Alley to the Past came out of today’s #writephoto offering from KL Caley at New2Writing.com. I felt like I’d walked down this alley before. After a couple of days, I worked out where it was in my memory, and set to for a 1000 word short story…
Alley to the Past
“It’s telling me to go up here.”
Richard and his satnav. I’d known as soon as we looked at the map, and cross-checked with what.three.words, that we were heading to this location. I was just surprised it was still here.
There’d been a downpour as we drove under the bridge at the start of the village. The road was quickly impassable, and we’d turned into a walled enclosure that looked like the car park as indicated. I’d pulled on my wellies, stored in the car’s boot as always. Richard had tucked his trousers in his socks and strode on in his hiking boots.
The road through the narrow street was unmade, which surprised me. Cobbles, yes, but most places like this would have been tarmacked years ago. I didn’t remember cobbles on the way to the yard, but still…
The place looked busy enough. When I was a kid the youngsters would hang about, hoping to scrounge a penny for a bun off the town girls who came to help with the ponies. I spent all my weekend time here, mucking out, cleaning tack, grooming the ponies, then riding them bareback down to the field after the lessons had finished.
It was still a time when ponies would be tied up in stalls, or in this case, three to a loose box. Only the hunters would get the benefit of any loose time, and that would be after the ponies had vacated the one they’d been in all day. My favourite was Little Joe, a bay gelding about 13 hands high. I grew out of him far too quickly, and graduated to Beth, a chestnut mare with a quick temper who liked me about as much as I liked her. Not a lot. She just about tolerated me grooming her. Riding her bareback to the field was a recipe for disaster. I usually slid off before we got to the road and walked her back. She was okay with that. Come to think of it, surely the road was tarmacked then?
“Well, this is certainly different. Come and look, Annie.”
I turned out of the neatly cobbled alley and looked at the yard. Richard stood in the middle, holding his phone in the palm of his hand, gazing about him in the now beautiful sunshine. Fickle weather in this part of Yorkshire.
“Good grief.” I gazed on the scene in front of me with a mixture of admiration and fear. How could this be so… perfect? “They’ve restored it beautifully. It used to be a riding stable, with hunters at livery, but it’s been restored to some sort of brewery, hasn’t it? I wonder if they have Clydesdales now?”
I stepped towards the stables to check. Richard followed me, tapping away at his phone.
“Come on…” I heard him mutter. Must be a bad signal.
I poked my head into the stable. Dark, as it always was, with just the high level slats for ventilation. A large grey shape loomed in front of me. Rear end of something hunter-like. Almost a carriage horse, really. I kept my distance from the hooves and wandered along the row. To my surprise there were no boxes at all, just rows of stalls, wooden barriers with ornate iron railings and a post at this end. Buckets, not feed bins. I continued through a door into another row of stalls. This had been accessed from the other yard when I was there, with the tack room in between. This row was lighter, more openings onto the yard, and wider stalls. I thought stalls were completely frowned upon these days, but maybe they got away with it for Victorian authenticity.
I walked out onto the yard. It was definitely being used as a brewery. Barrels lined up on the far side, marked Black Dog, which was not a brew I was familiar with. I pointed them out to Richard, who ambled over.
“Oi, what’you doin’?”
It was a loud voice, full of deep Yorkshire twang. I hope Richard would not copy him, or go into his upper class twit voice, both of which would be just awful.
“Just visiting. Looking for a caching clue.”
“There be no cashing clew around here, it’s private property, and you’ll be pleased to leave straight way.”
Richard was about to argue, so I stepped in. “Sorry about that, we must have been misled. Genuine error. Didn’t realise you were in production. I knew this place when I was small, had hunters then.” I backed off, pulling Richard’s arm. ‘Leave it,’ I hissed.
“Hunters? Ain’t been no hunters here since 24 when the old Duke died. Master Robert got hisself killed at Waterloo. But you’d be too young to know him.” He eyed us, looking at our clothes. Good country clothes, suitable for autumn walking and wet weather.
He was dressed in Victorian garb. I started to feel a bit strange. He was either a good actor, or we’d stumbled into something I didn’t want to know about.
“Come on Richard, let’s go.”
I pulled him away and virtually frogmarched him down the alley.
“What on earth…”
“Shut up, Richard, just get back to the car.”
All around me things were falling into place. The houses were nearly new, the cobbles fresh, not just from the rain. The children with their pinafores and boots, when they had shoes at all. The hoops being batted about, the sticks being dragged along the iron railings in the street… The trees in full leaf… no cars, but plenty of horse dung, sheep dung… no electricity or telephone poles, no barbed wire. No notices in the car park. No meters.
The car was there. I fell into it. Richard had got a touch of urgency now, too. He started the engine, reversed out of the gate and headed for the bridge.
Another sudden downpour hit us as we went underneath it, and out on the other side we gazed at the autumn colours of the Yorkshire Dales. Richard pulled over, and stared at the scenery.
His phone beeped.
We never spoke of that day again. And I never saw the alley of my youth again, either.
© J M Pett 2023