Return to Dr Barnardo's

Return to Dr Barnardo's

10th March 2024

I didn’t expect my brief trip to Exeter to hit me with such an emotional sucker punch.

Going back to the place that I spent the four happiest years of my childhood in a Dr Barnardo’s home called The Quarries.

I walked from the centre of town across the new bridge trying to figure out how to negotiate the ugly pedestrian subways to get to Cowick Street. Then the walk along that ordinary street of old-fashioned shops, until I got to the Methodist Church that I went to every Sunday for four years, then up Dunsford Hill, surprisingly affluent, to the green, and the old tree the older kids used to hold me against while they punched me, then zigzagging up steep hills of bungalows – all so well-tended.

It struck me that the residents had grown old in them, tending their gardens, tucked away on these steep Exeter Hills with little comprehension of what had been happening in the rest of the country, until I found myself near The Quarries, I couldn’t go up the old remembered driveway, so I went on to Barley Lane and was delighted to see the wild primroses that I remembered for my youth. Then, yes, I did go up that old driveway and there at the top was “The Big House” exactly as it always was – now a residential care home. There were building works going on, so I took a chance on walking around the back of the Big House to see if everything was still there, and it was. SO much smaller than I remembered, I walked towards Feltrim the name of the cottage that I had been in, as I walked past the other cottages Reed and Clifton over the little circle of gravel, I remembered little Mary and Colin with their white, blond hair playing there. I managed to get to the end of the grass – and stood shocked looking at Feltrim. It was exactly the same. It brought back such vivid memories, I could see the window to the playroom, where I hid in the lockers when I first arrived, terrified. I began to cry, I looked up at the window of my old bedroom, where I used to line all my dolls up on the window ledge, and at the little cloakroom where I built a makeshift dolls house. The Kitchen, and finally the little shed-like building where I kept those ill-fated mice. I wasn’t prepared for the memories, tears streamed. There was an old lady mowing the grass and I was aware that I was trespassing. So, I began to walk back and there on the way – I passed the caretakers shed – where he used to keep potatoes etc and would warn us of rats if we went in! I remembered him standing there with Toby the dog I had rescued from being tied to a post and left by someone – he must have been a small man as the door was tiny! And then I walked slowly back down the lane.

I silently thanked Dr Barnardo’s, but particularly The Quarries for saving me, healing that little traumatised six-year-old, who had been treated not much better than a dog. What an amazing environment to have spent four years of my childhood in. The tears would not stop – I felt such a connection to that girl, I saw her again and inhabited her skin clearly for the first time in a way that no therapy session ever let me. I re-claimed her. I went back for her. I rescued her. I grieved for her. I celebrated her.

I loved her.

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