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Berwick, North Northumberland: Food-Travel-Culture-Community

The rush of rural life

Fast Castle - just one of the wild and wonderful places near Berwick-upon-Tweed

Rural life is so hectic!

Despite being reared in the country I had forgotten the  relentless things to do, see and take part in – every town and village designs its own activities and fetes. Then there are music events, lectures, groups and societies. And, of course, the business of living.

It’s nine months since we moved to Berwick from North London. The Husband finds going back to London increasingly difficult. Even I have felt less need to book up advance trains for every school holiday. This must surely mean we are settling in. Even more radical than that, it means that we really have decided to make Berwick our home. Of course, we will never be locals. I remember my mother explaining to me that although she had lived in Suffolk for 25 years she was still an ‘outsider’!

I look back over these busy months and have to acknowledge that, as we’ve determinedly thrown ourselves into our new home and way of life, the highs have been way up there and the lows have been, well, low.

Our garden has given us enormous pleasure despite its daunting dimensions and landscaping. The installation of our three hens had the whole family in anthropomorphic clucks. We found it so easy to attribute ‘the ladies’ with human characteristics…they ‘enjoyed’ being with us, they ‘chatted’ to us and each other. In short, Nutmeg, Champion and Rose delighted us as they dug the garden, kept us company, ate scraps and, most importantly, produced impossibly luscious eggs.

Rose - later to become 'The Killer Hen'

Rose - later to become 'The Killer Hen'

The first egg

The first egg

I’m growing lettuce, cabbage, basil, coriander, radishes, garlic, tomatoes, peas and sweet peas. The Husband dusted down his tool box and found enormous fulfilment in fashioning a chicken run and a variety of other satisfying manly wooden items for the garden. We barely scratched the surface of such rural pursuits in London. We loathed the idea of pets – the campaign against the resident house mice and urban foxes filled any need for animal contact.

In Berwick, we’ve enjoyed delicious, locally sourced food as fresh as that found in any posh London restaurant. We’ve attended Slow Food events, we have a pig developing nicely over in Foulden at Peelham Farm, we’ve hurrahed the Riding of the Bounds, we’ve attended philosophy lectures, been to the theatre, cinema and art galleries (on our doorstep instead of a tube ride or two away), set out for marvellous walks on our own and with the local bird group, we’ve done a sailing course and we’ve received amazing hospitality, generosity and kindness from so many people. It really makes me smile when I count my Berwick blessings.

A marvellous birdwalk on Holy Island with North Northumberland birdwatching group

Of course, we arrived with our rose-tinted glasses firmly in place. We didn’t worry too much about locking garden sheds. After all, in this local community everyone knows everyone and crime is low, unlike the London area we hail from. We are more careful now after most of the husband’s tools went missing.

When we realised one of our hens had arrived with scaly leg, we regaled our friends with the picture of two inadequate Londoners wrestling
Vaseline onto the legs of said hen. How we all laughed. It was less fun when two of the hens died suddenly and inexplicably. And, when our remaining hen turned into a blood-thirsty hen-pecking murderer after we attempted to introduce a new hen, we were revolted. Our desire to apply human characteristics to our hens did not stretch to accepting power structures, territorial instincts and natural selection. Even if, as a Suffolk farmer I once knew used to say: “Where there’s livestock, there’s deadstock.”

So, the tint of our glasses hasn’t exactly been tarnished but it has cleared a little. Which is probably just as well. We have a lot to learn about our new life. But I don’t want to totally lose the thrill of what is a great adventure. And that seems unlikely as the pace of Berwick living hurtles us into the next new experience.

Garden pleasures

(A version of this article was first published on June 9th 2011 in The Berwick Advertiser

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4 thoughts on “The rush of rural life

  1. sue upcott on said:

    As one determined to make a similar move back into the countryside one day I am really grateful for all this insight, Jackie. Keep it coming!!

    love to all

  2. Annsley Kerr on said:

    Friends with more than 20 years experience of chooks have recently had a similarly macabre experience of hen-pecking. It came us a shock to them; not just to us townies. Do not be put off – I’m sure the fresh eggs are worth it.

    • Ah! How wise you are! In fact we have just recently introduced three new hens in a bid to keep Rose alive through the winter (we were worried she’d get chilly in her hen palace alone) – we tried a different method and it worked!!! We currently have four hens and The Husband is down chatting to them now. Of course, it’s not prime laying time and only two of them are laying. But, oh, those eggs are good! Also, hens produce enormous amounts of poo which is, apparently, really quick to break down and be good on the garden…at the moment it’s just good at sticking to the bottom of our boots!

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