Hibernation

Monica and I had a delightful time at Warland with nothing but the bits of antique furniture that Ralph and Karin, the previous owners, left for us. We had excuses for not going out, not cleaning, not cooking anything complex, not being able to accommodate many guests. We loved having just the fire to watch in the evenings and secretly hoped that our container of stuff would fall off the ship. It didn’t, of course, and now we’re overwhelmed with boxes, beds and computer bits. I’m not really helping by buying woodworking machines and antiques before the stuff dumped in the workshop by the removalists has been cleared away.

I had a week here with all this plus a guilty conscience, while Monica shot through to spend a week in Spain with school friends and Kevin, her brother. Now that she’s back and project-managing the unpacking, we’re slowly getting through the crud. The farmhouse is on a smaller scale than Tennyson but most of the big items of furniture have found a place. The trick will be to get all those essential collections of wires, stationery, old towels etc hidden away leaving enough clear space to swing a Lowchen. I don’t think a keen reader has ever lived here, so the books will live in boxes for a while (again).

We’ve prioritised the projects we’ll be undertaking after the unpacking is complete. Bookshelves and more cupboards come high up, of course; the tree planting is under way; and guest accommodation is the big challenge. We’ve packed the two spare bedrooms with beds, so we can sleep five at the moment but the barn conversion is the plan. We set aside a lump of money and two years of ours lives for that but, by a miracle, another solution has presented itself. The concept of the conversion was to provide as green a house as possible; after describing this to some of the tree-planters, they have approached us with the idea of building an Earthship home, from their effort and expense. It would be a showcase for their ideas and skills but we get to keep and use it. It would be as green as you can get and still leave the barn as a performance space and gallery. Fingers crossed.

Two thousand trees sit in the alley behind the house, awaiting some fencing and a a hundred volunteers to plant them. Oak, birch, hazel, holly and gorse. Eventually, there’ll be 15–20 thousand planted: half to extend a neighbouring native forest, half in coppices to provide firewood, basket canes and many other useful products. We’ll also plant a forest garden in the nearest paddock with the help of ‘Incredible Edible Todmorden’ and a couple of meadows, too. Today, Monica’s wondering if we could harvest a crop of TLC-free hemp before the local pot-heads swipe it!

Counting up the projects, there are: twenty areas to plant, each at least half an acre; the guest accommodation to commission; rooms to fettle in the farmhouse (book-shelves, veggie storage etc); a brick oven, forge and pottery kiln to build; a 1969 Land Rover to renovate; wind and water power to harness; my book(s) to write; bees to gather, house and tend; all before the trees get big enough to harvest, ‘cos then we’ll be busy processing the cuttings. Enough to keep us busy, don’t you think? Stir in two huge families that expect visits, drop-ins from long-lost friends (most welcome, especially from overseas!), bikes that need riding, The Pelican, music, cooking and a hundred other essential activities, and I’m sure we’ll be fit to drop in a decade.

The house, fortunately, is in fine order and has survived the winter without drama, so I hope it doesn’t demand too much of our time while we kick off all these other entanglements. It’s odd to live amongst such a weight of stone: stone walls, roof, floors, stairs, yard, barns, windows and even shelves. Tennyson was a solid place, a pressure of concrete that defined the space and the response of the floors and walls. Warland is like a cave. It’s insulated and carpeted, heated by the Aga and the wood fire, double-glazed against the cold and the noise of the weather. We’re responding in sympathy, sleeping late and eating heartily, venturing out only when essential. Hibernation must be much like this.

The farmhouse has the same aspect as Tennyson, south-west facing. In this hemisphere, that has your profile to the sun rather than away from it, as we enjoyed there. From the slightest separation of the clouds, the sun warms the dark walls of the barns and makes the bench in the yard the only place to take your tea, sheltered from the breeze and with the view along the valley.

Bandit seems very happy to be here. She misses the beach walks, of course; the canal-path is more limited and is cold this season. But at home, she’s a bouncy, hungry, hairy hound who loves to be chased and caught and hugged. As Spring comes around, the hills above us will be more appealing for the walks.

Well, it’s late here and there are boxes to be opened tomorrow. Best get my twelve hours in.

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