A BBC history TV series, Tales from the Green Valley, explores life on a British farm in the 17th century. This 12 x 1/2 hour television documentary, produced and directed by Peter Sommer was shown on BBC2 in the UK in autumn 2005, attracting large audiences and wide critical acclaim.
”programme of the year… gorgeous, cosy, informative… this series utterly beguiles… There is a genuine sense of watching history brought to life here.” Daily Mail
How do you gauge gas mark 7 when you’re using a 17th century bread oven?
Why did people 400 years ago save up their urine to help with the laundry?
Why did farmers in Britain traditionally plough with oxen and not horses?
These are just some of the questions five historians and archaeologists asked themselves as they spent a whole year working a farm restored to how it would have been in the year 1620.
Tales from the Green Valley follows the five as they labour for a full agricultural year, getting to grips with period tools, skills, and technology from the age of the Stuarts, the reign of James I. Everything must be done by hand, from ploughing with a team of oxen using a replica period plough and thatching a cowshed using only authentic materials, to making their own washing liquid for laundry and harvesting the hay and wheat with scythes and sickles.
Each of the 12 half-hour programmes, made by Lion TV for BBC Wales, follows a month in the life of the farm situated on the Welsh borders. Far from being a reality series, these beautifully filmed programmes revel instead in the period’s rich history, the British countryside as it changes through the seasons, and of course food. Every episode features a dinner cooked up using period breeds and varieties of animals, fruits, and vegetables, according to 400 year old recipes extracted from housewives’ diaries, farming manuals etc.
The five specialists wear period clothing – because they’re practical, real working garments, with the men in breeches so the bottoms don’t get muddy and wet, and the women wearing long thick skirts which protect from brambles and keep them warm.
And when historian Stuart Peachey, costume and social customs specialist Ruth Goodman, and archaeologists Alex Langlands, Peter “Fonz” Ginn and Chloe Spencer don’t have the answers, they call in outside experts: a host of traditional British artisans – charcoal burner, butcher, hedge-layer, candlemaker, dry-stone waller, thatcher … all working with period tools.
Tales from the Green Valley is narrated by award winning Welsh actor, Owen Teale.
Previews and Reviews for Tales from the Green Valley: “This should be compulsory for all schoolchildren struggling with their history lessons. Never has life in the 17th century appeared more fascinating.” The Telegraph
“this is a fascinating programme: simple, informative, and devoid of the overenthusiasm that afflicts Time Team or Rough Science… blissfully pastoral.” The Sunday Times
“reality TV with educational value, as well as being highly entertaining…A thoroughly engaging concept” Sunday Express
“seductive…a wonderfully restful bit of TV” Daily Mirror
“an admirably wholehearted attempted to reconnect with life on the land…these lovingly filmed programmes revel in the changing seasons” The Independent
“absorbing…high educational content…the attempt by historians and archaeologists to live as Welsh borderland farmers would have lived in 1620 makes delightful television, especially for the enthusiasm and delight with which they approach their tasks… watching them at work makes you feel like you are actually learning something…an unassuming, worthwhile endeavour “ The Times
“A vanished world from a forgotten time neatly surmises the considerable charms of the Valley” The Guardian
“Charming…the archaeologists and historians delight in putting their knowledge into practice” The Sunday Telegraph
“This chronicle of archaeologists, historians, and a rare breeds specialist tending a working farm for a whole year in 1620s style is fascinating” Financial Times
“it’s a real history-come-to-life series that demonstrates you don’t need social strife to make reality TV absorbing. Seeing the experts put their knowledge into practice is surprisingly gripping…there’s also a richness to the photography that makes it quite lovely to watch” Radio Times
The Exploring Wessex tour was our first experience with Peter Sommer Travels, plus it was their initial tour to this area. Amazingly, we perceived no “first time” issues, indicating the care with which the company researched the historic sites, the hotels, the transportation and the restaurants. We are pleased to give the company an unqualified "excellent" rating in all aspects, from initial contact, to booking, and finally, to the superb planning and site selection by the tour organizers. We also want to emphasise the deep knowledge, patience and humor of the guides.
Exploring Wessex was one of the best holiday tours I've ever been on. From picking me up at the train station to begin the tour, even though my original train was cancelled, to getting me to the airport at the end, Exploring Wessex was extremely well organized. Hotel accommodations were arranged and ready for us, with no hassle whatsoever. The daily site tours were definitely the highlights of the tour. Each day was something new and wonderful. The absolute highlight was being able to explore Stonehenge in the evening. The small tour group allowed us access to places larger group wouldn't be able to go. Meal arrangements were well planned and delicious. I didn't have a bad meal anywhere. Our tour leaders, Paul and Michael, were excellent guides. Their Wessex knowledge was impressive. Michael kept us on schedule, so that we didn't miss out on anything. I highly recommend Exploring Wessex to anyone who is interested in English history or if you are just looking for a wonderful holiday tour. Peter Sommer Travels is the way to go.