DANCES WITH DAF­FODILS

Pre­serv­ing a spring tra­di­tion has be­come a com­mu­nity af­fair for one Glouces­ter­shire vil­lage

Country Living (UK) - - Contents - Words by kitty cor­ri­gan pho­to­graphs by an­drew mont­gomery

Deep in the Glouces­ter­shire coun­try­side, a ru­ral neigh­bour­hood works to­gether to pro­tect and cel­e­brate a re­mark­able sea­sonal spec­ta­cle

The vil­lage of Kem­p­ley in Glouces­ter­shire has a spe­cial rea­son to wel­come the festival of Lent. In the days pre­ced­ing Easter, a flo­ral ta­pes­try of sun­shine yel­low spreads across the fields, through the for­est and along the hedgerows and by­ways. It reaches as far as its two neigh­bours, Dy­mock and Ox­en­hall, which, to­gether with Kem­p­ley, make up an area known as the Golden Tri­an­gle. This is the an­nual dis­play of the ele­gant Lent Lily or wild daf­fodil (Nar­cis­sus pseudonar­cis­sus), whose del­i­cate beauty makes its cul­ti­vated cousin look bold and brash by con­trast. Al­though the first sighting can vary by a week or more de­pend­ing on the weather, it never fails to ap­pear early each spring, mak­ing the most of the light fil­ter­ing through bare branches be­fore leaves dress the trees.

Many of Kem­p­ley’s 280 res­i­dents re­mem­ber the 1950s, when the flow­ers were har­vested and taken by rail on ‘The Daf­fodil Line’ to mar­kets in Birm­ing­ham and Lon­don. School­child­ren would sell posies for just under a shilling, while their par­ents were em­ployed in se­lect­ing and box­ing up the blooms. Lon­don ladies would travel on a ‘daf­fodil spe­cial’ ticket to pick bunches that they would sell in East End hospi­tals, bring­ing a lit­tle bit of the coun­try­side to the city. There are tales of the road from Kem­p­ley be­ing coloured yel­low with dropped daf­fodils on the way to the sta­tion at Dy­mock, which then bus­tled with trade.

The rail­way closed in 1964, and, in order to con­serve di­min­ish­ing num­bers, pick­ing the flow­ers has long since been banned. But old pho­to­graphs in the Dy­mock com­mu­nity-owned pub, The Beauchamp Arms, are proof that they once ex­tended fur­ther afield. Sadly, mod­ern farm­ing practices have taken their toll, leav­ing ‘ghost fields’ where wild daf­fodils once stretched to the hori­zon. It’s a fact that makes the re­main­ing acres all the more

pre­cious to ram­blers, horse-riders, bird­watch­ers, dog-walk­ers and the local com­mu­nity who are de­ter­mined to con­serve and cel­e­brate them. Ever since 1975, when three women came up with the idea of rais­ing funds for the parish church by or­gan­is­ing walks and serv­ing re­fresh­ments, the three vil­lages have held daf­fodil week­ends, spac­ing them out through the sea­son so that each can ben­e­fit. Mar­garet Brooke was one of the orig­i­nal trio and still vol­un­teers: “There was no in­ter­net then, so we made posters and wrote letters to pub­li­cise the event, and baked buns by the dozen. Now there are 65 of us help­ing with the lunches and teas in Kem­p­ley alone. Oth­ers make or sell crafts, home­made cakes, pre­serves and plants.”

Their ef­forts paid off and now, dur­ing Kem­p­ley’s daf­fodil week­end alone, more than 400 vis­i­tors per day ar­rive from near and far to wan­der though the golden blooms. Spon­sor­ship from the nearby Three Choirs Vine­yard pays for the hire of a minibus, so peo­ple of all abil­i­ties can see the main sites. This is driven by Mag­gie Brock­le­hurst, who also serves as a daf­fodil guardian, col­lect­ing seed that will gen­er­ate new bulbs in three years and be planted nearby – but not too near the gar­den va­ri­ety, which has been in­ter­breed­ing with wild aban­don. (A sug­ges­tion to ban the usurpers was con­sid­ered dra­co­nian.)

Mag­gie’s hus­band, Martin, helps to co-or­di­nate the event, and leads guided walks along the Daf­fodil Way, a foot­path opened in 1988 that takes in eight miles of for­est, meadow, 15th-cen­tury barns and farm­houses, perry or­chards and cider mills. Along the way he ex­plains that this na­tive wood­land species has been present since the Ice Age, that it thrives in unim­proved grass­land (where no fer­tiliser has been used) and is a boon to wildlife, be­ing the first source of nec­tar for the bum­ble­bee that plays such a

cru­cial role in pol­li­nat­ing crops. Local farm­ers are com­pen­sated for pro­tect­ing the fields un­til the flow­ers die back, when sheep are al­lowed in to graze for a re­stricted pe­riod. “Most landown­ers are sup­port­ive,” Martin says, “and a high­light of our tour is be­ing able to walk through drifts of daf­fodils in the Long Meadow at Fri­ars Court Farm, owned by Wil­liam and Kate Bland­ford. Peo­ple who have re­tired out of the vil­lage come back for this week­end, and we have fourth-gen­er­a­tion vis­i­tors who want to see for them­selves the spring­time phe­nom­e­non they have heard about.”

St Mary’s Church is an­other draw. The me­dieval build­ing con­tains fres­coes that are re­mark­ably clear, hav­ing been fully re­vealed only in 1956, and are some of the best pre­served in Europe. They were white­washed over dur­ing the Re­for­ma­tion to cover what were then re­garded as idol­a­trous im­ages. While the church is no longer in reg­u­lar use, ow­ing to flood­ing prob­lems, it is main­tained by the Friends of Kem­p­ley Churches on be­half of English Her­itage, and is open dur­ing daf­fodil week­ends.

The Daf­fodil Way isn’t the only local walk that takes in this nat­u­ral spec­ta­cle. The Po­ets’ Path is an easy, fig­ure-of-eight route, pass­ing by the glo­ri­ous Ket­ford daf­fodil bank, which would have been en­joyed by writ­ers Ru­pert Brooke, Ed­ward Thomas and Robert Frost, all of whom lived in the area around the time of the First World War, and are com­mem­o­rated in Dy­mock. (None of them, as far as we know, as­pired to im­prove on Wordsworth’s fa­mous poem: ‘I gazed – and gazed – but lit­tle thought/what wealth the show to me had brought’.)

Last year was one of the most suc­cess­ful events so far, both in terms of the dis­play and the money raised – £6,000 by Kem­p­ley alone (and a to­tal of £13,000 from all three vil­lages). It’s enough to main­tain the vil­lage hall and St Ed­ward’s Church across the road, de­scribed by John Bet­je­man as “a mini cathe­dral of the Arts and Crafts move­ment”. Local res­i­dent Ann Young, who was chris­tened and mar­ried there, re­calls, “As a child I re­mem­ber stand­ing at the farm gate selling daf­fodils, and the fam­ily car was of­ten piled to the roof with them.” She farmed un­til re­tire­ment five years ago, and is now one of the Kem­p­ley ‘Bak­ing Ladies’.

Ann’s story, stretch­ing from birth to re­tire­ment and be­yond, is the per­fect ex­am­ple of this re­silient ru­ral com­mu­nity. In a time when the new and novel of­ten wins out, they in­stead chose to turn to a beau­ti­ful part of their past, cel­e­brat­ing it, shar­ing it with the pub­lic and, in do­ing so, en­sur­ing the daf­fodils and the vil­lages they sur­round last long into the fu­ture.

Daf­fodil week­ends this year will be held on 17, 18 March (Kem­p­ley); 24, 25 March (Ox­en­hall); and 31 March, 1 April (Dy­mock). For more de­tails, visit kem­p­ley­tardis.org.uk.

Wild daf­fodils car­pet the ground in the vil­lage of Kem­p­ley, where Mag­gie Brock­le­hurst (be­low) drives a minibus for vis­i­tors

Martin Brock­le­hurst (left) leads walks along the Daf­fodil Way, where drifts of the spring­time blooms can be seen

The funds raised help to main­tain St Ed­ward’s Church and the vil­lage hall. Daf­fodil petals are even made into nat­u­ral con­fetti (be­low right)

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