I talk to Glen Powell, my host at Tan House Farm, over breakfast and learnt that she is near to retirement and does not advertise anymore and I feel lucky Ainsleigh of Hay discovered her, for I have treasured my peaceful time here in Abbey Dore far from the madding crowd; no mobile phone signal, no internet, almost like my time aboard a yacht bound for Brazil all those years ago.
I have used the time to catch up on my writing, and to browse the books and leaflets left in my room. I discover that Tolkein was born in a small village between Solihull and Birmingham and that his dread images of Modreth, land of darkness and fire, were his way of dealing with his sadness of the coming of industry to the place that he knew as peaceful country idyll. Like the film Avatar (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avatar_(2009_film ) for us now, Lord of the Rings, in its time, was perhaps an attempt to come to terms with the horror of nature being torn asunder by human kind’s lack of awareness and hunger for power. How many stories do we need to tell before everybody wakes up, I wonder, and maybe, the stories need to be different, maybe these are just too frightening for many to look at, to be kept safely at arm’s length, in the realm of fantasy where they can be dismissed as children’s fiction.
Glen and I talk of the new landlords of the local pub and our hopes that they are young enough to be flexible and learn what it is the people of the village would like from their local tavern. Glen says she and her family will go there to visit them, and I leave encouraged that a rebirth might be about to take place for the rather abandoned pub.
I cross the farmyard and am through the lych gate and into the church yard almost immediately; the old main entrance to the abbey was once here. Once inside the abbey I am fortunate to hear the organ master rehearsing for a performance later that day, and the strangely, powerfully compelling strains of a tune I have never heard before reverberate around the 11 century walls of this place of worship that is the only one of its kind still to be used for prayer. I feel a sense of deep peace within these walls, and read about Cistercian abbeys, and how they are all consecrated to Mary, and of the work the monks did in ministering to the sick, and tending the gardens. I read too that St Katherine and her wheel is patron saint of Herefordshire and am curious about this deep connection to female saints and wonder about the connection to the older goddess worship of our land in this place.
I learn that mystery plays would be performed here in medieval times, tales of the bible stories, by the craft guilds, for the clergy themselves could not perform, and that the walls of abbeys such as these would have been covered in brightly coloured pictures and all the embellished columns would have been decorated simulating the colours of nature herself outdoors. Medieval church going must have been very different experience from what has been handed down to us.
I pop my note through the letter box of the pub and set out on my day’s walk to Ross on Wye, south east across the county of Herefordshire. I walk through very moody countryside, my only company lots of different breeds of sheep, pug faced, black faced, squat ones. and long legged goat like beasts, all of them as scared of my presence as all of their breed. I see horses too, one quite lame that is being hassled by its two companions, and a cart horse that comes to the gate to greet me , and I notice how I am comfortable with sheep and horses in a way I never am with cows and dogs. There is a oneness with the land, more than with the farming, that I like very much. I am also aware that walking though orchard country makes me happier than fields of wheat land.
I notice how the countryside is changing as I walk east, the land is sandy now, the geography has started to change, and that I no longer feel the magic quality of the Welsh border lands but that I am now back in England, and the walking takes on the slight edge again it has had though much of my walk; a vague sense of unease, will some careless dog owner let an aggressor loose, there is a sense of private ownership hanging in the air, and I realise, this threat of someone coming onto your patch, well, it wasn’t present around the vicinity of Hay at all.
I am met at the bridge over the Wye by Richard Hankins and together we walk into the town by the old road and up past the buttermarket, both enjoying the fact that Ross has still retained many of its old buildings, though the Victorians did get their hands on some and replaced them with their own rather austere architecture. I feel no affinity with Victorian values, and am often curious to understand what led our ancestors to the split of on the one hand some becoming so functionally minded to the extreme of destroying much that had gone before, and yet others to be so sentimental about the past and quite whimsical in their notions of fairies, and folly building.
Richard and his partner Rachel have invited some fellow transitioners over for a bring and share supper and I meet Andy, Steve, Theresa and Allan of Transition Ross, Margaret and another lady of Upton Bishop and Ken and Anni Allan of Transition Newent. There are lots of delicious salads people have brought form their gardens and ice cream from the local dairy at Kempley.
After supper we tell tales and I hear how inspired everyone is about Kempley, a nearby village that now have a transition inspired monthly market in the village hall where they all often meet and the local butcher from Ross takes his stuff there, as well as selling all the local fruit and veg, and they all sit and talk inner transition together.
Upton Bishop is one of the villages that satellite Ross; Margaret and her friend talk about the Walkers are Welcome group they are a part of and come up with lots of ideas about how they could introduce bike rides too, and to go on walks and rides to visit places that serve local food like Kempley ice cream and start to think of other places they can all easily reach on public transport as a meeting place for the walks.
We hear that Newent started off by linking up with the neighbouring villages. All sorts of things have been done by the group, some more successful than others. Rachel asks about the solar power project and Anni explains that perhaps because that was the initiative of just one man, it ran out of steam.
Ken talks about the various skill shares they have organised or taken part in and describes how he learnt that a good way of cutting logs is to pack them quite tightly into a tyre or tyres and chop them there; it stops them all flying about all over the place. There has been a scything course too and a no dig workshop at the allotments.
Some of Newent’s projects have included speaking to people on their own ground so that Ken went and spoke at the local WI meeting and discovered that though their headquarters, in London, are very aware, and have even produced an amazing sounding film about climate change called “A World without Jam” http://www.thewi.org.uk/standard.aspx?id=11536 the local groups often do not know what is going on even within their own movement.
A very successful project has been the food miles project at the local mother and toddler group. They are very aware that the evening meetings of most transition groups are often not possible for young mums. This group involves a group that wouldn’t otherwise be reached, and they are having great fun examining food packets together.
Transition Newent has a Vision Group who have a great deal of fun, so that every meeting becomes a party, each progressively more like a party each time as they move around one another’s houses as rotating hosts. Their next big project is to start to attend local events as transition representatives and add their views to the discussions had in each of those events and meetings. There is to be a county wide Transport Day shortly and Transition Newent intend for as many of them as possible to attend that meeting to get the transition perspective well represented.
There is a wonderful dynamic feel coming from the Transition Newent folk, and the newer mulling Transition Ross on Wye are eager to get their initiative going in equal style. They had just returned from the town’s carnival where they had had a transition stall set up. There they were heartened to see a woman teaching a 13 year old how to spin.
As a group we talk about the issue of reaching more folk, I talk about the approach of having fun, which seems to capture a much wider audience than the sharing of doom and gloom statistics. We agree that as transitioners we are preparing the way so that when times change there will be people with the necessary skills already and an infrastructure will already be in place. We are also aware of the need to change the language we use, there is the transition speak for those of us that understand, but there is also a great need to develop other ways of communicating the message, and very often it is a different language and a different way that is needed with each different group.
At the end of our lovely evening Ken and Anni invite me to stay with them in Newent the next night and tell me about a transition town I didn’t know about; Gloucester, where they feel sure they will be able to find me somewhere to stay too.
I go to bed the richer for having heard not just about one transition town, but four, as well as all the villages in between.