In the middle of the Wiltshire countryside, early on the morning of Saturday 28th October, professional Hedgelayers from all over the UK gathered together to participate in the 2017 National Hedgelaying championships.
It was a fresh and misty morning but this soon turned to sunshine and initially a light breeze, perfect weather for Hedgelaying! Paul Matthews, one of approximately 110 participating cutters, a 3 times winner of the South of England Open Class and also honoured as the 2015 Supreme Champion made a decision to change styles, choosing to enter the Midland Intermediate Class!
“It is a different story when you change styles”, suggests Paul who following the 5-hour competition was so surprised to go on to win both the Midland intermediate class followed by the best overall intermediate cutter!
The length of hedge (cant) for each cutter entering the competition is 10 yards and some struggled to finish in the allocated time. The hedges were fairly dense in places and therefore required lots of cuts (pleaches) to lay. In addition as the winds increased throughout the day residue materials cut from the hedge began billowing around and had to be retrieved and some cutters including Paul also had to manoeuvre and lay the hedge around strategically placed bird boxes supported on wooden polls!
Paul changed his cutting style for this year’s competition in order to continue to challenge himself. Over the centuries each style has developed differently, depending on available materials, different requirements and customs of the region, therefore, to become a winning Hedgelayer in a new style takes time and practise to learn the techniques required of the style.
The main differences between the Midland Style (also known as a Bullock Hedge) and South of England style are very visible. In the Midland style the brush is only on one side, the side that would be either facing the road or toward the arable land (animal side), whereas for the South of England style it is on both sides. In addition, the stakes are driven in as the cutter moves along the hedge, rather than after the hedge has been laid, and the binders are twisted together before they are woven around the stakes. Apparently, the reason for this is that the binders need to be very strong for the Midland style so that bullocks cannot twist them off with their horns!
When the horn sounded and the competition came to an end it was time to step back and let the judges do their work. This is the part of the day when the Hedgelayers walk around reviewing each others work, providing valued advice to their peers and looking to see if they can pick out the winner in each of the classes. Then all back to the marquee for lunch and a well earned glass of beer for many, Hedgelayers Delight (at least I think this was it’s name) was a popular choice!
The Midland class winners where the first to be announced, everyone was overjoyed that the overall Supreme Champion was awarded to Malcolm Johnson, the Midland Open class winner.
Sharing his admiration Paul remarked that “Malcolm laid a superb hedge and is revered in hedgelaying circles as one, if not the best ever, Midland style cutter we have ever had”.
The awards ceremony bought out the camaraderie between the cutters who are such a supportive group of individuals. Many continued on that evening to the NHLS dinner back at the hotel sharing stories over drinks in the bar until late into the evening!
“It was great to meet old friends and new, this was only my second attendance at the National competition over the past 11 years since meeting Paul, but now as his wife I look forward to returning every year, what a great weekend!” Lorraine Ellery Matthews