An old gate

Matthew Chatfield
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The Isle of Wight is known for its downs and cliffs, but inland, especially on the north of the Island, there are quiet woods and fields where few people go. You don’t have to go very far to be away from it all. Walking through Ashey one crisp winter day, the Ranger found himself strolling down an unmade track which was distinguished by the unlikely name of Station Road. Sure enough, at the end was a station – the house now private. An adjacent halt is still used by the steam railway that passes by. Behind the station-house is a little wood, and leading into it an old wooden field-gate.

Gate at Station Road, Ashey

I always enjoy a good gate – yes, I do. This one drew my eye particularly. The shape of the rails showed that it was made of cleft wood, probably chestnut, split from a round log and fitted into slots at each end. This is a very old style of gate-making, and is done when the wood is young and green, often in the coppice where it is cut. Once the wood has dried out you can’t split it like this. I was puzzled – the gate superficially looked very old, but was in good shape albeit rather roughly hung. Also, under the trees as it was it would probably last little more than 30 years. Nobody has been routinely making gates like this on the Island since the middle of the 20th century. A little further study revealed a delightful detail which I’d never noticed when passing before:

Squirrel carving on gate

This cheeky character is undoubtedly the Island’s unofficial mascot, the red squirrel. It also marks the gate out as a labour of love, perhaps of relatively recent origin, rather than the antique it at first appeared to be. Few country gates would be so adorned – this style is perhaps more for a domestic gate. One final clue emerged on the walk back along Station Road and across the heritage railway track.

Gate at Ashey halt

The pedestrian gates on the level crossing were built in the same style as the field-gate. Obviously the materials and finish were quite different, but there’s always a chance that the hands that originally designed these gates, perhaps in the 1970s or 1980s, were the ones which fashioned the little field-gate behind the station-house, and adorned it with its chirpy squirrel sentinel.

Matthew Chatfield

Uncooperative crusty. Unofficial Isle of Wight cultural ambassador. Conservation, countryside and the environment, with extra stuff about spiders.

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