It's Like Starting Again, Only Better.
It is about time we started up the blog again. We never wanted to just forget about it, we just ran into a few issues that sucked up all of our time. Those issues were rather all consuming sometimes, and we ended up not wanting to update people how we were getting on. We couldn't discuss it with the wider public because we didn't know how that could affect the end result. We also didn't want to let people know that the issue was ongoing, lets be honest it might affect how people see your business - this is our business website! The goals remained the same, building up the smallholding, livestock and courses in the future. Growing our own vegetables and fruit, building our own field shelters and sharing our experiences with people wanting to do the same.
So lets get into it. We hope by talking about this rather common problem, people might understand that these issues can be sorted. They can be overcome.....
Our home is a beautiful 1840's traditional Welsh cottage with 5 acres of land. It is known as a traditional mountain dwelling small holding. Originally there would have been lots more of them, there are ruins dotted about around us. Families who worked the nearby slate works would have been the owners, they would have kept a small number of animals and grown food around their house. In our house, what is now the kitchen was once a cow shed. As time moved on lots of these cottages were bought up and absorbed by larger farm owners. The landowner who has land adjoining ours is one of those. Given grants in the 1970s, the houses on the land were not seen as having value or were already ruins and so were left. Our little place seems like a little piece of history still standing. Not only did it fit in with our budget but it looks beautiful. The views are amazing, we have a sea view from the front door and a view of the mountains from the back door.
When we moved here we were aware that the previous owner had an issue with the landowner and therefore there was an issue with the access, the right of way. We felt we had addressed the issue and as we stated 'wiped the slate clean' so that the landowner could forget the issue and move on. So despite the issue that was there, we loved the house and the land so much we decided to jump in with both feet. This landowner did not want to wipe the slate clean, she did not want to make friends or even just quietly get on with us. Within 2 weeks of us moving in, and as soon as Steven went back to work she started obstructing the track up to our home. By the time she was forced to stop by a Judge as we attended court to get an interim injunction we had documented 94 obstructions, thats 94 in 2 years!.
This landowner showed her intent from the beginning to be difficult, obstructive, and that she was prepared to lie about any situation to create conflict to such an extent that we started to record every contact we had with her, either audio recordings or with our CCTV. Or we didn't speak and we sent letters to her.
We refused to argue with her despite her best efforts to instigate arguments, and we refused to engage in the conflict she was trying to drag us into. Every response was measured, calm and polite. She went as far as lying to Natural Rescource Wales saying the simple act of us driving to our house was contaminating the ditch water. Clearly they were not interested and told her to fix the track. Not the outcome she had wanted, however it did give us a reason for why she was dropping coal dust and ash into the ditch just 2 months earlier. Her intent was to contaminate the ditch water and blame us. She had no care or consideration for her cattle or sheep who were on occasion drinking this ditch water, nor did she realise that Natural Resource Wales would have never spent any money testing water in a drainage ditch, but it didn't stop her trying to set it up.
This is why when you're involved with something like this its always best to keep everything, and document everything. Even if you just keep a log, it all helps to document your side of the events unfolding. She even went as far as to claim that trees over the lane to three houses including ours which were damaged and lifted from the ground by Storm Emma in March 2018, had been damaged by us and she called the police in. She made no reference to the storm to the police nor did she make any reference to the fact that they were cut down by a professional tree surgeon who had deemed them unsafe, and that she was told this on the day when she came down to see what all the noise was about. Thankfully the police finding that that photos had been taken of the damage, the fact that the landowner owned the trees and should have paid to have them removed or done it herself, no action was taken. They should have dealt with her for wasting police time, perhaps even something more serious. We believe because they were not dealing with any false allegations she made, she was effectively free to continue to make them. No criminal action has ever been taken against us, and the landowner seems to have become bored of this course of action a while back. We can only hope that this continues. It should be said that the police should have taken positive action against this behaviour but its was their choice to continue dealing with false reports rather than to stop them from happening in the first place, they are after all at the time of writing this suffering with shortages of officers and therefore are time strapped already.
After months of us asking her for permission to repair and re-surface the track and getting nowhere, even having our first solicitors letters effectively being ignored by her, we finally had a response on 30th March 2017. She was threatening US with legal action in 28 days if we did not fix the track on the basis of us having NOT offering to fix the track already! Amazing.... Her solicitor who drafted this letter was the same one receiving letters from our solicitors asking to fix the track! So she set her stall out. We think that as this attempt to threaten us with legal action was based on a lie it was simply a scare tactic, would we just bolt and make a run for it thinking this was too much?? It tied in with her behaviour in the first 6 months of living at our new home. Renovations were always interrupted by her coming over, hanging around.
To give you an idea of what she was like all the time I'll tell you about when our toilets stopped working. The land outside was totally sodden, years of drainage ditches filling up meant that the land became a bog. The area where the septic tank was and where there should have been a soak away was so boggy we sunk the 110' Landrover up to its axel! So the soakaway was a bog, nothing went away and finally only 2 months after living there it all stopped. There was nowhere for it to go. We called in a very helpful local chap, who started work on digging out a new soak away, higher up the land. Now don't get me wrong the land was horrid, but this was not a quick fix situation. He dug a massive hole and found a spring (which wasn't helping). We diverted the spring into a ditch running the full length of the paddock which later became the orchard. The run off and spring water now was diverted away from the tank and soak away. He brought up 12 tons of rubble to fill this new soak away and down hill from the soak away we planted willow, lots of willow. This is draining the remaining land really well and opening up soil that was once so wet it was effectively dead. Well in comes the landowner. She spent 6 days visiting our house (the gate that is) blocking it up, tying it up with twine as many as she could get on it stating that our 'GATE' was not tall enough and needed blocking up in case her cows jumped it. Now let's put the scene right, there were no cows in that part of the land, and the 'gate' which was more of a 4ft hurdle at this point had been there for some 40 years and had never been an issue. Now it appeared it was the biggest issue going. So she came up everyday, just to check that this 'gate' which wasn't a gate was locked even though there was nothing to lock it to. It rested on a piece of wood against a stack of stones. Now really, as he wasn't bothered about the gate at all, her intention was to put off the contractor from coming back. If every time he needed to get out she was blocking the track then perhaps he would just give up. A house without a loo isn't a house someone can live in. I told her over and over again that North Wales Fencing were coming and I told her what the gate/hurdle was being replaced with. 'Fine' she says. Well it wasn't fine, as soon as the professionals arrived she waited till the new gate was fitted, and her first action was to try to waggle the metal hinge post out of the cement as it was setting. She had to be stopped, and she later went on to call the police saying it was her gate and we had no right to change it. Yep you read that right, a complete flip from what she said only weeks earlier. Our new gate replacing the one that was too short, was now 'too wide' and hinged the 'wrong way'. She became that impossible, and nothing was truthful. Her aim was to create conflict and she was going to do it anyway she could. The fact that we remained calm and reasonable in the face of a barage of lies and deceit we think drove her mad, we refused to argue but just calmly pointed out facts.
To summarise our solicitor phase in all of this, she refused to answer the basic questions of what material she wanted down on the track. We knew that despite the law stating that we are perfectly allowed to repair a right of way we knew she would kick off so and complain, we needed something in writing not just a verbal OK. She refused to stop obstructing the track or offering any reason why she was doing what she was doing. We took her to court for the obstructions, and to finally address the issue of fixing the track. By now it was a muddy slope and looked shocking, she'd allowed the track to be re-surfaced some 4 years previously, but then blocked the track up to the house so that the previous owner couldn't use it. The mud and grass had built up and as we drove up and down the track was muddy. No trace of any surfacing material left. Only our Land Rover could get there and our other car now sat at a neighbours house.
Now it got interesting. Her solicitor came to court, we were on our own at this time as we were trying to limit costs and we were happy our case was tight and easy to prove. Her solicitor initially stated his client wanted to settle, then he tried telling us our deeds were not important - i.e the fact that our deeds stipulate that Maes Mawr has an easement or Right of way and detailed which land it crossed. We then got into court and he then told the court his client believed that the access to our home was a Licence not a Right Of Way and that the 'licence' could be revoked at any time. His argument was if it was a licence and not a right of way then 'all this other stuff wasn't relevant' he was referring to all the evidence of obstructions. Well that was us stumped, and not only that but she was raising a legal argument, based on nothing other than her belief, but it didn't matter she raised it so it had to be answered.
We ended up hiring a barrister who was a property expert. He prepared the case and we attended court 3 times, hoping to finish it all each time. The first time in court her solicitor claimed documents our barrister was highlighting as beneficial to our case were documents he had never seen.... an interesting turn as their defence had been entirely based on them until that point! Still the matter was delayed. The second time she had a barrister with her. Despite requesting interpreters none arrived up, so in the morning whilst we were waiting to even get our barrister into court her barrister was trying to get her to settle, to just recognise the easement and accept that it existed. She refused, offering us an easement through another field. I won't describe it but it was a none starter, she would have needed planning permission plus the sheer amount of landscaping work that was needed, blimey it would have needed motorway experts in to create it. She was sent away with a resounding 'NO, DON'T BE DAFT'. Her barrister didn't get any further with her from there. How could he, she is impossible to talk to and she thinks she knows it all. We know exactly what she paid for him to be there, and after all that money she didn't even bother taking his advice.
The third time we took it upon ourselves to chase the court staff up, we made sure the interpreters were there, she ended up with two of them this time. This is a good time to explain that the landowner is a first language Welsh speaker, however she is fluent in English written and spoken. She was now claiming she could not understand us when we spoke. In all the evidence supplied we had 3 audio files, the longest one was 52 minutes where Steven has a verbal conversation with her. She spoke English perfectly well and she understood us fine.
We finally get into court and things progress. It was day two when she got on the stand. We'd given our evidence the day before and we were honest and truthful in our accounts. She lasted 20 minutes. She was play acting the village idiot. She now claimed she couldn't read English. Meanwhile for the last 2 1/2 years all her evidence has been in english, and signed for by her in places. Not only that but our barrister was holding a letter written by her, written in English and the words 'IVE WRITTEN THIS IN PLAIN SIMPLE ENGLISH FOR YOU', and yes it was capitalised for the emphasis. She could write and understand English and she was forgetting that the judge had seen all the evidence. She knew she could write English and she knew she could speak and understand English.
The judge called her out in court asking if she was deceiving the court in this matter. A serious comment to come from a judge in court when you're on the stand under oath. It went over her head. She then said she could read English but she just didn't understand it. Amazing, literally, her barrister was laughing under his hands. She was sunk, her evidence was in English and now she said she couldn't understand it, so in court how can she now attest to the fact that the documents in front of her are truthful and correct?? Well she can't.
And this is why you hire a barrister, Barry knew the issue, but he also knew that the issue was their fault, they hadn't prepared the file for their client, or their client was now lying and without knowing it she was throwing her own legal team a curve ball. It was time she had to face up to her own curve ball she was throwing rather than us for a change. In law Barry was able to say to the judge that should the matter need to be adjourned again then they bare the costs, so thats our barristers fees, the court costs, her fees etc, and they also were going to face a fine of £2,000 - £3,000 for their mistake. We were in court ready to go. If her file was not court trial ready then she had to pay to make it so.
Her barrister took her off the stand. So her choices were as follows; take the hit, delay the case and pay for all the paperwork to be written in Welsh and then pay the fees for us all to return to court OR walk back in court and continue with the trial but first admitting she can read English and she therefore lied. Well she had no choice and neither did her barrister. He started 4 hours of negotiation to sort the matter out. Now we didn't have to do anything, it was all him talking to her. It was obvious he was struggling, he walked out of the room at one point motioning he needed a drink or wanted to shoot himself in the head. I think that says it all. He was working so hard and his client was adamant she didn't want to give in. Its been her attitude all along, but she was facing certain failure and a huge legal bill.
Eventually we got what was needed, she was recognising the easement. We went back into court and the judge was brilliant, whilst not giving any judgement as the case was being settled she clearly knew where the difficulties were and they were not with us.
We came away with a court order, she could harass us no further, and we were free to contact a solicitor to get the deed of grant written up recognising the right of way. We should point out that a deed of easement document should have been with the deeds to our house but has probably been lost long ago. It does not mean that the easement does not exist but it allowed her to raise a legal argument. And we were not talking about creating an easement, creating a track, one was already there. The previous owner had used it since 1971, and its been there since 1948. She should have been reasonable, she should have let us fix the surface of the track, that is all we wanted to do since 2016.
All of this for nothing, she could have just let the easement be recognised, she could have left us alone, but no. She burned through £40,000 trying to say, whilst not providing any evidence, that she court turn off our access at any time simply because she thought she could. The reality was it was her attempt at dodging the case of obstructions to the right of way and she got sucked on to this journey that she refused to back out of. Perhaps she thought she would win, perhaps she thought if our house was worthless she could buy it up for a song! who knows, we don't know what her original intent was for this house and land. She clearly was annoyed to have someone living here. Lets be totally frank its not like we moved here and proposed to set up a camping site and have tens of people coming up day in, day out. The track does not pass close to her house, she can't even be seen from our property. So who knows what her issue was. We started off nice and she threw all our attempts at being pleasant.
There are two things its a shame that we didn't get to see, one was seeing Barry rip into her and her lies, the 20 minutes were not enough to see him do his work. The other is that on her settling we don't claim back our costs. She dragged us along this path for nothing. However, we have to see the good points. We spent a hell of a lot less, and we won. We got the one thing she didn't not want to give us. She can no longer lock gates and put rubbish down on the track.
We hope this has brought this matter to a close. We will continue on our journey.
We know others going through similar issues with nasty neighbours, and people going through family court. It takes it toll on you, it really does, and you have to make a conscious decision to get on, and stay positive. Now that our matter is over we must continue with that mindset. It is done. If she puts gates back up on the track they must work as gates, they cannot be constructed from bits of rubbish anymore. We know she thinks that cattle outside our gate annoy us, we know that she thinks gates annoy us. They don't. She never tried to understand us or ask questions, she just assumed lots of things. She assumed we came from a big town and had 'townie' ideas. She took no notice of the livestock we brought with us and she still to this day does not know that the family also have cows and that we hope to have some of their offspring in the future.
We bought a house surrounded by farmland because we love it. We don't want to be just off a road, we think our security is increased due to the access. It is less likely, if at all likely for anyone to just 'pop' up the driveway to check out our place for things to steal and you certainly can't make a quick getaway off our plot. We really like the isolation and separation that we feel whilst not being a million miles from the places we need. Whilst we have a public footpath crossing our place, it isn't very often it is used and it nice to say hello to people, we usually get such lovely comments about how beautiful our surrounds are.
I'm sure this will put lots of people off buying a house with a right of way to it especially over farmland, but don't let it. Sometimes some of the best little places are still tucked out of the way, and if that appeals to you then go for it. You're unlikely to find someone just like our landowner. Most people are reasonable, and if both sides are reasonable then matters don't escalate like ours did. But we had a woman who was willing to lie and be deceitful in order to make a point, any point in fact as long as she thought she could create conflict or an argument. In the end it was that behaviour that ended it all. She had no credibility in court, none.
We are now in a position to move on, to carry on and we have it in writing from a court that the track to our home is now our responsibility to repair and maintain. It will be addressed and we will focus on our business, the real reason we came here. We can joke about it now, and we can turn our focus from the anger and frustration to simply not acknowledging her any longer.
We really hope that in a few years we can offer people the opportunity to visit us and take part in courses for smallholding, livestock and being self sufficient. Our home is beautiful and not in any way tainted by the actions of the landowner. We now have exactly what we came here to have, a beautiful home that is secure, if not a little lighter in the purse. We will push forward to get those bigger jobs finished now like the track and our own driveway. Everyday here gets better, we can find ways to keep jobs cheaper and we've refined our skills for recycling and up cycling to keep costs down. So as the title said, it is like starting again, only better. The land is improved and I should mention, last month we got the 'normal' car up the track to the house... would you believe it that after a few years of driving up and down the mud and grass was worn off and we've found the actual track.
Our barrister came from this firm www.clerksroomdirect.com, they were excellent and incredibly helpful.
All of the information contained in the blog above is all from evidence that was made public in the court room. The defendants have every right to express their opinion of this blog, however we have have discussed nothing that was not included in the file for the open and public court.
And as far as moving on... why not see what we have been up to www.thecleangoatsoapcompany.co.uk