Benches 123 - 142: Hubbard's Hills
Hubbard's Hills was bought for the town for £2000 by the trustees of Auguste Alphonse Pahud as a permanent memorial to Pahud's wife Annie. It opened as a park in 1907, initially styled as a pleasure garden, a lake, and a country park. There's a memorial to Annie Pahud in the park. The Pahuds lived in The Limes on Westgate; the grief-stricken Auguste hanged himself there with his dressing-gown cord, according to Cait Green, in 1903. Now operated by a charitable trust in conjunction with the town council, Hubbard's Hills is open year-round.
I'm at the wolds end; by the Hallington / Halfpenny Lane entrance, having just completed the walk along the top path of the hills. It's time to come back through the park. It's about five thirty in the morning. A single car in the parking area, but there's no sign of anyone. Overnight rain is steaming off; then sun's out, though the valley means that much of the Hills is still in shade.
The park's been here a century, but the route is older. Cait Green reports that Crowtree Lane, at the town end of the Hills, began its life as a throughway from Hallington. There's court reports going back to the beginning of the seventeenth century to back this up. It's inconceivable that this isn't the path that would have been taken.
There's a sign; amenities and suchlike. Bridges that criss-cross the river Lud that traces its way through the park. And benches. The sign says that there's nineteen, and I'm not going to argue unnecessarily about it.
The path's broad enough to accommodate a couple of lanes of public space traffic; cyclists, families with strollers or wheelchairs, skaters, amblers. Overtakers and stopper-offers. There's puddles here and there. It must have really come down in the night. But the river's running clear enough. There's none of the soupy turbidity to the water that often follows a storm.
This path used to go on forever. I remember it as a kid as being a never-ending trail. Not in a bad way. Just that the place seemed immense. Coming back as an adult, it's as though I'm in a slightly out-of-scale environment.
Some of the benches are straightforward wooden affairs, some with dedications engraved into the top rail of the back. Others are simple; metal trestles that feel like something of an afterthought. Choice, I suppose. A variety of regular seating options for the leisure perambulator.
The side of the valley are as steep as I remember them though, even if they're mostly a little sparser tree-wise. Recent management is looking after the place. These were hills for rolling and tumbling down, either on our arses or in plastic fertiliser bags. You didn't need snow to go plaggy bagging.
It's always quieter here; most folks stick to the other end of the Hills where there's loos, stepping stones across the river, ducks to feed, and a cafe. A bridge every hundred yards or so. Opportunities for poohsticks galore, whether you're playing straightforward one-bridge rules or you've devised something of a river marathon between bridges.
Here, the water loops and whorls like a fingerprint round a blister. Someone's tried to dam the river, or else there's the remnants of a cairn. A lumpy pyramid of stones in the centre of the flow.
The path brings you out, over a bridge, naturally, into the more open, and usually busier part of the Hills. Again, the river is central, but here and there are points of interest. To the left, one of a couple of shelters. Roomy wood chalets for hiding out when waiting for showers to pass overhead. This one's got some fire damage to one of its front panels. To the right, the memorial to Annie Pahud. There used to be a working water fountain there, though nowadays it's been supplanted by a couple of more pedestrian standpipe kinda affairs.
There's supposed to be a ghost; a First World War soldier, a man from Stirling who served in the Black Watch. He'll be in uniform and will be walking a dog. There's no-one around matching that or any other description today. Maybe I'm the ghost.
The path leads on to the stepping stones; the water seems deeper here than it was when I was a kid. I'm sure the stones were only ever just under the surface. A recent-ish bridge next door offers a gentle slope for buggies and wheelchairs. There was nothing like that here in my day.
Out through the gates and into the third part of the Hills. Up the hill to the left and there's the cafe building and the adjoining Dog Kennel Farm. Beyond that, car parking areas and picnic trestles. Ahead, what's now a duck pond. It's busy in the daytime with toddlers hurling fistfuls of dry white sliced under slightly anxious supervision. The pond began its life as a reservoir to feed the mill downstream.
A run of benches. More Victorian/Edwardian in design, these ones, as befits the park's original opening. A metal sign with information about flora and fauna. A toilet block that's a heck of a lot more clean-looking that it ever was when I was little.
Outside, and over the road bridge that leads back out to Crowtree Lane. The footpath is on the left hand side of the water, the slim road on the right. A good place for awkward vehicle passing to be observed. The sharp incline up to the top path looms over. This was loose stone and soil in my day, but now gravity's held in check by fat pallet-sized cubes of granite hunks in steel mesh.
There are rabbits in the Anglian Water pumping station to the left. It's getting towards six, and I've still not seen anyone today. I'm still in shade, but up ahead, the rising sun is punching a hole into the day from the east; turning right and walking up Crowtree Lane past the eighteenth century mill house. Towards the gate into Westgate Fields and I have to squint to get by.
A fumble for sunglasses, and I'm out and on my way.
The Google Street View vehicle was able to get into the car park by the cafe. The picture's from May 2011.
Here's the updated map of bench locations visited to date.