Monkton Farleigh is a small and very beautiful Cotswolds village, just outside the city of Bath in the UK, and very close to my heart. It still has the village pub, the village shop, and up at the Big House they still own much of the farmland roundabout.
Local peope are wont on occasion to take visitors on walks through tiny lanes walled to over-head-height by ancient hedgerows, and to point out, in one of the meadows that rolls down the hill to the east, the faint outline of an abandoned village. The original village, left to crumble centuries ago when the new village was built on higher ground.
I'm sure someone would be able to tell me the reason why Monkton Farleigh No. 1 became unworkable all those years ago. (Anybody? Anybody?). But I wonder if anyone can tell me how the villagers were physically and economically able to relocate. Perhaps the driving force was an altered watercourse that had the effect of flooding the village year on year, combined with an offer of steady work on church land elsewhere, or the development of different skills and new livelihoods perhaps centred on the building of a new monastic institution nearby.
Such combinations of push-and-pull seem to me to have driven population migrations large and small, century on century from time immemorial.
During the post-war years, Carmine Superiore, like many of its neighbours, also came close to being abandoned. Its roofs started to crumble, and very quickly the walls started to cave in. It was only in the 1970s that there was a resurgence of interest in such places, bringing with it the people, the know-how and the money to make sense of owning property here once again.
Several visitors to the village have this summer suggested to me that without modern amenities (gas, sewerage, a road), Carmine might one day soon become abandoned once more, and I started to think about what it might take not only to instill a desire to leave one's home for another, but more importantly, to enable this to become a reality.
Around the turn of the 20th century, many Italians migrated abroad in search of better lives. The push? Grinding poverty. Cramped living conditions. The toughest of livelihoods. Dependence on the caprice of nature and of landowners alike. You name it.
From Cannobio and Cannero, they went to Detroit to work in the car industry, for example, or to London, Paris and New York to work as waiters and cooks, and some eventually to own their own businesses. This area is full of such stories. Stories of men barely in their twenties, and surely speaking only Italian, borrowing what amounted to a year's wages for a boscaiolo, in order to pay the passage to the US. And as is so frequent in migration stories, many sent the money they earned to their families back here in Italy, enabling in some cases the construction of new houses at the lakeside, the purchase of more accessible land at the bottom of the hill.
Later, in the 1950s and 1960s, a boom in the building industry would have lured young men - who would otherwise have remained to eke a living on the terraces and in the woods - down the hill to better lives as building labourers or skilled tradesmen, many in Switzerland. The pull.
These two developments, I believe, would have been important in enabling those who lived in Carmine to move away. Without them, it may be that Carmine would still be populated by vineyard workers, wood cutters and market gardeners.
Today's Carmine proprietors are different animals altogether. Eighty-five per cent of Carmine houses are second homes, many bought by appassionati and restored, most with their own hands, from their own research, with their own learned skills, with money earned elsewhere, year by painstaking year. They chose to become lovers of Carmine; they were not born, kicking and screaming, into its relative isolation and its poverty (for poor the village decidedly was), and they did not grow up in search of that single elusive opportunity to leave.
Carmine has thus become something other than a patch of land with houses on it, valued as a place capable of offering a livelihood or of offering proximity to livelihoods. And it is not in the minds of 95% of the owners here a place that might offer an opportunity for property speculation.
Today's Carmenites and potential Carmenites value ancient, wild and semi-wild places for the many contrasts they offer to life in the big cities and towns of Europe. And so, from being a place to be shunned for its poverty and discomfort, Carmine has come to be desired for its aesthetic and therapeutic qualities.
And although some may choose to give up their Carmine homes in their old age because they prefer no longer to struggle up the hill with a gas bombola, or to worry about where the next cubic metre of firewood is coming from, it would be ridiculous to think that they will simply walk out of their houses and never come back.
To my mind, there are three possible scenarios. First, the property will be passed on to younger generations. Young people now in their 20s, 30s and 40s who have themselves become lovers of Carmine. Who are able to come here for longer periods or might even contemplate living here full-time thanks to the growth of internet and flexible working. Who want to offer their children the same magical adventures that they themselves experienced as children of the 1970s generation.
Second, they will simply sell their property on to a friend or relative. For whatever pressures the credit crunch might put on us and on our ability to maintain our jobs and homes in other places, it's my belief that the property market in Carmine will remain immigrant and not emigrant for a good while yet.
Third, they will get together and come up with new, modern, communal ways of overcoming Carmine's difficulties. Which are not, after all, so difficult to overcome.
No push. No pull. The economics of re-population are, for the time being, working in favour of Carmine. The economics of abandonment are, happily, a long way in the past.