Botton is a working village with everyone using their abilities for the benefit of the community. The land is farmed biodynamically, producing food and seeds for home consumption and sale. The high standard of organic farming has been recognised in the National Organic Food Awards. A herd of cows (with their horns left in place, rather than removed as is current standard practice) provides milk which is processed on site into a variety of remarkable unpasteurised cheeses. There is also a weavery, where fabric is woven and the famous Botton dolls are made; a printing and binding facility; a large woodworking space where many of the beautiful, skilfully-made items we sell are created; as well as community spaces like shops, a cafe, church, and even a graveyard.
We began our tour with a visit to the bakery and creamery, where we were treated to samples of Dale End Cheddar, Yorkshire Tomme and Gouda with cumin seeds. We found a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere, with people coming and going, busy with their separate jobs.
Next our host Sean led us though the grounds to a wonderful-smelling tea and herb drying room, where plants grown on site are dried and turned into culinary herbs or specialist teas, with names like 'Lemon Heaven', 'Malva' and 'Evening'.
Outside these rooms, a large greenhouse shelters neat rows of crops, and a path nearby meanders past an orchard, the path planted with special thornless blackberry plants for easy picking as you wander by.
The path winds on past a large field of crops, to the site of the woodwork shop. Outside, the wood store is piled high with logs and waney boards all cut from the nearby woodland and awaiting transformation into toys and household objects.
Inside the wood workshop we were introduced to Ernst, a remarkable and effortlessly engaging man who had joined the community in 1974, and lived and worked there ever since. He was at work on a clothes horse, fixing the leather hinges which hold the frames together. He told us that when he first arrived, he had helped plant the very spruce trees whose timber he was now hammering together into these frames. Ernst not only runs the woodwork shop, but also supports three of the community members with special needs. Here he is explaining the multiple ways in which our children could use the clothes-horses for play - which we can attest they do.
Around the workshop we spotted many of our products at various stages of completion, from flappy runner-ducks, dumper trucks and fishing games to coloured building blocks.
After a very welcome sandwich in the Botton Cafe, we ventured on towards the Weavery, nestled amongst the shippens and barns near the dairy farm. Here different community members work at their own looms, at their own pace, upon whatever colours and patterns they are drawn towards. Several kinds of products are created here, from beautiful scarves and cushion covers, to large floor rugs and blankets.
One large rug was made entirely from rolled pieces of fleece sheared from sheep reared and grazing just the other side of the window pane.
In a room next-door to the weaving room, a few ladies were sitting around a table hand-making the Botton Dolls, which are a well-known Camphill product. Each element is carefully constructed by expert hands. The Danby doll is stuffed with organic wool from the farm.
Back past another wood-shed area, with a clever system for creating circular wood-stacks, we passed a sign for the Botton village Steiner school, where the village children and a few from further afield enjoy the abundant nature of their school setting.
In the central 'green' is a community centre and a church, built in the 1990s, which has won architectural plaudits for its innovation. The structure feels understated on the outside, and the opposite within. The inner sanctum feels truly striking, with intense colour greeting you as you enter. Nearby, the village graveyard bears testament to community members who have lived and died there.
If there seems something idyllic about our description of Botton Village, that is because there is something of that to this place - a sense of a generosity of spirit, that suffuses not just the individuals but the whole community, a sense of caring, understanding, and respect, coupled to a brilliantly warm humour. But it should be said Botton Village has its fair share of problems, struggling to integrate its traditional structures, its ideal of shared living, with modern care legislation and oversight; as well as struggling, as it’s likely to be increasingly as austerity bites ever deeper, against the ongoing and inevitable cuts in funding. It is for this reason we will be donating the proceeds of our ‘label sale’ this Christmas to the Camphill Village Trust - these places are truly special and absolutely worth preserving, for their own sake and as vital inspiration to the rest of us.