At the moment part of the courtyard behind the castle is fenced off to allow for some rather urgent building work to take place in one of the old garages. Originally used for carriages and then repurposed for motor cars by the 5th Earl, it suddenly became rather apparent that the minor cracks and sags of old age had developed into something more serious.
This particular garage might once have had more support within the space than it does now. Like everything here space rooms and outbuildings are recycled and adapted. These days we have surveyors and engineers and there was much pursing of lips at the sight of the widening crack which ran above the through the brickwork above the double doors and up towards the roof. It suggested that the long wooden beam and lintel was cracking ( we could see the supporting post was rotten) and that we had come to the point that making do and propping up to extend its life was no longer an option.
Thus, each morning, I come down to the Estate office to be greeted with a hive of activity. I tease them that it is in between the cups of tea of course but the gift shop is delighted as they have a temporary team of helpful gentlemen to deal with early morning deliveries.
The bricks are now re-mortared and still wonderfully wonky but that is in keeping with the rest of the courtyard and will be entirely fine as the lintel beneath will once more be strong enough the bear the weight.
The new oak beam has arrived, brought in from where we stored it with the help of the forklift from the farm. I can only imagine the effort it would have taken in the past to heave onto a long-wheeled barrow and pull it round with a horse or two. It is beautiful to look at but sadly, I think it has had to come from France rather than home grown.
In the UK over recent years we have not replanted enough oak and as with so many things now, we are dependent on our import trade with other countries. In addition, we have suffered a series of diseases that have attacked our native species from Dutch Elm disease to Ash blight.
All of us are being encouraged to plant a tree to mark the Queen’s Jubilee this year which is a lovely idea although I understand it is now increasingly difficult to get hold of them as a result. Garden centres and nurseries are running out of stock and it is not as easy to import them from Europe as it once was. However, since we live in different areas and landscapes, so hopefully we will all plant different trees.
For example, Thomas Fuller described Norwich, in Norfolk in 1662, as, “either a city in an orchard, or an orchard in a city, so equal are houses and trees blended in it”. Fruit growing was widespread, enjoyed even in tiny plots with trees grown up against the house walls. Perhaps “Work From Home” and less commuter travel will allow us to think again about how to live and what choices to make – it is great to see and meet the office team but perhaps no longer necessary to “live ” with them.
Planting a tree is such a positive thing to do and something that Geordie and I have done a great deal of in our time here at Highclere from the arboretum, to the Walnut Walk and the cherry trees that now line the wild flower meadow. In one section of my recent book “Seasons at Highclere” I suggest five different fruit trees to plant which provide a good and useful mix and which are relatively easy to manage. Fruit trees also have the advantage of being compact in size and multi-seasonal. You can look forward to blossom, grow a clematis through them for additional colour and enjoy the fruit, either as it comes off the tree or in a myriad of recipes. They are not just for us either but part of a long view for our grandchildren and great grandchildren which lessens our dependency on outside resources for our food, no bad thing in these troubled times.