Wednesday, 1 February 2012

"Swealing" ........burning off the old pasture grass in the fields at the beginning of spring.

Me in the fields in 1970
I dreamed about the Rossendale Valley the other evening.Stephen and I were standing looking at the old familiar hills and feeling that tug of the roots which are embedded in its soil. Our roots, the roots of our childhood, and the place where we lived until we moved on in the '70's after we were married. Stephen's first job being in Portsmouth. It felt like a very far off place from where we began our lives. We were talking in my dream about whether or not to move back to live in the area discussing where we would buy a house.We stood looking out at the hills that surrounded us, and acknowledged that, for us, it was timeless. We have climbed and walked most of them. I could recall the smell of the damp stone walls on wet days, and the feel of  clumpy spiky grass if you sat down to take a break and admire the views when the weather was kind. Why is it that in early childhood the summers always seemed to go on forever and the sun shone endlessly. It obviously would not be so, as Rossendale was the centre for the cotton industry because of it's damp climate. As we often say "When it rains, it rains!"     We never thought that we would ever move before we were married, both having been born there and went to the same grammar school, and for me, beginning my first job teaching in Crawshawbooth. So the dream ended, and as I woke there was an indefinable feeling of loss.
Lower Cribden side 1969
 Maybe it is because the Woodcroft story of our childhood was an age of innocence. It was a different era then, just after the end of the second World War. We didn't have a lot in the material sense, but our parents  gave us a secure environment. I never missed the tv because we didn't have one, nor a computer or telephone.
I loved to read and listen to the radio. My mother used to complain that I always had my head in a book! Until I discovered a propensity for drawing and painting, and I graduated to covering the attic plain plaster walls with various bits of "art" using little pots of paint!
Most of our other pastimes were outdoors. If it rained we played indoors with our friends. Endless games of Monopoly and Ludo, or Snakes and Ladders.        
 As it is, today, the first day in February, there is still an anticipation of winter finally slipping away. So it was when we all lived in Woodcroft. My bedroom window at 12 East Street was at the back. This, however, although it overlooked the mill roof, had a wonderful view of the woods where we all played. I knew which tree came into leaf first, as it was the whitebeam, the colour stood out. But in early February the trees would still have bare branches. Somehow our thoughts would turn to the next seasonal event in our childhood calendar...... "swealing" as it is known in Rossendale.....the burning of the old pasture grass by farmers, to make way for the new.        
Burning old grass in spring.  
How we anticipated going out to the fields and watching the fire crackle and take hold. There was the unique smell of the old grass as it succumbed to the flames. We used to help it along.......! Gathering clumps of tinder-dry grass and using them as torches.Stamping out flames with our shoes if it got out of hand! Our socks becoming filthy with sooty carbon!   The boys making crude torches to light with their matches, at which Health and Safety would be horrified today! Using their jackets to stop the flames spreading too fast. The smell, even now, if I come across a random  moorland ablaze, is so evocative. It signalled the end of winter. Spring was on its way and lighter nights, brighter mornings, and at some point there would be a change in the wind. It grew softer, and the early wild flowers came into bloom. Coltsfoots, and kingcups, (marsh marigolds), being amongst the first that we spotted, gathering them up to put in a jam-jar on a windowsill at home.     
So as the Woodcroft story is about to be finally finished and the dvd "Capturing History For the Next Generation" in the editing stage, I actually wish we could all just go back in time for one day, and see those fields, as they were, without all the new houses, play in the stream, wander the meadows and sledge down those streets! 
It was a very special childhood. (link to previous blog)