One Man's Madness / Part 13 - The Return
I felt the return was a personal obligation and didn’t wish to include anyone else inadvertently against their will. This applied especially to my lovely wife Georgie who had plenty of other worries to deal with, but, happily, she was up for it.
Over the next few weeks I built up my tool collection in anticipation of the coming battle. I even invested in a petrol multi-tool that could do four different things! It was at one and the same time, depending on which attachment you used, a chainsaw, a brush cutter, a hedge trimmer, and a heavy duty strimmer. I figured this would give me a significant mechanical advantage over those mature brambles that had come to dominate the lower meadow. I also dug out an old traditional scythe which I planned to use on the massive nettles where the brambles weren’t present. We’d acquired a seven seater Ford Galaxy for our camping expeditions, but if you whipped the back seats out there was plenty of room for toolage and supplies.
On that first expedition the team included me, Georgie, and our then 5 year old Hazel. We’d arranged to overnight at my friend Jenny’s. She was not far away and had even, in the old days, worked at the local wholefood co-op (ironically, called Bramble) that used to employ many of my former co-residents. After a jolly breakfast with Jenny, we set off for the “estate”.
It’s perhaps important, at this stage, to understand the layout of the place.
Whereas in the old days, the main entry and focal point had been up at the cottages at the north end, the new entry and focal point was now the massive, rusting, steel mesh gate at the southernmost point. In fact, my guess is that this was probably the original access and egress for the clay quarry the land is reputed to have been in ancient times. The gate is at road level but the land rises gently to the sides. To the right (east) it rises up to the level of the neighbouring wheat fields. To the left (west), it rises to a little upper meadow which stands at the same height as the wheat fields to the east. In between, due north from the gate, the land had been scooped out and the clay removed, creating a little valley embracing a lower, much larger meadow. At the northernmost end, the ground dipped noticeably and that area became known as “the dip”.
Years ago you could lean on the old wooden farm gate and gaze unhindered both due north down the length of the little valley and slightly north west along the higher upper meadow. Thirty years previously I’d started building the arts workshop and planting trees such that, in the fullness of time – like now – people at the gate wouldn’t be able to see anything of either the upper or lower meadows. Instead, they would have to come through the gate and penetrate about 15 metres before turning left to see what the place had to offer.
My planning had worked out nicely. The trees I’d planted were now so tall that I had forgotten that some of them were indeed fruit-bearing. It wasn’t until the autumn that the falling fruit reminded me of my erratic foresight. And no way could you see anything of the interior without fully entering the site and reaching the turning point.
But the first job was to breach the gate. I’d brought along a hack saw and got through a couple of blades before one of the links on the chain finally let go. Then, with Georgie and Hazel having squeezed through to do some initial short-range exploration, it was out with the industrial strength, arm’s length secateurs for cutting the branches and vinery that had grown through the steel mesh. I then had to to clear the ground behind such that, with a lot of heaving, I could at last swing the gate inwards and open to allow vehicular access. With some trepidation, we brought the Galaxy, waiting patiently in a layby down the road, forward and drove in and through some of the lesser undergrowth on what had been the track and stopped at the point where you turn left and gaze down the valley.
And what a sight it was. Brambles and nettles well over head height all the way down. You couldn’t even walk through them. As I’d done with Bob Shuwop several weeks previously, we worked our way towards the big trees whose shade had kept the invasive growth to a minimum. Like Shuwop, Georgie and Hazel were immediately taken with the magic and mystery of the place. They finally settled on picking the copious sloe berries from the blackthorn which had taken over the upper meadow and I returned to the car to get out the tools and commence proceedings.
I soon discovered that my new brush cutter just wasn’t up to the job of cutting the brambles. They were too mature and established. It became a sort of military intervention as I had to fight my way through to the central growth point of each and every bramble. On the plus side, because they were so mature, there were relatively fewer of them – only a couple of hundred. Each of the major growth centres had established a circle of about a metre and a half around themselves as they’d slowly cut off the light to everything in their immediate vicinity. So I had to cut and slash my way into each circle to get at the thick central stems. I then cut these with the big secateurs (or in some cases, the bow saw) and dragged them away to clearer space behind me where I could build a bonfire. Later on I perfected a technique for pitch forking those stems forward, and piling them up on to as yet uncut brambles. I could then ignite them and achieve further clearance through the work of the flames.
Over the next couple of days, returning to Jenny’s each night, the three of us played with secateurs of various sizes, scythes, ropes for dragging, pitch forks, and matches, old newspapers and petrol for each finale Attired in wellie boots, hats, and protective gloves we battled on. At the end of that first stay we managed to clear enough space to turn the Galaxy around. Not much, but a hearty start.
- One Man's Madness / Part 14
The continuing story of one man’s 60 year love affair with 2.5 acres of Essex countryside.
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