Anyone who watched the Avebury Ploughing Match at Marden (September 28th) might have thought they had been transported to Kansas. John Deere, New Holland and Ford tractors, each carefully ploughing a strip as far as the eye could see. The smell of hot dogs and burgers from the mobile caterer. Pick-ups, farmers in their overalls, old salts in tweed caps. A wide open Wiltshire sky. A grand sight and grand news that the winner of the competition was Alice Nutland, whose grandparents live at Cuttenham Farm in Wilsford. Alice, aged 23, is the first woman to win the competition in its history – bravo.
Wilsford’s Harvest Supper was a fat triumph. Thank you to all cooks, helpers and bar staff. We sat down to a table set the length of the village hall, decorated with apples and berries. There were shepherd’s pie, apple pie and jugs of custard, and a harvest beer from Pewsey’s Three Castle’s brewery. Julian’s raffle prizes – wine, organic eggs, a set of Nigella kitchen utensils, two brace of partridge – raised £178 for the hall.
Chatting to Trevor, an experienced farmer, I learned that the deep furrow ploughing on display at Marden is now considered disruptive to the soil’s delicate balance of minerals, water, worms etc. The new vogue is ‘min-til’ – seed is laid at a shallower level, and immediately covered over with earth. We associate farming with timeless ritual but in fact farmers are constantly innovating, letting go of old practices and experimenting with new technologies. This restlessness feels true to our hyper-connected, competitive age.
We had a birthday cake for William Lang. He was back in Wilsford the next morning in pouring rain to take our Harvest Festival service. The children held up letters which spelled out Thankful. Each one explained what their letter stood for (‘a’ for air and apples and antibiotics, ‘n’ for neighbour etc). We got a bit stuck on ‘u’. Someone suggested onions. Another, umbrella. During the service I noticed William prayed for farming, including its modern, industrialised practice.
A few days later I went running out to Beechingstoke, via Marden. Leave Marden by the riding school, heading west for Chirton. Cross a stile, and just through the kissing gate turn north and follow the track straight past one house and then through the front garden of another to cross the Avon on a footbridge into a bogged snipe field over looked by tall, river-fed trees. The water meadow was filling with evening mist. Just inside Beechingstoke I cut right along a dog walk, first along the top of a wide field and then squeezing between a high hedgerow and a plantation … here I halted, to pick apples from a row of fruiters, full blown and planted decades ago by some benefactor, their branches now dragging with apples – red and crunchy, bronze and sharp, a bright green scented desert apple. Sweet interruption. I stood admiring the evening light in the trees and the green tunnel arcing away, and thought again about so much fruit going to waste, and this fertile country.
Eager to foster rural innovation, the government has promised a “transformation” in Wiltshire’s broadband speeds by 2015. In Wilsford’s case this will require a new fibre optic connection running 5.5km underground from the telephone exchange at Woodborough to Wilsford’s ‘street cabinet’ (our village hub, housed above ground in a green box). But our houses are copper-wired, and so data flowing down fibre optic cable needs to transfer back onto the standard copper phone line before it reaches our homes. The idea is that this would happen in our green box (it’s called ‘Fibre to the Cabinet’, or FTTC). All of this was explained to me recently by a telephone engineer who thought the likely cost and associated technical problems so massive that he couldn’t see it happening by 2015. You heard it here first.