Our old Ash tree is no more. As reported some months ago, the poor thing had started to display signs of Ash dieback (Hymenoscyphus fraxineus) fungus and had started shedding branches. Most, if not all the Ash trees hereabouts have been afflicted with this plague.
We thought it was just in the early stages and would probably survive another year or two. Alas, a few weeks ago, it dropped a very large branch indeed onto the driveway, necessitating urgent action before some unsuspecting guest was squashed on the floor!
Not wishing to go through all the paperwork that a fatal accident might involve, something had to be done.
Given that it was perched atop a crumbling rubble slope, close to the gable of the cottage, above the oil storage tank, the septic tank and the boundary wall, it wasn't an easy job. Nevertheless, the team from Hamps Valley Services took it in their stride and dismantled it carefully, piece by piece in a very controlled operation last week.
My thanks to Kristian Turner and his team for a job well done.
Followers of these pages will know that we've been on a mission to establish a small woodland in our garden here at Roachside Cottage. The garden used to provide all the food for the family who lived here in the early part of the last century - a Herculean task given the 1100 foot elevation and exposure to the wild west wind!
Over the years since the cottage became derelict, the brambles and bracken took over and the entire plot was a mass of tangled undergrowth. Clearing all this and planting small trees has been a task of hard labour for us and a couple of friends during the last few weeks when we've been able to "meet with a friend for outdoor exercise and recreation" . But, for people of a certain age, the work is quite demanding.
Fortunately, the Adventure Sports students from Buxton & Leek College, were looking for some sites to plant as part of their Environmental Awareness module.
They came with the boundless energy one might expect of young people aiming for a career as Outdoor Pursuits Instructors, Mountain Guides and the like. With the air temperature at a chilly 5 degrees and a brisk northerly wind, they were soon down to working in tee shirts!
Oh to be young again!
Thank you young people, and good luck with your ambitions.
The months of lockdown have been dreary through the short winter days, with only our periodic visits to Roachside Cottage to check the heating boiler and the water pumps in the wellhouse.
Now that there is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, we've been able to justify spending a bit more time there, since we have been overwintering 220 tiny trees which we bought in the autumn. These have to be "in the ground" by the time their winter dormancy ends towards the end of March.
We have around 875 square metres of garden at Roachside which is immensely long and very narrow. It used to be a vegetable garden which sustained the family who lived here in previous centuries, but it became overgrown with brambles and bracken 40 plus years ago and has become a bit of a fire hazard along the edge of the open moorland.
After the great fires of 2018, we took the decision to try to transform the land into a coppice woodland, planted with native upland species and that's the task we've been toiling over this last couple of weeks.
My friend Phil and I have been hacking down the undergrowth and digging out the bramble roots while our resident arboricultural expert Jane has been carefully planting the little "whips" to create what we hope will be a legacy of wildlife-supporting berry trees and bushes.
I expect it will come to maturity sometime after I've turned up my toes, but it's a good feeling to be doing a little bit of something positive - especially after the last 12 months.
For those who have an interest in tree planting, we bought our upland tree planting mixture from The Woodland Trust and they include;
Downy Birch, Holly, Elder, Goat Willow, Hawthorne, Blackthorn, Hazel, Dog Rose and Rowan - with a few self-set Silver Birch and Oak scavenged from my own garden at home.
Of course, since the fires of 2018, everyone who loves The Roaches has been super-sensitive to the sight of or smell of smoke - to the extent that the Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service had two calls about our incinerator!!
I bought a new wall poster for the cottage this week to replace a wall hanging which I've purloined for my new bathroom at home.
During the last few months, we've done an awful lot of solitary walking and thinking (as well as bathroom plumbing and tiling!) and, being of a certain age and caught in a deadly pandemic, I frequently ponder the place and reason for Mankind's place in the universe. Plodding round Rudyard Lake with Scout, I can apply my otherwise disordered mind to Deep Thought.
Many years ago, when I was quite a young man, I was enthralled by a television series entitled "Cosmos" which was written and presented by the late , great, Carl Sagan, American astronomer, planetary scientist, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, author, poet and surely one of the greatest ever science communicators.
As Director of the Voyager 1 imaging team at NASA in the 1970s & 80's, it was Sagan's brilliant idea to have the Voyager's camera turned around at the end of it's mission, beyond Neptune, just as it left the realms of the solar system and about 6 billion kilometres from earth. This was when digital cameras were in their infancy and only multi-billion dollar space projects could afford to have them. At this extraordinary range, the imaging team succeeded in capturing a stunning image, in which the Earth shows as a pale blue dot just 1/4 of a pixel in the inky blackness of interplanetary space.
A quirk of the direction of the shot relative to the position of the sun, meant that "lens flare" left some faint colour fringes across the image. It's an image not just of astonishing aesthetic beauty, but one which emphasises our extreme remoteness, our isolation and our infinite smallness too.
It's an image which has always had a profound impact on me and, I'm sure, on many others. I always ponder this image when the World seems topsy-turvy and riven by stupidity and petty human bickering.
Sagan himself put it exquisitely in his truly poetic passage for the TV series.
Look again at that dot.
That's here. That's home. That's us.
On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.
The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.
Although Roachside Cottage is closed due to our local Tier 3 status until mid-January at the earliest, we’re not being idle. This is what several hundred £ worth of new trees look like!
Our aim is to create a copse along the 175 metre length of the garden, filled with native upland species which will help support wildlife. These first plants will be planted shortly and include Goat Willow, Downy Birch, Holly, Rowan, Blackthorn, Hawthorn, Elder, Dog Rose, Hazel & Crab Apple.
They're pretty tiny little things now, but we hope that they'll become our legacy - when we've turned up our toes!
(Providing we get through the pandemic of course....)