Features of Fineshade
This is the first of a planned series of articles about particular aspects of Fineshade that help to make it such a special place.
1: The Sheep Field
This open space in front of Top Lodge has great significance for those who live and work at Fineshade. For those who visit, it contributes to the special landscape of this part of Rockingham Forest and provides an introduction to the tranquility that lies ahead.
Clearly the field was once an essential part of the farm at Top Lodge. The old farmhouse and farmyard would have looked out across the field and the valley towards Wakerley and Laxton. Then in the 1860s the railway came and, for 100 years, steam trains passed regularly along the south-western boundary of the field. The railway passed over an embankment, through a cutting and under the bridge that still provides access to Top Lodge from the main road . When the railway was closed as part of the Beeching cuts in the 1960s, trees began to reclaim the edge of the field so that today it appears to be enclosed by woodland on two sides.
When most of the Top Lodge farm was acquired by the Forestry Commission this field remained in private hands. It has poor-quality soil so has been used for grazing throughout living memory. Older residents and visitors remember when it was grazed by horses with a few significant Horse Chestnut trees in the middle. For children growing up here it has been a regular playground, with sledging in the winter and visits to the "snake pit" in summer! (the field has always been used by Adders). When the Horse Chestnuts died it was here that the local community decided to plant Oak trees to mark the coming of the new millenium in 2000 (sadly, rabbits and deer destroyed the young trees.)
As well as Adders and Slowworms, the Sheep Field boasts a wide variety of wildlife. There is a rich mix of flowers which attract butterflies of all sorts including in recent years the Marbled White and White-letter Hairstreak. Other insects abound in summer, and on dark evenings bats forage over the field. Then, as night falls it is a good place to see Glow Worms and, just occasionally, Barn Owls. All year round, during daylight hours, Kestrels often sit on the wires that cross the field, waiting for the voles and other mammals that live amongst the grass. There is a long-established Red Kite nest in the trees immediately adjacent to the field.
In 2014 the current owner of the field applied unsuccessfully for planning permission to develop the field for "glamping pods". This was followed in 2015 by another application that involved tented camping with a toilet and administration block. See details of that second application here.
In February 2019 a new application was presented. This proposed 32 static caravans on half of the sheep field. Like the other applications it attracted very strong opposition and the council's planning officer recommended that it should be rejected for five different reasons. The owners withdrew the application just before it was due to be decided
You can see more about the application and the objections it attracted here.
The view across the field from the front entrance of the Top Lodge Visitor Centre
20 years ago there were old trees and rare-breed sheep grazing