An old wooden gate led into a tiny cobbled space surrounded by waist-high cob walls covered in flaking, powdery pink, lime wash. This yard was outside the living quarters, or cottage part, of the longhouse. On its right hand side was a rusty corrugated lean-to, smothered in a tangle of bramble, ivy and nettle, which housed the well. By the side of this was an old stone retaining wall next to substantial, incongruous, concrete steps leading up to a steep overgrown garden.
To the front of the yard, the cottage grew out of a bank; its cob walls the same chalky pink. A peeling, bitumen-crumpled, corrugated iron roof covered the old thatch. Three closely pained windows and a small lopsided door, recessed deep into the cob walls, gave the cottage a quaintly human expression.
Outside the little yard the rest of the longhouse, where the animals were housed, sloped down to the left, a mixture of soft crumbling cob, dark wood and corrugated iron. This part of the building made up the shippen, stable and store.
Standing with your back to the longhouse you were in the farmyard proper, surrounded by a jumble of ancient farm buildings and trees. Here were the generator shed, a low stone barn, the pig house, a pole barn attached to a rickety cow shed, a chicken house and the dairy. A small stream tumbled deep, green-dark wetness along one side of the cow shed and pole barn before careering into what was called the lower well and out, down over the field, to the river.
I turned, pushed open the gate into the yard and walked up to the front door, hesitating for a moment before turning the knob, to breath in the leathery sweetness of cow dung that hung in the air.
This was Shorts, my first smallholding. Run down and decaying without mains electricity or water. It was a thirty acre holding of small meadows and inferior grazing sloping down to the River Lew and where, unbeknown to me at the time, I was going to have to make money at farming.