Life on a Smallholding

The early morning temperature is hovering around four degrees centigrade, which is quite mild for winter, but when only a thin layer of fabric separates you from that cold air, it doesn’t feel it. I dress quickly and for warmth, though the first layer against my skin feels like damp ice. Poking the embers of last night’s fire, we’re tempted to light another, but daylight is seeping through the fibres, and the blackbird is already welcoming the day with a tune. Instead, we don colourful knitwear and walk the short distance up to the bridleway with Bella.

The footpath leads vertically away from the village, cutting through the four-and-a-half acres of our land, before hugging the hedgerows the rest of the way, and ending up behind the house we’ve left behind. In summer, you can see as far as the wooded pheasantry to the left, and the radar golf ball to the right, a spherical and unusual addition to the arable landscape. Today, however, fog shrouds the fields, and the air is so thick and cloying that I can only make out the base of the tree trunks, squat and steady. Walks this early are usually silent, as we let our senses adjust, and Bella disappears into this quiet, shadowy world, becoming part of a fairy-tale with Little Red Cap, Hansel and Gretel, and the Snow Child. Lost innocents, drifting.

I whistle for her return, and on the walk back, pocket changes in the season: the slow blush of berries on the hedgerow; hoary cobwebs dripping with dew; the red breast of the robin. These images are forever immortalised in Christmas cards and literature, yet here they are, still existing, still real in this village edgeland. A magpie darts over the robin, before perching on a branch not too far away. From a distance, its tail looks like a dark, unopened fan, feathers clustered like folds waiting to be unfurled.  I whisper under my breath the old-age lore - one for sorrow – before looking desperately around for a second – two for joy – I see nothing.

Brushing aside superstition, I duck under the dripping archway of branches that mark the entrance to our second field. The land belongs officially to my parents, who have built not only their home here, but also a self-reliant lifestyle. Ducks uark in the distance, and chickens peck at fallen apples in the orchard to our left. The sheep in the top field are scattered in their pen, and don’t seem to mind the ever-changing weather. Although the temperature is waning, there is still produce to be picked in the vegetable patch: curly tendrils of kale, strangely-shaped carrots, and rainbow chard that seems to last forever, impervious to anything but the cooking pot. It is this simple existence that we have come to join, building our own house and becoming a part of the daily routine. But bricks and mortar seem a long way off.