Over 30 years ago, with the intention of building a home, I bought a bit of a field on the side of a hill that sits to the northern side of the Highland Boundary Fault. And build it I did. But, like much of life, there was a lot of learning to be done. And over the years, changed ideas and understanding have affected how I continue to work the land surrounding the house.
"The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."
Now what really sold the plot were the uninterrupted views south to Arran – where the sea and the mountains meet the sky. In ‘A Room with a View’ by EM Forster we read:
“My father says that there is only one perfect view — the view of the sky straight over our heads, and that all these views on earth are but bungled copies of it.”
Of course, when the wind comes hurtling up the river there is nothing to stop it either, so don’t be fooled by the scenes of tranquillity. And the west of Scotland knows how to get all sorts of different weather in a short space of time.
But back to the field three decades ago. Building on the side of a hill proved to be a challenge – views like this are earned! And the recent lockdown was as good an opportunity as any to give the house and site a mid-life upgrade. So time to roll up the sleeves – definitely older, and hopefully wiser from the original construction and site-works.
“We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.”
Youthful enthusiasm helps overcome a lot of challenges, but with age comes added insight – and more reflective thinking. And as I set about developing a plan, I was reminded of the words of a somewhat cynical commentator, after the long saga of the Holyrood Parliament Building Public Inquiry. He summarised the proceedings as ‘plan longer, build quicker’. As someone who tends to err on the side of "just doing something", these words have stuck in my mind. So I decided that I needed to heed them and duly set about preparing a plan of action.
It may come as a shock, but the west of Scotland can get a lot of rain – and being right beside the river, with hills all around, can lead to that water flowing rapidly downhill.
Over the years drainage on the site has slowly blocked up or proved to be inadequate for the volume. So one of the big jobs had to be fixing the drains. Marty Rubin said “April is the kindest month. April gets you out of your head and out working in the garden.” And April 2020 in Scotland proved to be one of the driest on record – and a big drainage project would certainly get me out of my head!
Learning new skills means change, so a DIY approach to doing the digger work on site seemed like a good idea. Let’s just say it was challenging – but in the end all the planned work was (eventually) successfully completed.
"The only way that we can live, is if we grow. The only way that we can grow is if we change. The only way that we can change is if we learn. The only way we can learn is if we are exposed. And the only way that we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open. Do it. Throw yourself.”
Site improvements also meant improving the garden and the associated hard landscaping. Rural gardening is very different from city gardening and especially living north of the Highland Boundary Fault where boulder clay predominates. Although Ayrshire with all its fertile soil can be seen in the distance, it is very far away in gardening terms. I am not sure who Mrs C.W.Earle was, but she said “Half the interest of the garden is the constant exercise of the imagination.”
Any gardener will tell you that their work is never ending, simply moving from one season to the next, adjusting plans and planting as the seasons come and go. So the work continues to develop and improve the site. It has been strange, but satisfying, revisiting work first carried out thirty years ago
One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen, again and again, fear must be overcome again and again.”
Stay safe. Lead well