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At least the pastures have benefitted from the wet weather! In places the grasses, parsley, buttercups and hogweed reach up around my underarms. Repeatedly saturated in the perpetual downpours the fields have grown thick and in places would be almost Impassable if it weren’t for the meandering creature paths, and indeed my own creature path, winding unorthodox routes across the fields.

In one such spot at the end of Paradise Lane, where I am often located beneath twin ash trees, an area of grass has been repeatedly flattened by my regular visits and by those of a deer or two, though not simultaneously, despite my best efforts. This field is one owned by the late Wilf Peddle, egg man of Glastonbury, a local man in his 70s known throughout the land for delivering eggs to the door in his old Minor van. Wilf had been ill for a while, and although of late he managed to get out in his van a few more times, he sadly passed away last week.

I have been visiting this pasture and the one next door for a few years now, initially unaware that both were owned by Wilf. It’s a sanctuary where except for a few encounters with deer, badger, and fox I am left to my business of singing to the trees, writing my newsletter, enjoying the motion of the ash foliage, or simply gazing at the horizon to the North of Glastonbury. At first, my sparse visits went unnoticed by the landowner, but as my love for the place grew my visits grew more frequent and at some point our creature paths were bound to cross.

One sunny afternoon I was sitting in my usual spot, taking the shade afforded by the hedge and its two protruding ash trees. Strangely, a deer leapt from the grasses not ten metres from where I had been sitting for at least the last twenty minutes, apparently too scared or not scared enough to reveal its location, or maybe it was asleep when I arrived and woke to find a human nearby!

Almost simultaneously, I was disturbed by a voice drenched thickly in Somerset. Wilf and I recognised each other vaguely by sight from around the town, but had never before been in such close confines, he asked me with an abrupt but non threatening tone, “how’s he?”, as if to prompt me to explain what I’m doing in his field.

Video: TorTheatre

It became apparent that Wilf had caught ear of my guitar drifting on the wind while he was doing his rounds of the adjacent field. I explained that I found it a perfect and idyllic location to write in quiet and asked if he minded my presence. His body language suggested that he found my behaviour somewhat strange but accepted it without too much questioning, as long as I kept it tidy.

Wilf would visit this place regularly to collect the fallen branches of ash, stock them in piles in the hedge beneath the trees to dry, ready to be collected for firewood. He would check the hedges for holes and make sure the next field’s sheep had not come through the overgrown hawthorn hedge, a habit that seemed to frustrate him, apparently due to the state of the hedge, which I assume was not his to lay, but that had required a flattening for some time. Its tall thorns, elder and privet had grown to such a height that the base of the hedge was gappy and made of nothing but large trunks haphazardly fixed with boards and wire fencing, and was ineffective at keeping the sheep in their paddock.

I was fascinated by the apparent synchronisation of our daily habits that meant we found each other in the same field repeatedly, but for very different reasons. My contentment in this location was allowed further depth by my accepted presence by the land owner. With Wilf’s blessing I could now take up my spot without any concern about whether I was welcome. Only when the young bulls were in the field was I kept from my paradise, the inquisitive creatures would surround me, despite every effort to deter them!

As the years went on, Wilf and I would run into each other every now and again, in the fields or in the lanes, or in the town, I offered him a copy of the tree calendar which featured his two ash trees, hoping that it would go some way to repaying for the use of his land. Last year while researching an article on willows, I enquired about the aged pollarded willows that sat around the field, he eagerly explained to me, and as far as I could understand, that the two at the bottom marked the place of an old pond, now out of use, and full only during the wettest seasons. The pond served water before mains water was plumbed into the fields and troughs. “The willies”, he said, “Been there since I remember. That one at the top there, I cut he m’self, ‘el of a job it was.” If they’re not cut regularly the withies get too heavy for the trunk and bring the whole willow down, so every ten or twelve years the willows are cut and the pollard regrows – this is quite the job for a young man, let alone a man in his seventies.

At this very time last year, I was privileged to discover Wilf with his bright red 1950s open top tractor, pulling an equally aged bailer on the back. Propped up on the seat, adorned in his blue overalls, and his sunhat, he patiently went about cutting, raking and bailing two fields, then stacking them upon a trailer and transporting the bales down through Wick Hollow, into storage or onto whoever was buying the hay this year – likely other farmers in the locality. It was a time consuming job for one man, every now and then the aged baler would jam and Wilf would have to jump of the tractor, hook out the hay that had become caught around the mechanics.

I lingered to watch him for longer than felt comfortable, and wondered at that moment, whether this would be the last year that Wilf would tend this field. Here’s an excerpt from a recent post on the matter, by local walker / bard, John Bernard Eagan:

As I walk along Paradise Lane, at the start of it, there are two fields on the left-hand side that belonged to Wilf Peddle, now recently deceased. His approach to cutting the long grass was very old fashioned. An ancient tractor hauled an even more ancient cutter-and -baler. It was a slow, steady pace of work that chuntered up and down the field, leaving behind rectangular blocks of hay, neatly bundled and stacked like giant bundles of weetabix. The field looked a bit ragged and untidy but busy with bird life gleaning the ground for scattered seeds.

Yesterday, a contractor drove his modern contraptions smoothly around to sweep the ground bare to the bone, leaving behind monstrously huge round bales wrapped in black plastic sheaths, like some gigantic droppings left by an incontinent, mutant prowler. The grass is left almost lawn like in its tidy finish and there is no bird-life around to be seen or heard. A sterile environment has been achieved, efficiently and cost-effectively. An empty silence prevails where once insects were present in their multitudes, in drone-like swarms of intense activity.” – John Bernard Egan – 23/6/24

Wilf’s work is a testament to the man’s commitment to tradition, he retained the old ways, probably out of nothing other than pure habit. He was a walking museum, a remaining beacon of rural life in Somerset and we barely scratched the surface of his knowledge of the local area. This is an expected, but nonetheless sad loss, a reminder that time is passing by, and that the relics of our recent history are moving on – May we be grateful for those who remain and make the most of them while they are here.

I am proud of our community’s reaction to WIlf’s passing – there have been outpourings galore, a mural is planned and there is talk of his van being purchased and displayed for posterity at the Rural Life Museum.

A Funeral will be held at St John’s Glastonbury on Wednesday, 3 July 2024, at 12:00 noon.

Here’s to Wilf Peddle, a true local hero – thanks to what you brought to the community and for letting me sit in your fields!



June 2024


Matt Witt

Author Matt Witt

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