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Wood work: How Ruth Pavey created her own wood

Gerald Isaaman talks to author Ruth Pavey about her labour of love – to create her own wood

13 October, 2017 — By Gerald Isaaman

Ruth Pavey. PHOTO: PHILIP SAYER

YOU can’t ignore your roots. And in the case of Ruth Pavey, someone who loves London, where she has taught in primary and comprehensive schools for almost 45 years, it was the lure of her native Somerset that resulted in her creating a wood of her own. Somewhere to escape from the ravages of worrying times, somewhere to grow trees for future millennia, somewhere to seek solace and beauty, a place to produce apple juice for others to enjoy.

Now she has written a delightful tale of her success, a lyrical story of desire and determination, soft and gentle, warm and wise in a wicked world. And where, alas, the wonders of nature, a secure, safe future, are perhaps lost from view.

It all began when Ruth, the daughter of Somerset farmers, took control of an allotment in Highgate and grew mainly flowers and a few beans and potatoes, her attempts to grow trees in pots frowned upon.

“You can’t plant trees on land unless you own it,” Ruth, now 70, tells me at her home in Roden Street, Holloway. “So ages ago I started to look for somewhere I could call my own.

“But small plots of land near London, in places like Kent and Surrey, are all pony paddocks and very expensive. So I forgot all about it and went on growing flowers on the allotment.

“I was then called back to Somerset quite a lot to do with family matters. I just thought this is such a lovely area, maybe I can afford somewhere here. And that’s how it all came about. I bought the land in 1999 just before the millennium celebrations.”

Her first impressions made her believe she had made a mistake. The land, despite being in the Domesday parish of Aller, whose original name appropriately means “alder tree”, was almost impenetrable.

That was why it was sold to her as scrub, which meant her desire to grow oak and walnut trees, which can last for 200 years, was thwarted.

But Ruth’s hard work revealed it had originally been two orchards, one called Suggs, the other Long Hill.

“And I realised I must plant apples, something I had never thought of doing,” she adds. “I obviously had to try to restore the orchard that had gone missing in the scrub.”

Much grafting was one way out, another was new apple specimens, mainly from the West Country, though she also introduced a variety known as the London Pippin – “something I simply couldn’t resist,” she explained.

Nowadays, the orchard produces apples galore – some pears and plums too – which she sells to a select band of juice makers and considers providing food for others to buy a worthy end to all her endeavours.

“And of course I think about all the children I’ve thought about all these years,” she pointed out. “All the children I knew, my grand nieces and nephews and my friend’s grandchildren. That’s why I think it good planting trees that offer fruits to others.”

Indeed, though she initially trained at the Ruskin School to be an artist, then decided that writing was her passion, she ended up teaching art in London comprehensives. She followed this teaching children from ethnic minorities at primary schools and she has just ended almost 20 years at Tufnell Park Primary School, as well as developing journalism as a sideline.

Someone once said that trees, so symbolic since Adam and Eve, are like mothers, they protect people. So Ruth’s concern has been helping refugee families.

“I feel terrible for the people, for instance, who are risking their lives crossing the Mediterranean to find a better life and all the tragic things that have been happening to refugees escaping from Syria.

“We don’t know what the future will bring. We’re living in the worst time I can remember and I do feel frightened, though not for myself.

“I love London but having a wood of my own is a place of some solitude in our madcap world.”

A Wood of One’s Own. Written and illustrated by Ruth Pavey, Duckworth, £14.99

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