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The county of Cheshire,
an expanse of peaceful English countryside,
with magical wooded hillsides and gentle pastoral lowlands.
It might be world-famous for its cheese,
but one of Cheshire's lesser-known claims to fame
is for weaving silk.
It all started with farming families making silk buttons
and it grew into a huge local industry.
Well, today I'm going to be calling in at one of the last mills still working.
Cheshire is an inspirational county.
Writers in particular find the stimulating landscape here tempts them into putting pen to paper.
One such writer is Alan Garner.
Cheshire-born and bred,
Alan has this county at the heart of his work.
Best-known as a children's fantasy novelist,
he'll be telling me about his love of the landscape
and how even the view out of his kitchen window has helped inspire his latest novel.
Beneath the beautiful Cheshire landscape,
Jules is searching for creepy-crawlies.
I should say if anyone's watching this, if you don't like spiders,
look away now,
because we may well find one.
Tom's gone for a seaside stroll...
We are an island nation,
but you might struggle to see that for yourself.
Four years after it was decided to create an uninterrupted public footpath around the English coast,
barely a fraction has actually been created.
So is someone dragging their feet? I'll be investigating.
Adam's in Somerset visiting a farm with a difference.
These young cattle are the future, of the dairy herd here
and the cows on this farm
not only produce milk to make cheese, but they also help to power the entire farm,
and I'm here to find out how that all works.
Cheshire, a county with a rich historical heritage,
a place of rolling hills and tranquil lowlands.
To the east of the county on the edge of the Peak District
lies the market town of Macclesfield
which built its success on the skilful way
it wove a precious thread from distant lands.
The growth of this area dates back for centuries
to the days when hard-working farming families would earn some extra cash in their spare time
by making these...silk buttons.
These buttons were special.
Using silk or mohair thread,
the elegant fastenings caused a stir among the fashionable elite of London
when they were taken there by journeymen.
It was the start of a massive industry.
From 1740, the 200 years that followed saw 120 buildings appearing around the town
all dedicated to silk.
The buildings that housed that industry, the mills and the dye houses,
are still scattered all around the town,
and so are the terraces of workers' houses.
Whole families would live on the first and second floors,
and then on the top floor was the workplace
where they'd toil at their handlooms,
with the distinctive windows letting in lots of light.
To hear how the industry took off, I've come to the town's silk museum
to meet curator Annabel Wills.
Charles Roe started the first factory in Macclesfield
which was for throwing silk, which is combining all those long fine threads into a useable thickness.
Just how big did the silk industry become here?
By the 1890s, everything was concerned with silk.
Making the fabrics, knitting, weaving, dyeing, even the machinery was made here.
Gradually, Macclesfield built into a market town,
but the workforce was in the countryside around as well.
People didn't mind walking a long distance to get to work in those days.
Asia was where the raw material came from,
spun by silkworms that feasted on mulberry leaves.
It was the way Macclesfield transformed it into fabric
that made the town world-renowned.
Paradise Mill was the last hand-weaving mill in the town to close in 1981.
Museum guide Mike Scott once worked in the textile industry.
This is Macclesfield stripe, and it was a very fashionable item for ladies to wear,
blouses, dresses, etc, in the 1920s and 1930s.
-Yes, very much so.
-Very fine silk, isn't it?
There would have been about 30 to 40 looms here all going at the same time.
Are there any that still work?
Yes, there's one up here I would like you to see.
Time for a not-so-young apprentice to get weaving.
-Another seven years and...
-Seven years, that's how long it took?
-That was your apprenticeship, yeah,
before you got paid your correct money.
And how many hours a day would they be doing this?
Well, this could be up to ten hours a day.
-It's hard physical work.
-And do you know how much they used to produce in a day?
But they were certainly no donkeys.
They were skilled people, they were producing a very high-quality cloth.
Well, I suspect that I have ruined this bit of fabric for you!
-I don't think I'm going to get any awards!
-No, perhaps not.
Although a lot of the skilled and supervisory jobs in the mills were taken by men,
Macclesfield was known as a women's town because most of the workers were female.
But during the Second World War, the entire workforce swung into action
and every inch of Macclesfield's silk was used in the war effort,
from making parachutes to silk handkerchiefs with maps printed on them,
so that when airmen were shot down in Europe, they could try to find their way home.
The luxurious quality of the silk
is, in part, thanks to the local soft water.
Just about every mill and dye works was built close to the River Bollin,
because they needed a constant supply.
Former silk printer Sean Crutchley worked in the trade for 45 years.
What kind of impact did this silk-making technique have on the water?
You couldn't really say that it was water. This was black or green or blue,
or whatever colour you fancied.
Because they would just drop the dyeing vessels straight into the water.
Well, you may have retired, Sean, but I see you still have a soft spot for silk.
-You've got a silk hankie in your pocket there.
Beautiful, isn't it?
-Is that one of your own designs?
-Yes, it is, yes.
-Very nice, too.
-And, as I say, when you feel the quality of the silk,
you'll appreciate what I mean about the water,
-because it's the water that gives you that beautiful feel.
-Yeah, very soft, isn't it?
Yes. It really is nice.
As Asia took over the mass manufacturing of silk during the 20th century,
an industry once so vital to Macclesfield began to die.
But next to the river in the village of Langley,
just a few miles from the town centre,
a working textile mill is keeping an old tradition going.
Adamley has been printing silks here for 50 years,
supplying, amongst others, the tailors of Savile Row.
While the designs can now be digitally printed,
they have kept some traditional techniques.
These screen-printing rooms are laid out just like their predecessors
in the Macclesfield mills of old,
and Dane Rushton has prepared a table for me.
Is this screen-printing a family tradition, Dane?
Well, yeah, I'm the third generation.
My dad did it and my grandfather did it,
so, yeah, it's been passed down through the family.
Well, let's get going, then!
Right, so I'll put some colour in for you.
Take it from me.
Just on the Countryfile bit.
There we are, on that, yeah.
And smoothly and slowly...
So, if you lift it up, John,
-The big reveal, eh?
Move it across a little bit.
-Place it down.
-There's your design!
-That is pretty impressive, isn't it?
And what a combination, Countryfile and Macclesfield silk!
-Art in the countryside!
Just across the border from us here in Cheshire, in Wales,
there's now a continuous path running the whole length of the coastline,
but, despite efforts to create one, the same can't be said for England.
Tom has been finding out why.
With some of the world's most beautiful countryside and glorious coastlines,
our country is made for walking.
As islanders we're drawn to our coast,
maybe in the summer for a lovely sunbathe or perhaps even a cheeky swim.
At this time of the year, though, it's more likely to be a hearty walk and some bracing sea air.
To make the most of that, in 2009, the then Labour Government
announced it would create a continuous path around the entire coast of England.
This 2,800-mile route would be finished within ten years.
It was an ambitious project, some would say too ambitious.
And so far they've completed just one per cent of new coastal path,
a single stretch down on the Dorset coast,
so that Olympic spectators could watch the sailing.
So why are we so far behind?
Well, to be fair, England is still ahead of both Scotland and Northern Ireland,
and neither nation has plans to create a continuous path of its own.
But here in Wales they managed to create this 870-mile coastal path in just five years.
It's become a huge source of national pride
and a big boost for the rural economy.
For Alan and Liz Williams,
owners of the Three Golden Cups pub near Bridgend,
it's made a huge difference.
What has the path meant to your business?
Well, it's brought a lot of additional tourism in,
which obviously we've benefited from.
They come up here for a drink, often for a meal,
and it's obviously increased our turnover,
so we've enjoyed all the benefits from the coastal path,
and we are able now to include a campsite for them to stay overnight.
-And what do you think, Liz?
-It's pretty much saved our business.
It encouraged us to look at other areas, to incorporate people coming from the coastal path and camping,
and I think without it, you know, we would really struggle.
What does it sort of feel like in the summer now
as compared to what it did a couple of years ago, either of you?
The dynamics of the pub have completely changed.
We've had Scandinavians, Germans, Americans, anywhere, really...
I think as word's spreading what a beautiful place it is,
more and more people are coming.
Having a coastal path is clearly working for Alan and Liz,
but what benefits does it have for the country as a whole?
John Griffiths, the Welsh Minister for Culture and Sport,
was instrumental in getting the path created.
How did you do it? How long did it take?
Well, we created over a six-year period and, of course, we had to commit resources.
We spent something like £14.5 million over that period,
but we drew together key partners and we had a very strong focus, and, you know, we got on with it.
What do you think it has delivered for the country?
Well, it's delivered the benefits we expected.
We've got around three million visits to the coast path on an annual basis now.
There's work in place which shows an economic benefit
-of around £16 million a year additional spend.
And, you know, there are a range of businesses around the coast path in Wales
that are directly benefiting.
So you're saying it cost 14 million or so to set up
and you're getting back 16 million a year? I mean, it's paying back every year.
Absolutely, but beyond that, I think, the way that it's raised the profile of Wales internationally
is absolutely priceless.
Of course the coast of Wales is less than a third of the length of England's,
but the speed at which they've created their coastal path is impressive nonetheless.
And, as we've heard, they're now reaping the rewards.
But in England those benefits still seem distant.
Four years after the plan was revealed to join up Britain's existing coastal paths
in one continuous route, less than one per cent is complete.
Walking is a wonder drug!
The Victorians were right! The smell of the sea air and walking
can reduce all types of illnesses.
Nicky Philpott is from the walking charity Ramblers
which has been acting as one of the consultants on the project.
What do you think went wrong in England?
I don't think anything's gone wrong.
We got the Act in 2009, and we're delighted that that got cross-party support,
but I think we need a real champion behind the coastal path.
In Wales, there was that ambition to leave this as a legacy for the nation,
and in England we just need the same amount of commitment and excitement,
because, you know, it's the most exciting project, I think.
Sustainable, green, benefits everybody... let's make it an exciting project.
And with something of that scale, there will always be lots of little hurdles in its way
and you need a bit of momentum to push through those things, don't you?
Yeah, you do. And just a sort of political will and a willingness to work together,
to make sure that we open up more places for us to enjoy.
So whose fault is it that the path has strayed so far from the original plan
to complete the whole 2,800 miles by 2019?
Nicky didn't want to point the finger,
and although they don't have a champion as such,
the Coalition Government still seems to be committed
to creating this continuous coastal route for walkers.
So what went wrong? Did they underestimate the scale of the task
or was there just too much bad planning and red tape?
DEFRA told us the original ten-year timetable was set by the previous Labour Government,
but they wouldn't tell us why that timetable had changed.
However, they did say they would...
Certainly, money is a big issue,
because what DEFRA didn't say to us is that the original £50-million budget for the coastal path
has been cut to just £4.5 million.
Things are now beginning to gather pace.
Earlier this year, the coastal access scheme was fast-tracked,
but even given all that a 2,800-mile path is still an epic undertaking.
Natural England is the body charged with getting it done,
and in 2010 senior advisor Neil Constable told John he was confident about the job ahead.
Well, this is a huge task you're taking on, isn't it?
A coastal path all around England.
It is, but it's achievable and it starts here at Weymouth.
Three years on, I'm meeting Neil on the Dorset coast to see how he feels now about what they've achieved.
So they've finished the path in Wales, we've barely started.
Why are we doing so badly?
I don't think we're doing badly, Tom.
It's a different horse for a different course.
What we're doing in England is a very different thing and it's much more ambitious.
Well, it's a pretty lame horse currently for a tricky course,
and we just haven't got much for people to walk along.
Well, we're currently working on 500 miles of coast at this current time.
We've got to cut our cloth accordingly.
These are difficult times economically, so...
but nonetheless we should, by the end of 2015, have some 900 miles
that we've either finished or we're working on.
Do you feel you're getting enough support from central government for this?
-Very much so.
-They are behind this programme.
-They're a real champion for it, are they?
I think so, yes, yes, indeed. Yeah. But, as I say, we've got to cut our cloth according to our resources.
And is it about resources? Have you not got enough money to roll this out? Is that why it's slow?
We've got enough money to roll it out, but the rate at which we roll it out
obviously will depend on the amount of money you've got.
We know what the economic climate is at the moment, so we work within that.
For Natural England a new system of fast tracking does seem to have made a difference.
Work has begun on a stretch between Whitehaven and Allonby
and also between Sunderland and Hartlepool.
But despite this progress, the prediction now is that less than half of England's coastal path
will be finished by 2019.
So this is part of the stretch on your land, yeah?
Yes, from here, and obviously the most visited part or between here and the cove.
To even achieve that on their budget Natural England need the support of hundreds of landowners.
Sadly, not all the ones they've worked with so far are happy.
James Weld owns the Lulworth Estate which contains four miles
of Britain's only complete section of coastal path.
So where are we here, James?
Well, these are...this is one of the contentious points,
where you've got the steps or what were steps coming up...
..which we would always maintain or always have maintained in the past.
So why haven't you maintained them this year?
Because it is part of the spreading room and therefore a public right of access...
and therefore we maintain that Natural England should be maintaining it.
Spreading room is a bit of a technical term.
It basically refers to the land between the route of the coastal path and the sea's edge,
covering dunes, marshes and, in this case, the beach and the steps that access it.
But although Natural England and local councils will maintain the coastal path itself,
they won't pay for the spreading room.
There's no problem with the coastal path as such.
We've had a coastal path for 100 and more years,
and maintained it and continue to maintain it.
The issue is the spreading room.
And if they want to take all that on as a public right of way, which is fine,
-they should take responsibility for it.
We used to spend on the last stretch of four miles that we maintain
twice the amount of money that Natural England spends on the whole 30-mile stretch
between here and Portland.
So should Natural England be paying for the maintenance from their path all the way to the sea?
If you're giving people the right of access to the beach,
whose duty is it to make sure that that access is safe and useable?
-Yeah, well, let's be clear. What we're doing, we're creating a route along the coast.
Yeah? People will have a right to be on cliff tops, on beaches, on foreshores,
but as we can see from where we've been today there are a lot of places along the coast
where people run businesses based on that access.
They supply, you know, whatever it is, cafes, car parks, pubs, access to beaches, all sorts of facilities,
you know, that's fine. You know, we're not going to do anything
which is going to impact on people's business,
it's for them to do as they see fit with their land.
Basically, then, if it's in the spreading room, it's down to the landowner to maintain,
and that's not the only bone of contention.
For some that budget of around a pound a metre is simply too low to get the job done properly.
There are also concerns that only the easy bits of coast have been looked at so far,
with the big challenges yet to be addressed.
And then there's the question of a completion date.
The route around England and Wales is over 3,000 miles
and would take the best part of a year to complete.
But when will it be ready? Well, put it this way,
I think you can wait a while before you have to ask your boss for a year off
to complete your coastal odyssey.
Enchanting in the low, heavy sun
winter's on its way to Cheshire.
Crisp light, dark shadows,
the perfect day to step into a land veiled in lore and mystery.
70 years ago, it was a land that became imprinted in the mind of a very sickly Cheshire boy.
"Long years ago," said Cadellin,
"beyond the memory of books or men,
"Nastrond, the Great Spirit of Darkness,
"rode forth in war upon the plain.
"But there came against him a mighty king and Nastrond fell.
"He cast off his earth-shape and fled into the abyss of Ragnarok."
"He ran along the path to the rock.
"Its smooth quarried surface drew him to the point
"and the point drew him beyond.
"There was nothing but the point and the air calling him.
"Three strides to an end, three strides and then no more..."
The young boy grew into a man
and, as he did, he became a writer...
..one who would embrace his county's landscape and its local folklore,
bringing the two together to create fanciful stories in his subconscious.
His name, Alan Garner...
his imagination, decidedly brilliant.
Since the '50s, Alan's been writing fantasy novels and folkloric tales.
His books, including The Weirdstone Of Brisingamen and Elidor,
have been celebrated for the clarity of their writing.
Alan's been compared to the likes of Tolkien,
his books set here in Cheshire enjoyed by children and adults alike.
How would you say that the landscape has sort of had an impact on your writing?
It's had an enormous impact because I come from this landscape,
and I feel almost as if I have literal roots in it,
and it expresses itself through my mouth.
You describe Cheshire throughout your work,
-and you even set part of one of your stories on this track, didn't you?
-Yes, I did indeed.
Behind me, it leads to the setting of my second-most recent book
which is called Thursbitch.
You describe minute details, you know, in the rocks and the trees and things like that.
Did you spend a massive amount of time outside when you were a child?
I was either in bed paralysed with dramatic illnesses throughout my childhood,
which does tend to foster the imagination...
Do you mind me asking, why were you laid up in bed? What was the matter?
First of all, when I was two and onwards, it was diphtheria,
and the house had to be fumigated.
Then, most dramatically, when I was six, I had at the same time
whooping cough, measles and meningitis.
That was the second time I officially died
and that was the time I heard the doctors pronounce me dead!
So when you were, you know, lying in bed with all that time on your hands,
were you reading much, were you kind of making up stories in your head?
I was making up stories in the ceiling because it was an old cottage with a sloping roof and beams,
and there were cracks in the plaster and I would make pictures,
as you see pictures in the fire, and it became a landscape for me,
in which I could actually wander.
In childhood, I can remember struggling up and down Alderley Edge and feeling very fed up,
because all the exciting stories took place somewhere else,
and that must have lasted in my subconscious mind,
because, decades later, when I came to write, I was writing imaginary stories, but in a real place.
Do you think if you'd grown up somewhere else, you would have still been a writer?
Yes, I'm certain I would. It's simply that I needed
to draw on the surroundings, the environment, the landscape,
to fill in the colours of my imagination.
With his mind in motion, all Alan needed was a place to write.
I was walking up this field
and as the line of the roof rose above the top of the field,
I realised it was the only place that I could ever live.
In 1957, Alan bought Toad Hall. He was just a young man and Toad Hall was where he would write.
At his side, his wife Griselda.
-Hello. Nice to meet you.
Their growing family needed more space,
so they brought in a very special kit house from just over the border in Staffordshire.
Griselda, talk me through this stunning but rather unusual extension. How did it come about?
This was in 1968...
and we had three children who were growing up and we had no bathroom.
So we looked for an architect, and the architect said,
"Well, it's very difficult to extend a timber-framed house.
"The best way to do it is to bring a timber-framed house and attach it."
And he said he'd been trying to save this house for four years,
but it had got a closing order on it and we were to go and collect...
go and decide which two rooms we wanted, and he would find a way to build it.
So when we saw the house, we realised, no, we couldn't take just two, it would be vandalism.
So we brought all ten rooms,
and since we didn't really have enough money to bring two, bringing ten was just mad!
The entire building was dismantled and over 18 months rebuilt here.
We think it was an apothecary's house because it's a very beautiful expensive house to build,
and apothecaries were very rich because they dealt in spices.
But little did Alan and Griselda know that in moving the apothecary house here to this site,
they were also bringing medicinal secrets that were centuries old.
With the new house in position,
they found strange plants growing in the garden.
All sorts of herbs came up round the base of the house.
Today the house has been put into trust.
Sue Hughes, a trustee and herbal historian, has helped explain these surprise appearances.
They don't grow here naturally, so why did they start to spout?
We thinks probably when the timbers were taken down,
because for hundreds of years the medicine house had had these plants growing around it,
that the seeds have been shaken out, they've been disturbed, and they started to pop up here.
Feverfew, an old remedy for fevers,
and in the summer opium poppies
are still found growing around the new foundations.
This enigmatic house is where Alan wrote all nine of his novels
and later in the programme I'll be finding out how his ideas take shape.
Heading west in the county, Jules has found himself an impressive vantage point.
For almost 800 years, Beeston Castle has looked out across the Cheshire plains.
The view here is just stunning.
You can see eight counties of England and Wales.
Over there to the west we've got Denbighshire and the Welsh hills,
north, we've got Merseyside, the Wirral,
over to the east we've got the Peak District,
and over there Staffordshire, and then southward Shropshire running off into the far distance.
What a place to build a castle.
This craggy outcrop has been occupied since prehistoric times.
Its dramatic elevated position has made it the perfect place over the years to spot marauding invaders
or even troublesome neighbours.
Objects found at Beeston over the centuries
can help us piece together the lives of the people who lived here.
They might not look much, but to Kate Potter from English Heritage, they're precious.
That's a beauty.
Yes, Jules, this is a replica Neolithic axe head,
maybe dating back 2000BC, and it was an essential bit of anyone's toolkit.
-And a really lovely discovery.
-Yeah, I know, it's fabulous.
-And where's the original?
The original is held in the Grosnevor Museum in Chester.
-So it's nice that it's still local.
Now, this many people might struggle to recognise.
Yes, we have a fragment of a piece of Bronze Age pottery,
so about 650BC.
Perhaps it was part of a cooking vessel or a storage jar,
so really an essential bit of daily life.
But it wasn't until the 13th century that the medieval castle appeared,
built for Ranulf the 6th Earl of Cheshire.
Fast-forward 400-odd years and his Castle of the Rock was subject to the changing fortunes
of the Parliamentarians and the Royalists during the Civil War.
Here we've got a little lead shot.
-That's fabulous, isn't it?
-Again, maybe used in one of the skirmishes here.
Now, you have to wonder who loaded that,
-who fired it...
-Yeah. After the Civil War many of the fortifications were destroyed and dismantled,
so it couldn't be used as a stronghold,
and then it kind of turned into the ruin that we really see today.
Now, with so much history here,
you would expect there to be one or two unsolved mysteries,
and my favourite concerns Richard II.
It's thought that he hid some treasure somewhere in the castle
back in 1399 when he was on his way over to Ireland.
And one likely hiding place for it could be down here.
It's reportedly the deepest medieval castle well in England at 370 feet.
Previous explorations cleared out debris when secret passages were revealed.
But while Richard II's rumoured loot remains undiscovered,
in Beeston's shadowy network of underground caves, there is a different treasure to be found.
You see this?
This is the egg case of a cave spider which is one of two species commonly found
in these dark dungeonous places.
I've turned off my white light
in favour of one of your red lights. Why is red light a better bet in this kind of environment?
Well, obviously, we know that these caves are frequently used by bats,
and the one thing they don't want is brilliant white light disturbing them,
and also it's better for your eyes, you know, your eyes get used to the light.
-You can certainly see more, can't you?
-You certainly can.
-So that's the egg case?
-And what about the real spiders?
Do you want to see the real spiders?
I should say if anyone's watching this, if you don't like spiders,
look away now, because we may well find one.
It's very spooky with this red light, isn't it?
It's great, isn't it?
Where are they? Hiding away...
-There's a nice big female.
-Look at that!
It's incredible, isn't it?
But it's not just spiders that fascinate you,
because I gather that really you're a bit of a moth man, aren't you?
Well, yeah, I think I'm probably more concerned with the moths than I am with the spiders,
not that I dislike spiders or arachnids in general,
but I'm really into the moths.
-Do you see this?
-Yeah, look at them.
This is a thing called the herald moth,
and this is one of the few moths that hibernates over the winter,
and it will come out again in the springtime looking for nectar.
This moth in particular is not strongly attracted to light.
It's far more strongly attracted to sugars and sweet things,
so if you've got ivy flowering in your garden at the moment, as many people have,
check that on a mild night, you might get the herald moth there.
But we're not just looking for insects.
Jed Ryan is part of the Cheshire Bat Group who monitor the bats of Beeston Castle.
Now, you've been looking around these caves today, Jed,
what have you found so far?
Unfortunately, we've not found anything.
What I've been looking for, hoping to find,
is a lesser horseshoe bat.
We know there are good roosts in North Wales
which, as the bat flies, is only a few miles away,
so we suspected that these bats are popping into South Cheshire,
and this is one of the reasons Cheshire Bat Group have been coming here, trying to find them.
Lesser horseshoe bats were last spotted in Cheshire more than 60 years ago,
so the group were thrilled to have found them roosting here again in 2012.
And there's good news!
Bat consultant Mike Freeman has found one of the winged wonders,
but rather than me and my crew disturbing its hard-to-access hiding place, Mike has filmed it for us.
-That's the lesser horseshoe bat.
-Well, it's amazing, and you haven't disturbed it,
which is interesting. It seems quite happy there.
Yeah, it's quite happy there. It's in a state of torpor.
And as long as I don't stay there too long, then it's going to be fine there.
-Jed, what does it mean to you, seeing this lesser horseshoe here in Beeston?
We know where they hibernate now.
The work goes on now to find where they are in summer.
But what strikes me is that Beeston as a formation has dominated this bit of the landscape
for millions of years.
And it's been a popular place to live for all kinds of people going back to the Bronze Age,
and now maybe we've got a Bat Age! How about that?
-Yeah, that would be fantastic!
Beeston's Bat Age, brilliant!
Now, have you got yours yet?
Next year's Countryfile calendar.
There's still time to buy one before Christmas, and it does make a rather nice present.
It's full of wonderful pictures from our photographic competition
with its theme of our living landscape.
And here's how you buy one...
The calendar costs £9 including free UK delivery.
You can buy yours on our website, that's...
..or by calling the order line on...
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Now to the rolling Mendip hills of Somerset.
Not a bad place to work, but this prime land is home to no ordinary family-run farm.
Something very special is going on here, as Adam has been finding out.
This farm nestled in the hillside near Bruton in Somerset is huge.
1,300 dairy cows and a cheese factory producing a staggering 14,000 tons of the stuff a year.
And if that isn't astonishing enough all of that is produced by 100% self-sufficient electricity,
and a lot of this energy is going to be produced by these girls.
And no, it's isn't a great big treadmill for cows.
They're the first family-run cheddar-cheese producer to become 100% self-sufficient
in green electric energy.
To find out more I'm meeting John Clothier and his son Richard.
-How long's the family been here?
-Well, the family's been here since the early 1920s.
But we can trace cheese and butter makers back through the generations to sort of mid-1850s, you know.
And it was your mum that brought that cheese-making to the forefront, wasn't it?
Yeah, it was Mum. She always wanted to produce something that was really, really good.
That's why she started taking her cheese to the local competitions, to prove that she was good at it.
She wanted to know how good she was.
-And a secret recipe?
-Oh, yes, we've got a secret recipe! We've got it locked in the safe!
And how old were you when you first got involved?
I was six or seven years old. They used to pull me a bench up in the cheese dairy
and I used to go and stand on the bench, look into the cheese vats...
almost fell in several times!
How many of the family are involved?
There's five of the immediate family members, myself, my brother and my two cousins and Dad,
so it's quite a close-knit working group.
Now, I'm interested to find out about this Somerset cycle, as you call it.
The cows produce the milk that makes the cheese,
then the cows produce the muck which we're now digesting into energy,
and then the energy provides the power to power the cheese-making processes as well.
So every part of the business impacts on one another.
-It sounds exciting. Can we go and have a look?
And it all starts with the cows.
Milking 1,300 is a big operation.
It's Richard's cousin Dave who manages the herd.
Come on down here, Adam, and you can put some units on.
Goodness me! It's been a while since I've done this.
It's pretty straightforward.
So there we are, look. There's the lovely milk...
coming out of the cow's udder to produce that cheese.
So how many times a day are you milking?
We're milking twice a day every day of the year.
-Crikey! So it's hard work.
How much milk are these cows producing?
-We're producing 8,500 litres a year.
-So reasonable levels.
Yes, yes, it's not too bad for two times a day.
Great! I quite like this trough along here,
so you don't get pooed on while you're putting the clusters on.
Yeah, that's quite a good asset, that one.
You don't get kicked either.
You don't get it all down your neck.
-How am I doing then, all right?
-No, you're doing a good job.
Yeah, we might put you on permanently, actually.
Employ me as a herdsman?
-Do you want morning shift or evening shift?
-I'm no good with mornings, it'll have to be evenings.
While the milk goes to the cheese factory, the slurry's also put to good use.
-Hi, there, Adam. You OK?
-It's great seeing the milking process. I haven't put clusters on a cow for a while.
-And brilliant all that milk going so locally to make your cheese.
-Yeah, it's brilliant.
And also the muck that these cows are producing's very important as well.
Because this muck is what's going to power the farm and the cheese-making operation tomorrow.
We've got the little scraper there so you can clear up these valuable bits that are left over.
-You're putting me to good work.
-We don't want to waste any, and I've got my best shoes on as well.
And what's this tractor here doing now?
The tractor here is picking up the cows' slurry on a daily basis
and taking it to the biogas plant where we're going to use...
we're going to harness all the energy in the muck to generate the energy for making our cheese
and the farm operations.
And that's where the slurry pit comes in.
All the cows' muck is pumped into anaerobic digesters to be converted into power.
They may not be the prettiest, but it's where the magic happens.
Inside of those vessels there, it'll all be bubbling away,
being broken down by these methogenic bacteria
which are the magic bacteria that drag the methane out of the slurry,
so that we can use it for energy, for driving the combined heat and power plant.
And that's collected in the big domes on the top, is it?
Yeah, they're all full of methane gas, and the pressure builds up,
and then that pushes it down into the two generators.
Let's go down and have a look.
But just like the cows, these anaerobic digesters need a varied diet in order to produce methane gas
that can be converted into electricity.
What we're doing here is adding a bit more solid matter, so the bugs have really got something to act on,
so we're adding some chopped rapeseed straw here that we've got from some local farmers.
We get all sorts of solids in. Farmers bring in old silage that isn't good enough to feed the cows.
We also get some apple pomace from the local cider plants as well.
-So it's like an agricultural recycling plant.
-Just like an agricultural recycling plant.
-Oh, excuse me.
-Something that we get used to.
That'll be that chopped straw.
Yes...going up my nose.
Let's go and have a look at the rest.
This clever use of green technology is so efficient,
it not only creates electricity for the dairy, but the entire cheese factory too.
Basically, it's producing enough electricity to power 1,400 homes.
Nothing here is wasted.
Even the spent material from the anaerobic digester is put back into the cycle.
A lot of the organic matter's been broken down,
but the nitrogen, phosphates and potash are still in the fertiliser,
so it's very valuable, and it means that we don't need to buy in artificial fertilisers any more.
So the grass grows, the cows eat the grass, produce the milk... it just completes the cycle.
The cycle just keeps going round and that's the way nature should work.
But at the end of the day this place is about one thing.
We're all suited and booted now because this is where the cheese is made.
The secret ingredients are added to the milk
and it's all processed in this vast factory where the cheese is made.
And as this is a family business,
it's Richard's brother Tom's turn to show me the process.
This is the pressing stage of the cheese-making.
A bolt of curd goes up into these towers and then it's pressed into blocks,
expelled into a bag and then we vacuum-seal them and then transfer them into the packing hall,
where we box them up, ready for maturing.
And they'll be ready for sale in about 18 months' time.
I've seen artisan cheese being made before all by hand,
-but it's incredible this system you've got, a huge investment.
-It's a huge investment, yeah.
-I can see why you use so much energy and why you need an anaerobic digester.
From its humble beginnings, this family of cheese-makers
have kept Grandma Ivy's secret recipe alive.
I'm sure she would be very proud.
I've never seen so much cheese,
and, luckily, John's got some ready for me to taste.
This is exciting! Look at that!
John, this is where they keep you, is it? Locked up among the cheeses.
Yeah, what's it like out today? I haven't been out yet.
How many cheeses have you got in here?
-We've got about 7,000 tons, I think.
-All happily maturing away.
-And are you the chief taster?
Well, I used to be, yeah. I'm still a part-time taster now, but I still enjoy it.
So what have you got here?
I've got a nice mature... extra mature...vintage, actually...
..cheddar, which is about one-and-a-half years old now.
Goodness me! So you just mature it in the boxes all in these stores?
-Yeah, it's matured at what would have been the temperature of a cold barn on the farm.
And it'll mature anything up to about 18 months
to give a good rounded flavour.
And what the grader's looking for is a nice balance between the cheese breaking down texturally,
and the flavour really peaking in the cheese...
And when you break it up in your hands you can really smell...
-those flavours coming through.
-I've shoved it straight in my mouth! I didn't go for the tasting
or the smelling.
It's beautiful, isn't it? So is he still doing a good job, do you reckon?
-Yeah, he knows nearly as much as I do now.
I'm not fully qualified. I've only been doing it 30 years!
Takes 80 years and you're still an apprentice in cheese-making.
There's a long apprenticeship for a cheese-maker.
That's the hardest badge to get!
So here you are, Adam, you're on the first rung of the cheese-making ladder now.
Another 30 years and you'll be qualified.
Well, it's a great place to start and a pleasure meet you both!
Go on, I just love cheese!
Next week, I'm in Dorset, catching up with a young farmer
whose lambs are taking centre stage in his nursery's Nativity.
Back in Cheshire, I've been spending the day with a celebrated, award-winning author
who's been writing for more than 50 years.
From fantasy novels to short stories and screen adaptations, Alan Garner's wide-ranging work
is set in Cheshire and rooted in the culture and folklore of the county.
He's joining me for a walk to tell me how his stories grow.
An idea hits me...
and it's rather like the comic-book bulb going "Ping!"
And it does do that in my head.
And I know it's an idea, it's a real idea,
as opposed to a random thought, and then later, and I don't know how long that will be, weeks, months,
something else happens and goes, "Ping!"
and the two sparks join together
and that leads to research, and I love research,
I drag it out as long as I can because it puts off the moment of saying, "Well, where's the book?"
And this is the thing that people find very hard to understand.
I just wait. I sit, I make an appointment with myself in my workroom every night at 6 o'clock,
and I sit and I watch the fire and this goes on for months and years.
And I call it the "Oh, my God!" bit.
I know that when I'm staring into the fire, feeling empty, is when my unconscious mind
is actually structuring the story.
The story then appears.
You've got your camera with you. Do you use this when you're sort of planning and setting the scene?
Well, all the time, because a camera enables me to register, record, in case I need it,
but most of all by putting a frame round it and composing the shot,
it makes me focus on what it is that I'm getting out of this particular piece of landscape.
Like staring into the fire, photographs give Alan time and space to think.
They also reveal a local feature that Alan's fallen in love with...
..one that he sees each day from his kitchen window...
..the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank.
When I came here in 1957,
the scaffolding was still up on the telescope
and I looked out of this window and watched it being dismantled
and revealing that great work of art out there.
After more than 50 years of living just a stone's throw from the telescope,
it's a finally made it into the landscape of Alan's writing.
Boneland, the final book in a trilogy he began in the '50s,
was published last year.
The main character is an astrophysicist at a Cheshire space observatory.
It's a culmination of his life's work, spanning other worlds and the science of the future.
In a few minutes' time, John will be just over there having a closer look at Jodrell Bank,
but first, if you're looking to the skies wondering what they have in store for us,
here's the Countryfile forecast for the week ahead.
Medieval castles, rivers that powered old silk mills
and a landscape that powers the imagination...
this week we're in Cheshire.
In the east of the county between the woodlands and fields of the Cheshire Plain,
there's a landmark that's been broadening mankind's horizons.
And I'm talking about far outside the country's boundaries,
in fact, light years away.
I've been invited behind the scenes at Jodrell Bank Observatory,
the location of one of the most famous telescopes in the world.
How about that? Look at the view down there!
The Lovell Telescope.
Good job I don't mind heights!
It was the brainchild of Bernard Lovell, a doctor of physics from Manchester University,
who, while working on radar systems during the Second World War
detected echoes that he thought were coming from outer space.
When the war ended, Lovell started to investigate using some radar equipment he'd got from the army,
but the site wasn't suitable, it was in the city and suffered from too much interference.
What he needed was a place in the countryside,
and some land belonging to the university's botany department turned out to be ideal.
Soon, telescopes would grow alongside the plants.
By 1957, the Lovell Telescope was complete.
250 feet wide, the biggest in the world.
Today it's still used for research into outer space,
and in charge of keeping it in action is engineer Phil Clarke.
Is it a difficult job maintaining it?
Some of it is, yeah.
The bit we're looking at there is actually a recycled gun turret from the Second World War.
-Never! What, from a ship?
-From two ships, the HMS Revenge and HMS Sovereign.
-And still going strong, then?
Yeah. Fortunately, they had the foresight when they acquired those two,
they actually got another set from another ship,
so if we get any problems up there we can just get a spare out of our store and put it up there,
-and we're back in operation.
-Can we get a bit higher?
-We can, we can have a look up in the ball.
-Well, where are we now, Phil?
-We're actually between the two ball surfaces of the Lovell Telescope.
-That's the 1957 ball surface.
The one above us was put on about 1971.
-All the kit is above there, is it?
-Up this ladder?
-Up this one.
Wow! The white is dazzling, isn't it?
-You could almost get snow blindness from that!
What we're stood on at the moment
is actually the reflecting surface
of the telescope.
Up at the top above us
that's the focus box.
-So all the radio waves coming down hit this as a reflector, basically a mirror...
..Get reflected back up to the top there and that's where the signals are received by the telescope.
And when you're doing the maintenance,
is the telescope still working?
No, it's switched off.
You wouldn't want to be up here while it was working,
because if it tipped, it wouldn't be the place to be at all.
-Because it moves around, doesn't it?
Well, it is about to start working again, so it's back to earth for the final preparations.
What it needs is a bit of old-fashioned manpower
and some grease to make things run smoothly.
And the Lovell Telescope swings back into action.
But what does it tell us?
To find out, I'm meeting Professor Tim O'Brien,
a leading astrophysicist at the observatory.
It's not the sort of telescope you put your eye to the back of, for a start.
It's actually a thing called a radio telescope,
so it picks up invisible radio waves arriving from outer space,
gathers them in that giant bowl and brings them to a focus where we then analyse those signals.
And you can turn those radio waves into images, then?
Yeah, absolutely, so we can make a picture of the invisible sky
just like we can see the sky with our eyes,
but we're seeing with invisible radio waves.
If we look at this example here,
this is a thing called a starburst galaxy, M82.
This a view that we get through a normal telescope, a visible-light telescope,
and we see there's something going on in the middle
by all this stuff firing out either side,
but we can't tell what it is because we can't see through the dust clouds into the middle,
but with a radio telescope we see through that, we see right into the heart of the galaxy,
and if we just zoom in here, what we're seeing here are all these spots of radio light.
They're stars that have exploded in the last few hundred years,
and we wouldn't be able to see those at all unless we used a radio telescope.
And why is it important to know what's happening in deepest space?
I would answer that by...it's not going to change your life probably tomorrow or maybe even not next week,
but it's actually what makes us human, to be curious about the universe,
to understand the world around us,
and it's part of that, and who knows what sort of things will come out of that in the future
that will affect our everyday lives?
But out of that technology has come lots of others things, like Wi-Fi, for example.
That was actually developed by radio astronomers using techniques they had to invent
in order for us to do radio astronomy.
Jodrell Bank's been contributing to that understanding for half a century...
..and continues to do so.
Well, my day here is almost done,
but before I go the scientists have arranged a rather wonderful treat for me...
in the control room.
I've been given special permission to drive the telescope.
The code has been preset. All I have to do is press this key here...
and it's destination Crab Nebula, an exploded star!
I hope he knows that he's doing!
Right, that's it from Cheshire for this week.
Next week, we're in North Cornwall
where Matt will be meeting
the oldest herd of fallow deer in the country.
And I'll be taking to the saddle
to find out how cycling and conservation
go hand in hand as I tackle a new woodland trail.
Hope you can join us then. Bye for now.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd