Fawcett Mill Fields, Cumbria 26-28th November 2021
One of the things that had been a feature of the BCV calendar for as long as anyone can remember were the residential weekends, or as we call them Resi’s. Our last resi before the time of Covid was in January 2020 at the Anderton Centre, since then those weekend retreats had been badly missed. So, when Sam and Rich offered us the chance to swap landscapes of brick, concrete and tarmac for those of high hills, steep valleys and gushing rivers we couldn’t say no.
Fawcett Mill Fields is Rich Greenwood and Sam Kitchen’s new venture, holiday accommodation in buildings that were once part of a water mill. The mill buildings date back to the early 1700s’s, but a mill existed on or around this site as part of Gaisgill Hall as far back as the 1300s. Sadly, previous owners had buried the mill machinery under concrete in less enlightened times, but many other features still remained including the Grade II Listed packhorse bridge over the Rais Beck. It was in this setting that we became Rich and Sam’s first guests, and in return we would be building a dipping platform and laying a hedge.
Seventeen volunteers made the journey, all of us taking at least one lateral flow test in the previous 24 hours, the only unwanted thing to come with us was Storm Arwen. This Arwen was no Elven princess, and as the last of us arrived at Fawcett Mill high winds and snow were already battering the buildings and coating the roads in glittering white. Thankfully Sam and Rich had prepared hot meals for us all, it was like reaching Rivendell after being chased across the moors by howling wraiths; this last homely house was to be our home for the next two days.
In Glades Beneath The Misty Fell
After a night of socialising, and not much sleep our day began with breakfast, followed by second breakfast in some cases, and preparations for the day ahead. The plan was to begin work on the dipping platform on the other side of the packhorse bridge, so we gathered the tools and set out. Over night the temperature had gone from cold to really cold, and the icy chill could be felt even on double gloved hands and double socked toes, but we weren’t going to be put off by a little cold weather.
As we looked at the beautiful countryside it was clear that the site had a wealth of wild life: blue tit, great tit, coal tit, robin, nuthatch, blackbird, chaffinch, and dipper were some of the birds present, but earlier Sam had seen salmon leaping up the waterfalls, and there was also a magical red squirrel that disappeared into the trees not to be seen again all weekend. We were in nature lovers heaven, and we wanted to make it ours.
The site of the dipping platform was at the end of a small pond and the first job was to remove the vegetation and level out the soil. That done we hammered twenty wooden posts into the ground to support the platform. Sounds simple but the rocks beneath the soil made a straight forward job into hard work, as a result some of the posts were a little bit misaligned, but with a bit of ingenuity we managed to make it work. After fitting a weed suppressing sheet around the posts, joists were screwed in place and the posts cut down to size. Finally boards were fixed and fitted to make the platform’s surface, the work being finished on Sunday morning.
Meanwhile, another team worked on laying the hedge at the side of the road. A ragged hedge was trimmed and treated to the BCV hedge laying style creating habitat for birds. Trees were cut back and pruned and everything made neat and tidy. As with the dipping platform the work was spread over two days but both jobs came to an abrupt end as the snow began to fall, but more about that later.
A Long Expected Party
The weekend wasn’t all work and no play. As it happened the trip coincided with Carol’s 75th birthday, so a celebration was arranged. Cakes were brought and decorated by Jane, songs were sung and mugs of beer were drunk, as too were most of the volunteers. As the round moon rolled behind the hill there were riddle games and guessing games, and leg pulling and hair pulling long into the night. One by one the celebrants drifted off to bed and slept the sleep of heroes.
Sadly all things end and the weekend’s fellowship was broken by the return of Storm Arwen. As we finished fixing the last planks of the dipping platform and the last pleaches of the hedge the snow began to fall heavy and thick and the risk of being snowed in was suddenly very real. The team quickly packed their bags and gathered up the tools. With the help of Rich and Karl, a quad bike, and bag fulls of salt we made our escape down slippery roads back to the world of concrete, brick and tarmac.
Many thanks to Sam, Rich and Karl for their hospitality and superb meals, we all look forward to coming back soon; thanks to Tom and Caroline, and Rick, for co-ordinating everything; thanks to Lynn, Justine, Katrina and the cooking crew for breakfasts, second breakfasts, and lunches; thanks to all of the volunteers who made it a great weekend; and finally thanks to all of the drivers for getting all of us safely there and back again.
Also, thanks to Francis for three of the photos.