Marston Marsh and Caister St Edmund – The Kissing Gate Sagas

Friday 19th & 26th May 2017

“What is it about kissing gates?” asked Robert (the photographer) as we trudged in the blazing sun the half-mile back across the fields to the car park at Caister. We had returned to the Roman site at Caister St Edmund to finish building the kissing gate started two weeks back and also install a further gate. This was the third Friday in succession that we had finished late because of kissing gates. Alan wrote about the trials and tribulations of our earlier visit to Caister on 12th May and previous Blogs related our experiences at Reepham and elsewhere dealing with these, sometimes problematic, structures.

On the face of it a kissing gate is simple structure. Typically, a box of around 1.5 metre square with one open side opposite which we hang a gate that closes onto the inside edge of the posts on the open side. The gate and hanging post are heavy, need a three-foot-deep hole and have to be firmly tamped-in. The closing and other posts also require deep holes and need to be square and level with the side rails neatly attached.

Digging out the old, rotten posts and installing the new ones with the odd pose with the pneumatic hammer for good measure! 😉

However, before we Blog about the Caister work we should start with the emergency kissing gate repairs at the Ipswich Road end of Marston Marsh on the previous (wet) Friday (19th May). The hanging post that carries the weight of the gate had rotted at its base and was wobbly.  Cattle had recently been moved onto the marsh and had found a way around a fence and across a dyke and the last line of defence was the wobbly kissing gate.

At Marston, the hanging post and other main posts had been set with a thick layer of concrete which had to be broken up to extract the old posts and install new ones. Matt had hired a pneumatic hammer to help break up the concrete but it was still a very long job taking most of the day to open up the holes so that we could get at the old posts. So, it was mid-afternoon before we could actually start digging the new post holes. The hanging post is a heavy six-inch square, eight-foot-long piece of timber to carry the weight of the gate.  The hanging post is installed first and the gate hung and then the other posts are positioned around it. Once all posts are firmly tamped in place the side rails can be nailed in place. The final job was to fix chains to the gate and hang weights on these to ensure the gate returned to the closed position after use. It took some time to get the chain length and position just right so that the gate closed firmly.

Constructing a new fence by hanging the gate and adding the side rails to create the final masterpiece!! 😀

While Matt and fireman Chris battled with the concrete around the old posts the rest of us got on with other jobs around the marsh. Alan took the DR mower for a long walk cutting the paths along the river and dyke edges. Liz, Lorna and I extended the wing-ends at the field gate where the cattle had found a way through. The cattle had come across to see what we were doing and were so close that we had to shoo them away so that we could get the job done. Other tasks completed were clearance of nettles around the main gate and the cattle corral and digging out the mud that had been washed down from Danby Woods in the recent rain and had settled around the entrance. By the time we had finished these jobs Matt was ready for us to assist with building the kissing gate. We finally finished just before 5pm!

Caister on Friday 26th May was very hot and sunny but with no shade at all where we were working. First off, we completed the kissing gate started a few weeks previously. This needed the side rails to be fixed and chains and weights hung on the gate to ensure this closed. The old sheep fence was then cut and stapled to the new structure so that this could now be used. We also replaced the spring on the kissing gate built two weeks back with a chain and weight mechanism so that this also closed properly.

Adding some finishing touches to the two kissing gates that we had previously installed. Weights were added to all of the gates which were old disc brakes. Nothing like recycling things! 🙂

Matt then pointed in a southerly direction and told us that our next task was somewhere over there. Actually, nearly three quarters of a mile walk “over there” to a bridge crossing a dyke where the stile had to be replaced with a kissing gate and the handrails repaired. The stile was being replaced to provide level access for visitors. While Stephen, Pete, Michelle and Robert dealt with the support posts and rails on the bridge the rest of us removed the old stile and posts ready to start work on the kissing gate.

Positioning the gate was a challenge and required a few “walk-throughs” with someone carrying the gate while others simulated using the gate to work out the best place for this. The problem was dealing with the step down from the bridge and how much room was required for a walker (possibly with a buggy) to manoeuvre into the gateway and exit this.

On the final stretch now with an old stile to be replaced by a new kissing gate and some bridge posts to be replaced/braced just before the sun goes down. 😮

Eventually the best position was found and post holes marked. The ground was hard and uneven here and it took some effort to get through the top layer only to then meet a layer of clay which stuck to the digging tools. The long-handled post hole digging spade and the post hole diggers (long handled pincers) are heavy and get harder to use the deeper you go. Finally, the holes were dug, the posts installed and gate hung and the rails fixed to the sides. The last job was to fit sheep fencing to the sides to stop the blighters squeezing between the rails. We had just packed our tools back in the truck when Matt realised that we hadn’t attached fencing to the gate so this was quickly done.  By this time, it was approaching 5pm and for those of us still on site it had been a long and tiring day. And it was as we made our way back that Robert asked that all important question at the start of this Blog.