Helen goes to Gloucestershire this week -right into the heart of England. Gloucestershire is steeped in history and rich in agricultural practice-it offers such a diverse experience of rural life. It's a county that has been defined by the partnership between landscape and man ,a working relationship spanning thousands of years that has shaped both the people and the land Served by the arteries of the Severn and the Avon, the working life of rural Gloucestershire has absorbed such contrasting forms- from the coal and iron miners of the Forest of Dean to the gentle hills and rich pastureland of the Cotswolds -Gloucestershire above all is a working county
Helen begins the programme on the river Avon, travelling through Tewkesbury past the Abbey and down onto the Severn. With her is Chris Witts who was the last grain barge skipper on the Severn. For centuries the Severn was a working waterway alive with the massive barges that brought Grain from the ports of Bristol and Swansea to the mills of Gloucester. Over a hundred and thirty feet long and weighing two hundred and fifty tons the barges were vital to the economic life of the county-they provided access to the sea and trading routes to Europe and beyond bringing oil and grain in and taking wool ,cheese and coal out-but it all ended in the sixties ,almost overnight with the coming of the Motorway.
Severn Bridges website
Gloucestershire Waterways Page
Charles Martell farms in the North-West corner of the county near Dymock The pride of his farm are ancient breed of cattle native to Gloucestershire -the Old Gloucesters. A rich warm mahogany colour they were once endangered to the point of extinction, in fact when Charles began farming in the early seventies there were only sixty eight left ,as he says "a puff of wind and they would be gone". Their future, thanks to Charles amongst others ,looks much rosier and there are now over seven hundred dotted around Britain. But the Gloucester cattle are not the only native Gloucester breed on Charles's farm he has chickens, ducks, pigs and even ninety eight varieties of native Gloucestershire apples. His whole farm is a testament to the rich agricultural heritage of Gloucestershire.
Gloucestershire Food Compahies
Jonathon Wright and Don Johns are both Free miners from the Forest of Dean and Helen met them on a trip into Clearwell Caves. With over twenty miles of caves and the discovery of stone tools early last year showed that mining of some sort has been going on at Clearwell since neo-lithic times. In effect Clearwell is now a paint mine because it's most famous for the mining of Ochre. Used as a natural colour pigment in paints Ochre is still mined at Clearwell by hand ,the colours include Yellow, Brown ,Red and the rare Purple ochre and it's in demand as an allergy free paint .
Don and Jonathon also explained to Helen the centuries old tradition of Free mining -it seems the miners were valued very highly for their skill in burrowing under the foundations of fortifications enabling the buildings to be collapsed and destroyed making the miners very useful for any military campaign. It was thought Edward the First granted the coal and ore miners of the Forest the Free-Mining status after a particularly successful episode undermining the foundations of Berwick Castle. Being Free miners Jonathon and Don are allowed certain privileges -they can ,with the permission of the Gaveller be granted mining rights almost anywhere within the Forest and if there are minerals to be mined then no one can stop them even if as Don points out, the mine is located on some one else's land.
Clearwell Caves Website
Next week Helen visits Derbyshire
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