(I suppose this is a kind of “Extra”, such as you get on DVDs after the main feature has finished. A couple of matches I attended this season, but didn’t write about at the time.)
Bedfordshire v Hertfordshire, Bedford School, July 2013
Derbyshire 2nd XI v MCC YC, Belper Meadows, August 2013
“Dr. Johnson remarked that if he had no reference to posterity he would spend his life driving briskly in a post-chaise with a pretty woman, and, never minding the company of pretty women, there are few more enjoyable ways of spending the English summer in peace-time than riding briskly about the country in trains and cars from one cricket ground to another. To be sure an object beyond the mere watching of cricket is necessary lest eternal contemplation lead to surfeit, to spiritual malaise and dissatisfaction …” Dudley Carew, from ‘To the Wicket’ (1946)
I think that you would have to watch cricket professionally for there to be any danger of it leading to “spiritual malaise and dissatisfaction” but, nourishing as a constant diet of good plain cricket at Grace and Wantage Roads may be, I do sometimes hanker after pastures new, particularly when I look through the grounds where Minor Counties and Second XI cricket are played. Bovey Tracey, Shifnal, Cresselly, Redruth, Mumbles, Great and Little Tew, Aston Rowant, Copdock, Ombersley, Frocester, Sidmouth (if you have a spare moment, try rearranging them into a poem). I don’t suppose, the state of the railways being what it is, that I shall ever see cricket played at most of those grounds, but I did take advantage of the T20 break this year to visit two of the more picturesque sounding grounds within reasonable travelling distance – Lady Bay in Nottingham (which I wrote about earlier in the season) and Belper Meadows in Derbyshire.
I also paid a visit to Bedford School, where I saw Bedfordshire play Hertfordshire, once, that is, I’d managed to gain entry to the place. Locating the School is easy enough, but finding an entrance that was open involved a complete circumnavigation of the perimeter walls, rattling at a succession of locked gates (they didn’t seem to be expecting many spectators). Once inside, the pitch was one of many, overlooked on one side by an imposing red brick building
on another by the Pavilion, modern and largely dedicated to Alistair Cook, though it also displayed honours boards that stretch back as far as E.H.D. Sewell
and on a third by a marquee, which seemed to be there to accommodate the great, the good and the red-trousered of Bedfordshire cricket
Apparently I was there on President’s Day, and at lunch the great and good disappeared into the marquee, not to re-emerge until tea. I didn’t have the impression that Bedfordshire were taking the game particularly seriously, after the initial session, as Hertfordshire piled up a considerable total on what seemed to be a fairly dead pitch. Periodically a huge cheer was heard from the marquee, answered (ironically, perhaps) by the Bedfordshire fieldsmen and the Captain spent most of the afternoon performing imitations of his teammates’ fielding. At tea, the G&G emerged, fairly well-lubricated in some cases and I headed home, perhaps to return another day.
Somewhere I will definitely be returning another day (if I’m spared) will be Belper Meadows, where I went to watch a pleasant enough match between Derbyshire 2nd XI and the MCC Young Cricketers. Belper is a small town with a distinguished industrial history eight miles from Derby, on the edge of the Peak District, not quite pretty enough to attract much in the way of tourism. As at Bedford, I had some difficulty locating the ground and found myself in a cafe in search of a cheese and onion roll and some directions. An elderly man, who I would say was on the cusp of eccentricity and something else, offered to accompany me to the ground, telling me that he walked to Belper from Derby and back every day and soliloquising about the joys of the single life. I did wonder quite where he was taking me, but he did indeed lead me down a narrow passageway beside the town library (all the best grounds seem to be reached by narrow passageways) and there it was. Technically the club is Belper Meadows and the ground Christchurch Meadows and it too is overlooked by an imposing red brick building, in this case a mill, built in 1913
and, on another, by a vista of rolling countryside
I remember that this match was at the same time as the hoo-ha about Stuart Broad walking or not amid fervent debate as to the existence or otherwise of the Spirit of Cricket. I have always pictured this Spirit of Cricket as a shy nymph (perhaps portrayed by Sir Edward Poynter) unlikely to reveal herself under the glare of television cameras and the gaze of thousands of Test Match spectators, but who may be surprised sometimes (when you are least expecting it) in the quiet places such as Belper Meadows. I may have sought the elusive Spirit in many places this season, but felt I was closest to her presence here.
Belper is on the Derwent Valley Line (as are many cricket grounds)
pleasant with lavender, buzzing, on the day I visited, with butterflies and bees
and I think (pace Dr. Johnson) that had I no reference to posterity, or indeed practicality, I could quite happily spend my Summers riding the Line from one ground to another.
Enough looking back, I suppose, as we are now well into the football season. I couldn’t help noticing that, sandwiched between Christchurch Meadows and the Mill, was a tidy little football ground with some rather attractive cowshed-style stands, the home of Belper F.C., so perhaps I will have another reason to ride the Derwent Valley Line before the year is out.