It appears we have more garden than we first thought. The garden we purchased with this house is made up of a lawned area which falls away from the front of the house, beginning the steady descent towards town, and to the side of the house some sloping leafy ground which extends into a finger of woodland.
We’ve been aware for a while that the house was once served by a well in the woodland across the road. Persistent problems with our rather intermittent mains water supply (more on that soon) have meant excavations for pipework on our own land and expeditions across the road to look for the well.
We haven’t yet located the well… but we have discovered a rather big ‘back garden’.
Here, I find myself fumbling about in the dark recesses of my brain. The dimly remembered legal part of my proffesional training suggests that right of access to the well would have originally been created through ‘easement’ – evidence of repeated and continual use – a well trodden path, for example, and it would have depended on the upholding of this right. Lately the break in usage must have caused the expiration of the right of access (it didn’t appear in the deeds when the land changed hands recently).
So I am mindful of this as we claim our newly discovered back garden, traversing the public right of way across it. We own this land by claiming it. And our claim to the land is a physical act, we make it with our feet, by walking. It is a beautifully ancient act, a form of beating our bounds in this country with so little common land. We may only ‘own’ the ribbons of bare ground that we tread with our feet, but we do, respectfully, stray from the path. Our walks are choreographed by rich pickings. We are seduced off-piste by a variety of berries, each with distinct habitats. When the wimberries gave way to delicious wild raspberries earlier this summer, we traded scaling the shady dank west slopes of the wood for less back breaking pickings on the recently-felled crest of the hill, where delicious wild raspberries were proliferating in newly revealed full sun. We debated taking cuttings for our own wooded area before realising that our access would be the same either way and while we might make the harvest more efficient this way, it would never be as fun. It is just so as the brambles start to appear. They are, needless to say, everywhere around the house… but the scattered abundance of the back garden crop holds a greater allure.
As my toddler finds her legs, the promise of berries and the sheer expanse of our back garden have secured it as family ‘stomping ground’. For my part, as I struggle with the current impossibility of making headway in ‘the garden’, foraging in the woods and on the hill ‘out back’ has given new meaning to being outside and an evolving pattern to our days.
We visit almost daily now, logging the progress of various brambly outcrops, invariably eating more than we bring home, waiting for the moment when the promising hard red berry clusters plump out all at once into black beauties. We occasionally encounter ‘other people’ in our garden, but our interactions with them only serve to enhance the shared experience of this land. Having contemplated parting with our last reserves of cash on some land adjacent to the house not long ago, our walks in the back garden with family and friends have given me cause to reflect on the virtues and meanings of ‘ownership’… and our luck at living in such generous countryside.