Our favourite picnic place was near Bilberry Hall, perhaps a quarter mile further, on a silver-sand twisty path, single file. There were several high earth banks, maybe fifteen feet or so, long and deeply covered with heather and bilberry. Away across the other side of the path were small round hillocks, with a hollow on top, and an opening towards the long mounds. These had been constructed during the Great War, for shooting practice, and there were said to be many little souvenirs to be found on those banks. The only things I found were bilberries and ladybirds. We would settle on the hollow top of one of the round mounds, and each do what we wanted. Give me a little blue sugar bag and I was happy all day, gathering a few ounces of bilberries, breaking off my search briefly for bread and butter and a banana, some milk, and some feather cake – always bananas!
There were definitely different coloured ladybirds then, some were quite pale yellow, some orange, scarlet, and quite a dark red. If there were a lot about, I might gather all I could find, carefully carrying them back to our hilltop hollow, hoping they would settle there long enough for me to go off and find some more, and get a spectacular crowd of different colours.
Very rarely, an aeroplane would slowly chug across the sky, perhaps I saw one or two in the whole year: I associate the sound and sight with the moor picnic afternoons. I used to be tired walking home and was notorious for lagging behind – there always seemed to be large bilberries beside the path when we were supposed to be walking home, and would always end up stopping for something far too amazing to ignore, and then running to catch up with the others.
Roads and puddles
Shutts lane ran fairly level between the main road up Greetland from West Vale, and the quiet road which also ran up the hill, from West Vale to the moors, called Scholes Lane. Our milkman had his farm up Scholes. Shutts Lane was just earth and stones, with steep potholes which were filled with sludgy water and at times froze into very interesting layers of white ice with bubbles and ripples preserved maybe for days. They made lovely sounds when you stamped on them; in fact puddles were one of life’s joys to me. Ashfield Terrace was also simply earth, but more grassy at the front and without interesting holes, while the back was well rutted and bumpy and provided ‘my own’ puddles right outside the back door step. I have always enjoyed rain and wind, it seems a wonderful thin, to have clear cool water gurgling and tinkling and rushing down all the lanes and roadsides, why couldn’t I play out in it, instead of being kept grizzling indoors until it had stopped raining! Water that just lies there not moving seemed somehow sinister to me.
As long as I remembered, we used to have a small weekly order from Mr. Whitely along the road, at Cross Hills. I remember various breakfast cereals, and there would be a fair amount of baking ingredients as my Mother baked a good batch at least once a week, on Wednesdays. There was a man with a horse and cart who called once a week, selling greengrocery and my favourite of all sweet things, little boxes of chocolate raisins. I would wait and listen for him trundling along the lane: I can remember the impatience while my Mother chose this and that, and paid for it, before I could get on with the interesting part of the shopping ritual. Oddly I have no memory of a butcher at all, I don’t know where our meat came from, but I wasn’t too keen on meat at that time.
Opposite the level, flowery patch of tip was a small shop which sold sweets and groceries – probably other things that didn’t register with me. When I had reached the age of four I was allowed to go there on errands and one time I was side-tracked on to the flowery tip before going to the shop, and lost my money. My errand was usually for a family bag of sweets, and a quarter pound of blackcurrant bon-bons which were blackcurrant ‘fussels’, I know not why. I hunted all over for the money, then went home and brought my Dad, it being a Saturday afternoon, but we failed to find the coin. I don’t remember whether we bought sweets after that, or sadly went home without, as money was really short and maybe there wasn’t another shilling.
Wild flowers always delighted me and I would wander off to a field across the road and pick daisies for ages, led on from one to another, always seeing one that was extra big, extra rosy tipped, or otherwise special: then I would pick individual leaves of the very thin shiny grass that grew there, which seemed to perfectly complete my outsize posy. Buttercups were nice to see but I didn’t pick them so often. When I was old enough to go down the lane on my own I liked to wander about on the levelled off tip, which was a nice place, quite unlike today’s tips. Lots of flowers grew there, my favourite being sweet scented white clover, knot grass with its minute ‘roses’ and the tiny yellow clover-like flowers.
I occasionally found old wire springs at the tip, from beds and sofas long since burnt, and there were very exciting to play with. You could thrust your feet into them and leap about, feeling a definite extra spring, which kept you trying to go higher and higher with every jump. I doubt whether the grown-ups would realise what amazing feats we were performing, but it felt very good and I don’t remember any sprained ankles, which was surely a possibility.
Our gang used to go off to North Dean Wood frequently – perhaps at times the big house parents suggested we should stay away from the gardens for a while. Sometimes we would drift along playing ‘truth-or-dare’ or talking about things too grown-up for me to understand, and I would always find time to shovel up handfuls of gravel, or road pebbles or an insect, as we moved along past the farm to the fence at the edge of the wood which was on a steep hillside. There were caves and other hollow places, encouraging the imagination into terror of ghosts, fierce tramps, wild animals and I know not what, all helped along by the many tales that were told about ‘Dead Man’s Cave’. Although I liked the trees very much (providers of acorns!) and the stony pathways, I was always uneasy in the wood, and still don’t like to be enclosed by banks or trees. At other times the boys would rush off to the wood leaving me to follow if I could and find them if I managed to get there: I can feel the awful lonely panicky panting fear still.
Maurice on our doorstep
There were no other girls within reasonable distance, but I played on my own a lot, and was accepted by the gang of boys that my brother played with, when I could manage to keep up with them. The leaders of the gang were two brothers living at the big house, whose father owned a mill at Sowerby Bridge; their garden seemed huge and park-like and they employed a gardener and a proper live-in maid. We didn’t get to the garden as far as I remember but could scramble through the hedge at one corner where the grass clippings were tipped and the smell of hot, rotting grass seemed a big part of life to me in those pre-school days, meaning that I was romping about, rolling in clippings and out of earshot of my mother. Once we were trying to cut the grass with a small scythe, and I must have swung it against my left inside ankle bone, because when my mum removed my wellies, there was a wet foot caused by a little hole leaking in some puddle water. On close inspection, there was a little hole on my ankle. I remember deciding that the sickle-swinging incident was not a suitable item for adult ears, and said I’d no idea what had happened to my boot. I still have a little scar, just at the front edge of the ankle’s bony knob.