How We Got Here

I was born and raised in Hertfordshire but school holidays were often spent at a cottage in the Kielder Forest where my grandfather worked as a surveyor for the Forestry Commission. I loved climbing the giant douglas fir down by stream and enjoyed learning to split logs for the fire. When I left school I went to the University of Birmingham to study mechanical engineering then to the United States. I spent nearly five years at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire where every Fall coach-loads of “leaf peepers” would arrive from afar to be amazed by the spectacular autumn colours. When I returned to the UK in 1990 I moved back with my parents in Hatfield and eventually got a job at Brickendonbury where I used to go cross-country running at lunchtime in the surrounding woods. In 1994 I bought my own house in Hatfield (a three bedroom mid terrace for £50k) and in 1999 I got a new job in Hatfield, working as a systems and applications manager at the University of Hertfordshire.

By 2004 it was starting to feel like I was stuck in a rut and I got involved in a plan to set up a housing co-op which would buy a 10 acre smallholding in Wales. I handed in my notice and left work but the plan did not come to fruition and I ended up doing a variety of things including tree planting in Pembrokeshire. I registered as self employed when I was offered a contract to do some IT work from home over the Internet but when the contract ended I didn’t make an effort to find another one and drifted into doing odd jobs like dog walking and gardening. I often found myself working for a friend who is an arborist and although it could be exhausting carrying logs or dragging branches all day I much preferred it to sitting in front of a computer for a living. By 2009 I had made enough local connections that I felt ready to commit to staying in the area long term, and with my savings earning so little interest I decided to try investing the bulk of my money in woodland. My mother also wanted to take some of her money out of the banking system and she thought it was a good idea so between us we had about £60k to play with.

I registered on the website of John Clegg & Co and entered my requirements, which were for a reasonably nearby property (I selected Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Oxfordshire) priced at under $100k. Nothing was coming up in Hertfordshire so in November 2009 I went to look at Breaches Wood in Buckinghamshire. It was a longer journey than I wanted and access was quite poor but I was planning to put in an offer until it emerged that the sporting rights were (contrary to the sales brochure) not included. Unfortunately a lot of woodlands have had the sporting rights leased out which means you have to accept the possibility that a gun club could come wandering through at any time. In July 2010 I went to look at College Wood in Bedfordshire even though it was a bit out of my price range. I told some friends about it and they put in an offer but were outbid. In March this year another friend told me he was looking at Backlane Wood in Hertfordshire and asked if I was interested in buying it jointly. I considered it but ended up letting him go it alone. In May I got an email from John Clegg about a Hertfordshire property called Biggs Grove at Wormley West End. Biggs Grove was jointly owned and being split into two lots, only one of which was for sale. There were a few problems including an issue about the shared access track but I ended up making an offer. After a while John Clegg told me they had received a better offer and asked if I wanted to bid again but I was not willing to go any higher so I let it go.

By now I was getting a bit disillusioned and was even thinking about other things to do with my money when in July I got an email from John Clegg about another Hertfordshire property which they were calling Ware Park Wood, a three hectare broadleaved woodland in the historic setting of Ware Park (see brochure). I went to look at it on July 16th and it seemed to match my requirements; it was freehold, there was good access, the sporting rights had not been let out, it was only about 20 minutes walk from Hertford East Station and I could cycle there quite easily from Hatfield along a mainly off-road route. It also looked like it had not been actively managed for a long time so there was plenty of scope for me to improve it. I got on the Land Registry website, found the property described as “land at Ware Park, Hertfordshire” with title number HD157927 and paid £8 for a copy of the register and plan. The guide price was £50k and on August 5th after discussing it with my mother I put in an offer of £55k subject to contract. In my next entry I will explain what was involved in completing the purchase.