E is for Eden – as in The Garden of Eden. The old Persian word for a walled garden has been passed on to the English-speaking world as Paradise.
E is also for East Gate. And here at our own little Eden, the east wall of the garden is now resplendent with a new timber gate. Now all three openings through the walls have been fitted with timber gates hand made by our neighbour DJ (to Jonathan’s own design) and installed by J himself.
Originally – around 1740, when the walled garden was remodelled to the size and height it is now, there was, quite likely, only one gate : you can see it in this photo from about 1908 – shortly before Kilbride House was demolished.
Siar – Geata na Nàbaidhean / West – The Neighbours’ Gate
In the middle of the west wall of the garden there’s a narrow gate (ie for pedestrians) with two short fences either side of it. The opening in which this is set is the original principal (and quite likely the only) access to the garden. Until the mid 20thC the pillars either side of the opening were topped with large stone balls : these ‘disappeared’ some time between 1908 and 1974. Over the centuries, ground level within the garden has risen by at least 18in/45cm, and in any event the opening was made for carts : it is too narrow for modern vehicles. When we came here in 2002, this entrance was boarded up and unuseable. In 2005 we removed the obstructions, built a stone base up to present-day ground level, and installed the new pedestrian gate and its matching side fences. We use this gate several times every single day – mostly when taking Tilly for a walk up the lane.
We call it the Neighbours’ Gate because it’s the gate our neighbours use when they call in to see us. By neighbours, we mean anyone living in Uist who we’re familiar with, including the postie and delivery drivers, so it’s in use by neighbours almost every single day.
Deas – Geata na Rathaid / South – The Road Gate
At the mid-length of the south wall there’s an opening in the towering stonework which, though wider than the west gate – and giving access directly onto the main road (that runs the length of the Outer Hebrides – the so-called Spinal Route) – lacks the formal pillars of the west gate. This opening was knocked through as recently as 1974, when the house was built in the garden, to provide an access suitable for modern vehicles direct from the main road (which didn’t exist at all when the garden walls were first built.) Back in 2002, when we came here, there was a cattle grid (well named, as it was too small to keep out frisky sheep!) with a rusty steel field gate across it, and – at right angles to the access – a flimsy pedestrian gate made from odd bits of timber. In 2005 we removed the cattle grid – backfilling the void with beach gravel, tore out the two gates, and installed two new gates : the wide vehicle gate across the drive ; and, at right angles to it, the narrower pedestrian gate.
The new gates at west and south were part of our programme of investment in the garden after the Great Hurricane of January 11-12 2005. The storm devasted not just our garden, but left a trail of destruction throughout the Outer Hebrides, with scarce a single building left undamaged, and the death of an extended family swept away by the sea – a storm surge and hurricane force winds driving towering waves across fields and roads, in low-lying areas – right up to the houses nearest the shore. Quite a number of families left the islands after that experience, but for us the storm stirred up our instincts for self-preservation ; and proved a decisive turning point. We’d moved to the islands for a simpler, quieter life, but that was now proved to be nothing but wishful thinking : ambling along pleasantly in low gear might be enough in more sheltered mainland life, but here that would be to risk losing everything …
This time we’d been fortunate, suffering no damage we couldn’t afford ; J was earning good money at the time – and we had cash reserves – albeit very modest ; and above all else we were in our late 40s and had good health. But next time … ?
We replaced the mangled and shredded polytunnels and the pulverised greenhouse with four new reinforced greenhouses, each built on heavy reinforced concrete footings ; we protected them with my own design of timber exoskeleton – to which could be fixed boarding that would bear the brunt of storm winds and flying debris, without losing too much light. And we replaced mangled and dead trees and shrubs, and planted many more besides, erected wind-break fencing throughout the garden … and, in a nutshell, prepared for the worst, whilst working for the best. In short, we upped our game … and life has been all the richer and more satisfying (albeit a great deal more hard work!) than ever.
So, the Great Hurricane of January 15-16 2005 was, for us – in the long run, not so bad a thing, after all.
As part of that surge of investment, in Spring and Summer 2005, we installed the two new wooden gates – hand-crafted by our neighbour DJ to our own design – which are still providing good service today – the west and south gates.
Ear – A ‘Gheata Caorach / East – The Sheep Gate
So then, we turn to the question of the east gate – The Sheep Gate
Oh, and before I hand over to J, we call it The Sheep Gate because very often there will be sheep sheltering against the wall either side of the gate : finding refuge there from the strong summer sunshine, in the cool shadow of the wall ; or from the violent winter storms coming out of the south-west to north-west in the shelter offered by the garden wall. And, at any other time, if we’re standing at that gate looking out across the field, we’re sure to see sheep somewhere nearby.
The opening, at the mid-length of the east wall – directly opposite the old west gate – is just 110cm wide ; and as the wall is more than 3m tall at this point, it seems to lack the proportions and gravity one would expect of an 18thC walled garden – one commissioned by a gentleman of some substance and standing. But if it wasn’t part of the original plan, when was this gate-opening made, and why?
The 1881 Ordnance Survey plan shows a second enclosure on the east side of the walled garden, and about the same size. The plan shows a path crossing the walled garden from the West Gate to the east wall (exactly where the East Gate is now to be found) and thus connecting with the second, eastern enclosure. This can surely leave no doubt that the East Gate already existed in 1879 (when the survey was made). The 1881 edition was the first to map the Outer Hebrides at such a large scale (25″ per mile) – and to show such fine detail : there are no earlier plans to tell us whether this arrangement was original, was an adaptation already old by the time the Ordnance surveyors made their plan, – or was quite a recent and make-shift innovation.
Just 22 years later, the 1903 the Ordnance Survey plan no longer showed the second enclosure – and the walled garden was drawn without any internal paths or other detail – just empty space. And we know that by 1911 Kilibride House itself had gone, leaving just the walled garden that still exists today. So we have very little that might inform us about the origins of the gate and the reason it seems to be such a make-shift affair.
Our hunch is that the opening is not original, but was made by a later more cost-conscious generation, perhaps in the late 1830s or early 1840s – at a period of great hardship in the country . By that time the MacDonalds of Boisdale had been forced to sell the estate to pay off debts. The new owner, the infamous Gordon of Cluny, had no interest in Kilbride as a mansion for when he was in Uist on business, and so Kilbride House, the walled garden and the surrounding lands were let as a sheep farm – until 1908, when the district was reorganized as the new crofting township of West Kilbride, leaving both house and walled garden deserted. The second enclosure – essentially a field enclosed by a fence – may well have served as a paddock for a horse (for riding) or a pony (for carrying goods in creels/panniers), and/or for poultry.
When we moved to the walled garden, December 2002, there was a make-shift gate here similar to the one at the South Gate. It survived the Great Hurricane of January 2005 – or rather the gate itself did : we found it in the field, intact : the hinges were sheared clean through, and the bolt ripped off, screws ripped out of the timber! Replacing this gate was low priority – we don’t really have much reason to go through this gate, as it is our neighbour’s land the other side. So we put the old gate back, propped up with plastic barrels filled with water.
Eventually, though, this gate succumbed to rot and the destructive power of storms blasting through this opening. By 2011 we’d replaced it with old pallets either side of the wall and tied together. That meant we couldn’t use it as a gate at all … and it didn’t do much to enhance the garden, either! But we simply could not justify the expense and time on a proper new gate …
… until this year. The gate itself – like the others more than ten years ago – was made by our neighbour DJ to J’s own drawings also dating from 2005. And then J himself fitted the gate. And by the look of it, he thoroughly enjoyed doing so.
I certainly did enjoy doing just that. It was very satisfying indeed to complete a job deferred for so long.