The old railway line was full to bursting with blackberry bushes, laden with plump, ripe fruit. Negotiating ones way through the bramble and stinging nettles, was always a difficulty; arms stretched out, hands filling an old ice cream container full of produce, on the way to the village. Growing up on the outskirts of Titchfield was idyllic. This was my families home; small, traditional, oak beamed Tudor cottages, centuries old church and memories from a childhood, spent peacefully playing in open fields, as far as the eye could see. I always enjoyed the gentle stroll, past ones school, under the Victorian arched bridge, along the old railway line, long since gone; stopping at the local Public House opposite Titchfield Abbey. This is a journey I haven’t undertaken for many years; my life too busy, taking me to far away places, a life time away from the village, where I grew up.
My brother, Mother, Father and I would sit outside ‘The Fisherman’s Rest;’ Dad would have a pint of cider and my Mother, who never drank, a schweppes tonic water, with a slice of lemon. My brother and I were happy with a bottle of coke and a packet of Golden Wonder; In front of us, a panorama; a vista like no other. Here was situated, the glorious historic Abbey of the White Connons; a large country house visited by Charles I and frequented by Shakespeare; writing sonnets from the battlements, towering above the village below. Averting ones eyes to the left, Abbey Gardens came into view. As a family, we would frequently walk up to the estate, where we could pick our own fruit and vegetables, often eating more than we harvested; face covered in sweet sticky strawberry juice, fingers a deep shade of red, clothes stained, shoes muddy. This was our pitstop, just a short walk away, from the place I still call home, even to this day.
Today, our family no longer live in this characterful Hampshire Hamlet; an oasis surrounded by urban sprawl. As a child my Great Granny Light, lived in the centre, in a cottage many hundreds of years old. I remember fondly visiting her, sat on her knee. She had a hairy chin, that tickled my face, as she kissed my cheeks. Great Granny would always produce a pressed glass bottle from the kitchen. I swear it contained alcohol; a little nip of something, even for me, as a very young boy; I recall the taste distinctly and have never savoured it since. Great Granny’s lounge was small, dark, cosy and beamed, hunting scenes on the wall; tiny cottage glass windows, reflecting the dancing light of the fire; warm and inviting. This was Granny’s house, part of a local community, where everyone, knew each other; neighbours passing the time of day and children playing in the village square.
A short distance away lived my Great Aunty Peggy, in a tiny terraced house; Edwardian in style, outside toilet, perfectly manicured back garden, always clean and tidy. When Granny died, we would visit Peggy often, especially on Carnival days. Titchfield Carnival was colourful, vibrant, encompassing everyone who lived in the village. Taking place in October each year, we would stand outside our Aunties house; warm woolen mittens, scarf, bobble hat, waving a Union flag. Peggy would bring out home made cakes, orange juice and an extra layer of clothing in the winter chill. Fireworks and a bonfire would end the festivities, acrid smell in the air; finally retiring inside, falling asleep, curled up on the sofa, covered in a rug from the bed.
Titchfield has changed a lot by all accounts; not the village of my youth. Memories of this period grow vaguer, as time passes quickly by. I am grateful for my upbringing, surrounded by a large family and friends; I am thoughtful recalling events, when others have forgotten; I am hopeful I will return one day, to visit my old hunting ground, as I like generations before me, tread the cobbled streets of Titchfield once again
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