the end of an era

from underneath the oak tree in Railway Field

Following a chance conversation with a stranger in the pub, my father in law was offered a short term tenancy of a farm while the landlords arranged to sell the land for housing development. As Phil was already farming nearby, he ran the two farms together, with the dairy herd at Lodge Farm and the home farm at the other end of town next to a row of shops, opposite the cinema. Not surprisingly, farming in the town became impossible and the family moved to where we live now but continued to rent Lodge Farm.

Fifty two years later, the temporary tenancy is ending due to Phil’s death last year and we have to quit at Michaelmas (29th September). Bill has said over the years that he wouldn’t miss Lodge Farm – bikes, prams and supermarket trolleys get dumped in the fields, crops of standing wheat have been set on fire, the sheds have been vandalised and there’s lots of travel between farms hauling crops and moving machinery. This ten mile journey hasn’t improved over the years; tractors may be better but there are more cars with drivers in a hurry, impatiently sitting behind the tractor on the narrow roads until a suitable pullover spot is reached, causing frayed tempers and a lot of gesticulation when they overtake. There have been numerous punctures over the years, one or two minor accidents and one harvest my tractor caught fire on the way home.

in the fruit field

Of course the reality is that Bill will miss Lodge Farm. When we first married, we lived in one of the farm cottages there and Bill became a commuter, driving back to the main farm every day. We planted strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, blackcurrants and broad beans for Pick Your Own and sold hay and straw bales from the door, along with potatoes and Christmas trees. One summer, much to the children’s excitement, the circus put up their Big Top on Weatheralls field and we had exotic animals living next to us for a week. We moved out when the children were still young so they barely remember living there (George’s most vivid memory is watching Father Christmas fly over the barn!) but we had a happy time.

So now the landlords have engaged farming contractors who (probably this week) will start to cultivate the fields for the next crop, the farm buildings are due to be demolished when our tenancy ends and before too long I expect houses will be built on the fields. Renting the farm was Phil’s first step to expansion after his parents died and later gave Bill and I our first chance to run a business together when we planted the fruit, so it was a poignant moment last week when Bill carted home the final load of oilseed rape. Though, to be fair, fifty two years is pretty good for a short term contract.

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