By the end of February 2015 I had cleared enough of the brambles, nettles and ivy down the side of the field, as well as the bottles, plastic bags and rusting bedsprings, to think about extending the fence that we had started at the top the previous year. ‘Good fences make good neighbours’, and as this was the bit of the site most visible to neighbours, and to passers-by as well, I wanted to show a brave face to the world.
Tibbiwell, the lane that runs past the orchard, is a steep climb, and most people walking up it are happy for almost any excuse to stop for a chat or just a look around. Working there over the winter I’d had lots of conversations with people passing by. It was clear that there was interest in what we were doing, but also some suspicion. Were we about to start building works? A new block of flats perhaps, or something even worse? Putting in a fence would first of all establish that the site was actually owned by someone, and no longer a communal dumping area. But putting in one that looked more rural than suburban, seemed almost like a gesture of good faith to the local community.
So in early March, Nick and Rich came back to help me extend the fence – or let’s be more accurate, came back to extend the fence, since my contribution was pretty much limited to clearing things out of their way and fetching cups of tea. As it happened, their arrival pretty well coincided with the arrival of the builders, booked almost a year earlier to work on channelling water down to the site, so suddenly it was as if the cavalry had arrived.
Rather less happily, their arrival also coincided with a section of retaining wall on the bank collapsing into the road. It wasn’t very clear whether this had happened because of the natural effects of weather, water and frost, or because digging up roots had loosened the soil, or perhaps because it had been hit by a vehicle. Lorries that are far too big for the road often try to go up or down Tibbiwell and the wall on the other side gets hit regularly, as evidenced by multiple paint marks on the stones. On our side there’s a gully that makes it much more difficult to hit the wall, but there did seem to be some signs of paint on the stones in the road. Maybe it was a combination of factors, but whatever the cause, the wall was not looking good and there was a real prospect that more of it could collapse.
Rather reluctantly, we decided that the best solution was to pull out the remains of the hedge, pull back the top of the bank to reduce the gradient and then build the retaining wall back up again. We had to bring in the Chairman of the Parish Council to look at it, and clear it with the District Council as well, but in the end no official permission was required. And with the builders just arrived on site, we had the right men for the job. Don likes nothing better than reshaping a piece of ground with a digger and there’s not much about Cotswold stone walls that Andy and Simon don’t know.
On the other hand the arrival of a digger on site could only increase any fears that neighbours had about our intentions, not helped by the habit of the builders to respond to any questions by passing on the confidential information that the site had been identified for the reprocessing of chemical or nuclear waste. I’m sure no-one took them seriously … but anyway, I wrote a short piece for the local village magazine explaining what we were doing.
But by the time the builders and the fencers left, we had a reshaped bank, a beautifully rebuilt retaining wall, a pretty sturdy fence running all the way down the edge of the field and another gate at the bottom. We also had a lot less hedge than before and an orchard that had lost even more of the privacy and seclusion that had been its principal attraction.
We also had a much better source of running water arriving at the top of the site, but that’s a story for another time.
This is the sixth post in a series about the restoration of an old orchard. You can see the earlier posts at the links below: