Monday, 2 December 2013


When my brother and I were children, we would quite often be taken for picnics during the summer months.  These would sometimes be on the Darland Banks, sometimes in what we called the Fallen Tree Field above Upnor, and sometimes just in the local park.  As well as the park having an area of fairly formal planting with lawns and flower beds, there was a bandstand and a large play area with swings, slides, see-saws etc.  Nothing that would get past today's Elf ‘n' Safety police, but to us children it was a wonderful playground.  The centre of the park was dominated by a large, circular patch of grass with trees at intervals around the edge.  I'm not certain just how big that grassy area was but it seemed enormous to my nine-years old self.  The paths were all surfaced with loose gravel and, outside the grass circle, there were informal areas of lawn and shrubs.  And it was one or another of those smaller, more secluded patches of grass that my mother always chose as the spot for our picnic.  Being the sort of child always to accede to a parent's wishes, I made no demur, but there was always a little bit of me that wanted to be with everyone else, to use one of those trees as a wicket for our game of cricket, to break out from the security of the small, enclosed area and go into the big, wide expanse of grass that looked so exciting.

But a picnic in the Fallen Tree Field was a real treat.  We would walk to the Jezreels, a major road junction about half a mile from our house, where we caught a bus to Chatham.  Here we had to change to another bus to take us onto the Isle of Grain and the small village of Chattenden.  From here there was a track leading downhill and, halfway to Upnor, we came to the field where we would picnic.  What the farmer or owner called the field, I have no idea.  We knew it as the Fallen Tree Field simply because there was a small copse and one tree right at the edge had been blown down.  It had been there so long that the bark had fallen off completely and the wood was pale and smooth.  All the branches had been cut off and the timber hauled away, so what remained was a superb, natural climbing toy for us children.

After our picnic we would continue down the track to Upnor for what was possibly an even greater treat - a boat ride across and along the River Medway to Sun Pier in Chatham.  Then it was back on the bus for the final part of the return journey.

It seems in memory that the sun shone every time and the water was deliciously cool as we trailed our fingers in the river.

Coincidentally, I have just discovered an intriguing connection between the Kentish village of Upnor and the city of New York.  In the days when we used to picnic above the river, there was moored at Upnor a sail training ship, the SS Arethusa.  Built in Hamburg, Germany, and originally named ‘Peking', she was one of the last generation of windjammers used in the nitrate trade and wheat trade around the often treacherous Cape Horn.  In 1932 she was sold to Shaftesbury Homes - known as 'The National Refuges for Destitute Children' for use as a training ship, many of the boys who passed through her making careers in the forces or merchant navy.  She was retired in 1975 and sold to Jack Aron, for the South Street Seaport Museum in New York City, where she is still moored as of 2013, although now in desperate need of reconditioning/renovation - or so I heard.  Here's a picture of her in 1934 that I have borrowed from a Mr Ingham.  I hope he doesn't mind.


joeh said...

I know the "Peking" well. I often surveyed it while visiting the seaport on my lunch hour.

Brighton Pensioner said...

I read that the ship needs a lot of work now, and there is talk of taking her back to Hamburg (where she was built).