Saturday 14 July 2012
How we came to be in Wales . . . (1)
As I was reading my long-desired book "The Unsought Farm" (Monica Edwards) it occurred to me that she had much to do with us ending up here in Wales. Her books, house prices going MAD back in 1988 when we finally sold our house, and a chance holiday in Carmarthenshire with a penpal back in the early 1970s.
As a child, I had pretty well all of Monica Edwards' childrens' novels, both the Westling ones and the Punchbowl Farm series. I absolutely adored the Punchbowl Farm books, and wanted to be Lindsey. I wanted to live in an old farmhouse with a double bridle hanging from one of the kitchen beams, and the soft light of oil lamps, and Jersey cows to milk, and the footings of an old wing of the farmhouse where I could open a long-forgotten door and step straight back through time to the 17th century . . . I wanted Siamese cats, and ponies in Barn Field, and a yew tree to play my recorder in. As you will probably realize, living in a house on a bus route in suburban Southampton (for all the wild land down the back) didn't quite fit the bill . . . It was too late though - I was programmed for life. Hardwired to country living and historic houses, sloping floors and crooked doorways, still rooms and cellars. To baking my own cakes and making my own bread. I am still a dreamer . . . but I have LIVED the dream.
The holiday with the penpal really opened my eyes to what living in the country proper could be like. She had a sweetheart of a donkey, and a pet sheep called Primrose who had arrived as a lamb to be bottle-fed and stayed forever. We walked on the marshes beside the estuary, visited the ruins of the once-grand house that was now just soaring brick walls and blind windows, with pigeons nesting where bedroom fireplaces had once been, and a smell of decay. I remember looking across the estuary through their telescope and watching the Welsh world go by so slowly. I recall seeing stars in an inky sky unsullied by neon lights. No sound of traffic, only the occasional moo of a cow or the hoot of an owl. Sheepdogs that ran out to attack the tyres of the car as we drove past. Verges that were a mass of wild flowers I had only seen as occasional specimens, not by the 100 yard length. The nearest town had a market, and no big shops at all, and I was amazed to find that the juke box in the pub we went in had records of HYMNS. Being a 20 year old townee, this was really quite a shock! This really WAS the back of beyond!
When my husband and I decided to move away from the busy main road we lived on in Dorset, our intention was to stay in the West Country, and we house-hunted in Devon and the Cornish borders for an old place with a bit of land, "to do up". We found and fell in love with a small cottage near Beaworthy. It was everything I had ever dreamed of - a long driveway planted with Snowdrops and Daffodils, a pretty garden bordered by a stream; a little barn; a greenhouse; an outbuilding just perfect for my husband's woodworking; an acre and a half and buzzards wheeling overhead. We had a buyer. We had our offered accepted on the cottage. We lost our buyer. And another. The lady with the cottage HAD to sell. I broke my heart over that little house. I kept the details. And the photos taken the weekend we stayed there to cat-sit for the owner whilst she went up to her brother's. I found them recently, and there was still the pang of loss, though looking back now, it WAS small and we would have had to extend or move on once T had her sister and brother.
Anyway, glumly, without a buyer, we watched house prices rise by the week in the West Country until the sort of property we were looking for was becoming beyond our range, as our house price had stayed the same. We searched further afield, in the Welsh Marches, Lancashire and what used to be Westmoreland. "Wales is lovely", I told my husband. He agreed to include this in our remit, and we sent off for various house details. One enterprising estate agent in Carmarthen sent a printed brochure of all the properties on its books - and there were many. Then it happened. We turned a page and a photo of an old shabby white farmhouse LEAPT off the page at us. It had land - 5 1/2 acres - and outbuildings. The rooms sounded HUGE. It had potential. We contacted the estate agent one September day and arranged to go and view it . . .