Laying a hedge, Dorset-style

It’s a blazing hot, autumn day and I’m out here in the sunshine, my best man by my side, and we’re laying a hedge.

hedgeMe laying a hedge. My farming dad and grandfathers would be proud of me. Well, maybe not proud of the way I’m struggling to swing a billhook into the stem of this hazel. But perhaps proud of me for trying.

Each year, the Melplash Agricultural Society puts on the annual hedging and ploughing match. Next Sunday, it’s at Chideock. It’s a great day out for all the family.  It’s sponsored by Dorset law firm Kitson & Trotman.

I’m taking part in a free, hedgelaying taster day at Mangerton Lane, near Bridport, where groups of up to four are being instructed in this age-old art by experts in the field.

It’s a lovely part of Dorset, bordered by a line of beautiful, rounded hills running from Loders to Powerstock. It’s an enchanted landscape where the swallows and swifts gather for the last hurrah before the long journey south.

A quick demonstration on the roadside hedgerow yields an empty vodka bottle and a wallet, filled with credit cards, a driving licence and mud. Later, I track down its (local) owner and promise to hand it over when they’re back from holiday.

Then we’re asked to follow an instructor and go and lay our hedge. We plump for Nigel, who’s nearly eighty and been laying hedges since he was knee-high to a hazel sapling. I think it always pays to go with the experienced teacher when it comes to learning age-old rural skills.

Our stretch of hedge soon echoes to the sound of a chainsaw slicing through blackthorn. Nigel is something of an expert, making short work of branches that yield to neither billhook nor axe.

Mr Grigg and I work as a pair on the middle part of the hedge while another chap lays a section at the front. He’s done this before, but in Surrey where they do it differently. Apparently, hedgelaying can vary from county to county. Who knew?

It’s hard work but very satisfying. We’re busy for nearly five hours.

The idea is that if we liked it enough, and maybe showed prowess, we might enter Sunday’s competition as a novice pair.

I don’t think we’ll be much of a match for the hedgelayers of West Dorset and beyond, but, hey, we’re going to give it our best shot. I’ve found out we even get a free ploughman’s lunch. Can’t be bad.

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