COUNTRY & GARDEN: The little hills shall rejoice

Country Matters

The Millennium celebrations being planned in our village will no doubt be mirrored in hundreds of other rural communities all over Britain - and I am sure that thousands of people must be as anxious as we are about what the weather will be like on the night. Our two pubs will be going full blast, of course, and their customers will be impervious to rain, wind or snow, as will everyone who attends the special service and American-style supper in the church; but the biggest events - street parties, bonfires and a torchlight procession - will take place in the open air, and if the night is wild, they are going to demand some stamina.

As it happens, our most important initiative was taken months ago, when the village made an all-out effort and bought a nine-acre meadow, now known as the Millennium Green, which falls away from the houses towards the river, with fine views of open country beyond. The aim was, and is, to preserve the field in perpetuity, to save it from being built on, and make it available to everybody for informal recreation such as dog-walking, kite-flying and so on. Of the purchase price of pounds 41,000, three-quarters was raised locally, and the balance was lottery money, paid in the form of a grant through the Countryside Agency.

Compared with that exercise - or indeed with the millions spent on the dreaded Dome - our outlay on celebrations has been modest in the extreme: pounds 50 or so for insurance, and a bit for the maroons that will signal midnight. Nevertheless, people are looking forward to the last night of the year with keen anticipation.

Planning began months ago when Ron, who runs the shop and post office, and has his ear closer to the ground than anyone else, sensed that most of the natives had no intention of travelling to exotic destinations, but wanted to see in the new year at home.

He therefore set up a small committee and got things organised. When a benefactor produced a magnum of champagne, he put it on the counter in the shop along with raffle tickets costing 50 pence apiece. After a couple of weeks there, and a week in each of the pubs, the bottle had raised over pounds 150 and given us a useful float.

To remind everyone that the event is primarily a Christian anniversary, a large, illuminated wooden cross will blaze out over the valley from the rim of the steep-sided hill known as the Bury, which towers 400 feet behind the village. The siting of this symbol proved one of our trickiest problems. Because the whole hill-top was once an iron-age fort, and later occupied by the Romans, who built a race-track round the perimeter, the Bury is a Scheduled Ancient Monument; and the idea of our digging or boring a hole in it, to receive the foot of the cross, did not go down well with its guardians, English Heritage.

Although the sides of the hill are extremely steep, its top is nearly flat, and the 33-acre field encompassed by the race-course is certainly of high archaeological interest. Air photos reveal the outlines of many buildings, some round, some rectangular, and only a few years ago a dig in another field nearby brought to light a fascinating 2nd-century AD temple dedicated to the god Mercury, complete with a well full of curses inscribed on small lead scrolls.

Yet the Bury field is ploughed, harrowed and drilled with corn every year by the farmer who owns it, and it seemed to us that one hole 12 inches in diameter would scarcely endanger the site. (I calculated that the area of the field amounts to just under 1,500,000 square feet, so that the chances of hitting anything important are infinitesimal.) In the end, after routine bureaucratic obstruction, English Heritage agreed that if we kept off the precipitous earth ramparts that crown the edges of the hill, we could go ahead; so now the hole has been dug - yielding no treasure, alas - and the cross is about to go up at a point which will make it visible from many of the houses below.

The most spectacular sights on the night - we hope - will be two bonfires, one on the Millennium Green, low down, and one on the heights, close to the cross. Your correspondent is in charge of the high fire, and on his mettle to produce a memorable blaze. Offers of combustibles are pouring in, but I have already decreed that no tyres or plastic objects are to be burnt. In the last bonfire we built on that eminence - for the night of countryside protest beacons last February - our core heat came from mighty planks, nine inches by three, which had once formed part of the pier at Weston-super-Mare but had somehow found their way to the village brewery. This time we shall have to rely on old telegraph poles, with their useful impregnation of creosote.

The idea is that we should light our fire at 11.30pm, and that revellers, tumbling out of various hostelries below, should form a torchlit procession and wend their way up to the heights. There they should find Chas, the brewer, ensconced in a horse-box (to protect him from the elements), along with a barrel or two of his special, 6.1 per cent millennium ale.

Rockets will split the sky at midnight, and if the air is clear, our blaze will be visible from as far afield as the Forest of Dean, across the Severn, and the Malvern Hills away to the north west. How long people will go on worshipping the fire, it is impossible to say; as I say, a good deal will depend on the weather.

But I know that I for one shall feel the presence at my shoulder of all our human predecessors who lived and fought and died on that wind-swept hill-top, not just during the Christian era, but over a millennium or two before that.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on