BP Travel Award 2006
BP Travel Award 2006 - Travels Through Wessex In a Campervan
Simon Grant Jones
Last autumn, Toby Wiggins hired a 1972 VW campervan to travel around Wessex making portraits of people who worked the land. Wessex is a loosely defined geographical region in southwest Britain. Toby uses it to refer to the rural areas of Avon, Devon, Dorset, Hampshire, Somerset and Wiltshire.
Toby grew up in Dorset and spent time working on local farms. Here he reveals how members of the agricultural community are coping with the rapid changes to their way of life.
'The campervan was ideal for negotiating the narrow country lanes. After several days' fighting with the gear stick, I was purring along at a top speed of 55mph.
Travelling into the New Forest, up an unmade track through mature trees, I reached the home of the verderer (whose job is to protect the New Forest's traditional landscape and its commoning practices). I was greeted by several wandering ponies, a couple of bounding dogs and Dionis MacNair, the verderer, at her porch. She took me into her kitchen, illuminated by tiny windows incised into deep cob walls, lined with rosettes. We sat at a table in front of a window, the side of her face lit up beautifully, her hair a striking silver. Dionis talked with authority about the New Forest she loved, practical in her analysis of its present needs and future preservation. I left with apples and pears.
From the New Forest I took in the Isle of Purbeck, moved through the Blackmore Vale and up over the Salisbury Plain, down on to the Somerset Levels and west over the Quantocks into Devon. The people I visited showed me great generosity. I often received gifts of fruit, in particular apples, field mushrooms and on occasion a roast dinner, and a glass or three of cider in Somerset. Judy Knight, a farmer, gave me some of her own Dexter beef, which I cooked up with wild mushrooms in the back of the van. Delicious!
Of the people I met, many were indigenous to the area in which they lived, some had migrated across Wessex and there were some newcomers. All had a strong sense of place and a passion for their work'.