Benches 143 - 152: Westgate Fields
But I'm back out of Hubbard's Hills, headed for home, and I'm messing with the gate that leads from the far end of Crowtree Lane into Westgate Fields.
I've just stuck some sunglasses on my face but the early morning light is way too bright for my lenses. I'm squinting and so I'm not really paying full attention to the matter in hand. The gate, that is. Once I fathom that it's a push rather than a pull mechanism, things start to gel. A stretch of a step over a bottomless-looking puddle, and I'm in.
It's six-o'clock on a Thursday morning. Shadows reach as far back as yo' mama's memories. Overnight raindrops sparkle ahead. Even the bins look good. It's shaping up to be a pretty decent day.
Westgate Fields is bordered by Crowtree and Love Lanes. It's at the western end of Westgate. The Lud runs to its south. The Fields were formerly private closes of land, and only became civic property as recently as 1936. Cait Green reports that notwithstanding this, there'd long been a public path through what's now the Fields; you can see pedestrians taking their constitutionals through here on Willliam Brown's Panorama, for example.
Love Lane, linking Crowtree Lane and Westgate, presumably got its name from its relative seclusion at the far end of town. A place for trysting. It could have been a lot worse, names-wise.
There's a sign-cum-map spelling out what's on offer, similar to its sister information boards in Hubbard's Hills. I'm promised seven benches, though there's three offset to the right that aren't on the map. We'll call it ten.
To some extent the Fields were a childhood disappointment; open and relatively plain, with the river tucked away more-or-less out of sight, the place offered less in the way of play potential than the altogether more exciting and varied Hubbard's Hills. Still, we made the most of it. Great chunks of my childhood were of the out-till-dusk variety. A time when as long as you were home by dark and you hadn't got arrested, there weren't too many questions asked. Of course, being country kids, the kind of trouble we'd get into was fairly tame. Gangsta it wasn't.
The path drops away pleasingly. I remember Westgate Fields as being freewheeling territory back in my bike ride days. More benches than there used to be, with a neat bit of extra-wide paving at each stopping-off point. The path used to be comically thin, a strip of asphalt that was all camber and no grip. Improvements have been made.
Now and again, an arty interlude. A series of giant wooden sculptures of leaves. They've been here about a decade and are weathering nicely.
To my extreme left, the first person I've seen since leaving the house over an hour earlier. A woman and her pet dog. She's got one of those plastic ball-throwing things for hounds, loaded for use. We're far enough away from each other not to have to bother with morning pleasantries. We pretend we've both got the park to ourselves.
The Fields slope north-south. Each close is still bordered off by a run of trees. The effect is a series of natural ampitheatres; occasionally there are outdoor concerts and the like staged here that make precisely this sort of use. Ball games and picnics in the summer; sledges (the more makeshift the better) in the winter if there's any snow that holds. No shop, no toilets, no parking to speak of. Just the way it should be.
Further on, my first jogger of the day. He's got a dog with him too. Good to see him killing two birds. We're both on the path so there's no escaping the murmured good mornings as we pass each other. He seems a bit irked that an interloper's got the audacity to be here. The assumption is that he's here six-ish every morning and likes the place pretty much to himself. Ah well. Still, there's something pleasant out here in the way that the English manage to be unfailingly civil to one another until about eight am. You're on your own after then.
There used to be a shelter up in the apex of the Crowtree Lane/Love Lane junction bit of the Fields, but I can't see it there. Maybe it's gone. Perhaps I've misjudged its positioning and I've already passed it. No matter.
The gate at the Westgate exit is a mirror of its partner at the other end of the path. Again, awkward puddles to navigate. Another runner; this one's doing mini time-trial sprints up Love Lane. I leave him and his inevitable FitBit to it.
The sun's now properly up. Out into Westgate, and back along that street headed for home. I've an hour or so before I need to leave for work, so maybe I'll have time to make a start on typing up these notes.
Here's Westgate Fields as seen from the Love Lane/Westgate junction, thanks to Google Street View. The image is from May 2011.
Then updated map is here.