We arrived at Pig Row during a storm, Carol was seven months pregnant, I was recovering from spinal problems and the movers hated us for having so many books.
It was a far cry from our first visit to the cottage. That had been on a sunny day with a cool breeze that followed us down the country lane to the house. The views were of heather moors, sheep in meadows and horses grazing in fields. Even before crossing over the door step we decided that this was the house for us. The décor had last been updated in 1950s, it was run down, tired and in some places decidedly knackered. It was a project. It also meant that Carol would be closer to work, meaning that when she went back after maternity leave it would be easier for her to use public transport.
We discussed all this, and the other pros and cons about the house, as we climbed the steps to the garden. It was there we discovered Pig Row’s greatest pro. The south-facing garden was 50 foot long, all uphill with over blown laurel hedges; the path barely distinguishable between their branches and the remains of dead borders full of rose willow herb and couch grass. It was Carol who noticed a small path at the end of the garden winding through the laurels. We fought our way through and discovered a secret garden – a further three hundred feet of ash trees, brambles and weeds.
Under the surface, under the terrible décor, the peeling paint and the damp kitchen, Pig Row was a family home with a family garden waiting to be resurrected. We moved in with our books and dreams of the country life. Then reality hit: the snows arrived. Those first snow-bound weeks we were told by our neighbour, a farmer, that if Carol went into labour he would get her out in his Land Rover (at that time we had a sports car). It snowed some more, the snow banking against the front door. We dug ourselves out to meet the now embarrassed farmer telling us not to worry, that he could get us out in his tractor if Carol went into labour. Then ten foot snow drifts blew in and the farmer joked to Carol that he’d birthed cows.
Little D arrived two weeks late during a break in the snow. On the day he was born the snows returned and Carol phoned me to come and pick her up from the hospital. There was no argument from the nurses or doctors, Carol had that look in her eye, the kind of look that accepts no discussion. We came home as a family of three and were snowed in for four more weeks.
During that month of restless nights, night feeds, tantrums and tears, we planned what Pig Row would be: a family home, with a family-friendly garden. The house came with quarter of an acre that was overgrown, which neither of us could clear. To boot, the sale of our old house, Drovers, had fallen through just before Christmas. It would be three more years before we would sell it. We came to Pig Row for a new life, a new start, to be closer to Carol’s work and then, after Christmas, they made her redundant. It was at this point that we thought we would lose everything. It was at this point that the garden saved us.
We scrapped our early garden plans. Out went the swing set, the slide, the sandpit, the ubiquitous lawn and flower border. We had to grow to save money, to survive a crippling mortgage and to sell what gluts we had to pay bills. We were skint. In came plans for fruit (apples, pears, plums, strawberries, rhubarb, raspberries, redcurrants, gooseberries and blackcurrants) and vegetables that would keep us healthy (potatoes, lettuces, turnips, marrows, tomatoes and courgettes). We made plans to keep chickens for eggs and meat.
That first Spring we had just enough money to have the garden cleared. Chainsaws and strimmers worked all day to reveal old stone walls, a dolly tub, the remains of a greenhouse and shed. The rotten ash trees and overgrown laurel hedges were felled and stacked for firewood. Heating was expensive and this was free. When the machinery stopped that evening, all that remained was an elder and an old hawthorn hedge, the rest of the garden was an open field of tree stumps and tired soil. This was the start of our garden, derelict for 40 years and open to the elements. This is how Pig Row started, not as a hobby but as a way of life.
Life on Pig Row is the story of Andrew and Carol Oldham’s lives as they raise Little D. It all takes place 1330 feet above sea level in a small hamlet on top of the Pennines surrounded by the Yorkshire Moors. Pig Row is the tale of their move from a semi-urban life at Drovers to a more self-sufficientish lifestyle in their cottage set within a quarter of an acre. It’s not quite The Good Life but it’s getting there. Come take the road less travelled with Pig Row, you’ll find it makes all the difference.