June 26th Auld Grey Town (Day 90)
I spend this day quietly revisiting my old town and hanging out with my old friend Jayne and her brand new 3 week old baby, Rob.
We take a stroll into the town centre to the thriving market place with a very new local item of local produce; samosas! Their Indian maker has settled in Kendal and is the very best maker of samosas I and most of Kendal have ever tasted. Forget Indian takeaways and restaurant fare; this is the stuff of a true Indian market – fresh ingredients, freshly made, absolutely delicious. I can’t say for sure if the veg he uses is all local but it could be, meaning it is only the spices that would need to be shipped over in a transition future. I like the idea of exotic spices coming by boat from far away, slowly, occasionally, something to look forward to.
We meet another regular at the stall who recommends the Polish cafe for the best vegetarian food around. Things have changed in Kendal since I lived here in the 80’s – become more culturally diverse. It’s hot too; a hot, hot day with blue, blue sky, very different from the grey wet Lake District I remember.
Later I talk with Joan, Jayne’s mother-in-law and hear her tales of Cumbria; she was born and bred in Keswick, just a short way away by Cumbrian standards. I hear how for folk here it is hard to have off comers coming in and saying how things should be. “When in Rome…” seems fitting somehow listening to Joan; get a real understanding of how things work in a place, and why they are that way before introducing new ways of looking at things. This seems so sensible and a good way of doing things n general; listen, understand the other’s point of view, and then introduce your own ideas.
Joan grew up on a Cumbrian farm with all the things some of us long to have, for example an aga in the kitchen, and knows the challenges involved as well as the advantages. She tells the tale of her father’s cart horse proving much more useful than his new petrol tractor when it overturned and needed the horse to pull it upright again!
Bob her husband, retired engineer, tells tales of being in the oil business and working in Algiers on the pipelines, oil being finite was no surprise to him, the industry knew long ago and knew of the alternatives but they were going to cost them more money to explore and develop. He talks of life working in the Arab countries; how middle men would take 10% from all the workers; Bob sacked one of his best men when he discovered he had been doing this to his men. He also told me of how he was offered £3,500.00 a week to go and work in Iraq, and when he turned it down encountered surprise; he had been put down as a man who worked well in hostile countries. Looking back he is shocked at what he took in his stride at the time; seeing men who had been shot dragged along hanging off the back of trucks, colleagues being kidnapped and killed; you just carried on, he said, and I think it is easy for us all to forget just what kind of armour we all are capable of erecting in the face of danger and difficult situations.
Bob comes back from his allotment with a huge strawberry; it is for me, and the first of his crop. Fertilized by horse manure, freshly sun ripened, it is the most delicious strawberry I have ever tasted. Bob grows a lot on his allotment but doesn’t like picking it; likes to watch it grow, Joan has to be very firm and insist the produce is picked and eaten and in actual fact they supply most of their neighbours with fresh fruit and veg.
I finish the evening sunbathing by the beautiful River Kent, always my favourite pastime on warm sunny days.
June 27th Storytelling at the Brewery (Day 91)
I spend the morning in my room catching up on my blog and missing all the sunshine; cursing as I often do that laptops screens are invisible out of doors.
Later Bob takes me to visit the allotments, and what allotments they are, with a view to die for overlooking the town and the hills over the other side of the valley. At this time of year they are prolific; bursting with fresh fruit; strawberries, blueberries, currants sand gooseberries, and potatoes coming along well. Bob tells me about the get togethers the allotment holders have and how friendly everyone is. This is different to the previous allotment he had over the other side of town where his greenhouse was smashed and his produce destroyed by local lads out and about after drinking. It reminds me of the lads I was told about in Leeds who threw branches in the river when they could have learning to fish. How do we reach these people; what do they need to help them find their way through the maze of the pent up frustrations that lead them to treat nature and those who appreciate her as an enemy?
In the evening I go to the Brewery Arts Centre where there is to be a telling of transition tales. Here I meet Chris and Janice Rowley, Ruth, Val, Richard, Paul, Charlie, and Jane and I present them with the sloe jelly from Transition Shap. They ask for the recipe for an up and coming skill share and I agree to put them in touch with Peter Dicken in Shap and feel excited at how simple it is to bring people together.
We exchange tales and I hear of the bike ride treasure hunt they have just done with the local children and the ABC walk through Serpentine Woods, the woodland Kendalians are fortunate enough to have on the very edge of the town but which few families were making use of so the Fellside Community Group made a sculpture trail through it to encourage people to reconnect with nature.
Transition in Kendal has developed organically through the coming together of different community interest and environmental groups into the SLACC group (South Lakes Action for Climate Change) and then gradually into a transition group. More newly formed is the Kendal and District Transition Town which incorporates many of the same people. They have a very good website and produce a monthly newsletter of all the local events www.slacc.org.uk. (http://www.slacc.org.uk/articles/ ).
I hear of a local smallholding they are all very proud of, run by one of their local food group members and of nearby Sizergh’s Growing Well scheme. Charlie tells me about the piece of guerrilla gardening they did filling some old stone troughs lying empty around some council flats by the river with spare vegetable plants and how it had brought neighbours out to make them cups of tea and get talking to people they had never spoken to before. Kendal and district and not only concerned with local food growing however, they have a strong transport group based at the nearby village of Staverley who organised a Bike Fest last year and are planning a bike train this event this year www.biketrain.org.uk.
We play the Quest and I get some requests for new cards to be added the game; microgeneration skiils, and solar panel making from recycled goods, following an interesting discussion about how we can vision the future making use of the traditional skills that we have been on the edge of losing as well as incorporating new learning. I am continuously delighted at the organic nature of the Quest which I intend to include in the story book of this walk so that communities can make it their own , developing it further to fit their changing realities, using it as a tool for discussion and playful exploration into solutions for challenges as we transition into the future.
We make plans for my next few days in and around Kendal; one of which is to visit the Charlotte Mason College in nearby Ambleside where I did my teacher training, where Chris Rowley lectures, and which is being closed down next week. It has sadly become part of the same University of Cumbria that is considering closing down the exciting Newton Rigg campus in Penrith next year. I marvel at how short sighted and money addicted out institutions of education have become. Their brochure which I see later boasts of it becoming one of the largest teacher training institutes in the country as its Carlisle and Lancaster campuses continue. No Small is Beautiful ideologies in existence here; how sad that those very establishments set up to withhold our highest learning have become clones of the business model with neither identity nor integrity to uphold values and people before money. Their founders must be turning in their graves.
Charlotte Mason is not the only reason to visit Ambleside though; I discover that there is a fledgling transition initiative there. I am also to visit the smallholding at Burneside, and the organic gardens at Sizergh.
I look forward with relish to my Lake District days, which doesn’t even include a visit to a lake!
June 28th Guardening in Another World (Day 92)
My visit to Sprint Mill to meet Edward Acland just has to be a high point of this trip. It is paradise found for me. Nestling along the snaking River Sprint before it feeds the River Kent in Kendal, Sprint Mill lies about 2-3 miles outside of Kendal a little way from the village of Burneside.
I am ecstatic by what I see, what I experience, the heart warming conversation with Edward,in the shared passion, understanding, grief, anger, pain, joy, the innocence, the questioning, the belief, the love, the reverence for the life force we are a part of. Here is a man after my own heart.
All is well in my world. This is so deeply, deeply what I believe in, and it is happening right here in a smallholding outside the little village of Burneside less than half a mile from where I would go and visit my friend Jayne when I lived around here!
Parallel universes indeed! If I had to choose to live the rest of my life in one spot and could never leave this could be the place. It is perfect in every way. Come, let me take you on a tour…
Here is the stone pantry outhouse packed with bottled fruit from last year; blackberries picked fresh from the hedgerow, and damsons straight from the tree. I drink damson cordial that tastes of damson and not of sugar. Eggs are for sale from the free range chickens; a local calls by, says his wife swears they are the best anywhere.
And here is the 7 acre field that now is lots of smaller fields with different things going on; Edward’s friend Patrick Whitefield (http://www.patrickwhitefield.co.uk/ ) came to see the field when it was bought and advised Edward to take the permaculture approach and he would know what to do with it. It is a beautiful piece of land home to diverse projects, there is a coppice-tte full of hazel saplings, a small meadow where 2 sheep graze, hay meadows, willow planting areas and oaks, beautifully planted in the middle of things with plenty of space to grow and become giants.
I ask Edwards about keeping animals, again a man after my own heart, he does not believe in it; the sheep are his wife’s Romola, and she had an injury last year and could not keep her flock so a neighbouring farm takes care of them, only two remain. The couple simply keep chickens for eggs, and goats for milk, and a cat in the house. The goats provide some of the fertilizer needed for the organic veg garden.
The organic garden is a rich delight; it is fertilized by leaf mulch, household compost and goat droppings, kept in wooden bays at its edge. There are raised beds and there is a tree nursery for ash and for hazel, the best for fuel. There are fruits and there are vegetables enough to feed Edward, Romola, and their woofers. We talk of sifting the earth with our fingers rather than tools and he talks of the best wwwoofer he ever had, a German girl who tended the earth in this way, and I recall my natural tendency to do this in my garden in Brazil against much opposition about how time consuming it was and how it was dangerous; what if I got bitten by a scorpion. Ah, how unconnected we have become.
The river wends its way past the garden and I ask you; how could anyone choose to a trip to a sterile supermarket when this is the alternative. It makes my heart sing.
Of the land given over to hay making a part of it is done by machinery by neighbouring farms and part of it is done by hand using Austrian scythes. Edward is exploring how to do it all by scythe. He shows ne the hay bales they are making; they are stored in those huge builders’ sacks that can only be used once then get thrown away. Edward is experimenting with them as a method; the hay can be pummelled into a bale by having lots of fun jumping up and down on the freshly scythed grass it rather like treading grapes.
We feel the texture of the scythe cut grass, sticking our noses in to smell the rich hay scent. The quality of hay produced this way is far superior to any that a machine can cut; machines are not able to cut so well as a scythe and miss lots and cut it off higher up the stem. Edward’s philosophy is that these kind of hand tools are our best use of metal and our finite resources; why? because they last for years and years and years and can be repaired. I love Edward’s philosophy of working hard with childlike delight in life and learn with interest where he was schooled. At a Frobel (http://www.froebel.org.uk/) school in Kendal he says. Forbel was a German, contemporary of Steiner, and I recall my close friend and early Transition Tales colleague Jeff was educated at a Steiner school, and I begin to understand more deeply something I have always known; that early schooling makes the man (or woman) and those that did not have their natural inclination to love and work with nature curtailed in the process of turning out capitalist clones retain that childlike wonder, connection to their environment, and sense of custodianship for the world around them intact.
In Edward’s case it seems to also have been in his genes; his family heritage. His grandfather was Richard Acland who started the Common Wealth Party at the turn off the twentieth century. ( http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Jacland.htm ); unfortunately an idea way before its time. We muse if now is the time to bring this out of the mothballs and have another go. Edward has tried to make things work well from a political stance; spent a chunk of his life as a local councillor, but in the end found it too soul destroying to be constantly working against the tide. It is not an easy role to play to be the one that sees far whilst all around people are blind to what their senses are telling them.
Edward is not only a smallholder, though he would be the first to admit that this is an all consuming task. He is a n artist too In 2006 he was asked to put on an exhibition at the Brewery Arts Centre; it was called Another World and it was centred round found objects of “waste” around the mill and land. One of the things the art highlights is that perception is all. What is “waste” after all? Is it simply like “weeds”? I have always felt painfully upset and angry at that word; “weeds” are some of the most beautiful flowers I have ever seen, and many have medicinal and culinary purposes as we are starting to recognise again now. “Waste” is a similar derogatory word; Edward ahs made the most beautiful panels utilising chopped up colourful bale string, sawdust, dried goat droppings, sand, and all manner of things many would discard as useless. Edward stoops down in the woodland strip we walk though to picj up a handful of loose dry earth to show me;
“What treasure” he says.
Who know s what is there, living there, what uses can be found, what there is to observe. I recall an exercise we use in Transition Tales where we ask children to look at the space they can encircle between their hands resting on the ground and simply observe the diversity. What a lovely next step I think, to than ask them to pick it up and create a piece of art.
There is more to Edward’s wonderland that he tells me about but that we don’t have time to see in my short half day visit. There is the woodland oasis that stands alone amidst sterile modern farm fields a couple of miles away; Romola and Edward have bought this land and turned it into managed woodland. They delight in visiting it and seeing what diversity lives there and what has happened there since last time. There is also a patch of land that they and some local cottagers use as a shared allotment.
Edward says they gaurden the land. I love this term that is full of the spirit of what human kind’s role surely is on this planet where we live.
There is more, to this tour; I hope you are still with me, for in some respects the best bit is yet to come… we visit the mill. Edward’s castle. It is slightly tumbledown, the items within are higgledy piggledy and there is such an air of wonder in this building that is like stepping into a fairytale past. I am hooked, I am filled to the brim with love, I can think of no better term, this building sings out with soul so loud I am surprised it is not audible. In every nook and cranny there are things of use, and there are half made products, green woodwork in progress, a deliciously shaped gate that Edward has made beautiful by patiently adapting a handsaw to enable him to slice a branch he has picked out in two, perfectly, to give him an almost heart shaped top to the gate. All Edward’s tools are hand tools. What bliss. Now a sound of a strimmer, goats and sheep, not a sound of the dreaded chainsaw whose cry makes me cry deep in my being at the pain of its aggression, but carefully adapted and loved hand tools, patience, and love. This is green working for real; the first I have ever seen. It is slow, and the main ingredient is reverence.
Edward wants to learn blacksmithing next; his youthful passion and boyish good looks makes it impossible to believe when he tells me he is 68 years old. A recipe for youthful looks; a face lift? A life of leisure? Forget it. The recipe for youthful vitality lies is in doing what you know to be right with all of your heart and no compromise. There is no such thing as a short cut.
I try and take photos but my modern gadget is playing up. Somehow or other I am pleased. Modern technology simply wouldn’t work in that haven; it knew its place, to tell me that these things of our oil age will not last, were not built to last, play things of the unaware. If you want to see Sprint Mill why then you are just going to have to come and see it for yourself.
We leave the mill just as Edward’s neighbour Stefan arrives with a hand drill he has saved from an old building that is being demolished. It is the forerunner of our electric drills; it is magnificent; it is heavy and uses cogs that you turn by hand to operate the bit. These things I have not known existed. I feel cheated by my education; what is the use of showing us how things work if we are not shown their roots. How are we to create when we cannot see where we have come from and recognise and honour the creativity of our forbearers?
Edward is a little apprehensive as a big project to restore the mill which he bought for £2000 after falling in love with it in his twenties looms, in conjunction with English Heritage who will pay a large proportion of the costs. The mill’s front wall is currently being held up by scaffolding as it is tilting dangerously and cracks appearing. Once the mill is restored though Edward will be able to take in small groups on educational visits; something which he is very excited about. What better way to enthuse others to live more harmoniously than by example? A challenge with working with this project is finding a sympathetic builder who will help recreate the cracked paving stone floor just like it is; Edward’s think they cracked in a fire many years ago and wants to retain their beautiful worn look just as he has had the other flooring cobbled by river stones just like it would have been; flooring to last, resilient, durable, resource light, local, beautiful, of the place, soulful.
Sprint Mill opens to the public too as part of the open gardens scheme. At first the scheme did not want to take them as they said the weeds would upset people. They were wrong. People love visiting the gardens.
In the lovely kitchen with its wood fuelled aga type stove that Edward converted to take timber himself, we sit at the big table and the cat comes and sits on my lap. The conversation is good, now with a cat on my lap it’s going to be hard to want to leave.
Edward talks of his longing to connect with like minded people. He would like to be put in touch with others doing similar things so they can start a dialogue about how to free up land from landowners and make it available for those that yearn to work with the land. He talks of his despair too, at how to help farmers see that this is a viable way of living; how do we change a mindset from farming money to gaurdening land? Edward thinks about what will happen to his 15 acres when he dies; he has 3 children, that would mean a three way split and that if the daughter he thinks might want to live here does how she would have to buy the others out. Maybe a form of trust could be set up he wonders, to liberate the land to those who would gaurden it. If anyone reading this would like to participate in a land discussion group with Edward with a view to finding solutions to this our biggest challenge please contact edwardacland- AT- freeuk.com.
Edward is a director of the wwwoofers Association, always takes wwwoofers, and has had around a 100 work at Sprint Mill over the years, and is now thinking that may be it makes more sense to have local volunteers as they stay longer and develop more of a relationship with the land. He sees this as one contribution he can make to transition.
If transition is to work it is with innocence and passion, we agree, inspired by a poem written by Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa we look at in “Resurgence” magazine together:
“I believe in the world like I believe in a marigold,
Because I see it […] I don’t think about it
Loving is eternal innocence
And the only innocence is not thinking”
With innocence comes wonder and magic, and with thinking…. why the death of possibility.
I am moved deeply by this man. We are both moved to tearful eyes s by the things we discuss in our grief for the world and our joy in her too. I shall treasure this visit as one of my most precious experiences on this quest.
I am reminded again of the appreciation people feel for me walking by and reminding them of the connection between us all; like minded souls. We are not alone; many would love to live this way and are moving to finding a way.
We talk of the difference between 19th century life and Transition life being that we will do the things our ancestors i instinctively did, consciously and learn more and more about how this our interconnectedness works. I want to spend my whole life around people such as this. Here I have found a kindred spirit; I leave as the rain pours down giving the parched earth a much needed drink, in my borrowed outsize raincoat, with hope in my heart that I will find more of them.
I give an interview to “Kindred Spirit” magazine, and go and have dinner with Chris and Janice.
We have asparagus risotto and talk of the challenges of getting locals to want to remove sheep from the land so that vegetables can be grown. The fields at the back of their house were bought by the people in their row years ago to conserve them but only Chris and Janice and a couple of others in the row favour planting trees and growing, the others are used to the pastoral landscape and want to keep things as they have always been.
I am hearing a lot now, from Naomi in PACT to Edward and Chris here in Kendal transition, that sheep are parasites. The land cannot grow the diversity of plants it would so long as it is grazed continuously by sheep.
Over dinner we talk of education and curriculum and how things might be different and Sprint Mill as an education centre*. I think of intergenerational schooling as being the way forward. I describe the Transition Tales teacher training course and Chris suggests writing the material into a book might be more effective as teachers can then adapt the material to best fit their teaching environment.
We talk of Charlotte Mason campus’ impending closure and how this trend in the end might be good for transition for we have not expensive buildings to upkeep and also how much Chris loved Seale Hayne ex Agricultural College when he attended the Transition Conference, though saddened that is was another college closed, and how he struggled with many people talking about permaculture but not practising it and his disappointment after doing a permaculture course 15 years ago and only Edward of the group still doing it! The others all gave up saying it was too hard work. My sense here is that for each of us the only way to go is to follow our passion and maybe growing was not the thing that truly made those other participants’ hearts sing. Things are only hard work when we don’t really want to do them anymore. We only describe things as hard when we are not having fun.
We go into the garden and I admire Chris’ jova composter.It is a rotating two chamber cylinder lined with polystyrene which keeps the compost warm and turns it to beautiful usable earth in 6 weeks. He learnt about it from TT Ambleside who we will visit tomorrow.
We talk about expectations and perceptions. Chris says he sometimes thinks of Sprint Mill as a failure and I am curious to understand why. I learn that is because he has an expectation that it will be completely self- sufficient and is disappointed that it is not. I think of Edward’s smallholding as a huge success; as an exploration in to working with land rather than controlling it and Chris agrees. I also think that the goal of transition is not to be self sufficient but to explore what is possible at each level from the personal to the social, from neighbours and community level, to regional, national and international; an exploration into our interconnectedness on a massive scale by understanding and tending to the local intimately, and a supreme exploration into our powers of communication, deep listening, and reverence for life.
*If you are inspired to visit sprint mill there is a half day planned for Saturday the 24th July (Sat) on Human Powered Land Management with Edward and Romola, which is followed by the TT local food group meeting.