By Leaves We Live: Happy Valley

This article was first published in the July edition on iScot magazine.

“This is a green world, with animals comparatively few and small, and dependent on the leaves. By leaves we live.” Patrick Geddes

Edwin Harrold left the school at the age of 14 and worked for many years at farming in the parish of Stenness in the West Mainland of Orkney. At one time, like his 4 brothers before him he set off for a life in Canada and cycled half way to Stromness before a change of heart returned him home. Folk in Orkney in those days, just like today, could turn their hand to many a thing and Edwin found himself employment farming, labouring on the roads and with delicate work mending watches.

As an anti aircraft gunner in World War II he was discharged for health reasons where he was dispatched to be a forestry worker in England. Throughout all these years the young Edwin Harrold was acquiring skills and knowledge which would allow a legacy to be created.

Returning to Orkney he went to live in the cottage of Bankburn which had been uninhabited since 1940. It was here that he was to develop a valley of arboreal splendour  in the islands.

The Ministry of Works (now Historic Environment Scotland) had only been set up and Orkney with its abundance of archaeological remains ensured a man of Edwin’s skills found employment with them. Indeed he was to work for the Ministry until his retirement in 1972.

Bankburn, nestled in its valley, had but an elderberry and a bit of a wall when Edwin moved in. The cottage had no mains services which was no deterrent to him. Edwin altered the route of the Russadale burn which meandered through the grounds, built a dam and a miniature hydro system. A 12V dynamo fed into a heavy duty battery giving him the electricity needed for his means.

Bankburn Cottage Happy Valley M Laird

Starting with a shelter belt of elderberry then sycamores over the decades Edwin Harrold added more trees : 3 sorts of oak, lime, Japanese cedar, beech, copper beech, ash, holly, cherry, apple, willows, rowan,whitebeam, elm, yew and a monkey puzzle tree.

The shelter of the valley allowed the trees to grow and flourish. The burn meanders its way through the woodland and wild flowers abound.

There are many stories of this amazing man with his pet ‘Rookie’ which would fly behind him as he cycled down the track to catch the bus into the town.

Edwin died in 2005 aged 98 and concern grew as to what would happen to the woodland he had planted where he had welcomed any who wished to visit and enjoy what he had created. For a time it lay uncared for but eventually was sold to the council along with 4 fields by Professor Isbister as he wished it to be used for the benefit of the public and not fall into private hands. It is now maintained and cared for by the Friends of Happy Valley, a charitable organisation. The house which had fallen into disrepair since Edwin’s death has been made wind and water tight. The Friends have planted hundreds of more trees in newly acquired adjacent fields.

haunted Happy Valley M Laird

Edwin Harrold was buried in a coffin he acquired from the Director of Venus Peter, Ian Sellar. It had been used in the film and kept by Edwin in his toolshed where he would amuse himself and visitors by climbing into it commenting that it was maybe a tight fit at the shoulders.

Today Happy Valley is abundant in a diversity of flora and fauna. A haven for wildlife and still welcoming young and old alike who delight in the treasures it holds within it.

Interviewed by Eddie Oldfield in 1989 for ‘The Orcadian’, the modest Edwin said:

“I just feel I am getting the good out of it now. I’m satisfied the way it has gone.”

Happy Valley cartoon M Laird

Text : Fiona Grahame All images: Martin Laird

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