Bench 153: Watts Lane Playing Field

I haven't been down here for over thirty years. Less than ten minutes from home, and this is a trip back three decades in time.

Watts Lane is off Newmarket. You take a turn between the little Londis shop that used to have a post office on one side, and the new development (Co-op minimart, pharmacy, a fish and chip shop that's just about to open) where Brown's car showroom used to stand. The chippy is advertising for staff. You have to email a bloke your CV.

The lane is narrow, tight. It's unadopted; somehow it's fallen between the cracks of local government responsibility around here. That means that the road surface is a mess. An asphalt crumble topping. Doubtless this causes chuntering among the residents. I'd grumble too if I was paying full whack on the council tax and road fund and getting less than a nominal service.

That said, what the Lane loses in amenity, it gains in character. Admittedly, the initial greeting is a touch on the terse side. A "No Through Traffic" sign intimates on my first reading that this is a dead end and through travel isn't possible. This is, of course, bunk. Take a left at the bottom of the road into Mount Pleasant Avenue and there you go. It's a long way round and not comfortable if you're on or inside a wheeled conveyance, but it's possible nevertheless. A re-read; an alternate meaning. No through traffic is welcome. A local road for local people. Why be you here, stranger?

A second sign. "Cycle thieves. We are watching you." On the one hand, a warning to would-be bike-nappers that the curtain-twitchers are on to your Sturmey Archer cravings. On the other hand, the sign might mean that cycle thieves live here and are on the lookout for easy pickings from those freewheeling fools who've turned into the road less travelled.

I'm on foot. I hope that this means I don't present a threat to the residents. A hitch of the straps on my daysack, and down Watts Lane I go.

The houses are a mixed bunch; Victorian cottages and newer homes, mostly bungalows. That higgledy-piggledy sense of the seaside. It's long been my contention that different planning rules apply the closer you get to the sea. Once on each side of the road, a cut-through into newish housing estates. To the left, the Robinson Lane development; a former nursery and market garden turned to residential use. Take the path here and you'l come out on the other side onto Mount Pleasant, and only a few yards from Bench 10 on Little Lane. The one to the right links you through to Alexander Drive and on from there to Bench 13 on Stewton Lane. These are new paths, fresh routes across the town that didn't exist when I was young.

Watts Lane is busy. It's a Friday morning and schools have broken up for summer. A stream of pedestrians, mostly to-ing and fro-ing from the new Co-op. Hellos are exchanged with a couple who, judging by their swinging empty jute bags, are off to do their shop.

The entrance to the park is down a slim path bordered on both sides by high hedges. I've got no memory of this; only that it's down here somewhere. It's not really wide enough for two people to pass unless you don't mind a bit of tummy-to-tummy contact on the way past. I'm two-thirds of the way down and the next person to come out of the park towards me has decided not to risk it. She hangs back, jogs a bit on her toes, swigs from one of those water bottles with handles. An exchange of slightly self-conscious smiles and I'm into the playing area.

When I was young, Watts Lane was a scrubby place. A feral set of swings. There might have been a slide; I'm a bit hazy on that. A pair of football goalposts. It always felt every so slightly uneasy being there.

The playing field is a bright, open place. It's a an overcast humid day, but the pewter sky and the gelid air don't take the tarnish away. The grassed area isn't as big as I remember it, but there's a well-kept vibe to the set-up. A newish fenced-off set of playground equipment. Everything looks in decent nick. A dog-walker in the distance. No children playing, but on the bench there's a young woman who's got a travel mug and a pram.

I leave them to it. No point disturbing them for a photo of the bench. I mean, what kind of person would do such a thing?

The path cuts through and out the other side. Another entrance/exit point. This must be Spire View Road. As St James' church dominates the western skyline here, pretty much every street in Louth could be called "Spire View Road"; inspiration must have been running particularly low the day they came up with that gem. Nevertheless, I take the path to see where it goes.

There, I have a brief chat with a fella walking his dog. The dog's called Merlin and is very excitable. Spire View Road leads out onto Wood Lane, not far from Bench 14. Merlin and his owner go off home. I turn and go back through the playing fields. The infant in the pram's being spoon-fed something from a plastic pot.

I walk back up Watts Lane. Another exchange of pleasantries, this time with a woman with a carrier bag of shopping. It's good to see folk using the cut-throughs to get to and from. And this is an altogether friendlier lane than the signs might have you believe.

The completist in me will want to come back and grab a couple of snaps of the bench when it's quiet. Good. Thirty years is too long. Just because you haven't got a reason to go somewhere isn't in itself a reason not to.


This is as close as Google Street View will get you from the Watt's Lane entrance to the park. Here's the Spire View Road entrance. Both images are from June 2009.

And here's the updated map to date.

Eamonn Griffin

Field notes for a personal geography of a Lincolnshire market town. You can find me here on Twitter: @eamonngriffin and also here:

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