Human toil engraved on the landscape
The rough texture of this wonderful landscape speaks volumes about its geography and history. The ‘corrugated’ pale green fields sit, just out of reach of flooding, atop the terraces of the meandering River Dove.
Remnants of old river channels show the course where the river formerly flowed and, indeed, where it eroded into fields slicing through the ridges. And on the gently sloping, farmland soils the ridged fields tell of generations of farm workers and teams of plough horses, year after year, turning the soil to make a living.
This is ‘ridge and furrow’, the remains of open, medieval strip fields and one of our most distinctive and ancient of rural landscapes.
Ploughing the fields
The ridges were not an accident of ploughing. By turning the soil in the same direction, year after year, ridges were deliberately created to provide a raised, well-drained bed for growing crops. The furrows between ridges acted to drain away excess water and were also used as boundary lines between different land owners.
Typically farmers would own a few strips in several different open fields - sharing the good and bad land. The gentle curvy, S-shape at the end of the ridge is where the plough team repeatedly pulled to one side in preparing to make a turn.
Open field cultivation worked well for hundreds of years but came to an abrupt end with the enclosure of the land, which took place in the 17th to 19th centuries. All types of land were walled or fenced into ‘enclosed’ fields for more efficient cultivation, and for pasturing sheep at a time when wool commanded a high price.
Dividing the land into enclosures like this created a mass of poor rural people. Many tenant farmers were evicted by landlords who saw enclosure of open fields as a way to make more profit.
Villagers fell into poverty as the common and waste lands were enclosed, leaving them nowhere to graze their animals. Riots became common. There is no doubt that Parliamentary Enclosure Acts changed lowland England and Wales forever and created a more divided society.