This is a very exciting and unusual day. There is to be storytelling on the cathedral green followed by a group walk to Arundel. Eight of us are to set out on the walk along the old disused canal that once linked the two places.
But first we gather on the green and I meet Liz Carter from Buckfastleigh. She is excited to learn that there is a transition initiative there; Buck the Trend, and I take her details to put her in touch with folk there. We are amazed that she had to come all the way to Chichester, to visit her brother, who also came to the storytelling, to find out that transition was happening in her town. It is to be a day of realising that transition is not as widely known about as people would like. My host in Arundel, Paul Gibson, active in the Quaker movement for most of his life, sees many parallels between transition and Quaker ideas, as grass roots movements, (he has read up since he knew of my visit and quotes appreciating diversity as one of the key principles of Quakerism) and is surprised transition is not known about in Quaker circles. Hopefully that situation will change now.
During the storytelling I hear many tales of good things happening in and around Chichester. Several people, living in different parts of the city have stories to tell about how the sense of community is very strong in their street. In one particular instance they have been having street parties for years; they even put up a tarpaulin to cover part of the street so that rain does not stop the merrymaking. The woman who tells this story says she would not think of living anywhere else. Another woman talks about the time a neighbour took it up on himself to mend the potholes on their street, she saw this and went round and talked to all the neighbours, none of whom she had had contact with before. All of them contributed to the cost of repairing their street and some went out and helped do the job. Since then they have done many things together and have formed close relationships.
One of the things that worry Chichestians is the loss of local shops in the centre and the High Street being full of chain stores. They cannot talk to these people about local issues as they are employees and do not feel the same responsibility for the decisions made about such things as plastic bags and closing doors when the heating is on. I tell them about the Eat Local Wednesday project in Southampton and they are excited to have a go too. They are pleased that the St George feast and the other similar event they ran are having an impact on the caterers’ choices.
They are still buzzing with the success of their evening of BBC skits on a transition theme. Tim played a corrupt politician and everyone thought he really was one. Anita presents me with a gift of a DVD of a highlight of the evening to take on with me and I present Transition Chichester with the food challenge pack and seeds from Transition New Forest.
Just before 1pm those of us who will walk are gathered round the mediaeval gate for a photo. In the photo shoot we have Marion Foat, Anita van Rossum, Matt Damper, me, Tim Jasper, Lucy Noble, Tom Broughton, & Murphy and Hamish on four legs. Rita Damper takes the picture. Off we go, and lose each other almost immediately in the Saturday afternoon shoppers. Fortunately first stop is the train station for Tom to drop off his bike for later. We reencounter one another and the great day out begins. It feels like we’re out for a picnic; the atmosphere is lovely, full of anticipation for a walk in the country in the glorious sun.
There are so many interesting people to talk to it is hard to finish a conversation before another one starts. I learn later that the trip from Chichester to Arundel takes about 15 minutes by car. I can’t imagine we’d have had chance to exchange as much information as we did had we chosen to do that! I learn about the strong art culture in Chichester, about how the ancient cathedral spire fell down and was replaced in Victorian times, and how it is now believed that the Romans first landed in Chichester. It really is a magnificent example of Roman street planning with its north, south, east and west streets all converging on a central point in the centre of the city where now a very ornate mediaeval cross stands.
We are following the path of the old canal. This is very picturesque at the Chichester end, there is still water, and boats on it, and at the end of the stretch we can look back and see the famous view of Chichester cathedral’s spire, as painted by…yes, you’ve guessed it, Turner! Later we have to take to the road, and then cross farmers’ fields. We are quite disconcerted by finding our path (marked by a sign posted public footpath) diverted by a farmer to go all the way round a vast planted field. We have an uncomfortable moment, most people initially want to ignore the sign and simply skirt around the edge of the crop, lettuce, which is nearby , but after some deliberation we resolve to follow the diversion, with much muttering, and slightly ashamed of our muttering – we know the farmer! I met her at the St George’s day feast, and the others know her from their local food events. Even so, we do not feel good about the huge expanse of land that has been dug up to plant lettuce destined for supermarkets, nor that a public footpath has been obliterated by a tractor.
In another field, in another farm, the footpath again obliterated by tractor tracks, we hear the sound of a shotgun as we cross it. We ignore it; their karma after all!
Other than farmer’s fields, the path of the old canal is fairly clear to follow, and we still find water in places. It is a lovely thing to do and Matt, who is map reading for us, is delighted; it’s a walk he’s wanted to do for years. He is a restorer of old clocks and vintage car roofs and tells me tales of getting solar panels for his home and explains how they heat water but don’t provide electricity, you need photo voltaics and a south facing roof for those. They heat their house using a wood burning stove he was given as payment for a recent job. It is a delight to hear the story of someone who doesn’t sign up to the norms of a consumer society; Matt’s house is full of old furniture he has acquired second hand and restored.
Gradually the group dwindles. Marion is first, off to be on the end of a phone at home for a son stranded with the aeroplane situation. Rita is next, suffering from a blister, in spite of one of my super- duper blister plasters, and a migraine from the sun. Then we lose Tom & Lucy, as the time for another engagement looms. Anita goes on bravely for another mile, but then admits defeat, her legs are hurting. Tim and Matt though are in it for the whole trip.
The three of us keep going. Finally we see the romantic vista of Arundel Castle far off on the hazy horizon. It stays tantalizingly in view as we wend our very bendy way along the course of the river Arun. It is a very special way in which to enter the town, seeing its grandeur from afar, rather than swiftly along the busy A road laden with traffic cutting through the suburbs that is so common nowadays and adds to the impression that modern towns are faceless.
We finally arrive in the streets of Arundel and make the Red Lion by just after 7. It is with the feeling of great adventurers having reached their goal, we have lost some of our number, been shot at, and are foot weary, that we sit down, me with a delicious tall glass of fruity tea, and the others with well deserved pints of beer, to wait for Paul Gibson, who is to be my host in Arundel.
There is a pleasant feeling of making new connections between us and we all learn more about Quakerism and are surprised to learn that contrary to common belief today it has little to do with the Christian church, from where George Fox first broke away to found the grass roots movement in 1652. It is accepting, and learns from all faiths, and is keen to empower individuals to be who they really are, and to make a difference. They are aware of both peak oil and climate change, and show awareness raising films. Greening Arundel have shown those films at the castle as they are fortunate that the present Duchess of Norfolk is very environmentally aware.
We leave Matt & Tim in the pub awaiting a lift, we have got to Arundel only to discover the train is not running due to engineering works this weekend, and that the last bus has just left! I feel sad to say goodbye to Tim, Matt and Hamish, there is quite a bond formed when you have spent an entire day walking and talking together.
Paul and Mollie the cocker spaniel walk me to their house. I learn about Sussex building techniques, the flint found beneath the chalk and the knapping which creates flat surfaces for walls from the rounded nodes.
Arundel has a population of just 3000 but is full of shops selling local produce, walkers supplies, and has a token Pizza Express and a Coop, as well as a goodish number of quirky individual shops selling antiques and arty goods. It is a place that is visited often, with good reason, its situation on the tidal river (the second fastest in England), the castle high on its hill dominating the landscape, and the plethora of old buildings, make it quite distinctive. I go to bed looking forward to exploring the next day.