Judging a best-kept village contest is a tricky business

It is easy to mock best-kept village contests - to describe people frantically whitewashing coal, vacuum-cleaning the gutters, or launching midnight raids to dump refuse in the streets of bitter rivals.

Reality is different. Competition is keen, of course, but essentially good natured, and the effects are strikingly beneficial. Standards of upkeep are now so high that judges have a daunting task.

The trophy for Gloucestershire villages is the Bledisloe Cup, named after that great agriculturalist, the first Viscount Bledisloe; it was established in 1937, and is now organised by the local branch of the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE), with the help of a small sponsorship from Calor Gas. Entrants are divided into three categories: "small" means up to 300 inhabitants, "medium" between 300 and 1,000, and "large" from 1,000 to 3,000. The prize in each class is pounds 100.

This year there were 49 entrants, and the initial task of sorting corn from chaff fell on 24 volunteer judges, who were asked to write reports on the villages they visited. In its excellent notes on how to judge, the CPRE makes the fundamental point that the aim of the competition is "not to find the most beautiful village, nor the most ancient, nor the most picturesque, just the one that is best cared for".

Architectural merit and a beautiful setting should therefore not be taken into account: what matters is evidence of community effort. Judges are told that they should give no warning of their arrival, but that once they are on site, it is up to them whether they remain incognito or start asking questions.

All this naturally applies also to the person - this year, myself - called upon to judge the final. By the time I joined the fray, entrants had been whittled down to two finalists in each category, and I was furnished with the villages' own submissions and with the reports of earlier adjudicators. All I had to do, therefore, was to inspect six villages.

The finalists knew the period during which they would be visited (17- 25 August), but they did not know my identity. The chances of anyone rumbling me were thus minimal; but to reduce them to zero I decided to look as unofficial as possible by making my tours on a mountain bike.

Last Sunday afternoon saw me park outside the boundary of Oddington, a community of 340 souls just east of Stow-on-the-Wold, and a finalist in the medium category. Having extracted my bike from the back of the car, I coasted down the slope into the village between neatly mown verges.

The place was immaculate: not a scrap of litter anywhere, not a blade of grass uncut. Flowers blazed in every garden, set off by the soft limestone of the houses and walls. There was - thank heaven - no tourist activity: in fact, no traffic at all.

I already knew, from the sketch map which the entrants had provided, that the village is strung out for nearly a mile, and almost cut in half by a wasp waist. I soon saw that the village hall is a rather nondescript modern brick building, looking out of place among the mellow stone.

But how was I to balance such minor disadvantages against the evidence of hard work and pride that I saw everywhere? How was I to discount the tremendous impression made by the Church of St Nicholas, an astonishing 11th-century building, leaning all ways, yet still in use, and set in a lovely graveyard, with roses planted along the path?

How, above all, was I to judge Oddington against its rival Longborough (pop. 420), no more than five miles away to the north-west? Longborough has a more enviable position, as it nestles on a hillside, with wonderful views far out over the plain. It is also more compact, which gives a stronger community feeling.

Yet I knew from the rules that I must ignore these natural advantages and look for evidence of human effort. No shortage of that. The very large churchyard was quite beautifully mown (I am a connoisseur of such places, as I mow our own), the village hall and school in admirable order, the post office window cheerful. Altogether, the place had a flourishing air.

Over this weekend I must decide between the two - as I must between the butter-yellow hamlet of Batsford (pop. 50) near Moreton-in-Marsh and the larger, paler Cherington (pop. 100) near Tetbury. The two giants - Hardwicke (3,000, with its splendidly named Sticky Lane) and Highnam (2,000), on either side of Gloucester also need to be ranked.

I feel sad, almost guilty, that after such efforts three communities are bound to be disappointed.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...