Surely, the summers used to be warmer and longer? Where is the sunshine these days?
When I think of ‘The Valley’ (which I must admit I seldom do, but whilst trawling my past for significant places to describe, it has suddenly leapt into my mind with some clarity) I think of heat and blue skies. And grass and insects, and calm seclusion.
It wasn’t really a valley, that was my childish and romantic name for it.
It was a cutting. Presumably dug out in preparation for a road to be built or extended, and then never used and long grown over with wild grass. Or maybe it is a road now, who knows? I’ve never been back to find out.
When I was about 13, I think, I changed school to one which was situated at the edge of the countryside, and was rather a long bus ride away from home. It had quite extensive playing fields, bordered by a thick hedge, and then behind the hedge an expanse of wasteland which led eventually onto an industrial estate.
Sometime after coming to the school, I must have explored beyond the school grounds and come across this cutting. It was probably only 5 or 10 minutes walk from the playing fields – I can picture a path through long grass and some more hedges and bushes.
Suddenly the ground sloped down at say a 45 degree angle, then there was the flat surface of the not-built-yet road, then another slope, beyond which was more wasteland and then the roads and car parks of the industrial estate.
I don’t remember first discovering this place, but I do remember visiting it frequently on my own, and sitting on the grassy bank, feeling that it was my secret retreat.
Now I did have friends at that school – truly – including some quite close ones, but for some reason I can’t remember any of them with me in the place I called ‘The Valley’. I don’t know whether I showed anyone and maybe they just weren’t interested to come with me again – or weren’t prepared to break the rules, as I can only imagine I shouldn’t have been wandering round beyond the school boundaries on my own – or if I deliberately kept it to myself.
I think I must have been quite a loner at heart, and probably not very happy at my new school, and intense enough to find a particular feature like a remote grassy cutting interesting and special.
More than anything, I remember the feeling of excitement and, somehow, comfort, of creeping away on my own, presumably at lunchtimes, and going to my secret place, to lie on the bank in the sun, or walk across the bottom of the cutting and perhaps dare myself to climb up the other side into the dangerous world beyond.
Of course, as often happens, when you look back at yourself and from the distance of a few decades, you can’t help but wonder at youthful recklessness and stupidity!
Did I not know the risks of wandering round alone – a teenage girl in school uniform, on the edges of an industrial estate? It’s probably one of my ‘nine lives’, I’m lucky nothing untoward happened to me, sitting there in my secret Valley, still young enough to be fantasising about horses rather than boys!
Yes, I think in my mind’s eye, The Valley was a backdrop for a glorious wild stallion to suddenly appear on the opposite ridge, and step down carefully to taste the fresh grass at the bottom, before calling to his herd of beautiful mares to join him.
I was a fan of the ‘Brumby’ books as a child, stories of wild horses set in Australia. And come to think of it there was a ‘Secret Valley’ in those, where one of the wild white stallions hid his precious mares from his rivals. Yes, horses definitely spring to mind when I think of the place, not that I ever saw any real ones anywhere near it.
But the point is, I don’t remember ever seeing many other people anywhere near my Valley. You would think some of the boys from the school would have come exploring. But I guess they weren’t interested, or maybe it was further away from the school than I remember.
I think I was always undisturbed, and returned again and again to spend quiet lunchtimes there in my special place.
I used to get bad hayfever when I was younger, so probably it wasn’t good for me to be sitting in long grass all the time. But there certainly was lots of grass, and wild flowers, and the buzzing of insects, and skylarks singing high up above me, and all those things that make a private moment in a quiet countryside place pleasantly memorable.
No-one followed me, no-one saw me, no-one bothered me.
Neither do I remember being lonely or sad.
The Valley spoke to me – a peaceful spot, an escape from school.
I wish I had its equivalent now.
Two other memories spring to mind in connection with my secret Valley behind the school.
Firstly, that it was a place – the only place in the whole of my life – where I found a four-leaved clover. And not just one, but several. Before then, and occasionally since, when coming across an expanse of clover growing, I would search for that rare and ostensibly ‘lucky’, thing, a plant with four instead of three leaves.
It never happens! But in The Valley, it did. Honestly, this is such an old memory now, I might think that I’d made it up and it wasn’t true, or that I’d dreamed it. Except that somewhere, pressed in an old album of flowers which I’m sure I still possess (buried deep in the loft!), I still have those clovers! There were several of them, maybe ten or fifteen. They were real and I kept them, and maybe that’s what made The Valley such a special place. It was The Valley of the four-leafed clovers!
Secondly, in later years, when I was in the sixth form, I participated in some sort of youth initiative which involved attending evening sessions, by chance at one of the factory buildings on the industrial estate. It was a business-related initiative, encouraging young people to become entrepreneurs or some such laudable aim. And I must have walked there in the evenings after school by way of The Valley (which probably by this time had lost its romantic associations).
I remember a particular night at the end of the course when an exam or test of some description was scheduled, and on that day it snowed heavily.
I recall standing at the edge of The Valley, looking out over the snow-covered expanse of ground between me and the factory building, wondering whether I could face or be bothered to struggle across it to get to my exam.
I did bother, and because no-one else had and there were few people there, it transpired that my effort that night resulted in my winning a very unexpected prize, which included a trip abroad! My business essay had achieved first place! At some point there was a presentation and people applauded me (a very rare experience in my life), and it was all because I had bothered to trudge across The Valley in the snow to take my exam.
Of course! It must have been the lucky clovers that made it happen! (Not sure I’ve ever made that connection before!)