Noth­ing bleak about my place in the coun­try

Macclesfield Express - - THE LAUGHING BADGER - SEAN WOOD

ONE of my Face­book friends pub­lished a whole raft of pic­tures of Wood­head and Crow­den, my home for 28 years.

Be­cause I’ve not looked back since mov­ing to the nearby vil­lage of Pad­field six years ago, it was as though Eamonn An­drews had handed over my own lit­tle-red-book; ev­ery pic­ture and all that, with brass knobs on.

We moved in to Bleak House, a Grade II listed build­ing, in Fe­bru­ary 1980, my own lit­tle eyrie at 800 feet above sea-level. It was a won­der­ful stone con­fec­tion, al­most a folly, built in the 1850s with the steep­est of roofs be­cause of the snow, with no mod cons what­so­ever, and in the depths of win­ter, with ice on the in­side of the win­dows, it was al­most im­pos­si­ble to heat. This was es­pe­cially true when the wind rat­tled down the val­ley from the north east and all the car­pets up­stairs danced.

With mill­stone grit carved from the am­phithe­atre-like quarry which cra­dles the house, the build­ing was made to last and over the years had al­most van­ished into the hill­side, painted as it was by the smoke and grime of the in­dus­trial revo­lu­tion. Un­for­tu­nately it has now been sand- blasted and looks like a new-build, made even more con­spic­u­ous be­cause the wa­ter board valve house in the gar­den, and the dry-stone walls are still the same glo­ri­ous patina, a colour chart of our shared his­to­ries.

The fly­ing car­pets and A628 aside, Bleak House was a won­der­ful place to bring up chil­dren, and my twin sons, Oisin and Cu­lain, and daugh­ter Ni­amh, were never short of vis­it­ing friends who wanted to share the wide open spa­ces and, of course, the con­tents of our fridge. It wasn’t just plates of food that went up to their rooms or out onto the hills, whole trays of as­sorted good­ies were de­voured and sent back for re­fills.

The pic­ture, of Ni­amh look­ing up at Oisin, is one of my favourites from over the years, and just sings out in joy­ous cel­e­bra­tion of life in the hills. They are walk­ing back down the Old Salt Road be­hind the house with­out a care in the world; this was the big­gest back gar­den in the world, and our vis­i­tors in­cluded a vast ar­ray of birds and mam­mals not nor­mally found in gar­dens.

Some of the most ex­cit­ing were the er­mine – stoats which turn white in win­ter – and I could at­tract them over the wall with a com­bi­na­tion of dead mice and im­i­tat­ing a rab­bit (don’t ask). We also had blue hares and foxes, birds in­clud­ing red grouse on the bird ta­ble, red-legged par­tridge at the back door, flocks of field­fares, redwings and waxwings on the bushes in win­ter, wheatears, com­mon sand­pipers in the court­yard and pere­grines, mer­lin, short-eared owls and even oys­ter­catch­ers and dun­lin over­head.

I re­mem­ber do­ing an RSPB sur­vey on gar­den birds and about 10 of my ‘ticks’ had not been recorded in thou­sands of other gar­dens around the coun­try, a spe­cial place in­deed.

It is a sober­ing thought that I was 26 when I moved in, the same age as my sons now, but I wouldn’t have changed it for the world, and the times there were mostly good times.

When I orig­i­nally be­came the reser­voir keeper/war­den for Wood­head, the house came free with the job, as did the Land Rover, and good old Stan Arn­field drove up each Thurs­day to pay me in cash.

My friends of­ten asked, ‘What do you do Woody?’ And I replied, ‘I get up in the morn­ing, look out of the win­dow and if the reser­voir is still there, I’m okay’.

●● This photo of Sean’s daugh­ter Ni­amh and son Oisin is one of his favourites

The Laugh­ing Bad­ger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Pad­field, Glos­sop

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