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Recollections of Barwick-in-Elmet

Leafy places and other pretty things

Barwicker No. 21

March 1991

LEAFY PLACES AND OTHER PRETTY THINGS In many parts of the country, common footpaths and rights of way are being lost, largely because of big business taking over agriculture and lack of interest by the local population. A favourite walk used to be to follow the beck from Potterton Lane to Ass Bridge on Aberford Lane but when I followed that route 20 years ago I was disgusted to have to make my way over barbed wire fences and gates with padlocks. The stiles in the hedgerows, which I remember so well from my courting days, have long been destroyed. I knew that walk not only from the fact that much of it was through our land but also from the exciting things there.

The approach was often via the high bank above Potterton Hill, where people used to sit to look over the fields, but now rigidly fenced off and 'out of bounds'. Then through the white poplars, ash (Anemone nemorosa) and wild garlic (Allium species) which you smelled, sometimes, before you saw it. There were otters and water voles in the beck and herons and other water birds. In such a setting there could also be unexpected delights.

One sunny, Sunday afternoon, when I was about 17, I was walking across the pasture by the beck with 'Longy' Illingworth who was a few years my senior. 'Longy' - so named because of his physique - was never called by his proper name, which indeed I cannot remember, lived in Leeds Road and had already established himself as a fast bowler in the Barwick Cricket Team. In a bend where the stream widened to create a pleasant, shallow pool, we saw a white towel on a post and a black Labrador dog lying on the grass nearby. Almost immediately a beautifully-shaped girl stepped from the pool, slipped off her green bathing costume and dried herself, with only the dog, she thought, to see. Then in the same state of innocence, naked and beautiful as one of those wild anemones, she delighted us with five or more minutes of physical exercises before donning her two brief undergarments and a light, summer dress, and departing happily across the field. To avoid embarrassment on both sides we had managed to move behind some bushes before she left.

I knew the 'water nymph' but she never knew how well I had known her. She was beautiful but I never knew her name. She had a lovely smile and must have been a nice person from her passing, 'Good afternoon. Isn't it a lovely day?' It was said she lived with an aunt and uncle in the village and had a job in Leeds. She had a boy friend who used to visit her in Barwick at week-ends and one day she disappeared from us into a state of matrimony. She was the most delightful 'trespasser' who ever came into our pasture.

It was a lovely, little corner of Barwick and Eric and Ernest must have often seen otter, fox and badger, as I did there, in the mornings. Eric Campbell was about six feet two in height and I got the impression that he had suffered some illness or injury before his outdoor way of life. I never knew him to do any work. 'Ernie', whose surname I cannot recall, was the younger and spent less time in Barwick, presumably being occupied in Leeds. They were a bit of a mystery but well-known and liked in the village.

One of our fields, which adjoined the churchyard and had a gateway opposite the Reeds in Potterton Lane, had a unique profusion of wild flowers. Up to 1930 it had been the village football field and contained a great expanse of the beautiful Autumn crocus, which I believe to be Crocus nudiflorus, which flowers after late summer when the leaves have died down. Nowhere else in Britain have I seen this flower grow so profusely in the wild. It is not to be confused with the so-called 'Autumn crocus', Colchicum autuana le , which is a member of the Lily family. I wonder if any are still there.

William Prince

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