|Watery Lane, February 2014|
This week attending a funeral meant travelling the hour-long journey back to the village where we used to live, to remember an old friend and neighbour of many years. As luck would have it we last saw Gordon just before Christmas. A broad smile of welcome crossed his genial face and I was greeted with a hug of such warmth, which I will never forget. When a friend reaches the age of ninety, however, it is always possible that each encounter will be the last. And so it was.
As the crow flies one could probably travel door-to-door on this journey in less than half an hour. But in Devon journeys are seldom so simple. The village where we lived lies roughly in the middle of this large county. Devon contains more mileage of road, I believe, than any other county – but such roads! In this area most of them take travellers on a tortuous journey across a landscape full of hills and valleys. We became used to the single track aspect of the lanes which branched out from our village to towns such as Crediton, Tiverton, Winkleigh and South Molton. Many are flanked on both sides by the infamous ‘Devon Banks’ bordering the fields, oozing mud on to the already poorly surfaced highways. When we lived there cleaning the car was a mug’s game, because no sooner was it gleaming, than driving to anywhere from the village covered it in mud again within minutes.
Sure enough when we arrived the car was filthy. It has been a cold, wet January and none of this made our arrival any less depressing. I make it sound like a wonderful place to live, don’t I? Why on earth, you are asking, did you live in this village for – how long? Thirty-odd years?
What kept us in the village has little to do with the economy, our jobs, schools or finances – although those were often critical. The people who became lifelong friends were the reason. Many of them are local people who were born in the same house in which they continue to live now. Others, like us, were drawn to a simpler life from the suburbs and outskirts of our capital city. After the funeral we found ourselves welcomed like the old friends we were, in a village hall packed with Devonians who had come together to mourn one of their own.
Watery Lane is not the geographical name of the lane in the picture, but one by which it has been known by generations of local people. It is one of those single-track bumpy lanes with blind corners and tight curves, but if instead of driving you walk down it you will be seduced by a wonderful view of the Mid-Devon countryside. Indeed the famous ‘Two Moors’ Walk’ runs near to here. The lane itself is not very long, and it has a tendency to flood during heavy rain due to its low-lying aspect and the run-off of water from fields on both sides –an obvious reason for its soubriquet. It is also a good example of why you should carry a pair of wellington boots in your car in Devon during the winter!
Places and the people who live in them bind us to our memories. This little lane will always be remembered by me with great affection, as will so many of those Devon folk I re-encountered on Tuesday. And of course, the ones who were only present in my heart.
In memory of GFR, SEH, EDS, HPGU and GFF all of whom died in January of this century.