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9:49am on Wednesday, 30th June, 2021:

The Field


Even though I grew up in a town 14 miles east of nowhere, as a child we had no shortages of places where we could play. We could go to the beach, climbing clay cliffs that could give way at any moment; we could go to the local playing field, so long as the kids who regarded it as their playing field weren't using it; we could go to the garages, which made excellent goals; we could go to the Scout Hut (meaning the land next to it), where there was an eminently-climbable tree; we could go to the park, risking the occasional strike from a golf ball; we could go to the army rifle range, risking a strike from something worse than a golfball; we could go to the Mere to mess with the swans; we could go to the pottery, claiming that we were indeed accompanied by our parents when challenged; we could play in the street, because car drivers were more afraid of us than we were of them; we could go to a D-shaped piece of grass in Beresford Avenue or the equilateral triangle of grass opposite the shops if we were careful to avoid the copious amounts of dog excrement present in both; or we could go to the Field.

We always called it "the Field". It probably has a proper name, but none of us knew what it was, nor would we have used it if we did. The Field was, as its name suggests, a field: in this case, one that lay on the journey between our housing estate and the school. It was roughly the shape of a 45-degree right-angled triangle, with us encountering it at the acute angle in the southwest (although it did extend quite a way beyond as a long strip). It was bounded by three edges: an embankment of the former railway line was the hypoteneuse, heading northeast; Hornsea Burton Road (so called because a thousand years ago it went to Hornsea Burton, a village now two miles offshore that was taken by the sea) was the adjacent edge and ran vaguely west-to-east along the bottom; a path we always called "the Viaduct" was the opposite edge and ran vaguely south-north, eventually passing under the railway line at a, well, viaduct.

There were two other edges of note. One was a beck that ran alongside the Viaduct, which was essentially an irrigation run-off from fields the other side of Hornsea Burton Road. It could be jumped across, but would get very muddy so it wasn't always a good idea (not that this stopped us). Sometimes, there was a wooden plank across it, sometimes not.

The other feature was the Stream Dyke, which connected the Mere to the sea; it was into this that the beck ran. The Stream Dyke was maybe two metres wide, and crossed by a small bridge. It could also be crossed further up where a large, raised pipe went over it: you had to hold onto the pipe and edge along the bar that held the pipe up to get over. This was very tricky, but was preferred to walking across the top of the pipe because if you fell you merely got wet, rather than hurt and wet.

A well-worn, muddy path ran from the corner where we entered to where the beck was crossed, a few metres before the bridge. The rest of the Field was wild, though. Whoever owned it paid it no heed whatsoever. Occasionally there would be horses tethered in the strip we didn't used to go to much, but that's about all we ever saw. I suspect its size and the amount of water its clay held meant it ceased to be usable for agriculture or livestock once the railway line was built across it. Difficulty of vehicular access meant that travellers couldn't really use it, but maybe once or twice we found lone tramps there.

We spent many happy summer afternoons playing in the Field. Because it was wild, the grass grew up above the knees and there were all sorts of plants there — buttercups, thistles, nettles, ... There was wildlife, too, but we normally only encountered examples that were injured in some way (mainly birds but occasionally rodents and the odd snake). We'd make dens and play games that involved crawling through the grass without being seen and throwing tennis balls at each other. We'd cross the Stream Dyke on the outside of the bridge; we'd cross the viaduct over the Viaduct on the outside, too. Some kids used to set fire to things in the Field, but that was regarded as irresponsible.

The Field was great for the kind of play that was dangerous but not so dangerous that we were likely to end up in hospital. I wonder if children today get the opportunity to play in such environments, or if they're kept out by a combination of anxious parenting and potential lawsuits. If I was immensely wealthy and could afford to buy fields to let kids play in, would I be allowed to leave them to it or would I have to install so many safety provisions that it would undermine the whole point of having it?

Eventually, the land adjacent to Hornsea Burton Road was sold and houses were built there. A new school was constructed closer to the council estate, so the path across the Field is no longer trodden daily by scores of schoolchildren. The Viaduct is now part of the Trans-Pennine Trail, and cycling is allowed on it (it wasn't when I was a lad). I don't know if the Field is even accessible any more as a route, but I suspect not: you can probably get into it along the Viaduct, but whether you can get out of it at the corner opposite is another matter. I hope that the children today still range across it, though, chewing on grass stalks and using sedge parsley as weapons as we did.

Oh, to be 10 again.

Referenced by No More Field.

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