It was not without some trepidation that I travelled early one January morning to Monkton Wyld Court to meet with Simon Fairlie and Gill Barron. Both together and in their own rights, they have a formidable record in things sustainable. Simon, among many other things, was one of the founders of Tinker’s Bubble, a woodland community in Somerset, whilst Gill, in times up north, was instrumental in the early days of Growing With Grace. These days they edit and publish The Land magazine, a robust – and rumbustious – radical, campaigning publication about land rights. To quote, ‘The Land is written by and for people who believe that the roots of justice, freedom, social security and democracy lie not so much in access to money, or to the ballot box, as in access to land and its resources’.
Daylight was just breaking as we met outside the Monkton Wyld Court main building – a large country house and estate in the village of Monkton Wyld, deep in Dorset. The Court is run and maintained, with the help of volunteers, by a resident community who seek a low environmental impact way of living. The community strives to develop and promote a lifestyle based on mutual respect for each other and for the natural environment. Decisions are made by consensus, and new members join through a gradual process that begins with a volunteering visit. The Court has hosted educational courses, conferences and gatherings for nearly 70 years, first as a boarding school for alternative education, and since 1982 as the current Centre for Sustainability Education, Community and Guesthouse.
Simon and Gill are tenants on the estate farm. I’d been invited to photograph milking of the farm’s Jersey cows, three in total but one currently ‘dry’ (such a wonderful turn of phrase!). Simon and Gill were in fine argumentative spirits…….within minutes I had put my foot in it! I was explaining how I had been drawn into attitudes to the land through experiencing the changes brought about in Scotland by recent developments which had significantly increased community land ownership. Simon was having none of it when I suggested it would be a good thing for England too! Whoops…red rag to his deep belief in the principle of outright public ownership. From his standpoint, community ownership was just another form of private ownership.
Somehow I survived and decided to return for the evening milking. Perhaps I could retrieve the situation! This session Simon was joined by local free-lance milker Rachael Moss who would be standing in for him and Gill for a few days whilst they took some time to visit Norfolk. For me this was a quite intoxicating affair, hand milking under gas light – no electrical power in the milking parlour – and the three of us cocooned in cold winter air of the shippen. As we parted Simon offered a lovely piece of home-made blue cheese, a unique output of Monkton Wyld Court. A symbolic gesture of reconciliation? I hope so – but in any case it was a fabulous piece of cheese. Crumbly, creamy and wonderfully tangy!
Simon is also something of an expert on, and sells, Austrian hand scythes, see The Scythe Shop
[Double clicking on any of the images below will open up that image up in a slideshow format. You can then run the slide show using ‘left’ and ‘right’ buttons. Personally I prefer to go also to full screen having opened the slide show – F11 on my PC, don’t forget to get out of full screen is the same button , not ESC!]