The British National Ploughing Championships were held at Bishops Lydeard near Taunton on October 8th and 9th 2011.
Mike Hopper and I left wet and windy Whitstone and the nearer we got to the venue the better the weather became. The site was ideal with a backdrop of the Quantocks and undulating farm land, where the soil was so different from our own and ideal for arable crops. Probably Grade 2 land, better to have God made land than man-made or to use another phrase 'boy's land' rather than our soil which is 'man's land.' Both sayings reiterate the same meaning, the land there was naturally the way it was whereas lots of ours has to be drained before it is fit for purpose. We were impressed by the uniformity of the soil, a lightish loam, rub it in the palm of your hand and it would run through your fingers not stick to them! All land whatever it's grade has a huge part to play in feeding the world, most of the human race owe their survival to the land, countless wars have been fought over it. To quote Mark Twain ' Land will always be expensive as there is no more being made!'
Back to the Ploughing championships! For the uninitiated the aim is to turn a furrow formed by the mould board and turn it 140 degrees so that any grass or stubble is turned under and the soil is left in as straight a line as possible. We saw every category of plough in action, different classes for the size and age of the plough. There were horse drawn ploughs with the ploughman walking behind, an experienced ploughman would expect to plough an acre a day! A wonderful sight to see skilled men so reliant on the power of their horses, these ploughs didn't turn the soil by as many degrees leaving the furrow more upright. In the days when this was the only form of ploughing it would have been done in the autumn leaving the furrows to be weathered through the winter months so it would be easier to cultivate in the spring. No power harrows in those days.
A really impressive sight was where two steam engines powered a wire rope system which was stretched across the field a plough then travelled along the wire rope powered by steam, when it reached the end of the rope the steam engine would whistle a signal to move forward, the plough would then be turned for it to return back up the field. They did manage to stay in contact without a mobile phone!
There were then many classes for trailed ploughs being pulled by all makes and ages of tractors. From a 2 furrowed trailer to a 5 furrow reversible hydraulic plough, how machinery has advanced in the last 50 years, we could both reminisce through many of these stages We got into conversation with one competitor who had bought his plough on ebay! Competitors came from as far afield as Scotland, The Isle of Wight and of course some from Cornwall. Competitors were continuously tweaking up their ploughs and using their tape measures to make sure everything was accurate and parallel.
There were also numerous trade stands selling everything from woven picnic hampers to books. We even saw a pair of wellies for £125! There were also working exhibits of harvesting through the ages with the old threshing machine in action.
All in all we had a very enjoyable day, as it was Sunday there was a service to bless the ploughs, unfortunately however hard we searched we couldn't find a spare mould board!
Each task will end, each gate will swing,
Each Ploughman will go home to rest,
And furrows left upon the field,
Should say he ploughed his best.