Become a Fan
The first time we saw Low Arvie, it was pouring with rain and we had just driven two hundred miles, with raindrops beating against the windscreen all the way from Ferrybridge. The sky was dark, and the light beginning to fade. The house looked sad and forlorn, and the farmyard empty and unkempt, with the rivulets running down its length, joining together like the veins of an arm and collecting into a large pool at the far corner. We were singularly unimpressed, and our mood, as gloomy as the sky, was in deep contrast to the one we had set out with that morning, in the bright spring sunshine, full of high hopes that this would be our dream home.
We had been searching for a farm for three years, but the criteria had become somewhat less stringent over that time, as our available capital was ever diminished by the falling stock market and the subsequent continuous lowering of interest rates. We wanted somewhere away from the hurly-burly that life had become, somewhere with enough land to be genuinely called a farm, situated in a green and pleasant land. Somewhere isolated enough to satisfy Richard’s desire for privacy, but not too isolated so that it could suit my intermittent gregariousness, somewhere with long views and the large farmhouse kitchen that I had been dreaming of for a long time. The price of such places was rapidly going away from our limited resources but, on paper, Low Arvie had seemed to fulfil most of these conditions and looked to be a reasonable buy at the guide price. We had seen so many places over our three-year search, and I had always felt that I would know the instant we walked into the one. We had agreed that both of us needed to like the property and, after the two false starts where one of us had had to compromise, we set off that day, Saturday 18th May 2002, with hopes as high as the weather was beautiful.
Within fifteen miles, the sunshine has gone and the rain began, and with it our hopes and mood became more and more dour until, on our arrival, it seemed to sink towards despair. The house, though entirely habitable and nicely decorated with plain colours …although perhaps too much pink … was small. The views to the east and west were fairly long, but all the windows in the house faced south towards the road, some seventy metres away. The nearest village, Corsock, was one and a quarter miles, but there was a small cluster of houses half a mile up the road, whose chimneys could just be seen by peering around the corner of the window. The only criteria that were fully met was that this was certainly a very green and pleasant land, and, with one hundred and twenty acres of land, Low Arvie was definitely a farm. On closer inspection, however, only twenty of them were covered in grass, with the rest growing lush flushes of rush. In the gloomy daylight and the incessant rain and after such a dreary journey, it seemed far from the idyllic place we had hoped for.
The system of purchasing a property in Scotland is entirely different to England, where one is not committed to the purchase until the contracts are exchanged. Up here, when there are more than one interested prospective purchaser, it is usual for a closing date to be set and the request for sealed bids, properly drawn up by a solicitor, to be handed in to the estate agent. Once the bid is entered, you are committed to the purchase, if yours is the one that is chosen. The vendor gives no guarantees to sell to the highest offer, but can take time to investigate the ability to pay, which has to be included in the bid. If you are not the chosen bidder, there is no recourse to ‘gazumping’ or re-negotiation. If your bid is the accepted one, then you are committed to go ahead or be penalised. The previous week we had been beaten into third place on another farm, not far away from Low Arvie …I had liked it and Richard had compromised … and had tasted the disappointment that being the loser under this system brings. We had hoped to find, in Low Arvie, a property that would remove this disappointment and replace it with joyful anticipation. It was, therefore, with heavy hearts that we left the little house to its lonely, rainy evening and drove away to find the B&B that I had booked.
The next morning it was still raining hard, but we decided to drive back to the farm for a further look, before heading back south. We drove slowly along the mile of road frontage, past the myriad rushes with the relentless rain dripping from them. As I looked between the raindrops on the car window, I began to think how the brown of the rushes contrasted attractively with the patchwork of grass that grew on the higher drums between the low-lying areas. As we approached the far end of the farm’s land, I saw that there was a small stretch of broad-leaved woodland, where the burn flowed under the road and wended its way, roughly marking the north-western boundary of the farm. Amongst the trees I could see the bright yellow flowers of kingcup growing along its banks. There were dry stone walls snaking across the land that appeared to bound some reasonably grassy fields, where the rushes only grew around the low perimeters. The higher domes were covered with tall, green, spring grass, crying out to be grazed. We turned the car round and gazed in silence at the land. When we were level with the house, Richard stopped the car and we sat, each one lost in our own thoughts. The house, sitting slightly higher than the road, at the end of a short track, was small, but, nevertheless, seemed friendly and attractive in the morning light. It had new windows, and the decor, even though mostly pink, was such that we could move in and live, without doing any work first. The buildings grouped around the back were modern in design …there were no old stone byres … and, though they had not been erected recently, they were weatherproof and serviceable. The conifer plantation behind the house was planted on the much lower ground there and provided an attractive backdrop to the house, rather than overshadowing it. As I sat there, I knew that Richard was running through the different criteria with which he would be concerned, what kind of farming he could follow here, what work would be required before a start could be made, what kind of life we could make for ourselves. I waited, without any idea of what he would say when he eventually spoke, but I knew that, whatever it was, it would be ok for me. I could drive away from here, either to continue the search or to work out a realistic bid to buy this place, with complete equanimity of mind. We had looked at so many farms over the preceding three years and had actually only bid on the one that I had liked, that I had come to face the prospect of life as being a constant search, without any resolution. In some ways, this was a far less scary proposition than actually finding and buying somewhere!
The silence went on for a long time and I could not tell what Richard was thinking. I think I was quite surprised when, eventually, he said, “I think we have to have a go for this.” I gulped hard, and immediately my mind went into panic. I can’t remember any of the drive back home, as a whirl of figures and half-formed ideas floated around in my head. There was such a lot to decide if we were going to ‘have a go’.
The farm we had bid on and lost was in the same area, and we learned that our bid had been beaten by ten thousand pounds. This gave us something to work with, as the final price of that farm had been about twenty percent higher than the guide price. We worked around this figure, adding twenty percent to the guide price of Low Arvie, and decided to bid at that level. We had three weeks before the closing date, when bids had to be in and, having decided the price we wanted to offer, we got on with the daily routine of our life. I am no good at coping with suspense, and every moment that I relaxed, my mind flew to Low Arvie, and all that it meant and would mean to us, whether we got it or not. Richard suffered one of his migraine attacks during the next week, brought on, no doubt, by the stress of his thoughts around the event, but I knew that once he had said that we should bid on the place, he would not change his mind. This was some comfort to me, as it gave me a focus for my thoughts. At least I knew that we would ‘have a go.’ Fortunately, I had things to occupy my mind, as the course I was following at the local college was now more than two thirds of the way through, and there was work to be completed for that.
Over the next few days, the estate agent’s brochure of Low Arvie stayed within easy reach on the coffee table, and I watched Richard pick it up periodically and sit working out different things with the calculator, making plans in his head for the farm he would create, if we were successful. From time to time, he would discuss some point or other with me, either acreages of woodland, numbers of livestock that the land would support or the machinery he would require. As time went by and we chatted about these various points, we decided that our original idea of the price we would bid was too high for the opportunities that the farm gave. There was a lot of work needing to be done, the land was very wet, indeed, one of the fields was actually called the Bog of Allan and filled over fifteen acres of the hundred and twenty, and we kept coming back to the size of the house. It had only two rooms of any size downstairs, with a small lean-to kitchen at the back, and one other room, which was tiny. The two bedrooms were of reasonable floor area but had coombed ceilings, which took away much useful space. The only other room was the bathroom, which was just big enough to hold the usual offices of bath, basin and toilet. On the plus side, it was carpeted and curtained, the Esse range had been left on, making the atmosphere warm and welcoming when we had gone in, and keeping any damp at bay while the house was empty; and the decor was of a reasonable standard. Putting all this together, we decided to downsize our offer by seven percent. This gave us a figure that was still substantially above the guide price, but left a bigger slice of our capital to use. With a week to go to the closing date, Richard rang our Scottish solicitor and asked him to put in our offer on the due day.
There were many things that had to be done down in Yorkshire before we could really think about moving and, now that we had put our offer in, we felt a fresh impetus to get on and complete a few of them. The next few days were spent working hard to move these projects on, and we had little time to think about Low Arvie. I deliberately tried to think philosophically about the offer, having been disappointed before, and carried on with my college work. I had been fortunate enough to be offered a place at Strathclyde University for the following October, to do a Postgraduate Diploma in Counselling. I had begun a Foundation Course in Counselling the previous year, as it was something that I found interesting and I had time on my hands. What I hadn’t expected was the very great enjoyment that the course gave me, and I went on to follow a course in Bereavement Counselling, and then enrolled on two Certificate level courses in Counselling Skills and Theory. I was thoroughly enjoying them both and had also met and made several new, very good friends, something I had lacked for several years, after changing the course of my life. I had decided to apply to Strathclyde because it had an excellent reputation in Counselling Training, it was in Scotland and the Course was only one year. I had reasoned that we would not find a farm too quickly, and I could spend a year gaining a qualification that might prove useful in the future. I could not have foreseen then that it was not to be and I was busy making plans to leave my mother, who was 90 years of age at this time, with sufficient support whilst I was away in Glasgow during term time.
Thus, every time Low Arvie crept into my mind during that week, I was almost successful in being able to push it away, as I got on with some of the more pressing jobs around me. The days passed by quite quickly, but as we hadn’t told anyone about putting in a bid, and Richard was not disposed to indulge in ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybes’. I found it increasingly difficult to ‘stay in the gap’ (as counselling jargon has it), and I became more and more aware that it was ever present at the back of my mind. It would have been easier if I could have spoken about it, but I felt that to break our silence would somehow jeopardise our chances, and so I kept my own counsel and suffered in silence.
The previous time we had bid on a farm, we hadn’t heard the result until the day after the closing date, and so I was somewhat unprepared for the solicitor’s call when it came through at about 4 p.m. on the closing day itself. “You seem to be the owners of Low Arvie Farm,” he said, in his clipped and cultured Scottish accent. For a moment the room seemed to spin and I was unable to speak. Eventually, I stammered something like, “Oh, what do we do now?” His terse tones were uncompromising in their peremptory, “Do nothing until you hear from me!” With little more ado he rang off, and I sat quite still by the fire for a long time, mesmerised by its flames, and unable to think of anything remotely sensible, except that we had a farm.