East Riding Memories - Hedgerows and Woodlands
We had some fantastic summers in the '70s, ideal for teenagers and children during the school holidays.
As a teenager, I wasn't too concerned about the summer weather unless I was out sketching. I was a bit of a loner in those days, and preferred spending my spare time wandering the hedgerows, woodlands and fields around my home area of Cottingham in East Yorkshire, recording the local wildlife and sketching the historic buildings before someone demolished them.
“Why do other teenage girls bring home boyfriends?" my dad used to say, “And my daughter brings home squirrel bones.”
I may not have been bringing home boyfriends, but I was a typical teenager in that I would get uppity and almost militant about subjects close to my heart. Amongst those subjects were the man-made litter and debris I found in my beloved hedgerows and woodlands - tin cans, discarded hub caps, a lump of abandoned tarmac from road mending, a length of barbed wire half buried in the turf, the rotted remnants of corrugated iron and a crumbling section of timber sticking out of the ground. I was too shy to go knocking on the farmer's door to complain, but I'd pick up what I could and if my bicycle basket would carry it, I'd convey it to the nearest waste bin.
On one occasion I was dismayed to see the beauty of a tree scarred by some sort of wire which had been pinned to its trunk. The bark had grown around it almost, but I sighed in disappointment that anyone could treat the world around them so cruelly.
On another occasion I was equally dismayed to see when I arrived at a disused chalk quarry where I knew there was a fantastic view out towards Skidby that a group of boys were 'playing' in the quarry bottom. There was a local tradition that the mouth of a tunnel emerged in the quarry and that the other end went to the old Castle Hill manor-house - or at least it did before the hospital there was built. There was too much debris (rolls of wire, corrugated iron, and ceramic pipes) around the quarry bottom now though and. the boys were being too rambunctious for me to investigate, so I climbed to the top edge and sketched the scene instead. On another occasion I sketched the Victorian gothic tower remaining from the old Castle Hill manor-house and was almost as grieved that it too appeared to have half buried rusty bits of metal and wire marring its beauty. Those scorching summers passed and each autumn when I went back to school I used to sneak round by the old greenhouse - it always looked older than the school to me and fascinated me because of that. It had the remains of something else there as well - I could never pin it down but there was something about that greenhouse, something else on the site that I always felt no-one else recognised and the gardener would never allow the pupils (even the much respected Upper Sixth) to go there unless a teacher were present.
Everything's changed now. The quarry has apparently been filled in, the tower I think has been demolished and the hedgerows and fields which I knew have been covered by houses and wider roads.
Other things have changed as well. Time, and the Official Secrets Act are two of them. For those little sites which I came across on my forays into the East Yorkshire countryside, all the corrugated iron, barbed wire, lumps of concrete and bits of timber and brick were far from debris dumped by inconsiderate farmers.
They were the remains of Auxiliary Unit bunkers and observational posts, filled in or abandoned after the war.
I didn't know at the time, but my own grandfather had been a Special Duties member, tapping away on his morse code machine in the attic thirty five years previously, while the bombs dropped around him. He was one of only three in Hull and he survived the Luftwaffe's depredations. Even the school greenhouse was more than I could have guessed - there used to be an Auxiliary Unit bunker below it and the GP who'd delivered me was a patrol man based there.
The one thing which remained true to my teenage instincts was something which only the irony of history can create. All that man-made debris in the countryside, scarring its beauty and marring the greenery around me. How could anyone treat the world around them so cruelly I'd thought at fourteen years old -only a generation before, one despotic little excuse for humanity in Berlin had decided to treat the world around him more cruelly than many humans can conceive.
Had mainland Britain been invaded, the rusting, rotting remains of the Auxiliary Unit bunkers which I was inadvertently stumbling across in my ecology studies, would have played a vital part in the defence of Britain against that one despot's efforts.
Time has passed, the countryside has changed and I now live over 350 miles away from Cottingham, but remain intensely proud of every man, woman and youth who served in the auxiliary units.
Looking North East from the old chalk quarry Nr Castle Hill Hospital, Cottingham.
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