In March 2013, after years of talking about it we eventually sell up and move out of the city with our 2 year old, Gracie. We both grew up in the countryside and this is what we want for our daughter. So we swap a 2 bed flat in London for a small country pile on the west coast of Scotland that needs a lot of work. I've done a bit of interior design and my partner, Ed has a good knowledge of the outdoors – but we're on a tight budget and we've both got a lot to learn. It's a life time's project and this is a record of our adventure…
Our first strawberry patch is yielding a bumper harvest. Ed planted 4 long rows last year – Gracie loves strawberries! – and they’re doing extremely well. They taste deliciously sweet but we’ve more than we can eat and pick – and if we don’t get to them in time the heavy fruit at the bottom starts to rot where the berries touch the damp soil.
Straw is the answer, according to Ed’s dad, which is why many people think they’re called ‘straw’berries. Although it’s more likely that the name comes from ‘strew’ or ‘spread around’ to describe how the wild plant’s tendrils grow – and named long before strawberries were cultivated. As the straw needs to go down just as the flowers finish, we’ll have to wait till next summer to give it a try.
Just before heading to bed last night … boom … something crashed into the house, or that’s what it felt like. I ran up. Ed ran down. As soon as I got to our bedroom I guessed – and as I opened the door the thick dust confirmed it.
From the comfort of our bed for the last few months, we’ve been monitoring the length of a crack in the ceiling. Was it getting worse? Apparently so. It’s just as well Ed didn’t get the ladders out to investigate as the plaster’s incredibly thick and you really wouldn’t want any of it falling on your head.
It’s taken both of us the whole day to clear up. That’s 2 down hopefully no more to go…
In the middle of making dinner, Gracie and Ed come and get me. They’ve something to show me outside and it’s a surprise. Gracie guides me by the hand across the paddock and tells me to keep my eyes closed.
Yesterday, I’d seen Ed clearing out the small wooden shed at the back of the house and when he said he was moving it into the paddock, I assumed he was going to use it to store bee-hives. I was wrong…
When I open my eyes, the door of the shed is wide open – and there’s something inside peeking out from a cardboard box. At first I think he’s got chickens – we’ve talked about chickens but as they need daily care and we’ve got quite a lot going on (with work, the gardens, the veg’ patch, the bees, the house and a 5 year old) I’ve been a bit resistant. But they – there’s 2 – don’t look much like chickens…
Then it dawns on me – peacocks. Ed’s mentioned in passing that he’d like to get peacocks but as with the hens, I thought I’d put him off. Seems not this time. We / he is now the proud owner of 2 peacocks, or 2 peafowl to be precise – one peacock and one peahen – which presumably means he’s planning on more…
And they’ve come with instructions; at first we’ve to keep them in the shed and give them water and pellets and then we have to help them get used to living here. Induction takes 6 weeks and involves building a pen so we can start to let them out during the day and put them back at night. They’ve had their flight feathers removed so they can’t fly away. These will grow back quite quickly – but not until they’ve become ‘resident’, when we can let them roam free.
Ed has of course done his research. They are a year old and almost full size which is the right age to buy; any younger they’ll get diseases, any older they won’t settle. They will forage in the wild for seeds, insects, mice and frogs (!), they can jump very high and they will sleep in our trees (yes really). I’ve been told they can be quite noisy – but Ed’s insistent this only happens in the spring as it’s a mating call. Of the latter, I’m not convinced but on the whole a more impressive surprise than chickens – and apparently less effort.
The other bonus is that they’re white (they’re not albinos they have blue eyes). They’re also rather stately – and the cock will have grown a beautiful span of tail feathers by next summer which will be perfect timing for our wedding.
We had to take down a very tall and dying elm that was too close to the house and in danger of coming down in a storm. Ed took a piece and made a swing for G that now hangs from the huge lime tree on the lawn.
We wake up to sunshine so Gracie and I take a basket each and head out into the paddock. These days the paddock is regularly mown to keep the nettles and brambles at bay but Ed has left some well chosen places untouched; along the fence line, under the 2 huge sycamores and on the bank that leads up to the bee hives. In the shade and among the long grass, wild flowers now grow. It’s a very pretty sight in the early morning sun and when Gracie starts chasing butterflies I’ve a mind to start laughing out loud.
Our plan is to collect flowers for the white room as our friend Anna is coming to stay.
I’ve a little knowledge of the names of wild flowers that comes from meandering summer walks with my mother when I was about Gracie’s age. An Observer’s pocket book in hand, she’d seek out quiet country lanes with vast overgrown verges and shady banks running down to the river. Anything she couldn’t identify we’d take home – just the one and as long as there were plenty. I’ve a memory she impressed on me that we should never pick primroses – but she knew where to take me to see them and I can still remember the delight of each new discovery.
Gracie too gasps with delight at each new patch of flowers in the paddock. We collect red campion, pignut, germander speedwell (my mother called this Bird’s Eyes), tall buttercups and the last of the bluebells. Of course we don’t know the names of everything so back at the house we turn to the books. I think the buttercups are bulbous crowfoot and we quickly identify the the common bugle but one delicate lilac flower that grows here in abundance eludes us for several days. Ed eventually assists and it’s the leaves that clinch it as they taste like beetroot – it’s pink purslane.