WALK 7: MILTON FOLLY TO NEW COVERT
“To observe the city edge is to observe an amphibian. End of trees, beginning of roofs, end of grass, beginning of shops, the end of the beaten track, the beginning of the passions, the end of the murmur of things divine, the beginning of the noise of mankind.”
A relatively untouched area of the city sits beneath the Fletton Parkway and Orton Southgate. Saying untouched is perhaps misleading, as the area has clearly been used and re-used by man for farming and mining for centuries. An old Roman road called Ermine Street, even runs down one side of the area now subsumed by the A1 (M).
Presently, this northwesterly corner of the city contains a line of soft estate woodland, a small (fenced off) lake, Milton Folly, Alwalton hill, a few small coverts of woodland and a set of fields. The most dramatic elements of the area are the two man-made earth formations and a large area of hills and holes, which are the site of the disused Orton clay pits. Wildlife thrives in this area, and it is watched over by the odd bird of prey, that circles the hillocks and ponds.
Although the former Orton pits are protected as a site of special scientific interest, the rest of this piece of prime real estate, is marked out and fenced off ready for some future new development. The dividing lines of the fences increasingly make me wary of the impact of the rapid urban expansion. The unfinished or perhaps unfinishable suburbs reveal themselves like frontier towns, the families the prospectors in new lands.
In some sense these small acts of documentation through words, images and sounds, seems increasingly important. Three-quarters through the journey around Peterborough these blog posts reflect back to me the landscapes, inhabitants and their small histories, before they are moved on or erased forever.
It is common for walkers to experience fleeting glimpses or illusions of those who have passed through or occupied areas before. With modern housing developments, where the area is transformed so dramatically, it becomes increasingly difficult to see or experience the past reverberations of place. As I hurry through the suburbs of Hampton Vale, it is impossible for me to connect to the landscapes previous state, even though the area has been used and re-used for clay works since the Roman Times. This is perhaps due to our divided experiences and knowledge of any place.
The history and experience of a place are kept alive by the collective memory of its inhabitants, who tell and re-tell the stories of their lives lived out in their surroundings. The landscaped, homogenised town houses of Hampton, with their proximity to local schools, shops, green space and leisure activities are the ideal for many modern families. They in-turn will collect the stories of the lives of their inhabitants, but right now they are pretty empty and new. These areas cannot help to have an anodyne atmosphere and often aim to attain the removal of any negative urban forces. These include the possibility of being in proximity of the poor, of decay and of anything old. Generalising of course, but in general you are unlikely to find new homes filled with antiques and vintage furniture. Newness is in vogue from the cars on the driveways to the shiny fitted kitchens inside. Even Nature is carefully managed and landscaped so that it can be experienced in a simplistic and controllable way. There are few wild places, rambling gardens, graffiti or edgy parks here. This must make the rougher bordering edges seem even more appealing to the local children and teenagers and there is a degree of evidence of impromptu gatherings, camp fires, graffiti and broken bottles in the hidden woods and flooded brick pits. I wonder how many adults secretly dream of wandering off from their landscaped paths and patches of paneled off gardens.
Again here, right next to the new development, there is historical evidence of families sleeping rough, their abandoned belongings now disintegrating in a small wooded area. Children’s toys, cans, blankets and electrical goods are semi-camouflaged by a thin covering of moss. An array of rusting shopping trolleys from the nearby super-sized Tesco at Serpentine Green, can be found abandoned near to the open fields and the DPD depot. I realise that the trolleys have been used to ferry food from the supermarket and driven off-road into the wood for the family or families that took shelter there. I count nearly twenty shopping trollies.
Is this the vision the town planners and original development corporation had for the integration of homes, facilities and green space? ‘Where man and god can be equal’ (The Peterborough Effect: Reshaping a City) These out of place objects and people reflect the harsh realities of our rapidly expanding population.
Our routes and paths to work, shop or home are our prison yards, marked out for us for life. We travel along the concrete paths often even in our free time through countryside parks or cycling along the Green wheel. Perhaps we are frightened that if we stray from the paths, we will become lost or more frightening still that we will like the wild places we find so much we will no longer want to return.