Many years ago, when the school was down in the village, it was the custom to take the older children on walks around the area studying the seasonal changes in the plant and animal world Moving up to the new school at Greenmere, gave us the chance to study a new area. So, one day, some fifteen children and one teacher, set out to climb Green Hill, which was not only a continuation of the high ground of Wittenham Clumps and Brightwell Barrow, but it lay directly north of the school.
Crossing the old High road, with its much lower density of traffic at that time, was no problem, Racing across was one of the highlights of the day, A thick hedge, double in places, grew beside the footpath which followed it all the way up the hillside. Climbing plants, old birds’ nests and rabbit holes in the hedge bottom were all noted.
On reaching the top of the hill, and turning to look back down onto the village below, was like viewing a sea of green, from all the orchards and trees with the occasional chimney stack showing through. On the left the Greenmere estate was almost completed, while on the right King’s Orchard was but a meadow with a few cows in. Blue in the distance were the rounded tops of the Berkshire downs, some eight miles away.
Most of the children hadn’t seen this view before. I think this was the only time when all the children stood perfectly still for fifteen seconds.
Before descending from the hilltop, the children were spaced out a short distance apart, right across the field, which had recently been harvested, and they were told to look among the corn stubble for the tiny flowers missed by the combine, such as the red scarlet pimpernel, the yellow field pansies, the white smelly mayweed, and anything else of interest.
A skylark might rise from the stubble, singing as it climbed. A flock of finches, lower down, could be searching for fallen grain. Also, a hare might be squatting in its form - a slight depression scraped out of the soil. With its long ears laid flat along it back and with its large eyes set high in its head, it will see you long before you see him. (In literature the hare is referred to in both masculine and feminine terms). If your direction was away from him, he would remain hidden, thinking you hadn’t seen him, which you undoubtedly hadn’t. But should you stop, or turn towards him, he will think he has been seen and will be up and away at a speed equalled only by the racing greyhound.
Back in the classroom, short notes would be written, sketches drawn, to be coloured later, flowers to be put in water, coloured stones washed, etc.
Then the day came when everything changed. The sound of a tractor ploughing on the hill could be heard. The small flowers were being buried under the plough, the rabbit was back in its hole, it hates newly ploughed land, it impedes its running. The skylark had gone, so too the finches; only the hare might remain sunning himself among the furrows.
Before leaving the hare, I should say, that in days of long ago, many of the older folk of the village believed that the hare was an animal by day, and a witch by night! poor thing. Was this a genuine belief? Or was it a ruse to get the younger children in from the meadows for an early bedtime? Probably both.
Leading westward from Mackney Lane is a short length of footpath. It once had a wide ditch beside it, and was overshadowed by tall hedges on either side. Few children would play along it after sunset. It was, and still is, known as Witches Walk.
Back at school, it wasn’t long before the anticipated question, or pleading arose, "When can we do that again?" Sadly, the answer had to be, "Not for a long time", as children’s shoes and a ploughed field, just don’t go well together.
First printed in The Villager (October/November 2006 edition)