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Monday Memories: Beginnings #1 – A Country Walk

When I started this series of memories it was with my first meeting with the young woman who would become my wife. Thus far I have not mentioned, except in passing, my childhood. So I guess it’s time to fill in some of those missing details with a series of remembered events. The first of these is entirely from my imagination since, although I was there, as you will discover, I was far too young to notice what was happening.

The road from Peterchurch to Urishay is long and narrow. It takes about an hour to cover the distance on foot. Anyone doing so will be unlikely to encounter another travelling the same route. Certainly that was the case in April 1942.

In my mind’s eye I see two women walking that road. One in her mid-twenties, red hair in a thick plait extending down the middle of her back. The hem of her coat swings just above her ankles. She is wearing sensible shoes. Her older companion has grey hair pinned into a bun at the back of her head. Her coat is long, too, a kind of blue that is almost black. She emits a sigh. Her feet cease moving. “Can we stop for a minute?”

“Is it your back?” The young woman asks, turning her head and standing still. She takes a step backwards, dragging the pram with her. With her right foot she applies the brake. Leaning into the pram she adjusts the coverlet. Her son is asleep, oblivious to his surroundings.

They are on the section of road that descends gently into a shallow valley. There is no sign of human habitation. The only sounds are birdsong. Both recognise the sound of a blackbird. Another song is new to the younger woman, who has little knowledge of the countryside..

“Listen,” she says. “What was that?”

The older woman can remember her youth, working as a maid in a country house. A long forgotten memory surfaces. “It might be a curlew.” She has been stooping. Now she straightens her back and is siezed at once by a fit of coughing. Recovering she says “That last hill nearly killed me.”

The young woman looks to where she can see the road rising up the far side of the valley, disappearing under a canopy of trees. She says nothing. Thinks it was a mistake to bring her mother on this expedition to inspect the cottage. Except . . . with petrol in short supply, asking someone to convey them by car would have been an extravagance. Except . . . she could not bear to leave her mother and son in the house they shared with another family. Not after the row they’d had that morning.

“I don’t know how much further it is. Jim said it shouldn’t take more than an hour.” She pushes back a sleeve and looks at the watch her husband gave her on their first wedding anniversary. “We’ve been half an hour already.” She reaches into the blue canvass shopping bag that rests across the sides of the pram and withdraws a vacuum flask. “A drop of char? I was saving it until we get there but we could have a drop now if you like.”

“No. Let’s get on. I’m feeling better now.”

There are wild violets and primroses in the bank at the road side as they make their way up the hill and into the shade of the overhanging trees. Those trees remind them of the park they used to take walks in before the war. Sycamore and horse chestnut, upright flower spikes on the latter not quite open. They imagine autumn, the ground covered with spikey green spheres bursting open to reveal glossy brown conkers.

The young woman has her arms outstretched, her back bent, as she pushes the pram up the steepest part of the hill. The road levels out and she stops, takes a deep breath before turning to her mother. “I think this is where the landlord lives.” She points to a rotting farm gate set back from the road. Some distance beyond it on the right they see a collection of farm buildings. High on a grassy bank to the left are the remains of another building. “That must be the castle Jim mentioned.”

“Do we have to collect the key here?”

“No. The man will meet us at the cottage. He has to move some cows or something.”

They set off again. There is another short but steep hill, the road curving round to the left. On the right a rough lane descends steeply. “That’s not it, is it?” The old woman points to a cream painted house on rising ground, accessed from the lane.

“No, it’s further on, on the left. After a post box, Jim said.”

In the satelite image below, the castle is in the top right hand corner, the cottage in the lower left quarter where the road takes a slight bend. The post box is at the junction with Urishay Ct.

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