I didn’t take any pictures before starting work. It really wasn’t very photogenic. But I wish now that I had done, just to see the difference we’ve made.
So here instead is an aerial photo of how the site looked in 1928 from the wonderful Britain from Above website. It’s the field at the bottom right, dotted with trees in a sort of pentagonal shape. The field above it, which lies at the bottom of our garden, is more densely planted with trees, at least some of which appear to be in lines, so they’re probably fruit trees and it’s probably an orchard. That fits in with what we know of it and what remains in terms of old fruit trees. It’s less clear that the bottom field is an orchard at that time. It looks more open, probably grazed, and the trees look to be more of a mix.
At some time, presumably between then and about 1970 it was planted with fruit trees, mostly apple, but at least one plum tree, which is still there. A lot of other stuff has grown in the field as well, but most of that was not planted, and for about the last 40 years, it has been left derelict and neglected, slowly gathering in old sinks, wheelbarrows and bedsteads, and being taken over by brambles, nettles and convolvulus.
The story of how we came to own the site is complicated, but the bottom line is that, as so often, nobody seemed very interested in it until there was a proposal to build on it. Then of course it was a different matter. What had seemed to be an unwanted dumping ground was belatedly appreciated as a haven for wildlife and an oasis of tranquillity in an over-developed area. One thing led to another and almost before we knew it, and certainly before we had any plan for what we wanted to do with it, we found ourselves the owners of a small piece of semi-rural England.
That was back in 2012 and for the first couple of years, I was far too busy even to think much about what to do with it. In fact I barely set foot in the field, something which was in any case pretty difficult to do. Thick brambles covered much of it and waist high nettles almost all the rest, so any progress through it was difficult and you never knew quite what was underfoot. But from the beginning of 2014 I’ve had more time and I’ve chosen to spend a lot of it down there, hacking away at the undergrowth, clearing mountains of rubbish and gradually developing an idea of the potential of the site.
It’s a steeply sloping site, not falling away uniformly, but with a steeper bank at the top, then a flatter section before falling away again towards another steep section at the bottom. There’s a small spring on one side of the site that runs down for a few metres before disappearing again. We’re told that there used to be a pond there, although it’s not evident in the photo above.There’s also water on the other side – a trickle that became a flood in the wet winter of 2014 – and there’s the potential for more water too, but I’ll come back to that.
I didn’t take any photos, but I didn’t write about it either when I started and that too starts to feel like an omission. I’ll try to bring the story up to date in further posts over the next few weeks.