It is interesting that the woodland at the water tower has come to be owned by myself and Gerry. It all started with the purchase of a water tower in 1988. Gerry always wanted to renovate a tall building such as a chimney, and make it into a house. A water tower was a dream come true and I went along with the idea despite some reservations. Next door to the tower was the cemetery lodge house; a small cottage which we thought could be very useful during the renovation of the tower. It was boarded-up and neglected. We purchased it. Years of neglect meant the damp and dismal cottage needed a lot of tlc. The plaster crumbled as it dried out but we managed to make some sensitive improvements inside and out. What we didn't realise when we purchased the cottage was that it was sold with a small parcel of land opposite, noted as "the drying green to the west". This drying green provided essential amenity to the small cottage and I learned from a neighbour that previous occupants of the cottage had great difficulty in drying their washing and hence the ground had been made available for this specific purpose. The drying green led onto a stunning woodland beyond and was situated at the top of the steep bank above the river N Esk and Ironmills Park. The drying green poles were still there and I put up a washing line. My mother was particularly pleased - she just loved a washing line.
For a spell of about 3 years between 1989 and 1993 we shared the use of the drying green ground with a relative who purchased the cottage from us on the condition that we could buy it back when he moved on. When he did move on, I started to attempt to create a more attractive woodland garden and sought advice. Plant potatoes said everyone - that cleans up the soil. It certainly did - because I dug it over by hand! Never again. Then in 1994 Gerry won Masterchef and our world turned upside down with the associated activities.
The woodland garden was our haven for solitude and peace at this time. Gerry had lost both his parents the year before Masterchef and the garden became really special to both of us. It was the place we could go and talk and try to make sense of the world at times.
By 1999 I had created a garden, which was lovely, but jarred a little with the surrounding woodland. And the patch of grass that I had so carefully created from seed was difficult to maintain due to the amount of shade and the dry conditions. I had great success though with Clematis, a climbing plant that my dad always loved. Bulbs did well and Spring season was the best. The ground goes into shade by the end of May and things get a little tricky. I have probably spent a fortune on garden plants that died or were eaten by bugs. C’est la vie – I now know better.
Around 1998 we had the offer of a wooden gazebo from an architect friend in Melrose and thought “how wonderful for the garden”. It was quite a large gazebo so we applied to Midlothian Council to purchase a little bit more of the surrounding woodland to make things easier for us. We put the gazebo up and waited on a response to buy a little ore ground. The council eventually decided to sell us a much larger parcel of ground (a little over 1 acre and most of it on a steep slope) handing us the responsibility in return. Hence we became the owners of a woodland. We bought the ground on 2nd May 2000 to be precise and there was some local opposition to its sale. A couple of letters appeared in the Dalkeith Advertiser expressing concern. I couldn't understand it. I talked to those concerned and I was taken aback by some of the concerns - we had shut off a footpath, I had put down thorns to hurt puppies and dogs, Gerry would be taking over all of Dalkeith soon and we were not "local" enough - it was all really silly. What happened next is, I believe, the first step of what I now feel is a form of divine intervention in our lives. My cousin was tracing my family tree and discovered that my great great grandparents on my mothers side had lived in the cemetery lodge cottage, and Mary Tillie Dodds, my great great grandmother, actually died there in 1883 some 4 years after the tower was built. How amazing. I suddenly felt a little more "local" and my desire to own the woodland became compelling. We commissioned a woodland management plan from Donald McPhilimy and so it came to be - we took possession of the woodland. I was inundated with advice, signed up with 2 woodland organisations and started talking intently with Cameron Manson of Buccleuch Estates whose advice I hold dear. This was just the beginning - the millennium year. Oh and I took the opportunity to buy a land rover – bit tatty but I loved it. It was just great for transporting plants.