On my first visit to the Cornerhouse, fresh (or not so fresh) from camping at friends wedding in the Lake District, I was glad to take a shower upstairs before joining the company. The glorious view I took in from the bathroom that hot August day has not changed eleven years later, here once more at the height of Summer.
No, actually the garden is much improved since then in having two of us servicing its needs, seeing it (literally) bear fruit. Apple trees by the vegetable garden out of sight to the left, plus the improved mini-meadow and creation of a wildlife pond with complimentary planting off right. Delightful to see garden birds bathing here or coming to drink. Kim’s plantswoman’s skills have gradually extended the wonderful variety of flowers and shrubs in all the borders.
The five bar wooden gate gives onto our four acre field, the Crags. The remains of a small quarry are evident. I think it likely this house (a former shepherds cottage, barns and shippen) was built back in the 1870’s with stone extracted from there. Between garden and rocks do you see that patch of tall grass heads? That’s tufted hair grass aka tussock grass, which thrives on wet, poorly drained soil. Their dense clumps of basal leaves are deceptively rough. Handled the wrong way the aligned fibre of the upper leaf can deliver a nasty cut. Yet the long round stems and seed heads appear gossamer light and graceful as they wave in the cooling breeze.
Clumps of soft rush are everywhere else. It spreads by rhizome and seed and does so very successfully, as do patches of creeping thistle. You also see stinging nettles claim space each summer ( a food plant for butterflies) colonising our garden rubbish heap, part hidden from view by roses and hawthorn. This raggedy pile usually gets put to the torch – or rather a very slow smoky incineration – when Chris the contractor comes to mow the garden meadow in August, when grasses, yellow rattle and other flowers have finally seeded.
Where our stretch of rough grazing falls away towards the burn below we’ve secured walls and fences so Southridge’s sheep can graze, keeping it from reverting to scrub. That field stonewall curving away to the left is our responsibility to maintain, not our neighbour’s. I’ve recently walked it with Jason the waller, who’ll try to get the necessary patch & repair work in hand by back end. We saw and heard the ascending skylarks that have been nesting in the Crags. The field may be pretty poor agriculturally but it undoubtedly benefits wildlife.
Beyond the valley and its sheltered wood of oak, ash, alder, willow and sycamore our northern neighbour has had perfect weather to cut then ted (turn) frequently before rowing up and baling for hay on his south facing meadow. He leaves the round bales to dry further, taking advantage of the long run of sun kissed days. Livery and the farmer’s own horses are kept in adjacent fields, grazing alongside recently shorn sheep. woodland shelters and hides the farmhouse and yard. Behind it all is an arm of the great commercial forest, England’s biggest. You see a margin of replanted conifer and broadleaf at front, some eight years in the growing, backed by the darker mass of mature trees.
Straight ahead lies a rise of yet more rough grazing, with swathes of tall creamy meadowsweet flowering at its damp foot. In this big field the rushes are mechanically topped before they can seed and the eastern farmer’s herd of stabilizer bullocks put to graze and further slow their spread. Just discernable, threading through, is the long distance national trail. Occasional forays of walkers – short haulers and those committed to the full stretch – appear or disappear over the rise. Our neighbours in the house whose roof you see planted the deciduous wood to the right, which has added wonderfully to the picture. In contrast, those mature ash trees at the top of the slope are not in great shape, having fallen foul of die back. One has already been felled, the others, to greater and lesser degree, present as stag headed (bare branched) and will go the same way within the decade. The house and granary are of some antiquity with small windows and outside steps. At its core is a former 16th Century bastle (fortified farmhouse) and the buildings all perch above the burn in its steep sandstone gorge, curving a protective arm around.The view continues beyond; with more small farms, steep wooded valleys and rough pastureland, before being defined by the long stretch of open fell. Beyond that, unseen, the region’s big river flows from its source on the high Scottish border down to the great conurbation at its mouth.