On Weds I travelled up to the 156th Mendip Ploughing society event at Priddy near Cheddar gorge. The main event is a ploughing match but coupled with it is a hedge laying competition I take part and fly the flag for the National Trust. Its good to show people that the Trust is active outdoors and that we have the skills to maintain the fabric of the countryside in the same way as our conservators can maintain the contents of a mansion or the building department maintain the fabric of a vernacular building.
Throughout the country there are a number of hedging styles depending on local conditions, traditions and the livestock farmed the style in the Mendips is the North Somerset style. The order of the day is each competitor draws lots for a 10m length of hedge and has 5 hours to cut, lay and stake their length according to the standards of the style. It is then judged on quality of cut, strength of staking and general appearance. Competition is fierce with many local contractors in effect showing off their skills to prospective employers as well as taking considerable pride in their craft. As with any natural feature there can be a bit of variation in the hedge so a bit of luck can be involved in which bit of hedge you get, some events have a special cup for the hedger who has made the best job of a ‘bad length’.
To get the length of hedge completed is pretty ‘full on’ although chainsaws speed things up allot of the work is still done with an axe and billhook some competitions notably the Devon Rural Skills Trust one do not allow chainsaws, a great deal of care needs to be taken as dropping one or 2 points can easily mean the difference between winning and also ran, you cirtainly know you have done a day’s work.
The thing I love about this work is that you can take a pretty untidy hedge and by using simple tools, skill and experience bring ‘order from chaos’ and make a really handsome stock proof barrier which enhances the countryside and prolongs the life of the hedge by regenerating the hedge row trees and shrubs so great for conservation as well.
At the end of the match everybody walks the hedge making their own judgements on the work done then retire to the tent for refreshments and to await the decision of the judges.