A Very Small Holding

The Elliffs journey into the good life


A very traumatic event

There were numerous farms in the area offering food and other products from the farm gate. We wanted to purchase some dry logs and kindling to use in our log burners. One entrance in the nearby village of Tean appeared to be the most welcoming and so we decided to investigate.

The visit proved to be enlightening. The farm gate belonged to a smallholding hidden beyond the houses lining the main road through Tean. The owner had a small nursery, a variety of poultry and many other animals on his twenty acre holding. We bought our wood and then began a conversation that ended with us asking him to provide a quotation for building a large allotment shed. One of his many money-making enterprises was designing and building chicken coops. A shed was an extension of this occupation.

We had originally thought that we would dismantle and reconstruct the cattery to become our shed. However, following David’s visit to the allotment he suggested that we keep the cattery intact as it was ideal for housing chickens. We intended to expand our flock of hens and to try our hand at breeding, the advice made perfect sense. He suggested that we build the shed the other side of the entrance on the paved area that I had recently cleared. It had no other purpose and was sheltered from the sun. A few days later we had ordered a twenty-four by eight foot shed, to be delivered and constructed a month later.

It was our daughter’s second birthday this week which restricted the time available to maintain the croft. I did manage to spend one dry afternoon clearing debris from the old cattery roof and cutting back branches of the invading trees.

Tabitha, our twenty-one year old cat enjoying the sunshine in the safety of our lounge

Tabitha, our twenty-one year old cat enjoying the sunshine in the safety of our lounge

The birthday itself did not go according the plan. Unfortunately we had to take our last cat, Tabitha, to the vets that Friday morning. She had been acting oddly; subdued, not eating her food and drinking water from puddles in the garden. The vet confirmed our fears; Tabitha’s stomach was tender and her heart was beating erratically. At the grand old age of twenty-one we did not wish to put her through the trauma of an operation that was unlikely to resolve her condition. We had to make the unenviable decision to put Tabitha to sleep and ease her pain forever.

We were too upset to watch the fateful event take place and wished our last memories of Tabitha to be a fond farewell. We left her in the vet’s capable hands and returned home to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of our daughter.


A very instructive purchase

An aerial view of our village showing the large number of trees in our rear garden and the hedges surrounding our land

An aerial view of our village showing the large number of trees in our garden and the hedges surrounding our land

It was evident that due to the number of trees that we had inherited a portable cutting device would be a very useful acquisition. We had two log burners that will need wood cutting to a sensible size, hedges that required frequent maintenance and I had a teenage desire to own a chainsaw.

An electric chainsaw would not be practical. The distances from a power socket to each corner of the property were too great. Although more expensive a petrol powered chainsaw seemed our best option.

Following one of my many visits to the local recycling centre I visited a nearby Aldi store. They held weekly sales of selected household goods stacked between the rows of foreign sourced food. This particular week various items of garden equipment were on sale, including chainsaws and hedge trimmers. I ignored the principle that you get what you pay for and purchased the inexpensive petrol chainsaw and a petrol hedge trimmer.

It was not long before I regretted my purchases. After many frustrating hours in the workshop I failed to start either engine. I read several online forums and discovered this to be a regular issue with both these products. I decided to cut my loses, with a lesson learned, returning both items and collected a cash refund.

Another purchase I made this week proved to be more successful. We knew that a trailer would become a necessity as we developed our little smallholding. Before we contemplated this important purchase we required a tow-bar to be fitted to our car.

Heeding advice from Katie’s father we ordered the appropriate tow-bar kit from Towsure, the market leader in this arena. He also offered his services, in his capacity as an off-road enthusiast, to fit the tow-bar. He had been refurbishing a classic jeep for several years and had all the equipment needed to dismantle and rebuild the rear of our car.

I drove to his house in our old home town and assisted him as we fitted the tow-bar to the chassis. After an hour we had the car on a ramp and the tow-bar fixed in place. The electric connection proved to be a more difficult task to complete. We had to pass a wire from the rear of the car to the battery in the engine compartment. Several hours later the work was complete; we had threaded the wire through the upholstrery to the relay in the boot. The wiring was rudimentary, but the lighting test was successful, ignoring the warning light that now illuminated the dashboard. We saw no obvious reason for this warning and there were no malfunctioning bulbs. Therefore we packed up our tools and I headed home triumphant.


A very bad use of space

Since the move to our new home I had focused my spare time maintaining the croft and preparing the land for the following year. I had neglected the house itself, which fortunately for us was reasonably well decorated. We had hung several pictures, mirrors, shelves and curtain poles, but the house was largely as it was on the day that we moved in.

A few days trapped in the house by the rain turned our attention to our homestead. We had moved in with the intention of converting the garage into an office. I was occupying one of the bedrooms, sharing it with the nursery. As a location for my small business it was far from perfect.

We invited two local builders to the house to discuss extending the building and converting the garage. We wanted a rough idea of the budget we required to build an office and also to extend the rear of the house, adding a fourth bedroom and a dining room. Both builders provided an equivalent ballpark cost that sounded reasonable and within our reach via a remortgage. The builders were equally successful in failing to follow up their verbal quotes with a concrete proposal. However, we had an idea of the cost and therefore our architect, whom was already drawing up plans for the extension, would not be wasting their time.

While we waited in hope that the house would grow in size we tried several ways to improve the space upstairs. One simple measure was to remove the fitted wardrobe that had been left in the master bedroom. This had reduced the room’s capacity by a fifth and meant that we could only get into our king-size bed from one side. The room had already been reduced in size at some point in the past to double the width of the adjacent bathroom.

I dismantled the huge wardrobe units and transported the heavy panels to the workshop. We repositioned our bed in the centre of the room facing the window, overlooking the front garden and the croft opposite. We left the bedroom wall with screw-holes exposed in the expectation that we will be decorating the house following the much anticipated extension.

The incinerator on the base of the old greenhouse filled with branches

The incinerator on the base of the old greenhouse filled to the brim with branches

During intervals in the rain showers I continued use of our new incinerator burning the branches, shrubs and vines that had previously been removed from areas of the croft. I also dismantled a bench that had been constructed under the chestnut tree. It had an ornamental rose growing up either end of the bench, wrapped around thick posts that held up a small canopy. The plant had grown like a beanstalk into the chestnut tree. The main trunk several inches thick and extending a dozen metres into the tree. I pulled the bench posts out of the ground and severed the rose plant at its root. The large thorns proved tricky to avoid as I pulled the thick stems from the boughs of the tree. I chopped up the woody plant and added the sticks to the bonfire.


A very leaky roof

The last few months had seen several days of torrential rain. Following one of our wetter summer days I wandered into the cattery to collect a pair of gardening gloves. I noticed that the ceiling of the second cat pen was dripping wet. On further inspection where I had stacked all our seed trays there were several plant pots full of water. The wooden ceiling was bowed, the centre a foot lower than the edges. A single mushroom was taking advantage of the damp conditions and hung from the ceiling.

I emptied the handily placed pots of water when I ventured outside to investigate the roof covering. The previous owners must have known there was a problem because they had placed a tarpaulin on the roof with bricks holding it down. Unfortunately the tarpaulin did not completely cover the roof, the rainwater ran merrily passed the tarpaulin and through the cracks in the plastic roof sheets. The sheets were sat on the original wood and felt roof. Lifting up the plastic I discovered a large pool of water on the felt.

I climbed on to the cattery roof and made a full inspection of the plastic roof sheets. There were half a dozen cracks along the line of the perimeter fence. I presumed that broken branches from the trees above had caused the damage. The plastic was thin and not designed for heavy weights.

I rearranged the tarpaulin to completely cover the worst of the damage, allowing the rain to run into the gutter. I had to clear debris from the gutter to let the water to drain freely and brushed the collected pool of water from the roof space. I hoped that my minor reparation would be sufficient to prevent further damage to the roof.

My sister had started clearing ivy from the driveway front gates of when her family had visited a fortnight ago. She had been using a hedge trimmer, but stopped when the trimmer stopped working. We discovered later that she had sliced through the power cord.

The front entrance after the gates and roten fencing had been removed

The front entrance with the delapidated gates and fencing removed

The front gates were on their last legs. The fence posts were rotten and were likely to collapse at any time. We had decided that we would replace the gates to secure the front garden and prevent our children from running into the road. The fence that led from the gate to the edge of the road was barely visible. It had deteriorated more than the gates, consumed by ivy and wild shrubs. We were planning to clear this area and cut down the sixty foot leylandii tree.

While Katie was out with Matilda I decided to start removing the gates. Both gates lifted from the ground without much of a fight. I moved on to the fence and began hacking away at the ivy. I cut down two small trees that had rooted themselves among the shrubbery and cut the ivy at its root. A few hours later I had cleared the area leaving the large leylandii exposed in preparation for the visit of the tree surgeons in a month’s time.

Over the past few weeks I had been taking rubble bags full of branches and foliage to the local recycling centres. It seemed that there would be a regular need to dispose of branches and other woody material that was unsuitable for our log burner or any other purpose. To avoid repeated ten mile round trips to the recycling centre I purchased a small incinerator. We had one of these small metal bins at our last house, but it had disintegrated through frequent use and exposure to the elements.

After I had started my bonfire I was informed by a neighbour that a previous tenant had dug a fire pit in the field. This may be an option for us in the future, but for now a small metal incinerator would be adequate. I had positioned it on the base of the old greenhouse a safe distance from the perimeter and overhanging trees. I cut branches into foot long sticks and separated them into two piles, those thick enough to use as kindling and those fit only for incineration. The smoke billowed out through the chimney lid, across the allotment and was dispersed by the hedges before it reached any of our neighbours.


A very safe garden

An important characteristic of the house that we had chosen to make our home were the generous front and rear gardens. We are settling down with our family and wanted the children to have plenty of outside space to play in. Our playground would be the land across the road and they would have the gardens. We had also been lucky that the previous owners had abandoned a large playhouse and a climbing frame in the back garden. Both structures were sound and reasonable new. The play area would need to be cleared and the surrounding garden made safe for toddlers.

One important feature that was missing from the gardens were secure gates to prevent young children from running out into the road. The passage beside the house was only half a metre wide, but would allow an unsupervised child to leave the back garden and access the driveway. The driveway gates were broken and provided an easy means of escape, especially for our mischievous daughter.

Beside the playhouse a small enclosure had been built to contain pet ducks. A small duck house was located behind the playhouse wedged between the playhouse and the perimeter fence. A two bar fence began at the boundary fence and ran to the central pathway separating the poultry from the main garden. The duck enclosure was entered through a small gate from the pathway.

It occurred to me that the gate would make a suitable side entrance. We had already made the decision that all livestock would be housed on the croft, the duck enclosure was threfore surplus to requirements. It did not take long to remove the gate, retaining the post it was anchored to and unscrew the latch from the opposite fence post.

The side gate and fence constructed to prevent the children from escaping

An ivy covered fence divided our driveway from our neighbours, but it stopped short, a foot before our garage wall. Our neighbours had a car port and still had the original outbuilding at the side of their house. The outbuilding was three metres further back from the end of the fence and started on the boundary to our properties. This created a three metre gap that a child could easily toddle through, escaping via the neighbour’s car port.

I used several wooden beams I had won at an auction the previous week to construct a frame that would span the gap. I painted the wood dark brown using a small paint pot I found in the garage. A section of dark green chicken wire was nailed to the frame to complete my improvised fence.

I managed to secure the gate post to an original concrete post, hidden under the ivy, installed by the council when the properties were constructed in nineteen forty-eight. The new fence was screwed to the wooden gate post and to the corner of our neighbour’s outbuilding. The gate closed against the corner of the garage wall at a thirty degree angle. Our back garden was now secure.