Socks for the Boys!

My Great Aunt Norah's wartime diaries, 1938-1948

Wakes Weekend and walks over Daleacre

24th October 1938: Went down to the Wakes with Florence. Lovely time. Coldish. Saw Colin.

This weekend is Wakes Weekend in Castle Donington, the village where Norah (and I) grew up. It is the first time in many years that I am not visiting. My daughters, now 14 and 11, are caught up with drama and gymnastics and other activities that are finally, inevitably, taking priority over our trip. But I am missing it. The hope for good weather. Meeting up with an old school friend and her daughter.The gaudy lights and loud music. The sweet smell of candyfloss. Bumping into people I haven’t seen in a year or more. The old Silver Cross prams containing over-sized sleeping toddlers, parked up next to the rides. The fish, chips and mushy peas at the end of the night.

Perhaps even more than the Wakes, I am missing my autumnal walk over Daleacre the next day. But with the dog lead-bound and buster-collared (a small op) and my left ankle trussed up (a sporting injury), that’s off the agenda for this year as well.

Norah’s story – the story I am telling that is faithful to her diaries – is in part my story as well. Liberated by the forms of memoir, life-writing and biography, freed from the disapproval of academic history,  I allow myself to reflect, amongst other things, on our shared attachment to a place.

***

Daleacre, pronounced Daliger (with a hard ‘g’), is nothing more than a high ridge a half a mile or so from Norah’s house which runs parallel with the country lane that connects two neighbouring villages. It is nothing special. While Hemington and Lockington, with their thatched roofs and pretty streams, are as chocolate-boxy as any Derbyshire village, the plains of the Trent Valley south of Derby are far removed from the undulating charms of the Derbyshire Dales and even from the unsung beauty of that forgotten county, Leicestershire.

Like Norah, I love this landscape. There is a childlike quality, something unchosen, in my attachment to this place. Daleacre has become the mid-September blackberrying spot for my young daughters and me. Leaving grandma’s on Barroon, we follow the same route as Norah, passing some grand old houses and smaller cottages on the left, a row of modern houses filling the once-open fields on the right, then the cemetery, where Norah and three of her siblings are buried, the allotments and Cherry Orchard now bereft of cherry trees. We enter and leave the grassy slopes of Lady’s Close through two kissing gates, cross the road at the bottom, passing the ruined church said to have been used for canon practice by Oliver Cromwell’s men. We head up through the overhanging boughs of Church Lane and Dark Lane, eventually looping round through the red-brick farm houses and cottages of Lockington, down a path along the edge of a cul-de-sac of private houses, the building of which in the 1980s occasioned the construction of a huge wall to hide the adjoining street of Airey-type council houses. We pass through the kissing gate into an open field and, keeping an eye out for cows, climb up onto the Daleacre ridge.

Blackberrying over Daleacre, September 2010

Blackberrying over Daleacre, September 2010

The blackberry bushes sit on the slopes which still bear the imprint of medieval strip-farming and, deaf to the distant hum of the M1 and the A50, the lights from which mean darkness never falls, I imagine the generations among my own ancestors, tenant-farmers on the Twells side, who toiled there. The gradient makes blackberrying a precarious business, the slightest over-reach tipping the picker forward until they threaten to topple into the prickly beds below. Bags and tupperwares full, and younger daughter snagged and juice-stained, we make our way down Daleacre hill to Hemington, where a modern form of enclosure has seen the ruined church absorbed into the garden of a plush house in a new gated community. Grandma and Bessie dog on look-out duty, my daughters and I enjoy the thrill of the illicit clamber up the stone wall to the damson tree, shaking the sturdy trunk and branches, straining to catch the black fruit before it drops into the cowpats below.

A few weeks later and we are back again. This time, Daleacre forms the course of our Sunday morning walk after a night at Donington Wakes. This age-old annual fair began in 1278. My Twells ancestors, their names inscribed in the newly-kept records of the church from the 1480s, had probably already arrived in the village; part of a migration along the fertile Trent valley from Nottingham and Lincoln in the east. The Wakes, three days during which stalls and fairground rides line the main shopping street, much bemoaned by shop-owners and other more recent ‘East-winders,’ used to take place on ‘the Eve, and the Day, and the Morrow of Edward the King.’ The timing of the event is now determined by a more prosaic calendric formula: the last weekend of October which doesn’t run into November, always one end of the school half-term. The walk over Daleacre is as essential as the hook-a-duck stall or, as my girls grow, the Cyclone ride in the Turk’s Head car park. It is as much part and parcel of the weekend as our late-night open chips, eaten 100 yards from the fish shop, as we perch on the low cold concrete of Mrs Kinsella’s council-bungalow wall, in that final hour before the lights go out, the rides are dismantled and the main street is transformed to look like an upturned rug, its underside on show.

Wakes, 2008

Wakes, 2008

The following morning, after younger daughter has scuppered any hope of a lie-in, we walk up through the now golden autumnal lanes, stopping for a photograph by a five-bar gate and a teacake on the bench on the top of the hill.

Church Lane, Hemington, Autumn 2010

Church Lane, Hemington, Autumn 2010

I imagine Norah here on her dates with Danny in 1942, when went to Hemington to visit Helen and walked over Daleacre were codes for romance.

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2 comments on “Wakes Weekend and walks over Daleacre

  1. Ian Waites (@iwaites60)
    October 27, 2014

    A lovely post, Alison. I like how Daleacre becomes ‘Daliger’. There’s a place in Gainsborough, Lincs, where I come from, called Humblecarr Lane which locals call ‘umlicker Lane. Your Church Lane by the way looks like a very, very old ‘green lane’ – medieval and possibly even older than that.

    • Socks for the Boys!
      October 28, 2014

      Thanks very much Ian. Interesting about the language. I like Umlicker! I remember as a child being really shocked when I saw the spelling of Daliger. And yes, those are ancient lanes. There is one that runs at the end of Church Lane, known locally as Dark Lane, and I understand that the oldest settlements were along there. (Much of it is due to be cleared if the government gets its way and builds some huge ugly hub for EMA – but that’s another story.) One day, I’ll make the time to learn about the older – Anglo-Saxon – history of the place. On the Lincolnshire point, it is quite likely that people who ended up here started out in your neck of the woods, the two being linked by the Trent, bringing ‘east-winders’ in-land.

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This entry was posted on October 25, 2014 by in diaries and tagged , , .
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