Why West is best

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

Oh the green hills o’ Som­er­set! Go rolling to the sea,’ reads a poignant 1916 poem by Fred­eric Weatherly, who was born in the county, in Por­tishead. Much of the West Coun­try is de­fined by the lyri­cist’s in­fi­nite sky­lines, gen­tly ris­ing and fall­ing in hues of ochre and pur­ple, as well as shades of green, to touch the shin­ing sea, but Eng­land’s foot boasts many themes.

It has Arthurian leg­end and The Hound of the Baskervilles, West­ward ho! and Tarka the Ot­ter, balmy Gulf Stream climes and bleak, gran­ite tors, cider-ap­ple or­chards and wortle­ber­ries, heath­ery bea­cons and wa­tery lev­els, curly-fleeced sheep and daf­fodil fields. Ted hughes fished it and Al­fred Mun­nings painted it; it was Agatha Christie’s refuge and Daphne du Mau­rier’s in­spi­ra­tion (page 82); film-mak­ers can’t get enough of it —Clovelly, our glo­ri­ous cover im­age, dou­bled for Guernsey in the film The Guernsey Lit­er­ary and Potato Peel Pie So­ci­ety, out now.

Con­versely, the arty af­flu­ence of Bru­ton, the flood of sec­ond-home own­ers in coastal vil­lages and the march of cor­po­rate shoot­ing into deep Ex­moor val­leys be­lie the strug­gle that ex­ists be­neath the tran­quil burr.

With its net­work of small up­land and live­stock farms, the West Coun­try has borne the brunt of bovine TB and, with Cum­bria, that of the 2001 foot-and-mouth dis­ease out­break; the hunt­ing ban was an­other blow.

Corn­wall, for all its Eu-pro­tected pasties, sar­dines, clot­ted cream and oys­ters, its hor­ti­cul­tural riches, its mag­i­cal, jagged coves and its ro­mance, is one of the poor­est coun­ties in Bri­tain—the Cor­nish voted strongly for Brexit, de­spite ben­e­fit­ing from EU money.

It has balmy Gulf Stream climes and bleak, gran­ite tors; Ted Hughes fished it and Al­fred Mun­nings painted it

The West Coun­try is suf­fi­ciently dis­tant from West­min­ster to have had to look af­ter it­self, re­ly­ing on lo­cal pride and lo­cal en­ergy to pro­tect its myr­iad riches. The Dart­moor Farm­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, a beef and lamb co-op­er­a­tive, and the Farm­ing Fu­tures scheme, fo­cus­ing on the agri­cul­tural man­age­ment of moor­land, are two such re­sponses; the Two Moors Fes­ti­val, set up af­ter foot-and-mouth to cheer every­one up, is an­other.

De­fra Sec­re­tary Michael Gove has promised to pro­tect smaller, less-prof­itable up­land farms through fu­ture pay­ment sys­tems— the vi­a­bil­ity of hill-sheep farm­ing is deemed to be par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble from Brexit— but he’s asked com­mu­ni­ties to come up with their own ideas as well.

Ex­moor’s Am­bi­tion, which of­fers the area as a ‘na­tional test bed’, re­dress­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems at the same time as en­sur­ing eco­nomic security post-brexit, is the ini­tia­tive of the Na­tional Park author­ity and the Ex­moor hill Farm­ing Net­work. The doc­u­ment also sug­gests that a prime mo­ti­va­tor will be pride; an emo­tion that West Coun­try peo­ple have in abun­dance.

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