Botton Village
A Camphill Community in North Yorkshire

Mist over the steep pass down into Botton Village A mist shrouded sign for Botton Village

On a recent mist shrouded morning we were lucky enough to pay a visit to Botton Village Camphill Community, manufacturers of some of our favourite offerings. Located near Whitby, in the North York Moors, and surrounded by five of their own biodynamic organic farms, the village consists of some older, pre-existing houses, and many more built by and for the community in a unique style derived from their Steiner philosophy. The community provides a peaceful and industrious home to more than 230 people, around 100 of whom are adults with learning disabilities. Many people who live there, live in shared family-style homes together with co-workers; others are supported in shared accommodation with friends or live independently, all with the aim of enabling a meaningful way of life, everyone being valued as individuals as well as for what they can contribute.

A wooden house built to the Steiner and Camphill vernacular

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.

The village bakery, where organic breads and pizzas are made to be enjoyed by all. Botton Creamery counter - the place to get some of North Yorkshire finest cheese.

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.

White wellies in the Botton Creamery boot room. The somewhat mystic seeming cheese aging rooms.

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'.

Bowls of drying teas and herbs. Botton drying room, where their bio-dynamic organic herbs, teas, and seeds are dried.

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 greenhouses where herbs and vegetables are grown through the year. Winding path beside the orchard.

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.

Freshly cut fir waiting to be ripped outside the on-site sawmill. Waney edged boards seasoning inside the woodsheds. Just one of the timber stores.

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.

Ernst assembling a clothes horse. Demonstrating the play potential of a clothes horse.

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.

Flappy runner ducks waiting for their legs. Piggy banks awaiting their finishing touch Dumper trucks, sanded and just waiting to be oiled. A selection of games and toys, some we have, some we don't yet, some too complex to be produced.

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.

Fabric being made, with notes and instructions. Signing off. Multiple patterns being woven at once.

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.

Rolled fleece rug.

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.

Botton dolls in progress.

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.

Cylindrical wood-stack. A wood trolley. Botton School.

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.

Church exterior. Church interior, the altar. Church interior, windows.

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.

Botton Village graveyard.  Previous note Next note  

Related articles can be found here:  The Makers

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