The process of buying a house is well documented elsewhere and makes for exceptionally dull reading. But once the legal wrangling was over and the money exchanged, the moving date leapt out at us. We were definitely leaving the city for life on a hill in Wales.
It was only after the removal vans had gone (and the smell of their burnt-out clutches from grinding up the super steep lane), that it began to sink in exactly what we’d bought. The Hovel on the Hill, we nicknamed it, though it has a Welsh name (we later renamed it with another Welsh name that we felt had more resonance to both the place and my wife’s family).
We found that the garden was bigger and wilder than we remembered (it now being June – we’d made our offer in February). Half of it is a heavily wooded slope with ash, hazel, holly, oak, beech, birch and sycamore. Two of the beech trees are ancient pollards that resemble grotesque monsters from Tolkien’s books, looming massively from the bank that rises to the rear of the garden. They are the first things I show visitors.
The rest of the garden lies below the ‘wood’, comprising three rough, lawned terraces and a sunny bank behind the house that was once a productive vegetable garden. All that remains are the vague traces of terraces, rather like medieval strip lynchets. A nettle-filled greenhouse missing a few panes glowers over its lost veg plot.
On the opposite side of the veg patch is a dark, deep pond overhung by an alien conifer tree and beyond lies a rather attractive grassy bank above a tiny stream and a small patioed terrace with wonderful views.
Below the house and overlooking the valley is a very overgrown, steep area of meadow dominated by a single oak. There are also a few sickly looking apples and pear trees, a magnolia and many coppiced hazels. And ash seedlings – everywhere. The woods that surrounded us seem grimly determined to swallow up our little patch of open land.
We looked at each other and knew that it would take years of hard labour to shape this little island.
But in the end we’d have to wait as it started raining… for six weeks. After one day of sunshine, the wettest June and July on record took hold. We found we were living in a cloud.
It was then we decided to change the name of the house to a Welsh name that approximates to ‘watery mountain’…