There and back again
There’s something about being in uncharted territory – your neural pathways are open, your synapses crackling as you navigate the new. I’m sure I can’t be alone when I say that I love the feeling of being a bit lost within reach of home, finding the new in the familiar. As the January gloom has descended and life with the Omicron variant continues its Groundhog day sameness, I’ve sought out the new in footpaths and lanes in the valley, coming to realise that I don’t really know where I live. I’ve noticed every incline, each curve and dip of a road or path, where the water collects, where the trees rise up on the horizon.
I’ve set out with the dog, walking over fields, slippery with mud, seeing fieldfares rise up in a cloud, a thrush in a bare-branched elder. I’ve heard robins singing from the flailed hawthorn, ewes calling to their lambs on a hill that looks like a child’s drawing, its pleasing curves drenched in watery sun. I’ve noticed the clear water gushing down the farm track, the slippery brown algae below making it look like a rock pool and threatening to take my feet out from under me. I’ve seen buzzards wheeling and mewing, looking for quarry, a farmer on a quad bike who waves his rollie at me in greeting – until the third time of passing.
I’ve discovered a series of little stone medieval bridges straddling the river Creedy along the length of the valley, stopping to marvel at a collection of gnomes, like wayside offerings, on the bridge at Brembridge. I realise, as I pass Priorton Barton Farm, Brembridge Farm, and see Dowrich Farm on the hill, just how deep in farming country we are. I’ve walked between Upton Hellions and Allerdown, finding myself in East Village, realising that the view is totally new as I look back along the valley for familiar landmarks.
And then on Friday morning Calum and I walked down to Crediton Station from Sandford in the mist and dank, Calum exhibiting a city dweller’s frustration as we stop to talk to dog owners and neighbours and an over-excited puppy bounces muddy paws on his white trainers. As we walk through the town, we peer up previously unnoticed alleys and climb up steps, just to see where they go. But Calum has a train to catch, so in the end we walk the straightest route, along the Exeter Road.
There is something about going against the flow; about being on foot when you’d usually be in a car. You can smell the exhaust, feel the tremble of HGVs, the slap of tyres on tarmac, the press of the noise; noticing, when there’s a gap in the traffic, what sort of day it is, in the quiet between. We listen to the sound of the birds, the drip of condensation from the trees as the sun burns through the mist.
We stop to look at the deserted buildings, imagining their pasts and wondering about their futures. There’s a sense of two eras colliding; it’s easy to imagine the buzz of activity at the deserted Norrington’s building, carts rumbling past it up the slope towards the town, cattle and sheep being shepherded up the hill to market on the High Street. We notice the long line of Norrington’s cob wall, the modern housing development nudging up against it; the way the building narrows to an impossibly acute angle. We marvel at the ivy suckling its windows, straining, on tip-toes, to peer past the limp nylon curtains into the dusty, abandoned rooms. At the white house we watch the sun catching the elegant balustrades through the arch window, imagining the garden filled with hollyhocks and rows of cabbages, the owner leaving off their digging to lean on the iron railings to chat with a passerby.
When we reach the station we discover the Station Tea Room. We push open the door, hovering, masked, in the doorway. “Can we come in?” we ask Dominic and Roger, working at a table. “Of course”, they reply, smiling.
The room is warm and welcoming, vibrant, colourful. Sun streams through the window. I embarrass Calum by going about exclaiming at the colourful mural, the table centres, celebratorily-covered chairs, the shelves of plants, crafts and upcycled treasures for sale. A birthday cake, candles alight, is carried into the adjacent room where a group is meeting. We listen, smiling, to the hum of approval, the chorus of ‘happy birthday!’ Members of the group come in and out of the room, greeting Dominic and Roger warmly as they pass – there’s an atmosphere of inclusivity and creativity. It’s uplifting just being there. We eat toasties and drink tea and keep an eye out for Calum’s train through the window.
I’m very much behind the curve, but I learn that the Turning Tides project took over the lease of the station tea rooms in 2018. Founded on the principle that everyone has the right to equal access to music, the arts and life, the project aims to make this a reality for people with ‘learning disability’ or ‘autism’ labels. They do this by offering music, art, sports, socials and events as well as offering catering and gardening services, work experience and training. The tea rooms are also home to an offshoot of the Crediton Repair Cafe run by Sustainable Crediton, a Repair Cafe for sewing and electrical/computer repairs, and musical instrument tuning. I’m excited to have discovered it and all its possibilities, especially in a month that is notorious for its limitations. But then that’s what happens when you can slow down and look around, you unearth all kinds of treasures.
To find out more about Turning Tides or to get involved, as a participant or volunteer check out their website.
Crediton Station Tea Rooms are open 10:00am to 2:00pm Tuesday to Saturday.