Running from Ghosts

Just a short entry to keep things bubbling along whilst I work on a ‘War and Peace’ sized item about Mile Cross pubs…

Anybody who went to the Dowson Junior or Mile Cross Middle schools will probably remember the fabled cross-country course. It was situated behind Sloughbottom Park and on what is now the Marriott’s Way. We’d run from the School field on the opposite side of Bowers Avenue (more on the schools later), through the corner of Sloughbottom Park, up and down through a storm drain, along an abandoned railway and through a bit of woodland recently killed off by May and Baker’s pollution. There’s a reason why Mile Cross kids had a reputation for being hard little so and so’s…

The first obstacle we’d encounter was known as the ‘Big Dipper’, which basically meant running through a gap in the fence and into (and back out of) the storm drain. This storm drain appears from the ground near Sweetbriar Indutrial estate and runs along, behind the park, behind the Council Recycling Centre (The tip) and Anderson’s Meadow before depositing all its oily surface run-off water into the Wensum, just behind the new Aldi (former Wickes site). It was full of oil, water, rubbish and god-knows-what, and it was advisable to jump over, rather than run through it. The second obstacle we’d encounter would be to run down another steep hill and onto the former M&GN trackbed. This wasn’t the neatly-trimmed path we know now, but the remains of a railway that had only recently had the sleepers removed. It was overgrown, full of nettles and was often littered with the burnt-out wrecks of stolen cars (the 1980’s was blighted by ‘joyriding’). We’d travel West along the old track-bed before taking a right at the Sweetbriar Road bridge and into the next obstacle: A dead, hilly bit of woodland, full of dead Silver Birch trees – reeking of chemicals – which then lead us back into Sloughbottom Park through another hole in the fence.

A couple of stories stick in my mind from the Cross Country run:

My schoolmate at the time: Billie (William) took a tumble down the big-dipper and broke his hip. For reasons unknown to me, his mother quickly appeared on the scene with a rickety, old push-chair which was used as a makeshift stretcher to wheel him back across Sloughbottom Park and off to the hospital; the agonised moans coming from his mouth as he was bounced across the grass in that pushchair (that was far too small for him) still stick in my mind and to this day and I often wonder where he is now.

The ‘Big Dipper’:

MXdipper

The other thing that has stuck with me is that we kids always thought that the abandoned railway was haunted by the ‘Ghost train’ and we would always have an eye over our shoulders as we ran towards Sweetbriar bridge. Little did I know at the time that the Ghost Train theory has some form. Many people have claimed to have heard steam trains running through here years after the tracks were lifted. Being the scientific man that I am now, I have no time for superstition or ghosts; however a couple of years ago both my son and I both heard what we thought was a Steam locomotive powering through the valley and off towards Hellesdon from our house overlooking the valley. I’m still sceptical, but it was food for thought seeing as we both heard it. I keep telling him there’s a rational explanation for everything, yet I still cannot explain (to myself) what we heard that day. Anyway…

This leads me nicely on to another fascination of mine: History mixed with photography; or a technique known as ‘Ghosting’. I’ll source an old photograph of something that interests me and then go and stand in the very same spot to take the picture again. I’ll then merge the two images together in Photoshop to create a ‘Ghost’ or window into the past. A couple of years ago I decided to couple this idea up with another fascination of mine: Railway Heritage, which can be linked directly back to me growing up next to (and running along parts of on my Cross Country course) an abandoned railway line – The M&GN – which funnily enough, runs (ran) from Norwich City Station, behind Sloughbottom Park and through to Hellesdon and beyond… Hopefully it all now begins to make sense.

Mile Cross Road Bridge and a ‘Ghost Train’:MXghost1

Sweetbriar Bridge and a Ghost train:MXghost2

This fascination has gotten out of hand over the last few years, causing me to be one of the main protagonists in a group you may have heard of called: ‘FONCS’ (Friends of Norwich City Station) and also spurring me on to form the larger group known as the ‘NRHG’ (Norfolk Railway Heritage Group) who now work directly with Norfolk County Council and are increasingly considered as experts in our field. We now run groups of volunteers working all over the county. It just goes to prove what amazing things can happen if you show a little interest in your surroundings.

Links to both of the above-mentioned groups can be found on this blog over to the right (or below if you’re viewing on a phone or tablet).

If you’d like to see the full album of my popular ‘M&GN Ghosts’ they can be found by clicking me.

The original story about the ‘Big Dipper’ can be found by clicking this link.

Thanks once again for reading,

Stu

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