Last Sunday was balmy and still, and perfect for a morning walk. ‘Green Lanes’ expert Val Belsey took a small group through Week and up through 36 acres of land above the village. The event was to tell stories of people’s relationship with this land through time.
The event was set up by Mark O’Connell of the Apricot Centre for Sustainable Living and the Gabriel Kaye of the Biodynamic Land Trust (BDLT) who are working to raise community shares to secure this land for sustainable farming and wellbeing projects for the future. As Mark and Gabriel introduced the vision of working respectfully with nature and the local community, Val quickly followed-on stating that ‘in Medieval times people were more focused on dominating nature’. Val has the particular ability of enabling you to travel back in time and imagine the slow and bustling movement of people and animals during these times. She explained as we walked through Week village how this was once a central route for driving cattle back and forth between the moors and the winter shealings (‘pastures’), down Barracks Hill through Week and up past Huxham’s Cross to higher ground.
The group spent some time dating the hedgerows. Counting the number of tree species on a 30 yards stretch one side of the lane; Ash, Hazel, Hawthorn, Beech, Oak, and Field Maple, each species representing 100 years, and so the hedge was about 600 years old taking it back to the medieval period. Val named the fields next to the village; ‘Screeches Orchard’, ‘Abbey’s Close’, and ‘Tom’s orchard’. Tom Putt was a good cider apple grown in this area. Val shared the medieval Devonshire ballad ‘The Earl of Totnes’ in which valiant knight Sir Arthur Champernowne wagers his manor of Dartington against the Earl of Totnes’ Haccombe Hall, and loses the manor and his life.
Val explained how many of the local farms had enclosure for protection around them during the 1300s. Next to the ‘Great Meadow’ you will find ‘Billany’ which is a corruption of ‘hedged enclosure’. From the times of the enclosures to more recent times many of the hedgerows have been gradually removed. The movement of people and the forms of agriculture have changed and adapted to changing times. The Second World War saw a rapid development of new technologies in what was called the second agricultural revolution, allowing large scale food production, with the unfortunate consequence that soils have become damaged and depleted.
What future stories are set to happen in and around Week? There may be opportunities for local people to find renewed relationships to the land. Is locally produced high quality food of importance? Can local schools and children learn and experience improved wellbeing through a connection with the land at Week. Is this the time right for more sustainable approaches to agriculture and the regeneration of the vitality of the soil and environment?
Having learned lessons from the second agricultural revolution; that we can produce a lot of food but at the cost to wild life and our wellbeing, both the BDLT and the Apricot Centre are inviting you to join us in the first steps towards creating a new story on this site. The slow long process of repairing the land begins with gentle but effective natural re-generation of the soil and the natural food chain will build up from there. Alongside this, we aim to grow local delicious food, and invite local people and the community to be a part of this process.
To find out more or give your support to acquiring these 36 acres for healthy sustainable agriculture and local food see www.apricotcentre.co.uk, email email@example.com, tel 07765 006829 or 01453 766296.