Samagita takes me for brunch in the WhaleTail – a wonderful whole food coop and cafe that has been going years – I last came here around 15 years ago with my old friend Yvonne and her baby son – I remember her telling me she had just started working on her new allotment so that Stan would know where his food came from.
Whale Tail (http://www.whaletailcafe.co.uk) make the best and largest vegan breakfast anywhere! Samagita and I eat and eat and are joined by Chris, and Steve, and then Pamela. We have baked beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, hash browns, veggie sausages, smoked tofu, wholemeal toast, herbal tea and fruit juice. By 6 in the evening I am still not hungry. I hear about Transition Lancaster’s meetings and feel inspired. I am not what you would call a good meeting person; I get bored easily and find it hard to find a place to make a contribution. Just listening to the tale of Transition Lancaster meetings gives me hope for the future.
The steering group meet fortnightly. They meet in one another’s houses and whoever is hosting cooks a meal. No business is done till everyone is fed and has caught up with one another’s news. Then, and only then, do they get to their agenda. If you have had the pleasure of meeting this vibrant group and spent time with them, and seen what good friends they have become, you will appreciate the benefits of meeting in this way.
Once a month the group have a networking meeting. For this they hire their favourite meeting room, as it is larger and can fit lots of people, and again there will be a meal; a Jacob’s Join. I am told that this is a Lancashire phrase though I am a Lancashire lass and have never heard it before communicating with Lancashire transitioners. A Jacob’s Join is a bring and share meal. After the meal there is a half an hour go round where representatives of each working group catch everyone up on what they have been up to since they last met. The representative can be any member of the group that wants to come. The steering group are present too and so are any interested members of the public who have expressed an interest in knowing more about transition. After the go round the circle breaks up and open space or world cafe style seating is arranged. The rest of the meeting is run around this format and new people can talk about their ideas and established groups can say more about what they are doing. New projects can have their genesis here, and established projects recruit new blood.
I am told Shaun Chamberlain took this idea back to Kingston on Thames with him, I will certainly be taking it back to Totnes with me. Do take it too; a lovely gift from Transition Lancaster.
Pamela, Samagita and I set out to get me to a place on the fells that leaves me a walkable distance across to Clitheroe, 26 miles away. My decision to not only come off route to visit Lancaster but to stay long enough to do more work with Chris Johnstone has meant I am day out and having to accept a car ride to get me part way across the Forest of Bowland (an incongruous name now for the bleak overworked for centuries fell side).
It ends up being a good decision; news from Samagita, and some tales from Pamela. Samagita announces that through the Chris Johnstone workshop she too has a new mission. She has decided to look the Media Terror monster in the eye, and take a regular slot on the radio to give a transition thought for the day! She will be excellent at this; her rich timbred voice and reassuring down to earth tones will inspire hundreds, if not thousands, go for it Samagita!
In our wet wild walk down off the Trough of Bowland to Dunsop Bridge and down to Whitewell the softly spoken gentile Pamela tells the tale of the most amazing Masters course she came up to take at Lancaster University after her active time with many other including Simon Fairlie (http://transitionculture.org/2007/12/20/can-britain-feed-itself , http://www.thelandmagazine.org.uk ) campaigning on the road protests that made criminals out of ordinary caring people in the eighties. The Masters was a ground breaking integrated one in Ecology, Social Psychology and Geography that explored our relationship with the earth. Sadly, but not surprisingly, this course has now been closed down. (the work continues in some form at the University of Glasgow http://www.che.ac.uk/mambo/component/option,com_frontpage/Itemid,1 ). We lament that these integrated Masters programmes that aim to examine the deeper underlying issues beneath our unconnected society, such as the MA I was studying at Lampeter University in the Philosophy of the Body Mind split, and in doing so draw on the teachings of more than one discipline, are all too often closed down by closed thinking business orientated university bodies.
We talk of singing, sing some, and share our hopes and aspirations for the future, I am struck as I write at how we three, all over 45, are full of the joys and challenges of living, and eagerly talking about our next steps like young women, and the sad contrast to acknowledge that many young people no longer feel that impulse, that sense of freedom of choice to act as their hearts would have them, laden as they are with unrealistic expectations to meet targets of monetary worth, examination results, and competition.
Pamela and I talk about hospitality and how that will look in our transition future, what are the possibilities of making accommodation available to all if they wish to travel on foot, bicycle or train around our country. She‘d like to offer bed and breakfast to folks out and about and I’d like to be able to offer hospitality to like minded folk when they need it. We talk about paying by donation, or paying in kind. I love the idea of exchange, a bed in one place for a bed in another. We get to talking about skill exchanges where money is just one possible form of acceptable currency.
Samagita and Pamela wave me off from the lych gate of the little chapel at Whitewell where we have been sheltering from the rain and shared Pamela’ s fresh cherries and apricots. I walk on, wending my way along little country lanes accompanied by heavy bursts of rain that soak my waterproof trousers through to the skin like only north western rain can.
Soaking, I arrive in Bashall Town, a tiny hamlet that really seems to consist of Bashall Barn, a mixed farm that is much more; they make their own ice cream from their dairy cows’ milk, they keep bees and make their own Ribblesdale honey you can watch being prepared , they have a cafe and restaurant serving local food and a shop selling their meat, bacon and pork, as well as the range of delicatessen products usually found in towns where there is a market for it; all in all quite an unexpected treat to discover here in the wilds of the Ribble Valley.
I look out of the window as I sit with my herbal tea writing my blog, the sun has come out and the sky is blue. I leave with an ice cream, a rare thing for me to do but there is something quite different feeling about a dairy product made where the cows live.
I walk into Waddington, the picturesque village where I am to meet Transition Clitheroe, in sunshine. I sit on a bench by the river and simply enjoy being. The sun is hot, and there is a warm wind is blowing all the thick grey clouds away, the wet walk is forgotten and I am content.
In the Waddington Arms later I call Transition Clitheroe and eavesdrop into a mum and dad telling their children about the ice cream they are eating; Mrs Damson’s.
“You know Mrs Damson; Milly’s grandmother”
Loz comes out to meet me; he is artist in residence at Clitheroe Castle museum where the 2nd largest sound archive in England is kept. It is preserving the oral tradition with recordings of local people talking about everyday things from the NW of England. I ask what has been recorded about local food and learn that black puddings and potatoes are most on the minds of Lancashire folk and also that there is a tradition of local food here which has never disappeared. This is reassuring to hear as it does not feel this has been so well preserved in all regions and I remember from my childhood that my parents would talk about the wonderful growing soil of south Lancashire and Cheshire.
I am interviewed talking about my jouney and visit to Clitheroe for the archive.
Kate Murry and daughter Khendro arrive next, dropped off by Kate’s partner Chippy, and we set off to walk the 2 or 3 miles into Clitheroe together. A little along the way and we are joined by Rose, who will be my host this evening.
I hear the tales of Transition Clitheroe. It is moving slowly at the pace the small steering group can manage. It is not easy in this town which is a staunch conservative constituency and slow to accept change. Rose is a councillor and though she has lived in Clitheroe for ten years she struggles to be heard as she is still classed as an off comer by the locals who have held their seats for years.
I realise more and more that a key role of transition is to build bridges, rather like Jane Durrant is doing in Ambleside. It is a slow organic process but one that will be most effective long term as it brings everyone on board.
In spite of the challenges Transition Clitheroe is making its presence known and the group have organised three public events and is gathering momentum as more awareness is raised. There has been an Open Space event, that ended up being more like a World Cafe due to the way those present dropping in rather than staying for an extended session, facilitated by NW transition trainer Stephan Nicholls, another World Cafe event, and a presence at the local Sheep Fest; a new 4 year old tradition that arose out of the need for celebration after the Foot & Mouth epidemic that so affected farming communities in the north.
The Sheep Fest sounded like it was a lot of fun with community groups and schools decorating a pun sheep each; a large cut out wooden sheep that had to be decorated and a pun written on it; Transition Clitheroe came up with:
“Don’t throw it, away re Ewes it!”
Kate tells me about the weir we walk past as we follow the river into the town and the hopes for energy generation. The land belongs to the council on one bank and the Girl Guide association on the other so negotiations are needed. We have passed fields of cows and Khendro has stopped to feed them grass; her delight and love of animals shining through. As we pass reach the river it is horses and foals she sees and admires. We stop to pick up empty beer cans that are strewn all over the banks and feel saddened that the people, likely young, who have so enjoyed the river bank have been so unaware of the relationship that exists between us and our environment and that their leaving unbiodegradable rubbish behind is a poor gift to leave in exchange for the pleasure they derived.
We pass the town allotments; they are good ones, well situated, but there are not enough to meet demand. As we enter the town Rose and Kate talk about the good community centre which has emerged out of use of the building where the cinema closed down and where they show awareness raising films.
Clitheroe High Street, I learn, has barely changed over the years, just paved now and not cobbled anymore. My guides point out the library that used to be the moot building or meeting place and which used to have dungeons; no dealing with issues in those days – if you didn’t agree with the locals why they’d lock you away! Thankfully we have moved on from those times!
Rose and I go back to her house and eat delicious fresh food including gooseberries from the garden and reminisce until late about the way food habits have changed and l am thrilled to learn about bottling fruit and to get advice on jam making. Rose learnt these skills from her Russian mother in London as a young child when she would be commandeered to place fruit into freshly cleaned jars ready to have water poured over it before tight screw lids were fastened down and the jars placed in hot water to simmer.
I hear tales of London after the war; of tablets of salt that had to be broken up and placed in the salt pot and the smog that seeped into everything and I remember how short a time it has been since we knew no better than to pollute the very air we breathe.
We exchange tales of life in the 90s on the Russian border of Poland when Rose and her sister went out to visit relatives and experienced a life very different from what we are accustomed to in the wealthy west; of food queues and cramped living conditions and of being taken to the prize possession of the town; a McDonalds, and life in Brazil when supermarkets were still selling fresh fruit and veg and no ready meals and the coming of the McDonalds and the gradual 15 year change to supermarkets selling microwavable food and frozen ready meals.
We talk about health and well being and the poor understanding of our medical profession of the body mind link and of the lack of provision of good nutrition for those in hospital. Rose talks about her knowledge of homeopathy and we discuss why it is that so called experts have so much trouble understanding how it works.
We talk about sense of place and how Totnes for me felt like home from the first moment. I discover that Rose went to school at Dartington and remembers sailing down the Dart and out to sea with her friends for fun, and I learn that Totnes once had timber freight moving up and down the river and a boating yard. We realise that the changes have been incredibly recent; in 30 years our society has been transformed beyond recognition and we acknowledge our concern for 20 year olds who have no memory of life before cheap oil. And in this realisation of what a short time we have had cheap oil for!
After much deliberation and consultation I walk out of Clitheroe on route for westerly Samlesbury, a last minute change of plan from the southerly Darwen due to there being no room at the inn for me, and accompanied by Rose and Denise Lawrence Beard, also of the steering group.
Rose accompanies us as far as the village of Barrow before turning back to help shift compost for a transition project – they have just had half a ton of compost delivered to the local sheltered homes where they are helping to create a community garden for the residents to grow food in .
Denise comes on to the other side of Whalley with me. She takes a photo of me for she plans to get an article in the local press about my visit. Her role in the group is media coverage amongst other things and she has good links with the local press and though they are not the most forward looking paper and often make mistakes Denise provides the senior reporter with ready copy and often gets it published. It is a paper that everyone receives and reads weekly so a good way to get Transition known about.
She is relieved to hear about Rob’s plans for the new Transition book and pattern language as she had found having 12 steps to follow too prescriptive for her lifestyle and the amount of time she has to devote to the work, bringing up a family and working, and for the deeply conservative inhabitants of the town. There it has felt appropriate to move much more slowly, building awareness and links with the different groups and activities already part of the town’s culture.
We walk along the A59 as Denise says this is the most direct route for me to take and it is also the easiest route for her to accompany me on as she is wheeling her bicycle along. I am concerned there will be no pavement as the road leaves the settlements behind at Whalley, but there is – all the way to the hotel where I have finally succeeded in booking a bed for the night. This is the first A road in the country that has had a pavement along the whole stretch; without petering out as soon as the traffic got faster as the towns were left behind; well done Lancashire! It is busy and noisy but sporting gorgeous views at either side and it takes me straight to Samlesbury and past the Tudor Samlesbury Hall that was our landmark as a family every time we drove out of Ramsbottom to the south east of the county to the seaside resorts of Southport and Blackpool on the Fylde coast. The old country pub, fittingly enough for us called the Halfway House, where we would stop for lunch, has been turned into an Italian restaurant that sits in the landscape as a mango would on a evergreen forest lane.
I walk the last couple of miles and check in to the hotel; delighted to find that there is a sauna – always a treat for tired muscles and an apt one for the eve of 100 days of journey.