Cutting a way through (The story of a lost orchard – Part 5)
With the coming of Autumn, the weeds finally ceased their previously unremitting march across the orchard and it was possible to think again about making some progress. The idea of re-clearing the bit I’d cleared the previous winter was just too depressing, so I started instead on a new bit, trying to push on down by the side of the hedge and re-establish access to the bottom of the site. Until we could walk around it a bit and get a better idea of the lie of the land, it was hard to get any kind of plan for how it could be laid out. The vague idea in my head was to break through some of the bramble thickets and clear paths around and across the site.
Progress was painfully slow. I worked at it with secateurs, cutting away small sections and piling them up ready to be burned. Trying to take out too long a section of bramble usually meant it clung to your clothes and tangled up as you pulled it out. So it had to be done bit by bit. And then after cutting back down to ground level, the roots had to be dug out, which was hard, physical work. After several hours work the thicket hardly seemed to have receded, although progress could at least be seen in the mounting pile of the bonfire. I kept at it, day after day, until finally I could break through and walk down the whole length of the field.
From the autumn of 2014 through to February 2015 I was down in the field most days for at least an hour or two, sometimes much longer. I tried a few times to burn the accumulated piles of bramble, with some success, but it was always hard work, gradually getting a fire going with the drier bits then not piling the rest of it on too fast to avoid putting it out. In the end it seemed easier to leave the piles for drier weather.
By the time winter was starting to recede, I could see real progress. Still perhaps half the site was almost completely inaccessible, but over the rest of it, including all of the side down along the road, enough had been cleared to be able to walk around it. For the first time we could start to get an idea of the scale of the site and what was there.
As well as opening it up to us though, I had opened the field up to everybody else. The hedge along the roadside had turned out to be little more than a row of largely self-seeded trees interspersed with weeds. Cutting back the brambles and particularly the ivy that had climbed over everything, left little more than a few fairly unattractive trees and some relatively bare areas of died back nettles and other weeds, often strewn with litter. The great joy of the site had been how thoroughly secluded it was. Although barely a couple of hundred metres from the centre of the village, you could stand in the centre of it and imagine yourself in the middle of nowhere. That was no longer true. From the centre now, you could see the world – and the world could see you.
This is the fifth post in a series about the restoration of an old orchard. You can see the earlier posts at the links below: