Of hedges & hills: Dreaming of a new life in Devon

hedgebanks in bloom

Recently, Mr Rixon and I moved a step closer to our dream of country life: We had an offer accepted on a house in Devon. I’m trying not to get too excited; there is plenty of time for things to fall through and plenty of things to sort out before we move, not least selling our London house, and masterminding the logistics of travelling across the country with all our belongings, two small children and two cats…

With the risk of sounding like an episode of Escape to the Country, what we are seeking is an outdoor lifestyle, with hill walks from our doorstep, cleaner air for our children to breathe and a safer, greener, wilder environment for them to grow up in. A certain little village in Mid Devon feels like the right spot. Surrounded by rolling hills and woodlands and with a river running through it, the setting is certainly rural. Yet, it is also within easy reach of good transport links, which should prevent us feeling cut off from friends and family in other parts of the country. Plus, the village school, shop and pub are each just a short stroll away. (Comforting facts to someone who has only ever known city life!)

When we tell people about our planned relocation to Devon, they usually mention its moors or beaches. Both undoubtedly have their charms but it is another, far humbler, but just as iconic, feature of the Devonian landscape that really appeals to me – the hedges. Devon has more miles of hedge than anywhere else in the country, probably the world. And with their earthen banks, rich blend of tree and shrub species, mature hedge trees, and thick wildflower margins, these hedges are among the best in the world. Devon hedges are also ancient, with two thirds dating back at least six hundred years.

Often described as ‘linear woods’ or ‘wildlife corridors’, Devon hedges provide shelter and safe passage to thousands of different species, including horseshoe bats, grass snakes, dormice, hedgehogs, cirl buntings and hairstreak butterflies. And they provide all the ecosystem services of trees and woods, such as cleaning the air, storing carbon, preventing floods, promoting wellbeing and stabilising the soil.

Lately, I have been walking along these linear woods from the comfort of my armchair some 180 miles away: I have been writing a feature on Devon hedges for Devon Life magazine. I’ve learnt that, like woods, hedges need to be properly managed if they are to stay up to scratch. Hedges trimmed too harshly year on year or neglected altogether become full of gaps, through which soil and nutrients slip, but wildlife fear to cross. I’ve also learnt that in keeping with local parlance, I’m to call them ‘hedges’ and never ‘hedgerows’.

The countryside surrounding the village I hope to soon call home is mainly farmland. Now I know that a bright green field of crops or cows is no more of a wild, natural landscape than an urban street. But perhaps, the ancient, dense, tangled wildlife super highways running along its borders will provide a touch of the wild we’re seeking…

Photo credit: Rob Wolton, Devon Hedge Group

10 thoughts on “Of hedges & hills: Dreaming of a new life in Devon

  1. leeborthwick

    A lovely spot of wanderlust this breakfast time. And now I must look up what Cirl Bunting is.
    Wishing you a smooth transition from the city to the country, hope to do the same in the coming few years. Lovely to follow your journey as described through the context of nature.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. charlotte rixon

      Thank you for kind words, Lee. I had never heard of a cirl bunting until recently either. As I’m sure you now know, it is a rare bird, found only in the Southwest in Britain. I wonder if I’ll get to see one?

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  2. I hope all goes well with the move! It sounds idyllic to me! Hedges! Yes! Bring back the hedges! I’ve all my fingers crossed for you and look forward to reading about it here if you think it’s right. Keep well and stay safe! 🤗😘🌿🌿🙏

    Liked by 1 person

    1. charlotte rixon

      Thanks, Ashley! Unfortunately, I wrote about the move too soon! We have had to pull out of the house sale after the building survey found that it was in a shocking state of repair. Never mind, it clearly wasn’t meant to be and now that we have made up our mind to move to Devon this year, I’m sure that we will make it happen one way or another! Hope you are keeping well too and enjoying the spring, although it seems to be coming in fits and bursts this year. 🤗 🌼

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  3. ruth

    Our hawthorn hedge has, just this past week, sprung ‘back into life’ – covered in beautiful young green leaves. The blackthorn mixed in is about to flower, along with some viburnum already in bloom. Although our garden is totally urban, our hedge gives us a rural feel, and is a sanctuary for the garden birds. Not as good, or as ancient, as a Devon hedge but much appreciated!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Deborah Brown

    It certainly sounds idyllic and you’re steps closer now to it becoming a reality. Fingers crossed on the sale and purchase, may it all go swimmingly so you can soon be enjoying the delights of Devon where the biggest challenge will be whether to put the cream or the jam on your scone first!!! Love and hugs to you all xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. charlotte rixon

      Thank you, Deborah! Unfortunately, this particular house wasn’t meant to be, but now that we’ve made up our mind, I’m sure we’ll get there sooner or later. I think they do cream first in Devon; a bigger challenge for me might be finding or seeing if I can make a vegan version! Hope you’re keeping well. Love and hugs to you too! 🤗

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