In the hills of Cheviot

North Canterbury Farm Forestry Association visited a couple of farms near Cheviot last Thursday.

The first is a small–holding north of Cheviot that was enthusiastically planted and landscaped around 20 years ago, with ponds ornamental trees and walnuts. The property is a familiar sight to travellers on State Highway One as one of the more scenic farms in this area. Our hosts Kevin and Prue kickstarted the day with tea, coffee and several plates of hot scones and buttered cake.

There was a really good turnout of folk from north of the Hurunui, and being a southerner I enquired how folk had faired with the quakes. Most that I talked to were working with insurers and builders to get their homes repaired but one was working toward a brand new home as the old homestead is munted. Sounds like they were lucky to get out unscathed, as fortunately the ceiling held when the heavy roof tiles crashed down.

Swamp cypress with cabbage tree and flax

Perhaps the most abundant trees were pin-oak, Quercus palustris, with a smattering of scarlet and red oaks, all in various shades of blushed green through scarlet and blood red to deep beetroot. These were foiled against a scattering of English and durmast oaks, linden, ash and golden ash. In a hollow by Highway One a group of swamp cypress were going orange and a couple of small tupelo were very showy. Gary gave a quick lecture on the various swamp cypress species (Taxodium) there preferences and uses, in particular their decay resistance. One species was once highly sought after for landscaping chip!

We lunched on Linden Lea, a farm that was formed out of the break up of the 90,000 acre ‘Cheviot Hills Station’ around 1894, into 54 small farms and Cheviot township. With some of the original buildings still on site and with current owners, Jens and Anne Ravn, and past owner, Grant who grew up here, on hand we had an interesting day. Mixing up history, anecdotes and the current state of the farm. A stream running past the farmhouse is called Marchlaw, and the story goes that the foreman of Cheviot Hills was a fiery Scotsman by the name of March and his word was Law!, more on that later.

Marchlaw Ck

Marchlaw Creek, Cheviot

It’s a model landscape

Topographic model by Chris Ravn.

This link goes to a gallery of 1893 photos of the Cheviot Estate

Not wanting to march to the top of the hill (Mt MacCoinnich)we piled into 4WD vehicles for the uphill grind, then marched across a newly sown field,

and an airstrip with a fine view over Gore Bay

top-dressing airstrip overlooking Gore Bay

to discuss the recent QEII Covenant on the seaward side of the hills.

North Canterbury farm foresters having a great day out in the Cheviot hills overlooking Gore Bay and Port Robinson

QEII Covenant near Cheviot

Miles, the local QE II field representative, talked about the values of the block and pointed out the more interesting tree species as well as some of the more problematic woody weeds, all of which have either been carried on the wind or in the belly of a bird over the hill from the remarkable Cheviot Hills Reserve, which was planted around the original homestead that burnt down in the 1930’s.

The core area of a QEII covenant, some of the larger yellowish tree crowns are totara, survivors of the settler’s fires. Grey trees are hawthorn that have been poisoned, note the newly killed Pinus radiata.

Then we marched back to the vehicles to continue back in the valley where a nice wee stand of Douglas fir, bordered by walnuts was visited. Grant said it was planted with seedlings quietly pulled out of the Hanmer Forest on Sundays and over the constant sound of cracking walnut shells and masticating molars the branch secretary was

A row of walnuts and Douglas fir behind

heard to quip that ‘Douglas fir are quite easy to pull out when they’ve just been planted’. Protected from the norwester they were quite nice trees but when management  and harvest was suggested the former owner was quick to point out that they were planted to stop the bitter sou-wester coming up the valley and in my opinion they’ve done a nice job of it too. Another suggestion was to take them over the hill for a log cabin in the covenant.

One final stop was a slump surface where European ash and hawthorn are spreading over the road and up the hill from the Cheviot Hills Domain. Jens wants to pick away at removing the hawthorn and prune the ash and while there was general agreement about the hawthorn, ash are considered of low value and various suggestions revolved around replacing them with other low value species that have recognised markets, to wit boring old Pinus radiata. Sensing the mood wasn’t in favour of doing anything alternative, I bit my lip but wanted to suggest that between emerald ash borer and the global interest in green woodworking a stand like this might well be suitable for someone to take on as the basis of a copse. One of the arguments against ash is that there isn’t a market but there is clearly a market in North America and probably in Europe. A quick search showed numerous US mills and merchants selling white ash from $1.50 (at mill) to $4.30 (retail)/board foot, that’s US $650 – $1900/m3.  Two NZ merchants importing American white ash also showed on the first Google page so there is clearly a local market for ash. Add to that the devastation being wrought in the USA by the emerald ash borer and it looks like there is potential for a future export to the US.  The borer is moving into Europe from the east at c. 40km/year, so if we plant now, we could have a valuable ash crop ready after the glut in timber caused by the borer has passed.  If anyone out there wants to chip in on the US, UK, Euro perspective that would be appreciated.  Rick, Sadeik, Ernest….?

More about Marchlaw

I should have let it lie at that nice anecdote, but when I did a quick google there are two other associations of Marchlaw with Cheviot.  There’s the story of The Empty Chair from Wilson’s historical, traditionary and imaginative Tales of the Borders (3rd Edition) November 1834, which predates European settlement of this part of the world. It also turned up March Law being the rules governing cross-border disputes, first written down in 1249. Within the Scottish Borders the East March of the Borders is formed in part or wholly by the rugged Cheviot Hills.

You have all heard of the Cheviot mountains. They are a rough, rugged, majestic chain of hills, which a poet might term the Roman wall of nature; crowned with snow, belted with storms, surrounded by pastures and fruitful fields, and still dividing the northern portion of Great Britain from the southern. With their proud summits piercing the clouds, and their dark, rocky declivities frowning upon the glens below, they appear symbolical of the wild and untamable spirits of the Borderers who once inhabited their sides. We say, you have all heard of the Cheviots, and know them to be very high hills, like a huge clasp riveting England and Scotland together ; but we are not aware that you may have heard of Marchlaw, an old, gray-looking farm—house, substantial as a modern fortress, recently, and, for aught we know to the contrary, still inhabited by Peter Elliot, the proprietor of some five hundred surrounding acres. The boundaries of Peter’s farm, indeed, were defined neither by fields, hedges, nor stone walls. A wooden stake here, and a stone there, at considerable distances from each other, were the general landmarks; but neither Peter nor his neighbours considered a few acres worth quarrelling about ; and their sheep frequently visited each other’s pastures in a friendly way, harmoniously sharing a family dinner, in the same spirit as their masters made themselves free at each other’s tables.

Peter was placed in very unpleasant circumstances, owing to the situation of Marchlaw House, which, unfortunately, was built immediately across the “ideal line,” dividing the two kingdoms; and his misfortune was, that, being born within it, he knew not whether he was an Englishman or a Scotchman. He could trace his ancestral line no farther back than his great-grandfather, who, it appeared from the family Bible, had, together with his grandfather and father, claimed Marchlaw as their birthplace. They, however, were not involved in the same perplexities as their descendant. The parlour was distinctly acknowledged to be in Scotland, and two-thirds of the kitchen were as certainly allowed to be in England;—his three ancestors were born in the room over the parlour, and, therefore, were Scotchmen beyond question;….


If you wish to read on you can do so here:

The next link gives a quick look at what else to do in Cheviot and since the earthquake last November with State Highway One closed to through traffic, Cheviot, Parnassus and Kaikoura could all do with a little support for the cafes, restaurants and motels. It’s also real nice driving with only locals using this section of the Number One road in the country.

And a brief history of the Cheviot Hills Estate video/audio/transcript

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