After spending the morning, finally, after what seemed like several days, having an opportunity to use the internet and make a long phone call to my beloved, I leave Christofffer’s peaceful ex cow shed home in the valley leading into Tedburn St Mary’s, and set out southwards headed for Embercombe. It is well gone lunchtime but it is only twelve miles, I am slightly surprised to note that for me that is now simply a comfortable afternoon walk, and that 20 miles is beginning to feel infinitely do-able in a day.
I have bargained without, however, the Devon lanes.
I really ought to have remembered; one cannot find one’s way to Embercombe without getting lost…this is to be my third visit to this special place and the third time I will get lost. I had been so aware of the possibility, amused when I discovered that my map ran out 5 miles north of the place, and had yet spent time drawing maps from the internet for the final stretch, and then discovered that my newly acquired street map of Devon showed the lanes I needed to follow. So with two clear depictions of the route to my destination I walked, carefully counting lanes as I went, only to be fooled by the Devon custom of treating farm tracks and public byways as identical, no road markings or signs exist to enable the traveller to distinguish between the two, and so it was that I turned off one lane too soon to walk down, I feel sure, the steepest paved hill in existence to a ford which I paddled through only to meet a road resurfacing truck’s wide body completely filling the way at the other side, waited for them to complete their repair, and then looked at my map to the dawning realisation that this could not possibly be the road I needed for the right turn there should have been there did not exist.
Faced with the climbing back up of what is possibly the steepest paved hill in existence I looked at the maps, the three of them, for as luck would have it this was the end of the map I had been following, to find that I could still find my way to Dunsford this way, albeit by dint of walking an extra 2 miles. Debating with myself, did I have time to walk 2 extra miles and still make my destination by dusk, I decided, yes, I could do this, and walked on.
As I walked I recalled my journey so far, the visit to St Mary’s church, on the Mary ley line, peaceful sense of stillness, and then the rather different experience of the village shop at Tedburn St Mary. I learnt, at the church, that this tiny cluster of buildings was the original hamlet, Tetteburn, and that the coming of the road from Okehampton to Exeter had meant a new village had sprung up along it leaving the original settlement to remain what it is today, a small cluster of dwellings around the ancient church, unfortunately lived on by those who are not welcoming of passer bys, the well marked C road that leads away from it and circles back to the village has a large sign at its start – private road.
Saddened by the deeply held fear hidden within this defensive message I walk back the way I came and come to Tedburn St Mary and find the village shop, marked post office on my map, and ask, as I buy chocolate for my walk, if the post office is open and am told that it only opens in the morning. I ask if I can perhaps leave my parcel of maps- to- go- home with the lady- of- indistinguishable- accent to process when the post office is open. She looks at me in horror
“The post office is closed” she says in definite terms.
Yes, I know, say I, but couldn’t I leave the parcel to be processed next week? This isn’t the post office though, I discover, that is down a lane, though the old post office used to be across the road some 20 years ago. I apologize for my mistake to the poker faced lady who is still beside herself at the affront to her clear set of rules to live by, and my apparent disregard for them.
I muse, as I walk, of those that need rules to live by, and how I struggle with this curtailing of the natural rhythm that life flows in when it is not blocked.
I come then, after my two mile detour, to the most picturesque of villages, Dunsford. I breathe in its beauty so that just being able to walk though it would be gift enough and even when I look at the time and see it is 5pm, the detour has meant I have missed the post office here, even supposing it keeps normal hours; I am still not dismayed. This place makes me feel happy, there are flowers everywhere, the street is wide and sunbathed, and there is an openness in the very air. I see the village shop, with its baskets of fresh fruit and veg outside, and go in, just to see. Yes, there is the post office counter; closed, it is five past five.
Nonetheless, warmed by this beautiful place I ask anyway, am I too late for the post office. It closed at four thirty I discover…
“But what do you need?” asks the smiling woman behind the counter
And I explain.
“Leave it with me” says she “I’ll deal with it and it can still go today!”
This kindly woman, whom I thank profusely, knows not what she has done; she is simply being herself, responding in the moment to the need of the moment. A lady comes in and buys a few items and then asks, a little shamefacedly to be sure, for a plastic bag,
“We don’t keep them,” says the serving lady “but here, take mine, and bring it back later” and she hands over her cloth bag.
What a clear picture I have been given, in these two different community shops, of the different ways in which we can meet another; one responding to the need of the moment, the other obeying a rule made by somebody else, for some other situation, to prevent it from ever being repeated. One so familiar with acting from love she doesn’t even notice she is doing it, the other so taught to respect rules she gives away her very autonomy to respond to an another person.
If we were to think of life as energy, and it flowing or being blocked, allowing it to respond in each moment as a river meets a stone in its bed, or blocking it with a dam, then perhaps we could begin to see that it is when life is allowed to flow that we take care of the earth, by letting things be. When we build a dam we build in to the situation a potential flood if the dam breaks, and all sorts of other possible challenges such as the places beyond the dam that are no longer replenished by the water. We have been sleeping for too long, acting without being aware that our actions have consequences, it is time to wake up, and remember that to act with love is to let the energy of life flow naturally, and to trust that any interventions we might make will have consequences, and should be considered deeply by all people, in order to see the action from all perspectives.
Once I leave Dunsford the walking is simple, though not without its challenges, it is along a bigger road, and that means cars being driven faster requiring a lot of my focus to be on those drivers, instead of the gorgeous crystal clear river Teign that runs parallel to it, glistening in its splendor, preening in its beauty, luxuriating in its perfectness. Ah, think I as I walk, what have we done that we lead a life where sitting in a metal box has become more normal than walking alongside a river as it sinuously glides its way to the ocean from its pure mountain source? Think you that science fiction is the stuff of films and novels, think again, you are living in it!
I stop to peer over at the water at Dunsford bridge, I have a hazy memory of having once been told about this place, was it for fishing perhaps, at any rate, for me simply gazing into the crystal clear flow is nourishing, for here, as many of the western rivers, the water has not been tainted by the refuse of the industrial age.
I follow my road to the turn off to Ashton where I spot the first Embercombe sign and find hereon in that at every place where I turn there is a yellow sign confirming my choice, and I arrive at 8pm still in brilliant sunshine, at Embercombe. (www.embercombe.co.uk )
The first sight I see saddens me; they have, I read, from an official notice on the fence, applied for a licence to serve alcohol. They want to show films, host gatherings, have live music, well, all of these things are good I think…but why alcohol? I find I am unable to marry the two, especially in these days when so many use this form of forgetfulness, this comfortable blanket from which to hide from the world, why would a place with the strong intentions to make a difference that Embercombe has choose to sell alcohol?
I walk the final 100 yards to the gate and see a second sight that saddens me; a field full of cars. I know it is not simple to get here, I have myself been lost, and it is not everyone that chooses to find a way to walk everywhere, certainly we are still in transition, but still the sight of a field full of cars always saddens me.
Embercombe is a centre of inspiration; set up by Mac (Tim McCartney) who really must tell his own story, such a story weaver is he, (“Finding Earth, Finding Soul”) to inspire business people to make change happen, running courses for young people, for all people, to come and get in touch with themselves again so that they too can go out into the world and make a difference.
I am deeply content such a place exists and yet I walk in with a feeling of not being entirely sure how it will feel to be amongst so many folk, with so much going on. I have come to value my space, my quietness, my reflection, engaging with others when it feels appropriate. Not for me the banquet of choices that are offered on the programme of the 7th West County StoryTelling Festival (www.weststoryfest.co.uk ) I have learnt the value of appreciating and treasuring one experience at a time; I always suspected it, one of the things I always hated about television was that one programme follows another, leaving no space for reflection, no space for one’s own spirit to feel its own truth from the situation laid out to be considered, pondered over, and perhaps acted upon, but then the TV is not designed for such treatment, it is for consumption, filling us up with other people’s thoughts, other people’s agendas. I wonder then, at our modern appetite for non stop choices, and how it is when we take a step back from what is on offer and consider first; what is it that would be good for my spirit right now?
I stand in queue to register and immediately there are people I know:
Andie Tobe from Exeter, and my walking companion to Exmouth on day 4, Nick the teacher trainer and his family, from Totnes, and then Sue Charmain, festival coordinator, herself, checking me in handing over meal tickets and trying to find my yurt number. As I wait for this information I talk to Matthew, old friend who also walked the yatra (silent Buddhist walking meditation) from Reading to Stonehenge that Lokabanddhu led ; he’s looking tanned and well, and we talk of this and that and the importance of recognizing personal space at festivals. Next I meet Peter Neumann, fellow Bowden communard, and master candle and incense maker (http://www.touchfire.co.uk/page3/page3.html) looking slightly distracted and as if he hasn’t quite landed yet, and I wonder how it would be for him to have the opportunity to walk, and arrive in places slowly having time to digest where he is.
Finally I get my yurt place, yurt number 5, bed number 4, in a tiny round house designed for three, leave my things and head off for food; good hot pasta and homemade tomato sauce. I drink a large mug of peppermint tea and head off bedwards. It is a little after nine but I know my needs and being distracted by lots of entertainment is the last thing on my mind!
I briefly meet the Carrivick Sisters, Laura & Charlotte, singer- songwriters- musicians, two of my yurt companions, who are just off out to perform, and settle down to sleep, barely registering the return of my three yurt sisters some time later. I sleep, and settle my spirit to two days of being surrounded by lots of people.