Nicolas has come for two days of work and he has brought the big guns. His strimmer with a steel blade; his chain saw, and a determination to turn this messy old vineyard into something lovely.
You could say that the hard part has been done with the removal of the vines and stakes. But it’s the surrounding walls and edges that need a great deal of work.
First of all however, Nicolas needed to rebuild the steps down to the terrace. But what he discovered that the steps never existed. How on earth did Peter (the previous owner) get down this steep slope? I suspect he got in his car and drove down the road and then trudged up one terrace to this spot. It is a bit less perilous than this big drop.
The news steps are made up of stones at the base, and then three recycled chestnut stakes for the top steps. He could have laboriously rebuilt the whole thing in stone – but that would have taken a day of my valuable wages. So we went for rustic instead.
And to do the steps he had to remove a few pernicious weeds on the side.
Where you now see a bare sloping bank there once lived an elderflower bush gone mad, and brambles so think and entwined in the elderlower it took both of us to pull it down.
The bonfire was my job for the entire day. And I was still there, feeding the beast, until well after dark.
The tricky bit was the weather. It has rained consistently ever since the pile was started, so getting it to go up in smoke took work. Damp wood. Damp brambles, damp bracken, you get the idea.
But with the help of some vines that I had stored away in the basement which were bone dry, and half a newspaper it limped into life.
For a while there I was thinking we were steaming the bracken and vines rather than burning them. But they took off mid morning. And I fed and fed the thing non stop.
I had three piles to reduce. And then Nicolas set to adding to it with the perimeter work.
We had a big decision to make: to remove the wire fence on the top wall or not. It doesn’t seem to do much rather than hold the brambles and self sown elderflowers in place. And it makes maintenance a complete pain in the bum.
So it had to go. And it went very quickly. Were it me there would be lots of swearing and sighing and yanking at rotten fence posts and then spending ages removing the wire.
Getting out the elderflowers and their draped brambles took longer.
As did the clearing of the mess at the base of the wall too.
There are a few areas where the wall has collapsed completely. That’s a shame as the wall is over eight feet tall. So that gets parked in the lottery winning project.
That is the top side of the old vineyard. But I’m afraid I had another project for Nicolas on the east side of the space.
That is a wall of bramble, bracken, blackthorn and three self sown elderflower trees.
There was a brief moment when Nicolas was flagging; do you really want me to remove this too?
I would never dare to use the scary steel blade on my strimmer, so I knew I had to get a willing helper to cut it all back.
Besides, I had a bonfire to feed.
You can see how foggy and gloomy it was becoming. Which means I don’t have a perfect shot to complete this picture. But it looks wonderfully clear now.
Well not clear as it scorched earth. This is our boundary wall, and our neighbours never strim or manage this part of the land. (The poor things have 50 hectares to deal with.)
It did start raining around 430pm when most people would be considering a warm fire, clean clothes and a cup of tea. But the fire was still blazing; so I kept going.
This is going to be the last bonfire on this farm. The new laws change at the end of the year forbidding roaring conflagrations.
So I fed and fed and even managed to unearth the mother load of annoying vine ties (not a recyclable product) which Peter had hidden in the undergrowth near the steps. I was determine to grub them all out and burn them too.
With luck tomorrow, when I go down to rake the ashes I will find no trace of pesky blue twine and a clean slate ready for the rotovating.