Our First Encounter with Eden

After several long months, the Welsh border has opened and this week, we were able to explore our land for the first time in any sort of detail.

This was an event now so loaded with hope and expectation, I almost held back, preferring the sweetness of anticipation (albeit the bitter and frustrated kind). What would we find? Encampments of vagabonds? Fly-tipping, Hostile locals? All were possible.

Instead we found enormous hope and potential coupled with some hopefully not too serious challenges.

This countryside is prettier than I remember…
The first point of note was that the area surrounding our land that we once thought was bland and lacking the breathtaking drama of other parts of Wales, was actually rather stunning. Perhaps we were viewing it with the renewed appreciation that follows pent-up desire but we were pretty gob-smacked. There were hills aplenty, bubbling streams and so much forest. This was not the slightly disappointing compromise we were willing to accept as a price for finding that unlikely of finds; a few wild acres with outline planning consent.

The village even seemed less of a backwater. It was still a rural by-way complete with hand-written village sign but it had acquired fresh charm. Eye of the beholder again? Probably.

It’s not all idyllic…
There were bound to be some negatives and we found them pretty quickly. First, there was a strange mechanical sound permeating the silence from the moment we arrived, It appeared to come from beyond our piece of woodland from a field on the opposite hillside. I wondered if it might be a piece of farm machinery, looking for the positive, anticipating the bountiful harvest of fresh local produce that it would herald. I was wrong of course. It turned out to be a sawmill. A sawmill? No one said anything about a sawmill! More on this later.

Then there was the quarry. We knew about the quarry. But it looked so insignificant on Google maps and far enough away to pose no menace. Soon however, a lorry marked sand & gravel trundled by on the otherwise quiet village road. Then another. They were from the quarry and they used the road we were on as a passage to their distribution network. This worried me a lot. The planning consent stipulated that the house we build must be no further than 12 metres from the road. Would this be a source of noise and misery? Happily, I suspect not. They were it turns out, like buses. No more materialised for some time and the road was otherwise quiet.

So what of the land itself?…
The land lived up to hope and expectation. At the bottom of a substantial slope was a our wood, a near impenetrable wild place leading to a river that was wider than expected – a very pleasant surprise indeed. It wasn’t particularly deep but there was no apparent way to cross and explore the rest of the land. I solved this slight hurdle by returning the next day with a pair of long wellies. The trees are mostly beech with some sycamore and willow. There’s a line of laburnum bushes dividing part of the land and a lovely beech hedge/bank along the frontage to the road. Sadly we may need to remove some of this for safety and unimpeded visibility onto the road if the planners have their way but we will keep this to a minimum.

Following the River

There is plenty of space for growing and for creating a studio for activities/teaching/art. Our biggest challenge is funding our dream. Realising its full potential depends on the sale of one of our houses (I rent) and the impact of COVID-19 may have scuppered the timetabling for that or likely returns we might see. Whatever happens, it’ll be tight. The eco-build will be compact but we will stick to our principles: stay off-grid as much as possible, be self-sufficient as much as possible, share our experience and promote a new philosophy of how we interact with our environment. I hope that doesn’t sound pompous. We are learning but we are moving with a light tread.

So what might the neighbours think of all this?
We met the neighbours from both sides during our 3 day visit to the land. Both were proudly nationalistic and flew the flag accordingly (literally and very visibly). One confided that he had only gone along with the planning application because the previous owner (a Welsh farming colleague) had assured him it was for his own use. When it was subsequently sold, there was bitterness aplenty. I was now sensing the lingering resentment that remained. But some honest supplication and expression of intent to embrace the Welsh lifestyle allowed things to thaw sufficiently for him to offer to create a bank and beech hedge between our properties (it was rather exposed otherwise).

We then visited the sawmill owner. Before we even explained who we were he roared, so you’re the new Australian in the village? Word travels fast in these parts. He also joked that we probably had 3 months to learn Welsh or we would be driven out of town. At least, I think he was joking…

To be continued…

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