thank you for your comment.

      Delete

Thank you for taking the time to leave any comments. I do love to read them.