Shar and I took a trip back to Mill Hill today as I wanted to show her some of the places where I grew up. We had originally planned to go for a walk in Scratch Woods but found access to the site almost impossible. It appears that Barnet Council have permanently closed the car park there and now there is only parking for one or two cars at the entrance to the park. As it is situated on the very busy A1 dual carriageway there is no chance of roadside parking and the only parking layby that is a little further on down the road was taken up by some large lorries. This was a real shame as I had happy memories of times at Scratch Wood and thought that it could be a good location for a series of caches but it would seem that some further investigation would need to be done with regards to gaining access to the site before we would be able to go there.
So plan B was to go for a walk around Arandene Open Space which was located at the top of the road where I spent the first 18 years of my life. When we drove past the house, despite my lack of sight , everything just felt so familiar. Old memories of the roads and layout of the surrounding areas came flooding back and as we parked at the bottom of Wise Lane the out pouring of minute details from my childhood started. Like how the green at the top of Brookfield avenue wasn’t actually a roundabout even though it looked like it should be. Or the names of childhood school friends and the roads they lived on.
A mental map was there in my head and I could point vaguely in this and that direction and tell Sharlene what was there. For example the cemetery at the bottom of Milespit Hill and how the green only ever had one tree, right on the corner – more trees have been planted there now.
Into Arandene we went and I felt like a tour guide… On the right just as you go in was the grounds keeper hut. An ominous building that held childhood fears for me about what lay inside. The mere walking on the grass approaching the hut let alone touching it or going round the back of it was the subject of high risk dares amongst my friends. No evidence of the hut remains other that the signs of the path that used to lead to it.
Then a little way further on, on the left, was a mound which used to house an old underground structure of some kind. I have memories of a locked gate barring access to it but am not sure what it really ever was. No sign of it exists now and the area is now covered with new trees that have been planted in the last 20 years or so by local councillors. Pointing to the right I told Sharlene about how a bridle path ran along the top of the park and how we used to go blackberry picking there with mum. Yuck, I hate blackberries, but always liked doing the picking, despite the brambles.
Turning left up the path, travelling inbetween the new trees I described how this path led up to a small playground containing swings and a seesaw, amongst other things. I didn’t expect them to be there as I remember them being taken out after falling into a state of disrepair during the 80s. Sure enough the concrete footing can still be seen but it is now become a small copse of trees and bushes halfway up the field. I remember the swings and how you could swing and then jump off onto the grass just as you got to the apex. I am sure they were probably removed because they were a death trap along with all the rest of the 60s playground equipment that really let kids be kids but did run a small chance of ripping a limb off or flinging you off, face first, onto the concrete.
Onwards and upwards we went following the mowed path through the field to the break in the trees. I am less familiar with this side of the park as I don’t remember coming this far very often, certainly not on my own anyway. Reaching the high point of the hill which I think is actually called Featherstone hill the landscape opens up somewhat and a broad vista to the west and north can be observed. The most noticeable thing when standing up there though, is not the view, but instead the noise. In the direction you face, laid out before you is the Watford Way, a stretch of road where the A41 and A1 share the same road. Just the other side of that is the M1 running alongside it. And next to that is the rail lines for trains running out of St. Pancras to the north. So all in all it is pretty bloody noisy standing up there. but then I reckon it couldn’t have been much quieter in the 70s when I was a kid as all those roads and rail lines were there then and whilst they would have been a little less busy, there still would have been a constant traffic hum. The hum is morelike a roar these days.
Travelling on instinct we carried on and as I expected emerged from Arandene onto Wise Lane just opposite Mill Hill Park. We turned left here and followed the road back towards the car. I remembered how in the side roads off of Wise Lane I had learned to drive a car thanks to my sister buying me Driving lessons for my 18th Birthday. The driving instructor, who used to chain smoke the whole time and would often make me pull into a garage so he could buy more fags, must have thought I was a quick learner as he took me to Mill Hill Circus and even Apex corner later on that first lesson!
I pointed out the horse chestnut trees at the top of Page street where I always used to get my conkers, and a bit further on, the infamous Featherstone Road where I fell off my bike whilst free wheeling down the epically steep hill. Further down Wise lane I pointed out the cut through that used to lead to the allotments that led off Brookfield Crescent but got levelled in around 79 or 80 and a housing estate built there.
Amazing how vivid some memories can be from your childhood and yet sometimes you struggle to remember important things from as recent as a few years ago. I wonder how different it would have been to actually have seen Mill Hill again, rather than experiencing it from my memory and through the eyes of Sharlene. I wonder if I would have been surprised by the change in things, or surprised at the lack of change for that matter. I expect I would have been surprised at the scale of things, distances that seemed like miles when I was 10 probably were only a couple of hundred yards and would seem like a short walk nowadays. Is it better that I remember it pure and uncluttered with the trappings of modern days. That my vivid images are always of the good times and the nice places and somehow the unsavoury or less impressive images or memories have faded. Perhaps my lack of sight allows me to keep Mill Hill just the way it was back in the 70s and 80s. Maybe I will always be a boy on the occasions when I return to Mill Hill.