Reasons why we love farming, number 56: continuity. Half a century ago, I got a new bicycle. It was a Raleigh, it was blue and silver, and I was pleased as punch with it.
I set up a simple loop round the farm buildings to enjoy its performance.
From the back door, I followed the track past the estate yard and workshop, complete with its creosote tank and massive sawbench, where Lord Sherborne’s carpenters and workmen made doors, windows and fence posts for the houses and farms of his village.
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I flew past the brand-new block of garages, put up in the early sixties by His Lordship as a response to these new-fangled motorcars which his tenants were buying and parking untidily on the roadsides.
Unfortunately, each garage’s dimensions were based on accommodating an Austin A40. Within a decade, they were useless.
Then it was round the left-hand bend, past the little cottage where the Debenhams lived; “Mrs Deb” was my mother’s “help”.
Her unwritten job description covered everything from cooking and cleaning to having me to stay when my parents went on holiday. Memories are clear of having a “bath” in her old-fashioned kitchen sink.
Jim-jams and crutches
Another left bend took me on to the public road – always a source of worry for my mother, but this was in the days before the National Trust arrived, before the M3 brought the Londoners down, and when sleepy little Hinton Ampner was all but unknown.
The road dropped downhill, I could pick up speed and sweep back into the farmyard – taking care not to lean over too much in the brand-new gravel that had just been laid – and start the loop again, and again, and again, as fast as possible.
Fifty years on, my pace is somewhat slower. I’m not on the bicycle, although I’m sure it could be found somewhere in one of the old barns and sheds if I looked hard enough.
I’m in my jim-jams and dressing gown, and on two crutches, pushing the new hip as hard as I dare. The route, however, is identical.
Past the old estate workshop, long silent; many years have passed since the howling three-phase planer could be heard finishing a window frame.
Then it’s gently round the massive locked gates – unheard of and unneeded 50 years ago – past the now-demolished garages, and gingerly round the bend next to Mrs Deb’s house.
Moral support often arrives from the modern-day residents, and from some of the hordes of National Trust visitors baffled to find a fat farmer in jim-jams hobbling along what is now part of the trust’s round-the-estate walk.
Hinton Ampner Who’s Who
The short stretch of public road is next; infinitely busier than it was in the days when a non-village car was enough to get everyone rushing to the windows, and an ear now has to kept open for a trophy wife in an SUV (aka “twig in a box”) hurtling nonsensically through the over-lush June lanes.
There’s a short, steep and challenging climb up the drive, over crumbling tarmac, and into the farmyard again.
No danger of slipping in deep gravel anymore; the last of it was washed down Farm Hill ages ago. Another leisurely lap competed.
Dear old Mrs Deb would chuckle at the final link over the 50 years. Just before being discharged from hospital, a bubbly and utterly professional young nurse was discretely helping me with a fantastically welcome shower.
“You’re from Hinton Ampner?” she asked. “Did you know Mrs Deb?” Of course, I replied. “Well, I’m her granddaughter.” It was the kitchen sink all over again.
Now that’s what I call continuity.