A Fiddler in the Oak
In 1937 the links between Tottergill and the Right Honourable Joscelyn L’Estrange, Earl of Carlisle, Lord of the Manor of Castle Carrock finally ended, with all rents, fines, reliefs, heriots and fees duly discharged. The Trust of members of the Watson family and their relatives, the Murdochs, still owned the farm, but the following year Dick and Laura moved on to Town Foot Farm in Castle Carrock village. New tenants arrived at Tottergill - Herbert and Eleanor Forster with their four daughters and a son.
The traditional cycle of the farming year continued, but the coming of war meant that farming picked up a bit after the lean years of the thirties. The grain was now threshed with a tractor-driven thresher and when the Galloway cattle had been milked by hand the milk was put in three churns and taken to Garth Foot for collection by a wagon from the Border Dairy in Carlisle. German prisoners of war worked on the farm. Eleanor kept hens and when the pigs were killed the sides of bacon went down into the cool cellar below the house. There were still white pigeons in the tower and barn owls in the buildings.
Rose Forster remembers a happy and carefree childhood, playing in the now disused watermill, collecting primroses and bluebells in the woods, walking to school in the village and helping on the farm with their four Clydesdale horses.
The family kept sheep on the fells as far as the river Gelt, on land rented from the Church Commissioners. In the 1950’s when they lost this land it was time for them too, to move on and the Trust sold the farm to the Milburns who worked here for forty years.
The oak tree grew on through all the changes. Now venerable and mature it has developed large burrs around its trunk. While its branches were pollarded, its root system continued to develop and is now bigger in proportion to the crown. This has helped to prolong the tree’s life. With a girth of 24 feet 9 inches, (7.6m), its exact age can only be guessed at.
It has played a full part in the story of Tottergill. It has provided kindling wood and maybe charcoal, sheltered children from the rain, given homes to countless thousands of insects, birds and animals, watched over courting couples, hosted village barbeques in its shade and witnessed the daily struggle to earn a living on the farm. Perhaps its strangest role of all was as a perch for Willie Watson (brother of Dick), who used to sit amongst its branches and play his fiddle!
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