Secret Valley

I’ve been reading Priscilla Napier’s verse documentary ‘Plymouth in War’ because, although I was very young, I remember that seaport during the blitz of 1940-1941. The poem is very moving and captures the spirit of the time and the people of the city.

This took me again to my memories (readers will recognise some of them) of  the county of my birth, a place whose deep lanes and high moors have left their spirit with me thoughout my life travels.

There is a field path which leads to a bridge over the railway and then to steps down to a small, stony beach. It’s on the river estuary and the open sea is about two miles downstream.Our young family often walked that way. My father would gather seaweed there to put on his garden. One spring half term, early in the morning, we heard a cuckoo. I think it was the last one I ever heard, 30-odd  years ago.

Over the water was (is) an inn, so old  that it hangs over the water which laps around its base at high tide. Meanwhile my children scramble about the rocks and pools. Small wooden boats lean on their sides, as the tide ebbs. Wading birds are about.

But today I am walking uphill, away from the river. At the top end of the village, on my right is another ancient hostelry , whose great granite walls grow out of the ground.  It is named after a 14th century bishop of Exeter.

The parish church is from the same era and I enter – in my memory – through its  west door and walk down the nave. From just below the clear east window there rises a steep green hill. Cattle graze there.  In a churchyard extension close by, my parents’ ashes are buried.

I continue on my way.

My father visited the old bishop’s pub every day for three half pints of bitter. The ‘regulars’ – my father counted as such – chatted congenially and I was welcome. He and I would step down from the road into the ancient bar. He never had more than three half pints. At lunch time. And that was it. He was watching his weight. He bought me pints and commented that by drinking his beer this way, he could at least feel he had gone to the bar three times. Perhaps he was inventing cognitive behavioural therapy.

He died in 1978 at the age of 70. I dream about him a lot. He looks younger than I do now.

Further uphill, towards the high moor. On my left is a deep field, sloping down to a tiny green – so green – valley. It’s like a secret valley in a child’s story book.  In it is a stream which  flows into the estuary. I want to explore it but I never do.

From the high moorland I look down on to the sea into which the river flows. And the town and the harbour.

There’s a lone foxglove here; bracken; gorse bushes.

I walk home. It’s not home but it’s an image of  home. We all have images of home.

It’s a place where everything we love, lives.

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