Our farm lies about three miles outside the Yorkshire Dales National Park boundary. In many ways this is a good thing because we get all the benefits of the beautiful scenery without the restraints regarding planning etc., which apply within the Park.
Once you get into the Park (which stretches from Wensley in the East through to Sedbergh in the West) almost every field boundary is a dry stone wall - a huge feature of the area and made, of course, because it is the indigenous material and therefore was cheap in the days when these walls were built (now they cost the earth to rebuild when one falls down and one has to employ a dry-stone-waller).
We do have dry stone walls on many of our field boundaries, but we do also have hedges. I love the walls - they are home to rabbits and stoats and weasels in the Winter time when the ground may be frozen or flooded and they also house a great number of mosses and ferns. But I do also love our hedges.
We have some which have been let grow so that the hedges are almost trees, and some which are kept short. We need this short, thick hedge in order to keep the sheep in during the Winter. There is nothing sheep like more than pushing through 'flimsy' hedging and moving into pastures new.
But what is most interesting about these hedges is the wealth of different, species to be found in them. Most of our hedges are a good mix of hawthorn (good berries for birds in winter), blackthorn (sloes for wine and also impenetrable because of spiky stems, holly (berries for Christmas if the birds leave them long enough), field maple (lovely leaf-colour in the Autumn), hazel (some years lots of nuts and therefore lots of grey squirrels and ash saplings which throw up 'spikes' over the summer, only for these to be cut down when the hedge-cutting man arrives - these plants, left to their own devices, will soon grow into small trees, crab apple (again these become trees and provide winter food for all kinds of wild life), with guelder rose, dog rose and blackberry thrown in for good measure. Judging from the number of species it is safe to estimate that the older hedges have been there for four or five hundred years. There was a 'fashion' for grubbing up hedges in some areas, to make bigger fields, but certainly on our farm this has not been the case. Here and there are 'thinner' hedges, largely made up of hawthorn trees and crab apple trees - these the farmer calls 'cams' and says they were field hedges long ago, mostly long before his time and the fields have now been made into one larger field.
We also have a plantain which consists of some evergreens and a good stand of alders, along with a few fruit trees (apple and plum) which have been added over the years.
I have just started reading 'The Making of the English Landscape' by .W G Hoskins, which my son gave me for my birthday. I do hope to learn more about hedges and stone walls before I finish it.
In the meantime I love speculating on who planted these hedges and what made them decide on particular species, and where did they get them from ?
There has been thick fog all day here today. But I have just noticed out of the hall window that the late sun has broken through. Here is a photo - not particularly good - makes me feel better about the approaching winter though - there is nothing worse than
a foggy day in November for making you dread the coming of winter.