It’s an odd title, don’t you think? Simple enough, but perhaps sufficiently esoteric to provoke the casual reader into thinking that it either has a deeper personal significance, or else the author hasn’t a bloody clue and is simple leading people up the garden path. Well, to be frank, both are equally true, but the former deserves a few words of explanation which I will do my best to limit.
My early years were spent in the Worcestershire village of Himbleton. It was not my place of birth. That dubious honour goes to St David’s Hospital in Carmarthen, Wales. A maternity unit that was subsequently turned into a residential care centre for the mentally ill. An asylum as it may be called. (Did I jump the queue I hear you think?)
No, my parents and I (not yet two years old) moved to this county idyll in 1958 and took up residence in Himbleton Vicarage, my father being the vicar of the parish and also rector of nearby Huddington. They were long, happy years to which my mind still wanders, and of which I am writing more and more in the way of memories for my family’s benefit.
Himbleton parish is watered in the north by Dean Brook, a tributary of Bow Brook, which it joins in the hamlet of Shell. Another tributary of Bow Brook called Little Brook forms part of the southern boundary. Bow Brook itself passes through the village of Himbleton, and (William) Habington (poet and historian 1606-1654) says of this parish, 'She is well watered yf not to muche in winter.' The parish is low in the valleys of these brooks. (Worcs. Historical Society 1913)
The Bow Brook, ever changing, was more than a geographical minor river to those of us growing up in that community. It was where we caught our first fish (of many? We dreamed and angled on. Sorry Mr Walton.) and where we floated our small model boats downstream. Where we discovered an old wooden punt and, laying in the dry water-meadows on a hot summer afternoon, wondered how we might re-float it and paddle away to discovered new lands. Where we felt the urge and the right to explore overgrown banks to the north and south of the village, getting stung by bees and nettles, and more than once being chased by riparian owners. It was the brook that flooded on many an occasion, cutting off the village school from all but two of us pupils. And also the place where a young girl wearing leg calipers on account of her polio took my six year old hand and promised that she would marry me.
The Bow Brook was our Amazon, our Nile and our Thames all rolled into one. And, after watching a war film about the River Kwai, the next day after school we wandered its banks looking for Japanese officers. And found none. But at the end of the day of playing, fishing, stalking, hunting (Japanese) and exploring the unknown reaches of this great water, never more than twenty-five feet in width, I would go home, often muddied and occasionally grazed and stung, to the Vicarage. Up that long hill. Neight Hill. Turn right at the top, passed the giant laurels, and be greeted by dog and geese. A hot bath was waiting.
That wonderful house was, and is, nearly two hundred feet above sea level with views from the north-west to the south-west. It was home, and a fulfillment of advice that my father gave to so many. Always strive to live at the top of the hill. That we did, all those years ago. We lived above the Bow Brook.