Saturday, 6 April 2013

Walking the land

Iggledy Piggledy House from above

When I first saw our farm I was 5 months pregnant and quite huge already. I gamely managed to walk up the big hill on quite a warm April day and clamber over the terraces a little but one thing I couldn't do was to walk the borders of the land. Neither did Paul that day so we only had a rough idea of what we were buying.

Later, when we'd actually bought it, while I watched Ruby Paul was taken around by Luciana (the eldest member of the Romagnone family, at 76, who owned the property). We nicknamed her the mountain goat as despite her elderly and frail appearance lept about the terraces like a little goat - much faster than either of us - but then I suppose she'd been doing it all her life.

That was the interesting thing about this place. I once asked them how long the farm had been in their family and they all looked a little perplexed and just said "always". The whole family lived in what we have called the 'Igledy Piggledy House' as it is on lots of level and randomly arranged. The whole family consisted of six children plus mum and dad. There was only one bedroom and no running water or electricity. Their water came from the 'ariana' which no-one could translate but they all agreed must be a dialect word for the spring or underground river on the land. The water would be carried up in big pots to the house as it is a good 300m away, down several terraces and some precarious loooking tiny stone stairs. They lived like this until the late 60's when the last of them left. We found an old school book of Rosella's (one of the sisters), sadly almost ruined from the rain, but you could still make out the date of 1960-something. When I was born in 1968 we lived on the 16th floor in a huge concrete tower block in Custom House in east London. The contrast could hardly be greater.

On Wednesday, when the rain finally paused, we decided it was time for me to at last walk the borders of our farm so I could see what we had actually bought. We started at the Iggledy Piggledy House and walked as far as we could, to the east. We could go no further due to a fallen tree and the fact that the land descends very steeply into woods and brambles. Part of it is ours though. Then we went down the terraces, tracing the edges of the land. Down and down we went until we reached the last terrace. This part of the land has the most enormous trees. It's not always possible to tell from the size of the trunk as over the years they may, for all sorts of reasons, get cut right down to ground level and in our case many small trunks then emerge. Where some of the dry-stone walls have collapsed you can see the size of the original trunk/root ball (for want of a better word). They are over 2 metres across! Absolutely huge. I have been trying to age them by looking online and I reckon they are anywhere between 400 and 700 years old whilst the ones on the western side of the farm are relatively young at around 100-150 years old.

One of our huge old olive trees
We then followed what used to be the old road, according to the Romagnone family, along to the 'Long House' which will become our home eventually, when all the other work is done and we are hopefully earning a living from the agriturismo we plan to have. We stopped off at the ariana which is overflowing due to all the recent rain and then followed the driveway (well, it will be when we've sorted it out a bit and get our 4x4) to some stone stairs which lead to the top terraces. On the first top terrace, which is the crest of a hill, there are only a couple of olives and it is full of fragrant Mediterranean 'macchia' or scrub. It was very dry up there which is always a bit of a worry for the frest fire risk but I suspect it is always dry up there. We followed the  terraces around the hill and up through the little rock pools which were full of water (I doubt they will be in summer) and up to the last terrace. It was beautiful up there. Very open and somehow cooler. We did the easy walk along this that leads us back past where the swimming pool will hopefully go and one of the ruined outbuildings to the Iggledy Piggledy house. Paul said "now you've seen everything I've seen" and it was true. There is much more land than I had appreciated and now I can see how come they said we have 200 trees. One of our next jobs will be to number them all so we can count them and allow them to be named properly.

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