Saturday, June 25, 2005

Significant Sites Walk

Significant Sites Walk

Standing in the Little Market House with Dad and Nick, Cathy setting up the installation, I decide to change the start point and miss out the Dial House. It feels more natural to head up past the church and along Castle Place. Nick strikes up conversation with a woman who is feeding squirrels in a copper beech in the churchyard.
We climb Castle Place in the warm sun and I tell the fellas that we are scaling Castle Hill Mount, supposedly the burial mound of a Saxon or Danish commander.
Nick admires the railway cutting as we cross the bridge.
We rendezvous with Jerry and Mike in the museum grounds. They’ve come down on the 10.10 from Paddington and have been round the museum checking out the Windsor chairs. I send back my first report on the mobile phone standing on the lawn looking at the grassed over castle ramparts. There is a discussion about the avenue of yews down the drive, apparently lime trees were more commonly used, but I say, “This is Wycombe”.
Up the Greenway and we listen to Gurney’s Prelude No.2 in D Flat Major outside the Strawberry Patch. I file another video report.
At the end of the street we look back at the view and I read the stanzas about “What must High Wycombe hills look like now…” from one of Gurney’s letters to the Chapman family. Somebody asks me whether Wycombe has any rock connections and I mention Howard Jones, king of synth pop.
On Benjamin’s Footpath the walkers get their first good look at Wycombe. Apart from Dad they know next to nothing about the town but this vista sparks a few ideas with the rusting industrial strip along the Hughenden Road being overlooked by the manor, the hills, the 80’s lego houses of Bellefield. Jerry points out the grave of Polly Rogers.
Through the cemetery and along Benjamin Road past a school fete, along the Hughenden Road missing the green man above the door of no.148 that Johnny Langley had told us about. We stand outside the derelict Comp Air and Mike tells me how already he can see Wycombe is quite apart from other commuter towns of the region with its own industrial tradition.
Down the alley by the Hughenden Stream, tall swaying grass, corrugated iron, Nick identifies Water Crowsfoot. The factories are still, crumbling, Wycombe’s decaying industrial heart.
Out onto Coates Lane and there is a roadside floral tribute to a young girl, her photo hung on a tree, petals still fresh, the 4th anniversary of her death just past.
We stop at the Disraeli monument to munch some sandwiches and drink in the view. Cathy sends a text asking for more video. Town feels a long way away.
Dad picks some cherries in Tinkers Wood. Paths go off in all directions. This is the one small section I hadn’t mapped out. We’re guessing. We emerge amongst some unfamiliar 80’s box houses where some boys are playing football and two others buzz past on motor scooters. It’s the full heat of midday. I capture the tall mobile phone mast rising amongst the houses.
We soon realise that we are actually heading back towards town. I consult my Red Book for the first time of the day. We go past the Disraeli school and along the backs of houses and soon onto the path that I had originally intended to take on this leg back in March – a narrow green track between back gardens, through the bottom of Branch Wood and onto Cookshall Lane.
West Wycombe House has its gates open, Polo today, enter at own risk. Hoorays playing by the lake watched by blond birds with healthy bones. Dragonflies skim over the water to the Temple of Music. Jerry says it stinks of money, the air is full of the stench of horse-shit. Dad fixes his foot next to the lake.
The fellas buy Lemon Sherbets and Sugared Almonds in the village sweet shop. We’ve missed the food in the George and Dragon again and settle for pints and get pasties from the butcher’s. Jerry and Nick go into the caves. At the top of the hill outside the Church of St. Lawrence Nick says “We all live in Dread.”
There is no mobile phone signal here. Cathy is disturbed by the video silence. Things have gone quiet back at the Market House.
The climb up Toweridge Lane is tough. It’s 4pm but the heat seems to have intensified.
We are passed by a musician in a suit on a motorbike heading to a house with a marquee on the lawn near the Druid’s Hut.
On the other side of Sands Wood Jerry photos the sign for Oaksey Dene.
There is a beautiful scent in the air which Nick thinks is pine resin. He tells me about the dodgy opinions of the Woodcraft Folk.
On Baronsmead Road there are fantastic views of the town between the houses, the church spire appears as a marker for our base camp. The phone now feels like a natural extension of my visual sense which I swing across my gaze fluently, the 8 frames per second seems to reflect what appears on the back of my retina.
By Tom Burt’s Hill Mike and Jerry are done in, seriously querying my measuring of the walk at 10 miles. Dad points out the difference between hill and street walking. We watch the 11 second clip of the Wanderer’s match from 1958 next to where the gates to Loakes Park were, craning our heads round to view the tiny image on the phone, beguiled by this bulletin from the past.
Driven by the quest, I continue up Marlow Hill with Nick. It’s cool now and we feel the pressure is off. The guard at RAF Daws Hill gives us a suspicious look; the phone probably looks dodgier than a camera in a way. A police car tracks us round on a road inside the base beyond the razor wire for a short section. Nick spots Doolittle Village and makes the link with the US air commander of that name who planned the bombing of Tokyo.
We emerge through the evening sun on Warren Wood Drive. Nick stands in the road identifying sewer tracks and a bulldog-like bloke in shorts gives him a dirty look. We briefly debate going in search of the springs on Bowden Lane that Johnny Langley told us about and we’d also be able to take in the home of the Mitford’s that he mentioned too. But the extra mile there and back is a bit too far at this stage.
Kids feed the ducks and swans on the Dyke along the Rye, people splash around in boats. We’re hot and tired. A bride and groom swish past us in the underpass. PUNK NOT DEAD. We nod towards the Dial House paying Dr Lluelyn due homage.
Back in the market house we see the relayed images plotted on the screen. Each small cube captures a stage of the walk, distilled there on the monitor and a click of the mouse brings it back to life.
I feel a different person once I’ve recovered, the whole world let alone the town looks different. The Brazilian prayer group are in the next room celebrating their god, our little gathering that includes Dave’s family and Johnny Langley and his son feels like a religious gathering of another sort.

John Rogers

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