What a very lovely day! It starts with an amble to Burley. I set off from Cathy’s quite late. We discover lots to talk about; we have a mutual friend, Nick Prater, singing teacher extraordinaire. He lives in Bowden House Community as I do, and he used to teach at Ringwood Steiner school, where Cathy’s children go. Inspired by our connection Cathy walks with me further than she intended and as always I wish I had realised when planning just how more much time I would want to talk to people for!
After Cathy has returned home I walk on and come to the end of the town, past yet another White Hart inn. I wonder what their significance was, I am by now used to seeing an oak tree or two or a Royal Oak pub as a way marker, but White Harts?
The Castleman Trail suddenly lets me down and runs out abruptly in private land. I end up on roads to Burley; fortunately they are country lanes and I get there in one piece. Burley is witch country, made famous by Silvia Leek, 1950s witch. It is unfortunately full of trinket shops selling nothing but things to make money out of tourists which is a bit of a shame. There are a few good books at the back of one of them but pretty much the best thing in Burley is the Queen’s Head, or is it the Greene Man?! The pub hasn’t quite made its mind up which it wants to be and both names appear on the sign. I like the idea of both being there and wonder what a good combined name would be, reflecting our gradual move into a more balanced understanding of the role of the genders; the Greene Man and the Queen, the Greene King & Queen, the Wise Woman & the Greene Man?
I meet Jane Pownall and storyteller Taprisha in the pub and we pore over the map. They, and Purdey, Taprisha’s young Labrador, are going to walk through the forest with me. The hardest part of the journey is the three of us trying to make up our minds which is the right road out of Burley. Of course it turns out to be exactly the way all of us had first thought in between changing our minds several times as we turned the map this way and that to orientate ourselves.
After that it is plain sailing; we spend a lovely afternoon ambling along, Purdey doing twice as many miles and making many doggy friends, talking, and hearing one another‘s stories. I feel great peace being amongst so many trees for so many miles – and this is a real forest, not a plantation of pines!
We arrive at Minstead Study Centre early evening. It is just the most spectacular place. From its award- winning, state -of -the –art, eco- build residential centre to its maze with a Buddha in the centre and the phases of the moon around it to the purpose built stone circle which really gives astronomical information, and the earth house with thatched roof, this is a salute to the modern and the ancient cohabiting side by side in total harmony. Partially funded by Hampshire County Council, the centre, in the capable hands of Jane and Bill Pownall caters for groups of school children on weeklong residentials with their teachers.
Jane is part of Transition New Forest with a particular interest in education. We are in our element discussing our work with children, and discover a common interest in the 9-12 year age range. We share techniques and I hear all about the bead necklace visitors to Minstead collect, bead by bead, on their stay as they work through the various themes of the week; bio diversity, water, energy, local food, community spirit, they read like a list of transition groups, and this centre has been going 17 years!
I hear all about the Apple Day Transition New Forest held at Minstead, it is still firmly planted in the memories of Taprisha and Jane as a really good day. The village of Minstead itself has a great sense of community and have allotments they go to. Minstead Study Centre keep chickens and grow veg, they teach the children how to make compost; Jane proudly shows me a lovely patch of fresh soil all waiting to be planted; compost the children have made. She tells me how there was no good growing earth when they arrived, it was all chalk, now there are raised beds aplenty, all with compost they have produced themselves.
I have a real sense of having found much of what I thought would be good learning for children right here in this inspirational centre (…) in the middle of the New Forest.