El Cortijo del Rector
Shortly after our marriage I took Val to see a remote cottage in the Lune Valley. It was falling down and had no mains water or electricity. When she had recovered from the shock we ‘compromised’ on a new detached house with views of Morecambe Bay and the Lakeland hills. Eleven years later we found our ideal home in the Cambridgeshire fens.
Rector’s Cottage had low oak beams, an inglenook, a staircase as steep as a cliff, a ghostly vicar and never the ghost of a right angle. A secret passage ran from the cellar under the road to the manor house that belonged to Walter Tirel, the man who killed King William Rufus almost a thousand years ago.
There is an old cliché about things happening in threes: A new job, a 'new' house...When we had almost given up hope of ever becoming parents our first son, Richard, was born in Cambridge. I wrote this just after seeing him for the first time:
RECTOR'S COTTAGE FOWLMERE, CAMBRIDGE
January 16th 1980
A pale brass sun
Slides down a tinplate sky
The level light
Elongates Cambridge fields
Water glitters in the ruts
Iron trees stand stark
The hedge is a black mesh
A brown hare darts across
My homeward road
Village lights glow gold
The silent house
Smells of the years and of wood smoke
You are two hours old
In December 2001 while on holiday from our jobs in Malaysia we bought a small finca in Spain. The 80 olive and almond trees were wildly overgrown and the rambling old stone house sadly neglected. Half the roof consisted of rusting corrugated iron, the wiring was a deathtrap and the rendering was falling away in chunks.
Eighteen years on, three poky rooms have become one pleasant living area heated by a wood-burning stove. An archway to the extended kitchen opens onto a sunny terrace with a view down the valley through the olive groves to distant blue mountains.
In memory of our home in Cambridgeshire, we have named it El Cortijo del Rector. As TS Eliot put it: ‘In my end is my beginning'.
The walls are almost three feet thick, the ceilings low, with heavy beams of olive and poplar, the windows small to keep out the winter cold and the blinding summer sun. After twenty years on four continents we are home at last.
Will, a fen tiger like his brother
Thirty-odd years of school bells were more than enough. Here at El Cortijo del Rector life is ruled by the calendar rather than the clock. I roll out of bed at around five and, as the coffee perks, proof-read yesterday’s effort before starting to draft today’s thousand words. The dogs studiously ignore me until they announce at precisely six o’clock that it’s time for breakfast, followed by a stroll through the olive groves to chase hares and chat with José and María further up the valley. If my five o’clock start sounds spartan let me add that the traditional two hour post-lunch siesta is an honoured custom at El Cortijo del Rector.
Winter sunset at El Cortijo del Rector