Hidden world behind the houses

You’re walking down this suburban street. Technically it’s a village: it has a village green and an old church. But it’s attached to a city ­– there’s no countryside in between; so I think it’s fair to say it’s a suburb. It has a good bus service.

Anyway, you’re walking past these suburban-type houses, and suddenly there’s a track off to the right. It goes between a couple of the houses, and there’s an old down-at-heel notice that says you can get to the river that way.

You give it a shot. You’ve been in lockdown, and you need the exercise. 

A hundred yards down, there’s an old brick bridge – a rail bridge – and beyond it, round the bend, a house on its own. It looks abandoned, but it’s not. Old wood of various kinds is stacked up on one side, and on the other side are several vehicles the worse for wear. The house has two doors and two numbers – 1 and 2. There is a dim light in one of the rooms.

Another couple of hundred yards beyond the house there is a second rail line, but this one has a gated crossing. You open the gates, check that no trains are coming, and walk over. There is no sign of a river. Not yet.

The track continues. On the right are marshes, and a couple of very muddy paths – neither of them passable without a small boat. This should be beautiful country, but instead it seems dirty, with skeleton trees in the middle distance looking dystopian rather than stunning, and ditches brimming with unhealthy-looking water. There is no sun: the sky is heavy.

Eventually a very narrow path leads down to the river. It simply stops when it gets there, giving a river frontage of only a foot or two. On one side is a dilapidated dwelling, scruffy fencing and a large sign reading Private. On the other is a boatyard, apparently closed for the off-season. A few tired boats are moored nearby. The river is quite wide, and empty.

You return to the rail crossing and find a young family apparently train-spotting. The smallest child opens the gate for you, and you thank him. On the other side of the track a cyclist is coming through. You return by a side path, past a cemetery and, as you near a neater civilisation, a local Scout headquarters. 

You have lived within three miles of this hidden, layered world for more than 35 years without knowing it is there. You return to the car and drive home.