A town should be capable of expanding into the furthest reaches of a child's imagination. It should have places with strange names and strange places with names that have to be asked after but, even then, might not be so easily found. They should have oddities and relics and hidden places that don't get as much sunlight as they should. The landmarks of everyday routine provide a sense of security but attachments can come from strangeness as well. Behind our street runs Shoemakers Way. It is narrow and undisciplined, well-shaded and bordered on one side for much of its length by a tall stone wall. On the other side, creating the sensation of being squeezed, there are huggable trees whose trunks multiply before stomping into the gritty ground. In places, roots revolt back up through the path. Their ribbing of the surface makes it difficult for anything with wheels. When it rains heavily, the lane turns into a weakly trickling stream thirsting to reach its larger destination. Houses ebb and flow, offering glimpses of back gardens that feel somehow illicit despite being unavoidable. The question is this: who are the Shoemakers? The answer might take many forms and it's hardly for me to say too much.
Further up the hill, where the southern edge of the town rises to meet the fields, is a pathway called Dark Entry. One of the town's first lines of defence against encompassing nature, its name suggests a form of transportation, the secret of which you might read about in an old book. Or maybe the name denotes the home of who-knows-what, probably something unnatural and possibly something unpleasant. Trees and other things growing irresistibly have crumbed an old wall and at certain points branches come close to forming a canopy over the path. The trees' fingers can almost reach a row of back gardens and perhaps the plan is to drag them over the path, thus wiping out Dark Entry.
The doocot tombs out of public gardens close enough to the railway that rubble might obstruct trains pulling out of the nearby station if gravity were to win an unlikely victory. The gardens are well-maintained and dignified by memorial beds, some of which are oval-shaped like a bath sunk into the ground and filled with soil. They have their new life every year but their existence is one of intangible subservience to the dense aura of the doocot. Pigeons can often be spotted on the top as though they were soldiers standing sentry at a war memorial. The entrance for us having been closed who-knows-when, the space inside is uniquely for the birds now. They gain access by gliding avian-smooth through one of five rectangular portals near the top of the structure that are black with glimpses of hidden darkness.
The silence inside the thick sandstone walls, when not disturbed by flapping wings, must be heavy and condensed like the silence inside a church or the silence created by snowflakes falling big as rabbit tails. A tree stands to one side, its strong trunk curved irresistibly towards the doocot so that its green foliage smoothes the grey stone like long hair spread on a pillow. It's only right that the slow escape from the ground should be an exhausting one. If an old competition is being played out then the balance of fortunes is unclear, the outcome always pending: stone can't snap wood, leaf can't completely cover stone. The doocot holds great potential for mystery because it is so obviously without modern function and therefore so obviously old. It's a solemn emissary from a place of forgotten human knowledge and the birds remember the greeting so the prize is theirs.
If you go up through the woods at Rosemount Park, the path eventually lassoes a clearing. There are houses nearby but their presence is barely detectable. In any case, this space has known stone structures for centuries. A Carmelite friary once stood here but all that remains is the hard outline of the building underfoot: its first stones are also its last. This is one of the places where the town feels furthest away – it could very well be that it never existed – and you have to wonder if the trees and air have retained through the centuries the serenity of whispered prayers. Standing there you can let your mind repose and sink through time, past even the remains of the friary, until all the stone and brick ever assembled dissolves, leaving only triumphant green and brown. The birds high up in the trees might know something about the potential of this place because they seem to sing louder here than anywhere else.