This used to be my playground

Now that the UK version of Google Maps has added some satellite overlays, I've been having fun (and getting a little choked up) zooming in on childhood haunts.

My parents made the incredibly courageous decision to move from working class Dublin to the heart of middle class Solihull, smack in the middle of England, to give the growing Clarke boys chances their Mom and Dad never had.

Not far from the centre of this image on Google is 247 Castle Lane, the simple 3 bedroom semi my parents bought in the early 60s (for something like £7,500, I think -- is that about right Da?). An absolute fortune for an immigrant family back then - and a huge leap of faith for them to make such a stretch investment in their kids' future.

It was a fantastic place to grow up. About 120 feet of garden, with roses, honeysuckle (my madeleine scent), apple trees, gooseberry bushes, rhubarb and - the best bit - a back gate that led directly out into our own private wonderland.

Zoom in on the centre right of that Google image and you can see a sizeable chunk of woodland. This is Hobs Moat - an ancient and beautiful space.

It was our wilderness, our moonscape, our prairie, our battleground, our bike trail, our Africa, our construction site, and our jungle gym. A place where I climbed every tree, scraped every knee - had my first kiss, my first drink, my first fight, and stored away the fun that would endure to become my fondest memories of a golden boyhood.

We always knew there was something genuinely special and historic about "the woods". The very names of the area were loaded with clues - the Hob's Moat, Castle Lane. It wasn't until about ten years or so ago that the woods were finally designated an Ancient Monument, and proven to be the site of a 12th century fortified manor house, home to one William de Odingsells, one of the founders of the town of Solihull.

To us, of course, the ancient moat and counterscarp were simply ideal bike hills upon which to pull outrageous, insanely dangerous stunts with the beaten up bikes our Dad cobbled together out of a shed full of spare parts.

A magical land of endless summers. No boy could have wished for a better place to grow up. Thanks Mom and Dad. I love you.