Will you, won’t you, join the dance?

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There is a risk in beginning any article with a quotation from Lewis Carroll, third child of a rector of Croft-on-Tees and one of the North-East’s most famous adoptive sons. After all, you may get lost out there in Wonderland. However, the Mock Turtle’s song (from which the title to this piece is taken) has some wisdom for all of us.

Curiouser and curiouser

Croft, a former spa town on the old Great North Road, is a microcosm of what Alice must have seen on peering through that looking-glass. The Tees winds its way crazily along the North Yorkshire/County Durham border, going around some improbable-looking bends on its descent to the North Sea. When the wind is in the west, the smell of hydrocarbons wafts over from the vintage cars racing on the nearby autodrome.

An eccentric-looking medieval church thumbs its nose towards the river, whilst a white rabbit in the stained glass checks his watch. Lush pasture can be seen from the centre of the village green, and although the shooting season is long over, the crack of shotgun reports can be heard from the surrounding farmland as keepers carry out pest control.

The local manor is bright terracotta: a stunningly beautiful shade but an unusual one for an historic house. Two inns – now gastropubs – glower at each other across the water, vying for business (it is said that after last orders on the Durham side, drinkers historically would race across the bridge to sink a final pint on the Yorkshire side, which remained open deliberately later).

Because of its position on the Great North Road, Croft was also the point at which a newly-appointed Bishop of Durham and his cortege would cross the Tees into his diocese on his journey up from London.

More bizarrely still, in the middle of the bridge the incoming prince-bishop would be presented with the Falchion of Sockburn, an ancient sword that, according to legend, had been used a few miles downstream to slay the Lambton Worm (who is thought to have been the inspiration for Jabberwocky). To this day, the immense Falchion hangs at Durham Cathedral.

What now for our wonderlands?

Croft sounds outlandish, but many of the underlying matters from the bucolic vignette above will be familiar to individuals who own farms or estates: agricultural land; tourism and hospitality; historic property; farming businesses; sporting rights; heritage assets – to name but a few.

During the COVID-19 outbreak, the Croft autodrome has been silent, the church and pubs closed. Life in lockdown is quiet, and the dippers and grey wagtails on the Tees go about their business, largely undisturbed by mankind.

But many people are still busy. Lambing may have finished some time ago, but farmers and estate owners have been spraying crops, irrigating fields, keeping rights of way clear, and, more recently, cutting grass for haylage.

Traditionally, June is a month when quarterly farm rents are due, so many landowners and tenants will turn their thoughts to tenancy renewals, rent reviews, and strategic planning, alongside day-to-day operational matters.

Making time for wills

With much of the population experiencing a slightly different pace of life during lockdown, many of us find ourselves with enough time to address the things that never quite make it to the top of our to-do lists.

A frequent reason I hear from clients as to why they haven’t looked at their wills for so long – usually accompanied by a degree of sheepishness – is that they have been too busy and don’t feel it is urgent.

Now is an ideal time for us to review our wills, and to think about whether they still achieve our wishes – or whether, perhaps, some changes need to be made in order to reflect our current thinking. A will is a “living” document. It can – and should – evolve over the passage of time. It certainly should not become ossified.

Despite all the uncertainty (and in some cases, anxiety) that people have experienced in recent months, lockdown has thrown up some interesting opportunities. For those of us who have dithered, like the snail in the Mock Turtle’s song, now is the time to come off the fence and dust off that will.

For more help and assistance, please call David Towns, Head of the Agriculture, Estates and Private Client on 0191 211 7826 or email [email protected].