My next writing project, which I am currently working on, covers part of my childhood spent in North Cornwall as the daughter of a stationmaster at a small rural station. The following is an extract adapted for ‘homework’ at our local writers’ group.
Gone for Ever
Otterham railway station stood almost at the bottom of a long hill, on the edge of Bodmin Moor. The main A39 crossed the railway line via a bridge. A narrow lane curved off to the right, running parallel to the railway line, while the A39 carried on over the bridge and continued on its way down the hill, eventually reaching a small village. Our garden had a steep bank up to the road, on which a row of fir trees grew, one of which had two large branches reaching over the garden. My swing hung from the lower branch, while the higher branch became my ‘horse’.
On moving to Otterham, we would often go out for walks on a Sunday into the surrounding countryside. A couple of miles up the hill would bring us to Davidstow Moor, where the air force had a base during the war. The air force had long gone and the runways used for car racing in recent years, but was now used for parachuting practice and this is what we would walk up to watch.
One particular Sunday, when I was about seven years old, we went for our usual walk. I wanted to take my bike, which I had recently learned to ride. The brakes were faulty and my father was supposed to fix them, but was too busy, so I was told to be careful. I managed to pedal slowly up the hill, following my dad and my mum who pushed my younger brother in a pushchair. We reached the top of the hill, stood and watched the parachutists for a while, and then turned to come home. The road was flat at the top of the hill and I was still riding my bike, but as we started back down the hill my dad held on to the back of my bike so I wouldn’t go too fast. It was back breaking for him bending over, so he soon told me to get off and walk the rest of the way. I said okay, he let go of the bike, but didn’t get off in time, and soon the bike with me clinging on for dear life, was gathering speed down the hill. I could hear my parent’s shouts getting fainter and fainter all the time.
For a seven year old, I must have had my wits about me, because I knew I had three choices if I could only stay on the bike. I could turn right and carry on down the narrow lane, but there were sharp bends; I could carry on over the railway bridge, but who knows how far I would go before the bike slowed down; or I could run into the hedge, on the left just before the bridge.
I chose the hedge, but missed and hurtled into a fence immediately before the first pillar of the bridge. How I missed hitting the bridge I don’t know, but I did stop, knocking a front tooth out in the process. I sat on the grass verge with a handkerchief held to my mouth to stem the bleeding; the front wheel of my bike all buckled, and waited for my parents, who were running down the hill behind me in a panic. My mother had visions of me lying on the railway track, which could have so easily happened, if I had fallen through the fence.
Many years later, on holiday with my family in Cornwall, I wanted to go back to show them where I used to live as a child.
We were on the A39, coming out of Davidstow and I was busily telling them about my bike incident, and saying that it was this hill I was on and at the bottom they would see the bridge which I almost hit, and the house where I used to live. Suddenly, I could see the house, but, where was the station? where was the railway line? but more importantly where was the bridge? what had happened to the bridge? It had been demolished after the railway closed. The road had changed out of all recognition. Our garden had disappeared along with the tree with my swing and horse. The spot where I would wait for the school bus. All gone. The road I was so familiar with – gone for ever.