Shoestring Warrior ┐
About the book
History of Longwood
Look Inside
Longwood Then and Now
Making Cob
Map of Longwood



Inspirational Books


Lower Longwood was just visible from the winding lane running almost parallel with the river Torridge and with some difficulty we found the entrance in a wooded dip by the site of an old footbridge with a small ford running at right angles.  We trudged up the hill towards a distant building, through marshy rushes and long grasses turning yellow in the late summer sun, tramping through the four acres of broadleaf woodland called the Long Wood with ancient tree roots twisted along undulating banks.



The sparkling nearby stream gave us an abundant supply of running water, but water was too heavy for me to lug around even using plastic containers.  I often wondered how on earth our ancestors managed with wooden buckets. We used a network of plastic water butts to catch every last drop of rain from the caravan roof.  More often than not the water had a smoky tang due to soot deposits from the chimney.


Two men were walking determinedly up the hill.  The older one introduced himself as David Gerard, the other his son, who had the same sour, pinched features.  I don’t know who was the angrier.  It wasn’t just that they considered our bubble of land theirs, it was also that we had tampered with their rather inadequate fencing; didn’t we know about the ways of the “varmer”?  I showed him proof of ownership by way of the separate deed and he brushed this aside saying the land was his as he “ayd been varming it fer minny yurrs”. 
Squatters rights, I suppose he meant.  He strode off saying he would be getting his slissateer on to it.



As the seasons progressed I was to find myself looking outside and feeling dreadfully sorry for the sheep, battling torrential, permeating rain, up to their knees in the boggy marshland with many showing signs of lameness, inevitable perhaps in such harsh conditions.  In winter’s icy grip when temperatures plummeted to minus three or four, with hoar frost colouring the fields and hedgerows arctic white, they mostly stood about staring blankly ahead.



Settling down to a lifestyle that others only dream about when the sun shines, I felt so lucky.  We had neither money nor possessions, save a caravan with a Rayburn, two dogs, a rusty old car, quad bike and chainsaw, some bits of clothing and a few defective pans.  What we also had was mother nature, wind, sunshine and rain in abundance and trees. Paradise was being away from the demands of others.  What could be more perfect than this, I wondered. 

The Rayburn would go out so many times in a stiff breeze and subsequently be very difficult to re-light.  I was always a little nervous about the blowback effects of Joe’s fail-safe starter, paraffin.




 I was grateful for any modification made to refine our lifestyle.  A water butt with a tap at the bottom; a large thermos container with push down tap as a substitute for running water; flattened cardboard boxes made throwaway door mats; a washing line strung between two ash trees; a lorry mudflap made into a boot scraper; a £5 pair of wellies allowed me to walk anywhere in our long wet grass without rising damp.  I wondered what would happen to the economy if more people were like us.


The chickens, awaiting their morning mash, were all lined up ready for inspection.  For God’s Sake, let us Out!  The hinges on their door are loose, so a Guinea fowl escaped into the outer barn and started to make a scene about being Left on his own.  



For all the bucolic bliss there was a less savoury part of caravan life.  It started with the odd scratching noise, then the sudden appearance of tell-tale droppings in our kitchen cupboards.  Eek, mice!  What type of creature takes pleasure in eating wood and plastic?  It was disconcerting to feel that one day the caravan could collapse.  In daylight that notion seemed absurd, but in the wee hours it seemed quite feasible.



I made my way through to the lake field and untangled the rope that tethered the dinghy.  I used a narrow piece of wood to paddle my way around the lake.  The water hawthorn and strands of brown algae made the going a little tough, but hey, I was in no hurry I reminded myself.  Why did I, even now, have to rush everywhere?  Why was it so very difficult just to sit and contemplate?  I struggled with thoughts that nagged, You must get back, you must get back, get Back.



Mollie was a lady of high birth, a pedigree Yorkshire terrier who ate her food delicately but she changed as soon as she got outside.  The two things that really motivated her we had in abundance: twigs (green, brown, short, fat, decayed, it didn’t matter) and expanses of water.  She looked all chocolate box without the bow but exhibited an altogether darker side when she savaged those sticks.  One day we ran over her in the quad, but luckily it was a time when the ground was very soft so she had no discernible injuries. 
 Winnie, a Jack Russell cross was a ratter, and very tough-exemplified by the time she rushed through a gap in the barbed wire.  We carried on walking thinking she was following but no, she was actually hanging from the fence, back legs intermittently off the ground, with one of the hooked barbs right through her upper jowl.  I held her, Joe unhooked her.  She shook herself and ran off.


If you add persistent rain to an ageing caravan then random leaks in the roof have a tendency to spring up unannounced.  I marvelled at two things; the melodious sound of dripping tap tap tapping onto the array of baking tins and saucepans and how much rain continued to fall.  I often noted in my journal that we were free of leaks, only to be caught unaware by another one. 



But it was always a joy when the rain stopped and we experienced the life-enhancing rays of the sun.  A by-product of such weather conditions was the frequent appearances of rainbows; surely a sign that our pot of gold wasn’t far away?


Arthur unilaterally decided that our Longwools should “go ta raahm” and promptly bought up two of his boys to “run with” our sheep.  The boys were particularly interested in the pubescent FB (Fat Bastard) who obviously looked older than she was.  FB was the very antithesis of Pearl.  She was very solid; not aerodynamically sculpted, you understand, but didn’t she go!  They were both naughty and manic, managing to escape with monotonous regularity to eat the contents of my flower pots, my prized corkscrew hazel and any other tender shoots they could find.  But Pearl could be forgiven anything when she appeared beside me like a shadow, nuzzling me and fluttering her long dark eyelashes, while FB chewed impassively alongside, her demeanour inscrutable.



I felt a crusade coming on: what about the houses of our forefathers, modest dwellings built for people that lived and worked on the land, simple artisans’ houses that, like ours, had not been listed for some reason or another?  As a result of what seemed like an elitist policy our unlisted heritage was being irretrievably lost and I allowed myself the luxury of thinking that perhaps my humble efforts could be a catalyst for change.


Kate was the largest and grandest hen and when it seemed she was lingering on the nest box, we resorted to the animal husbandry book which diagnosed broodiness.  So, we put her with the two bantams but she started getting upset that mere bantams were sharing the same space.  At one stage Beryl was forced to perch on the dividing wall post to escape Kate’s pecks. As Kate strode majestically away from her maternal duties, we shoved what eggs we could under the accommodating bantams.  Luckily Beryl and the other little bantam refused to be put off by Kate and between them they incubated 19 healthy Maran chicks.



Eventually we were left with a pair of Guinea fowl who seemed devoted to each other, but then the female started disappearing for longer and longer.  When it first happened he went berserk.  She is gone, he croaked shrilly. One day she never returned and he seemed rooted to the spot with grief.  Joe had the idea of putting an old mirror on the ground propped up beside the caravan.  He started weebling at his reflection and from then on, apart from foraging for food, he would spend most of the day peering short-sightedly at it and preening himself before falling asleep.


We were walking over to the house when we heard a rumble.  The porch end of the stone wall had collapsed!  We just stared at it in disbelief. 
That wall was the most complete part of the cottage and without it we might just as well give up.  This was another of those landmark episodes that continued to test our resolve. 
What was the point?  That’s it, time to give in!  We had been so sure that the house had been tapping its foot waiting for us to come along and breathe life into it.



The radish, grotesquely swollen and going to seed rather too soon became host to both green and striped yellow caterpillars and in a heavy-handed act of revenge I yanked them all out and topped and tailed them.  The tops I crammed into a bucket for onward transmission to the compost heap and the caterpillars’ ultimate death by pecking from the marauding hens.  We left the rest of the vegetables to their own devices, all very pretty in a multi-coloured sort of way.  The tallest were the parsnips which attracted Longwood’s entire bee population.  The leeks, red cabbage, lettuce, beetroot, carrots and radish all assumed new identities as they rocketed skyward before discharging their seeds.



And then there were the owls. Although I don't think I ever got over the excitement and marvel of seeing a pair of barn owls flying out together, we saw them so often that it was almost common¬place. Each time either of us saw them we would stop and watch until they were finally out of sight. The first time Nick of the Hawk and Owl Trust came he showed Joe the whole eco-system beneath our feet—thousands of tiny runs criss-crossing the long grass in the cottage field made by the barn owls' staple takeaway food—voles, field mice and other tiny rodents. He saw the clear evidence of barn owl occupation at the cottage. Every pellet told a story of well-fed owls, corroborated by the tell-tale salt and black pepper streaks on the floorboards and the walls from the owls nesting in the void between the thatched roof and corrugated iron.


Despite my rigorous and time-consuming sterilising procedures, Red developed scour, which can be fatal, but somehow I didn’t feel worried about her as I increased the boiled water content and decreased the rich powdered milk.  I then developed what seems now an unhealthy obsession with calf faeces as I scrabbled around for signs of improvement in their colour and consistency.  The calves were very hard work, especially without running water.


Two men were standing outside.  Peter Planner had received complaints that somebody is living here.  He and his pan-faced assistant declined coffee while I gave him a brief history of our tenure.  His job was the enforcement of planning law and he had “evicted pregnant women and pensioners alike”.  Obviously wishing to curb my unwarranted enthusiasm he quickly told me that we had a “one in ten chance” of being granted planning permission.



 While clearing out around the back of the cottage with the digger, Joe uncovered four large sodden beams that seemed to serve the purpose of damming up the shippon entrance from incursion of water.  They had probably been in their boggy resting place for well over a century.  He dug deep into the bank, making an island of the two remaining ash trees.  Inch by inch he dragged the dripping blackened trunks out of their resting place to lay them along the bank, which is where they stayed.  But Joe had a cunning plan.


The new lake filled up quickly and Joe could track the weak points, then patch in with clay.  One evening at dusk, he was on his evening perambulation and as he stood on the 10ft high wall there was an almighty roar as it all collapsed under him.  The cascade of water was phenomenal but he threw himself to safety.  All those hours and all that money we had spent on a visual enhancement and wildfowl habitat was swept away literally in minutes.  There were huge slabs of clay, one at least a ton in weight, that the force of water had carried right down to the beginning of the Long Wood.



It was a magical feeling, after all that time, to be able to walk the length of the drive.  I stood at the top and looked down; the niggles about money suddenly didn’t matter.  It was one of those perfect, cloudless days with the nodding variegated hedgerows that you only find in England - a panoply of green fields against an azure sky. 
The drive rolled out in front of me like my own royal grey carpet and no-one would ever really know just what a feat of civil engineering it had turned out to be.