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April 2012

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Mary Davies admires a delicate gate

Among the many things that I miss about my one-time cottage in the mountains are, oddly enough, the gates. For most of my years there, the wooden front gate was an ancient five-barred affair, stained green with moss, its hinges weakened over time so that when opened it dragged across the gravel. Closing needed a vigorous lift to make the bolt shoot home into the post. But the gate was a welcome sight as I drove up the hill, giving the first glimpse through its bars of the garden and whitewashed cottage walls behind. And securing it again once inside the yard was part of the ritual of arrival and anticipation of the weekend ahead.  

At the back, separating the grass where the daffodils grew from the little field beyond, there was a much smaller metal gate, painted in the same rusty-red colour as the cottage's galvanised roof. Unlike the other, this narrow gate was of my own choosing, added when the field was cut off from the garden so that my neighbours' black-and-white dairy cows could graze there. I went with gardening friends to a salvage yard, now long gone, on the other side of the mountains. One corner had metal gates of all shapes stacked and piled high, and near the bottom of the heap we found the simple, narrow one that was required. It served me well.

Just as the front gate sent out a message of welcome entry, so this small gate was the key to visiting the wider land beyond: the field with its dry-stone wall and edging of blackberry brambles, my neighbours' farm with its barn and milking parlour, the gentle valley slopes leading up towards the mountain tops. I was reminded of this sense of moving outwards in another garden, nearer the city, but with wide grounds and a setting of trees that give a country feel. Behind the well-kept lawns and flower beds a grassy curve leads to a metal gate set into an opening in the plantings.

This is a double gate of slender proportions, its delicate metalwork painted in a soft blue-grey. Like my small gate, it was far from new when it was restored and placed here. But unlike mine its sole purpose is decorative: there are no farm animals to contain on the other side. The gate leads into a far part of the garden, shady and seemingly mysterious; it adds a touch of drama, and promises an adventure into the unknown.

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