Almost half a century ago, Roger Deakin made the decision to move out of London and bought a very dilapidated farmhouse called Walnut Tree Farm. If it had been left any longer it would have become a ruin, the wood had rotted through in a lot of places and the thatch was so bad it had no protection against the elements. To add to the charm, the downstairs had been used to keep animal in and was full of their detritus. This Elizabethan building was located on the edge of Mellis Green, deep in the countryside of northern Suffolk.
This building was to change Deakin’s life and be the seed for books that would become classics in the natural history genre. Before that, he had to get the structure to a point where it was safe and he could start living in it. It involved stripping the entire building back to the oak frame, repairing and replacing wood to add strength back into it and rebuilding it to a habitable home. As with all projects like this, it took much longer than expected but when finished it became a much-loved home until he died in 2006 in front of the fire.
Where it was located was one of the largest common grazing areas in the UK at the time. Deakin slowly changed the landscape, planting trees, draining and clearing the moat, and letting the land be used in a sustainable way. He had the odd run-in with neighbours, in particular over Cowpasture Lane, but this place was to motivate him in many ways. His regular swims in the moat became the book Waterlog, the love of the landscape around was key to the creation of Common Ground and because of his work in the environmental business meant that he had a light touch on the land around his home.
This book is a wonderful celebration of Deakin’s life and works seen through the prism of the place that he made his home. The photos of the work of the strip down, restoration and rebuilding of Walnut Tree Farm as it progressed and the extracts from the notebooks and diaries as the works were progressing really make this book special. Most of these have never been seen before. The personal insight from Deakin’s son Rufus and the current custodian, Titus Rowlandson, add depth to the story of his life. Deakin was intrinsically linked to this place and in its time it became a place of pilgrimage to lovers of the natural world and still holds a place in their hearts. If you have ever read, Waterlog, Wildwood or Notes from Walnut Tree Farm then this in one for your bookshelf.
Paul Cheney 5/4
Life at Walnut Tree Farm by Rufus Deakin and Titus Rowlandson
Head of Zeus 9781788547819 hbk May 2019