The Upper Marshwood Vale – the name that unites us all who live in Bettiscombe, Pilsdon, Stoke Abbott and Marshwood – could there be a more precise description of our home?

Vale – that is what defines us so well – a series of linked valleys topped by real hills with a rich history just a scratch beneath the surface.

Upper says something similar; it implies the heights – and thus the depths – of our countryside, our geography, our geology of soft stone and hard rocks.

Marsh – this too tells us everything; over eons, the same farmers have worked their magic on the land with a welter of watercourses – many still hidden underground – to drain, tidy up and civilise our place and hence community into the all but hidden Upper Marshwood Vale we know and love today.

Wood – it is forest, trees and bushes that define and detail our villages, fields, byways and hamlets, once prolific and impassable now tamed by generations of farmers.

We are a lightly populated rural community, a grouped parish with four main communities joined as one for official convenience, yet together we have become Quality Council – and have the certificate to prove it.

To quote from our Parish Plan: ‘This is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty; a soft and enfolding landscape of rounded hills, hidden hamlets with cider orchards, ancient tiny lanes banked in spring with wild flowers – daffodils, primroses and bluebells, farms patterned with ancient field systems, woods and rows of hedgerow oaks. Buzzards, falcons and ravens dominate the air and badgers, deer and foxes criss-cross the hills below.’

A misty Marshwood Vale

Dawn mists can fill the Vale; from the hills seen like a silver sea, turning to gold as the sun touches it. Then, without warning, the heat undams these pools which depart, swiftly unveiling the lesser hills as the mist flows to the sea. Other times this sequence is reversed as sea frets slip silently inland, stealing familiarity from the countryside, turning friendly trees into skeletal shapes and comfortable lanes into empty grey gaps.

This then is our special gift from nature – our environment – and our home.