We will be analysing this later in the week…
We made our way up the rough driveway to Collingwood House, through the thick bushes, to a collection of ramshackle buildings surrounded by towering oak and silver birch trees. The main farmhouse was little more than a hundred years old. Bright blue paint along the rafters failed to cover up the fact that they and almost everything else were deeply rotten. The whole place seemed like a vision, and my parents were both starry-eyed the second they saw it.
Mum and Dad took up the management of the place more in the way of a lifestyle than just a home. They planted an enormous vegetable patch, and embarked on the impossible task of rebuilding the dilapidated buildings. After a few months, our first rescue animal arrived, an asthmatic donkey called Barney, and after that the floodgates opened. We collected all sorts: dogs, goats, floppy-eared rabbits, two intimidating geese called Victoria and Albert, and an Exmoor pony called Walnut who deliberately headed for low-hanging branches to try and forcibly remove anyone daft enough to try and ride him.
All the animals were much more pets than they were farm animals. We used to play hide-and-seek with the goats, running off into the bracken when they weren’t looking, then sitting quietly waiting. Just minutes later, a wet nose would nuzzle into your ear. It was my job to milk the goats before going to school each day, and it was a lot harder than it looked. If it was a warm day at school, I’d end up stinking of curdled milk.
Even as a child I valued my own space, and the woods were my retreat. Wondrous ancient woodlands of conifer and broadleaf, dappled sunlight, the scent of pines, the scurry of squirrels. I knew the location of every fox earth and badger sett, stalked red deer to see how close I could get, and cried when one of the stable girls set light to a clutch of grass snake eggs found in a manure heap. For the rest of my life, no matter where I go or how much I make my current house my own, Collingwood will always be my home.