On a recent trip through the Midlands recently, I managed to slip in a long-promised visit to Burton Dassett Country Park, just of the M40 between Banbury and Warwick.
This was a popular venue for family outings when I was a child, but I’ve not been there for about 50 years. It is still as wonderful as I remember. The hills aren’t particularly high or steep – nothing is in that area – but on a clear day they give fantastic views in all directions.
The amount of open space makes it a great place for children to run off energy, with low risk of serious injury. Perhaps that’s why our parents were so willing to take us there.
Although the hills are natural, they received some human modification towards the end of the nineteenth century. The underlying rocks contain iron ore, and much was quarried, leaving a few low cliffs (low because the spoil was backfilled into the quarries after the ore had been extracted, so raising the ‘floor level’)
I sent my ex-pat siblings uncaptioned photos to see whether they remembered the place. “That’s too easy,” was the response. “One of my favourite places in the UK. I always visit there when I am over”. It’s one of my favourite places too, and it set me wondering what makes a favourite place.
Another favourite place from childhood is Nell Bridge Lock on the Oxford Canal. Yes, I know there are several other locks and several other canals, but of them all, Nell Bridge is the best.
There’s nothing particularly spectacular about it. It’s just a standard lock. It’s not part of a long flight; it’s not the deepest lock on the canal; it doesn’t even have a pub nearby. But it was the closest to home – close enough to be the destination for a summer evening walk.
We would often go there late afternoon on a Saturday and watch the holiday makers from the nearby boat hire depot tackle their first lock. This was never a dull source of entertainment. The fact that we’d never been on a canal boat or worked a lock didn’t stop us from becoming self-styled ‘experts’. We may not have really known what to do – but we quickly learned lots of things not to do.
The event that caused us most amusement – and which we never warned the boaters about – was the opening of the paddle at the top gate. It was stiff, and the boater would lean over and put in a lot of effort to move it. This put their face in the perfect position to get hit by a jet of water as the paddle opened. Guaranteed amusement every time. I was somewhat disappointed on a recent visit to find that the paddle mechanism has been replaced and is no longer a source for slapstick comedy.
Both Burton Dassett and Nell Bridge Lock have three things in common. Happy memories from childhood; countryside; and industrial heritage. Three of my favourite things.
More locally, and more recently, Eastleigh’s Lakeside Country Park has become one of my favourite places – and not only for the 2.5 km running circuit or the amazing selection of cakes from the Lakeside Cafe..
It doesn’t hold any childhood memories, but it does tick the ‘countryside’ box. And industrial heritage? Well, actually, yes. The lakes were gravel quarries – I believe, but would be happy to be corrected, for the construction of the M27. And there is a little railway. What’s that if it isn’t industrial heritage?
The final favourite place I’m going to write about is not so local. In fact, it’s on the other side of the world. The Karanghe Gorge in New Zealand. Another countryside and industrial heritage double-whammy.
The gorge is beautiful but has a heavy industrial past. The area was used for gold mining, and the gorge was the site of the heavy batteries that pulverised the mined rock to extract the gold. That’s batteries as in things that batter and pulverise, not things that provide mobile electrical power.
The industrial past has been carefully preserved and now complements the natural beauty. It would have been different in mining days, when the river provided the drainage route for the toxins created by the gold extraction processes. Different times; not necessarily better times.
What are your favourite places – in the UK or abroad? And what is it about them that makes them a favourite?