With the end of October approaching, the wheel of the year draws near Samhain - or All Saints or Halloween - and enters its darkest times between now and Midwinter. Certainly, the weather this week feels more wintery with gusty winds, noticeably less sunlight and dropping temperatures.
It is a time when the house becomes a warm and cosy sanctuary: I have made thick curtains for nearly all the windows and our woodburners are very efficient at keeping us warm. We are preparing the house – and ourselves - for winter! We have taken out the old Esse range cooker from the kitchen and sourced an alternative stove that will be better suited to our needs. It was an old stove in a sorry state of disrepair and given its age and the unavailability of parts, we were satisfied it had done its time and decided to replace it. We hope to have the new stove installed in the next few weeks.
In an old property such as this, altering anything, even a stove, requires a careful balance between the needs of the land and the building and the needs of their inhabitants. When we were thinking about what to do about the old Esse stove, the questions we asked ourselves were not only “what do we need?” but also “what does the room need?”. We are sensitive to the history of the place. Parts of the house date back to the 1800s and we have a lot of respect for what it was and how it has changed over the years with different owners putting their mark on the place. We are very lucky to have been gifted aerial photographs of it in 1950, 2002 and 2010. Although it has been modernised and extended in a way that makes it comfortable for 21st century life, we cannot ignore the fact that the heart of the house is an old, timber-framed building constructed with no foundations or damp course and it is important to us that we respect how it works, how it breathes and how it needs looking after. It has been standing here for much much longer than us and it will outlive us! We consider ourselves less as owners and more as keepers. We see our role as caretakers of the house and land for the time that we are here and so we feel connected to the ancestors of the place.
In this part of Mid-Wales, we are surrounded by many ancient woodlands, majestic trees that have been standing together in these hills for centuries, present in the landscape season after season. The lanes near our house are dotted with ancient trees so it is easy to get a sense of the past. The sheep in the nearby fields come from old Welsh mountain stock. When I was planting bulbs in the garden the other day, I came across some old bits of crockery. When Peter was cleaning out the pond, he found some old glass bottles and a horseshoe buried in the mud. We know the previous owners had found old clothes and even an old pair of children's leather boots, buried in the soil (there were no refuse or recycling collections or charity shops in those days so people dug the ground!!). The nephew of whose farm it was before it was divided up still has land and farm buildings next to the house and we see him regularly – he has wonderful tales to tell! We have picked apples from trees planted by the previous owners and we are beginning to grow our vegetables in the soil cultivated and improved by them. We feel part of the story of this property.
The celtic festival of Samhain at the end of October is a celebration of those who have come before us and a reminder to remember and pay our respects to our ancestors. In this spirit, we honour those who have lived here before us… some we know in person, some by name only, others long gone from this world, yet we feel their contribution and their presence in our home. They each made their mark here, just like we will. We commit to do so with huge respect for what has come before and mindful of the legacy we want to leave. We are at the beginning of our time here and we are making plans for how we are going to take care of the land and the house in a way that equally reflects us and connects our time here with both the past and the future. We think the purchase of our new stove is a good example of that, but more on this another time...