The Memory of Place

Are memories of people or events held in certain locations or buildings? Many will scoff, call me suggestible, weird, a fruit loop. Fair enough, I don’t give a cuss about other people’s opinion of me; as the old saying goes, I know what I know. I have witnessed instances of this on many occasions, from awful nights in the company of a deceased stable lad through the voices of the crofters in a long-dead clearance village to the amiable whistling of a wartime airfield guard but perhaps the most chilling was the presence of not a person but something else entirely.

In another life I used to spend many nights of the year sleeping outside. On this particular night I had pitched my basha (a single waterproof sheet hung from two trees in the form of a roof) slightly off the track which ran through an ancient wood. I had been asleep only an hour or two when I was awoken by an unholy rumbling, I assumed a large vehicle was charging through the woods towards me, maybe kids joy riding a stolen Land Rover. I needed to get out of my sleeping bag quickly, I didn’t want to be run over. Of course, in a hurry, in the pitch dark it can be hard to find your torch, boots and work a zipper and inevitably it stuck fast. As I wriggled and cursed the noise grew until I could make out the sounds which contributed to the whole.

There was a rumble, a creaking, a jangling, a drumming and a rattling. It was quite obvious what I was hearing. The rumble of iron shod wheels, the creaking of primitive springs, the jangling of brass harness fittings, the drumming of hooves and the rattling of a carriage. It was unmistakable. I was hearing a horse-drawn carriage careering through the woods at top speed. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind, and there still isn’t.

A footnote to this little story happened the following morning, after my disturbed night (needless to say I slept little afterwards). As I was packing my kit away A figure with a rifle over his shoulder was walking along the track. We struck up a conversation, he turned out to be the keeper and had been for many years. His favourite topic was history and the history of the estate in particular. He stamped a muddy boot on the track.

“Know what this was boy?” he asked in a broad Devon accent.

“No” I replied “What was it?”

“Main London to Exeter carriage road, that’s what.”

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