We have new neighbours, out here on The Grange. It’s been a time of change over the past couple of months, with one set of human neighbours moving out of the Barn behind us whilst another set of humans moved in to the Granary next door. It’s not the only change of neighbours we’ve experienced.
The abandoned house in the field on the other side of The Grange was, not so long ago in fact, a going concern as a bed-and-breakfast establishment. However, the owners had decided that they wanted to go *upmarket* and rebuild the place as a boutique hotel with an exclusive spa. I was quite looking forward to it actually: being able to pop in for a massage or pedicure whenever we felt like it seemed like a good plan to me. But the money-men pulled the plug at the wrong moment – just as the young owners had most of stripped the house of windows, part of the roof and many of the walls in preparation for renovation. It seems the bankers felt that the clientele that would frequent a boutique, exclusive spa would be put off by the presence of the five thousand or so pigs in the neighbouring fields. It was, it turned out, a rather short-sighted view.
We’ve been surprised to find that the multitudinous pigs and all of the charming tiny piglet offspring have also moved on, thanks to the company that owned them finding themselves in the proverbial pig-s**t, financially speaking. We had no idea what happened and the first we knew of any change was when we noticed that fewer and fewer animals were there to greet us each time we returned home. I thought I was imagining it at first (you know already about my active imagination!) but for once, I wasn’t dreaming and there was a significant decrease in the size of the herd until one day, they were all gone. Local shop-owners confirmed that the company had gone bankrupt and that would definitely be the end of more than forty years of porcine occupation of this part of the vale.
We’ll certainly miss the little squealers. It was reassuring to hear them – not so noisy as to cause a disturbance, but you could hear them snuffling around, occasionally grunting or squealing at each other. The farm-hands regularly moved them around from field to field and then we’d hear them encouraging and calling to the animals. It lent a kind of amiably bucolic atmosphere to the place, which I rather liked, if truth be told. And, perhaps most surprisingly of all, there was very rarely any stench from the pigs – certainly much less than we had expected when we moved here. They really didn’t smell at all.
Every so often, usually when we had small people visiting, we’d pop over the field to go and pig-watch. The little ones (piglets, not children) especially are so utterly charming to observe, they play all sorts of games, including a version of hide and seek which can be great fun to see. Once, as chronicled on this blog at the time, a couple of sows brought some of their babies on a day trip to see the humans, which was a truly memorable occasion for all. Who could be cross with this adorable little face?
But, sadly, they are no longer here with us and I for one feel rather bereft without their heart-warming presence. My father-in-law actually drove past the drive three times before finding us the other day, so used to using them as a landmark to alert him to the turning into our driveway from the main road was he. No more can we say to people who may be visiting us ‘Oh, just look for the pigs and then you’ll see us!’ or can I quip ‘My neighbours are such pigs you know!’. Dispossessed, impoverished, left without their company, I am still rather saddened by their departure, even now, several weeks later. Change is good, of course, the fields are much greener and crops rarely make snorting noises in the middle of the night, ’tis true. But I think I’ll miss them for a while longer.
Now, before all of these comings and goings, one of the highlights of our arrival home has been to (very) occasionally catch a glimpse of our other neighbour, who now lives (we believe) in the abandoned house.
He is a magnificent creature, swooping low over the meadow at dusk to try to catch the mice or other small mammals scurrying through the longer grass unseen by everyone else. His feathers are the purest of white his ghostly appearance adds an ethereal quality to all encounters with him. he is, of course, an exquisite and apparently seriously endangered Barn Owl. According to the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, last year was a terrible breeding season for our native nocturnal birds of prey, the worst in the last thirty years. Our barn owl neighbour seems oblivious to the problem though and he continues to hunt, most often at dusk, but also through the night.
I wish I had managed to catch him in the majestic swoops over the meadow, it is truly a breathtaking sight. I’ll have to make do with some of the great pictures of barn owls over at Animals Adda who have a lovely library of owl photos.
Long after dinner and the round of plant-watering that takes for ever, as we watched TV in the twilight yesterday evening, with cups of tea in hand, something caught my eye as it silently fluttered onto the top of the free-standing parasol that gives the swing some much-needed shade during the daylight. I swiveled my head, owl-like to focus on the darkened shape that settled there.
It was the barn owl. It was too dark to see markings of course, but I just *knew* it was him. He rotated his head so that his black, beady eyes fixed on my face, through the glass in the door. We nodded quietly to each other.
” ‘Sup?” the owl queried.
” ‘Sup?” I motioned back.
I am SO at one with Mother Nature these days 🙂
He waited. He relinquished his iron grip on the top of my parasol and flew noiselessly off towards his nest over the hedge, somewhere in the grounds of the house next door.
Yes, some neighbours are a joy to live next to.
Thanks for reading!