Nothing bleak about my place in the country
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