Montacute is a historic village, favored as a location for period movies, nestling among the undulating hills in the heart of the south-western English countryside. Visitors come from all around to enjoy cream teas in the glorious grounds of Montacute House before inspecting the rich collection of Jacobean, medieval and other treasures which are to be found dotted about the village. They might then enjoy a stiff walk up the small but steep bun-shaped hill from which Montacute gets its name, derived from the Latin Mons Acutus.
But step away from the tourist attractions for a moment – alluring as they are – and you may notice that there is something else about Montacute village. Somehow, the grass seems to be particularly lush, the trees particularly gigantic, and the birdsong particularly noisy. And if you happen to notice an elderly person enthusiastically digging in their garden, take another look, because they may well be in their eighties or even nineties.
For Montacute is a place where both plant and animal life flourishes with remarkable vigor and it is also the place in Britain where, statistically, both men and women live the longest. An analysis of pension records from every postcode in the UK by an international business consultancy found that members of the 680-strong population can expect to live until at least 89 years old, which is 8 years more than in certain other parts of the UK. Not only that, but elderly villagers appear to stay in particularly fine fettle even when well into their nineties.
Locals claim the secret to their longevity lies in their soil – a fertile, light type of soil which forms part of a stretch known as the Yeovil Sands – and what they grow on it. Everyone grows their own vegetables, either in their backyard gardens or in designated allotments at the edge of the village. Potatoes, spinach, runner beans, leeks, onions, cabbages, beetroot, carrots, and herbs such as parsley and rosemary, all organic and packed with vitamins and minerals, are on the daily menu. Eating them keeps villagers healthy, and digging them up keeps them fit and provides them with a sense of satisfaction and purpose. Several villagers also benefit from the pristine waters of a nearby spring which is piped into gardens where it is used for drinking and watering the plants.
On Sundays, families and other villagers including the octo- and nonagenarians congregate in the medieval church to worship and sing before gathering outside to discuss life, love, and the size of their cabbages. During weekdays they might enjoy a quick chat outside their picturesque cottages in the village square, bump into each other at the Post Office where everyone knows everyone, or meet in the pub for a glass of sherry, wine, or the cider known locally as ‘Rough Stuff.’
People come and go from Montacute, but when they leave they tend to come back, and when they come they want to stay. Their life is simple and they may not have a lot of money, but they see themselves as being rich in the things which matter. “I wouldn’t live anywhere else”, says one 90-year-old resident, “not for all the tea in China.”