Updated: Jan 4
No matter what time of year it is, there's a particular spot in Suffolk, overlooking agricultural fields, wild flower meadows, idyllic country houses, tracks instead of roads, and it just gets me every time. There are a lot of beautiful views like this around, don't get me wrong, but there is a depth to this place that I have experienced in few other places before. Even if just for a moment, taking in this sight gives instant flight to dreams and desires; impossibilities become possible, a balance and peace is restored inside. It isn't just me, though, who has been held captive by this place; this view has inspired incredible and history making creative works by artists, writers and composers for more than a hundred years. Just down the way is where Benjamin Britten used to live, I can't help but chortle to myself when I think of how I breast fed my new born in what was once the study of a man who has long been a hero of mine. A room specifically designed with massive windows, from floor to ceiling, making up two of the four walls, looking out at that same soul moving scene, encouraging a fusion of people, nature and creativity.
My work and private life had brought me to this place on several occasions over the last few
years, either visiting near by farms, or a rare something social. Eventually, not that long ago, it occurred to me that this was a place where I could settle, raise my daughter, manage a reasonable size farm and living, and finally take that deep breath of relief, knowing that I had somewhere belong to again. This was only place I had ever visited, that I would seriously consider selling Longwater Farm and relocating entirely for. It was terrifying to feel that way. Having been a seasoned traveller with no particularly strong roots anywhere since my late teens, I had invested mind, body and soul
into my smallholding and business. The roots were finally down and I never thought I'd consider selling, I never thought I'd become disconnected with the place enough to start dedicating the bulk of my thoughts and plans in a different direction. Too much grief and change had made me turn away from the farm in recent times; it had become a symbol of my sadness and fear, it came to represent every mistake I had ever made. The achievement and beauty of the place didn't matter anymore. I didn't expect it, and it really was unsettling to feel that way. But this new project was exciting and rejuvenating. I started to make plans; if I made changes here, here and here, I could raise the value of the farm there, there and there, and then I could go to this old farmer and ask to be considered to put in an offer on this homestead in this beautiful place, if and when he was ready to retire and sell. It was a long shot, of course, there was no assumption that the farmer should agree; he may have had people he wanted to leave the farm to, or had a buyer in mind already, or something else entirely that wasn't my place to know about. But the fact that I was in a position to seriously have this conversation, at thirty six years old, as a single mum, having had no investment or inheritance from anyone, was pretty incredible and so I was going to run with it and see what happened.
Turns out this old farmer, who had lived and worked his land all his eighty something years, didn't have anyone in particular he wanted to leave the farm to, and was the last in the family line of farmers. He had occasionally spoken about not knowing what to do with the place in the future and so by the end of last summer, I decided to be bold, go and visit him and have a chat.
I put forward that when he was ready to retire and sell up, I wanted to put in an offer, and be considered to buy the estate. I told him that I could only raise two thirds of what the place was worth, but that the ad-on to my offer, as we had been friends for several years, was that he should stay living in the house with us for the rest of his life. That selling up wouldn't mean also having to leave his life long home; he could continue to potter about on the farm as he pleased, enjoying the same security and lifestyle he always had. I would fix the house up and keep home equally for him as I do my family. I would learn everything I needed to know about running the farm from him, help him, and within a couple of years we could style our own management handover. He would be looked after and be part of a family for the rest of his life, something I knew he dearly missed and I would be honoured to provide.
I made it clear that I had no intentions of asking him to leave me the farm and wouldn't accept a conversation around inheritance. He had often talked about needing to find someone to leave it to and I wanted it known that I understood I had no claim what so ever so I didn't want the conversation to ever become muddied in that way. It was a delicate negotiation of intentions and expectations on both sides. He made it clear the individuals he didn't want to ever take over the farm, and he made it clear that he didn't want the place to be absorbed into a bigger farming company. He wanted it to be kept as it is; a family home, a small business, that respected the land and the old ways. I was able to assure him that by accepting my proposal that all of his wishes would be adhered to. So there should have been quite a lot of clarity to this conversation.
We had this conversation in the garden and moving around the farm. Then we moved indoors, he sat in his grand old chair, in his kitchen come dining room come snooze room, next to his unlit fireplace. Rosie played on the floor with the little dog which was whining to get out of its cage and play too, while I made us all tea and corned beef sandwiches with an orange on the side. I put his tea on the table next to him, handed him the plate of sandwiches and settled onto a dining room chair opposite him. The board had been set and I'd moved my pieces into position. I sat in silence drinking my tea, and reflected on how I'd once had a similar conversation with my Grandad, before buying Longwater, nearly a decade before. The differences here were that now, I was much more sure of myself, but far less sure of the man in front of me.
"You'd kick me out once you got this place, you wouldn't want to look after me." That was a two square pawn defence move right there. It took me slightly off guard because I knew I was true to my word, but it was a reasonable fear for the other side. We continued to talk through questions and details for an hour or so, the nights were still light so we were in no rush. But then it became apparent that his opening statement wasn't a defence at all.