I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned the orchard. It’s a quarter of a mile from here, accessed via the drive to the local care home, and it’s a 7 acre field alongside the river. We still call it the orchard, though all the apple trees blew down in the famous Hurricane of 1987 – which was not, strictly speaking, an actual hurricane but was the closest that England ever gets to one. The trees hit each other like dominoes.
Russell bought this field of old apple trees sometime in the 1960s. He used to pick the apples, too, and sell them for cider, but the bottom dropped out of the market and it wasn’t worth it, even with his famed enthusiasm. It would be now, actually, not in monetary terms but for the sake of supporting the local Cyder Club, whose output has been known to strip varnish but makes excellent cider vinegar. When we got married, the grass in the orchard was long and rank and we didn’t do anything with the field. Though there is a little island, which is fun. And there was a fine oak tree.
But, as I said, all the apple trees blew down and we had to have them all removed and the land levelled. Russell took the opportunity to put in some land drains and also took advice from the environment people about the best way to look after the field in the future. The advice was to have sheep graze it, as they are kindest to pasture.
While he was discussing the matter with the guy – and I’m going back thirty years – they were luckier than I have ever been: they saw and heard a bittern. Bitterns are still incredibly rare and, sadly, that one didn’t find a mate and stay, but Russell was very excited, of course. He came and told me but we didn’t tell a soul, not for many years.
The oak tree blew down, a year later, in the next strong wind. It had been very healthy and we could only think that it had been protected by all the trees round it. Once they had gone, it hadn’t built up resilience, and I suppose there’s a metaphor there. We were very upset but we were resourceful. The huge trunk was cut vertically into four, turned and became the legs of the table we were having made at the time. When you next come here, do check it out. It was turned (cut into shape) while the wood was fresh, not dry, so wasn’t rock hard.
I’ve completely lost my thread, but I’ll pick it up again. I do know what I was going to tell you at the start of all this, but history intervened and it’ll take another post or two.