John Challis: The joy of getting back to our roots

I’m delighted to start the New Year by beginning a column with my favourite local newspaper. The Shropshire Star has kindly invited me to share a few thoughts with you each week and I was happy to accept.

John Challis’s home – Wigmore Abbey
John Challis’s home – Wigmore Abbey

As some of you will know, I’ve lived on the Shropshire border for many years, near to Ludlow and Leintwardine.

I moved here with my wife, Carol, after spending decades in London.

I think we’d both reached that stage in our lives when we wanted to move out of the city. We’d had rural upbringings and wanted to move to the country.

We were also fans of historic buildings and wanted to find a place of our own that we could do up.

That’s when we found the former abbot’s lodging of a disused monastery: Wigmore Abbey. We moved here in 1998 and have never looked back. When we arrived at Wigmore Abbey on 23 July 1998, we both knew we’d entered a critical new phase of our lives. We welcomed it and were committed to it, although I found it quite disorienting.

Unlike Carol, I’d never lived in the proper country and wasn’t prepared even for some of the more minor changes from urban life.

Lighting

For instance, it took me a long time to get used to the general absence of street lighting, even in some of the villages.

And while I was used to a certain amount of birdsong in the leafy purlieus of East Sheen, the racket a feathered chorus can kick up of a summer’s dawn among the spinneys and hedges of this deeply rustic corner of England came as a shock. I had to get used to the lack of traffic in the lane that passed our house.

During the 1990s, we threw ourselves into the task of restoring the abbot’s lodging – the only habitable part remaining of what had once been a great monastery.

We had always had an interest in gardening and once we’d got on top of the house restoration we went out to have a proper look at the land around them, finding extensive gardens that were badly neglected and overgrown.

We decided to strip everything back and start again with a more or less clean palette on which to create our new garden.

We’ve been happy here ever since and very much love Shropshire, which is just a stone’s throw from our North Herefordshire home.

And that’s why I’m happy to be starting a weekly column for the Shropshire Star.

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