Why West is best
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.