Being in Gloucestershire (Day 135) August 10th
By Steph Bradley 12th August 2010
I wake up fuzzy and feeling like I have lost something, and pretty soon realise that I am unable to focus because the noise of endless traffic going past the house all night and from steady to non stop from 7am is impinging on my sense of being. I recall the first few visits to London I ever made and how I could not function there for there were too many people sharing the same space, leaving no room for clear headed thought, or connection with self; it is this same feeling I experience here; peace and stillness stolen by those passing by, oblivious to the effect they are having on the environment they pass through. After the splendour of the Herefordshire space, quietness, connection to nature, this road is an assault on my senses and very much a reminder that we live in a society gone mad, where individual right takes precedent over the well being of the whole, and of each within the whole.
Not for the first time, I long for the end of cheap oil, so that this phenomenon cannot be. The blessings we will receive in its stead will be infinitely more rewarding, more conducive to our health, and to our sense of belonging, both to the earth, and to our communities. These little metal pods we crave so much cause alienation, as well as pollution, both atmospheric and noise. Ah, for me, the day when we cannot all get into our car and drive at will, will be a delight. When car share and car pools become the norm, when journeys by vehicles are planned carefully, looked forward to, got the most out of, we will have progressed indeed.
Sara and Rosa say they both woke with nightmares and Sara feels fuzzy too; we look in the biodynamic tables to see what the planets are up to and see that it is a dark moon; that a new phase of the moon had begun in the middle of the night.
We all walk into Gloucester together, through Sara ‘s brother’s farm. She has already told me that their father gave the farm to his eldest born son and I feel sad that we still haven’t found a way to manage land better than this. Perhaps when we become aware of the carrying capacity of land more intimately we will think more deeply about children and how many to have and why, and what their future will be, and what our impact on that will be.
I am amazed that we are able to walk right into the city of Gloucester without seeing a sign of city life until we are there, in the renovated docklands, thanks to a newly designated Sustrans cycle path. The docklands are also a surprise; mostly due to my ignorance of English geography so that not only did I not know about the Severn bore (the regular tidal wave that courses up the river from the sea every full moon, but more spectacularly twice a year at the equinoxes, in Spring and Autumn, when a festival is held in recognition of them) until quite recently, but I also hadn’t realised that Gloucester is a river port, and am surprised to see a large boat coming in and to see similarities in architecture between Gloucester and the sea port city of Plymouth in my adopted home county of Devon.
Gloucester docks have been renovated beautifully, and prepare the way well for a walk into the historic city centre, and the most beautiful cathedral spire I have ever seen. It is delicately wrought as if out of the finest filigree and begs to be gazed upon just a bit longer, and longer, and longer…
I am enchanted by this city and am able to see that in spite of the by now familiar rows of faceless clone shops this city has soul. Maybe not all its inhabitants are aware of it, but it is there, and it sits lightly on the landscape, comfortable, well rooted, sure of its place.
Sara and Rosa take their leave of me and we part with a promise to keep in touch with regard to our mutual interest in finding recipes for jams that don’t require bags of white sugar to produce, and a realisation that Rosa and I share the same birthday and a request to be sent pictures of others wearing flip flops; my choice of footwear seems to have quite captured her imagination.
We have had a lovely walk to town together, eating plump juicy blackberries picked from hedgerows, and talking transition. I have left Transition Ross’s apple chutney with Sara as a gift to the fledgling Transition Gloucester and am taking on a bunch of freshly dried lavender from her garden as a gift for another town. It smells divine and I am enjoying carrying it. Sara is eager to start networking and I promise to put her in touch with Transition Leyland, who have recently produced a wonderful transition guide to Leyland.
On the walk in Sara tells me about the withies which I learn is a regional name for willow, and that basket making and related willow craft is traditional in Gloucester, and about a local man’s project to revitalise it, planting it along the banks of the Severn where it has always grown really well, and selling it to be used for local crafts, and running workshops for people to learn what they can make with it. I hear of another local trade, not so good for the environment, which used to be, until quite recently, the catching of elvers, or baby eels. I reflect on this and remember that if we are to stop practices we do not like, it is as it is with shopping with supermarket chains rather than supporting our local people’s businesses, we must make the choice and stop putting money into things that we know are not healthy in the long term, as this is what will affect the trade and take things in a new direction.
I am sitting in the map shop checking out my route when Sara and Rosa come rushing back in to me to give me a tiny rusted horseshoe we have found along the way. When we found it we were careful to put it right way up in Sara’s bag, to keep the luck inside, and speculated if it would be like a penny:
“Pick up a penny and all that day you’ll have good luck
Give it to another and your luck will never end”
I am entrusted with the horseshoe, to pass on to another, when it seems auspicious.
I leave Gloucester centre, recalling what both Ken of Newent, and Sara of Gloucester have said; it’s quite a way to Stroud. It doesn’t seem that far to me, but then I have become very accustomed to thinking of a 14 mile walk as a very normal kind of day. The first part of the walk takes me through Barton, the multi cultural part of the city both Ken and Sara have spoken highly of. It is indeed the most diverse street I have ever seen; there are Turkish, Polish, Italian, Asian, and Indian shops. I am passed by Asians, Indians, Muslims, Jamaicans, English, I hear every language, I see every kind of product, in the space of a mile. Unlike the ghettos of sameness I have encountered elsewhere on my travels here the inhabitants are of all races and there is no feeling of tension amongst them.
Once out of Gloucester I am on the road to Painswick. This excites me though I am unable to say why. I do like the idea that I seem to be walking right through Gloucester from cathedral to extreme south and beyond to the next place, just as I would have done hundreds of years ago, on the old road, but it is not until I arrive in Painswick that I understand what a treat it is. I am completely enveloped in a sense of well being as soon as I arrive. The locally quarried Cotswold stone buildings, cream coloured, look as inviting and warm as scones and clotted cream, even against the wet backdrop of the rainy day it has been. The “wick” of Painswick means trading place but I have not so far discovered the origin of “Pains”.
I walk around with great pleasure. There is an incredible sense of rightness in the placing of each and every building and I can see that though a few buildings on the southern outskirts are modern, great care has been taken to still use the local stone, and similar architecture. The church is dedicated to Mary, which seems right somehow, though I cannot say why. The church is famous for its 99 yew trees, which are all now carefully numbered, and it is local folklore that the 100th tree will not grow because the devil will not allow it.
I learn of a tradition in Painswick called “clypping” (from ycleping or embracing)which is a ceremony that takes place once a year on or around the 19th September when everyone in the village joins hands and encircles the church. The true origins of the ceremony are lost in druidic times, though I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t have connections with the autumn equinox, but latterly it is said that it is to rededicate the church; whatever its first meaning it seems like a great community building exercise to me, and indeed the parish magazine welcomes in each and every new resident to the town as they move in.
On a slightly less cheery note, the festival used to attract merrymakers from far and wide making it difficult to feed everyone so that puppy dog pie would have to be fallen back upon. There is a lesson for us in transition here; in the human tendency to go to visit other town’s who are doing something wonderful, or have some local geographical phenomena, such as the Severn bore, which nowadays Sara has told me attracts droves, including the national press, when it used to be something local fishermen and their families would enjoy quietly; to value the things our own town has, to re-establish and create anew traditions and celebrations of our own regional features, and choose to travel to see other places carefully, mindfully, and for towns not to get greedy about the money that tourists can bring in, but to consider what numbers of people can the land and community sustain, and the festivities still remain a pleasure for residents and visitors both.
I realise that our present liking for summer music festivals, having grown from Glastonbury, seems to have reached proportions that whilst affirming our common need for celebration, are often uncomfortably large, grown no doubt from the organisers’ inability to turn people away, to start their own local festivities, and to rake in the money. I hear that the local authorities charge extortionate amounts of money to police such events, but if the events remained small they wouldn’t need policing. Transition Celebration Groups would be a good thing to encourage.
I go into the craft centre to eat a very late lunch in the cafe, the only place still serving food, and when I emerge the sun is shining and the rain has gone. It is the clearest, bluest, freshest weather I have experienced since St Swithin’s day just about 4 weeks ago. The muggy, close heat and grey clouds threatening, but not producing rain, have lifted. I am struck by the dates of this St Swithin’s period and the time of Lammas, which was traditionally the time of harvesting that reached its peak at the beginning of August, when fires would be lit to celebrate, but that lasted for around 4 weeks, two weels either side of that. Both old tales suggest around a month, or a moon cycle, of settled weather, after the summer ripening, when harvest would either be good or not, depending on the type of weather experienced.
Farmers all along the way have been hay making in this time too, and I have noticed the different methods employed; from the cylindrical plastic bag type to the traditional bales that would make hay stacks. I have watched, as I have walked, a cycle I had never seen before, not having grown up on, or by a farm, of seeing the crops planted, growing up, (being sprayed with chemicals in some areas), and then left to ripen, and finally cut (by scythe in some places) to make bales for animal feed, or harvested for human consumption. I rejoice that I have made time in my life to experience this, and recall how frustrating it has always felt to be indoors day after day, for work, able make no connection with what the seasons are doing; not being able to bask in the sun when it shines, to watch which part of the land it warms at which part of the day, and how the rain waters and nourishes when it falls in a particular way, and drowns and kills if in another.
I walk along the old Painswick Road, enjoying how in its steep walk down and then climb up and away from the hillside on which Painswick nestles, is named Stepping Stone Lane, and later, along the high ridge overlooking the opposite western bank with a valley full of attractive small tree lined fields, changes to Wick Lane, and finally, on the gradual slope down past Hawkswood Adult Education College, becomes Old Painswick Road.
I walk down, negotiate the busy road intersection it joins, and into a Stroud that is just the way I remember it. There I go to the renovated soft drinks factory that is now the home of Tricia Lustig and her partner Nick, and their family, my hosts for the next couple of days. Tricia asks where I have walked from and when I say Gloucester, she says
“Ah, Gloucester, that’s not too far away” and I am delighted with today’s illustration of the different truths our different perceptions give us of the same information. How lovely it will be we are all awake enough to realise that we are in reality each just perceiving one bit of the elephant, and that the bigger picture contains all of our perceptions, and is bigger than all of them put together.
On a BBC programme; “The Normans”, on as we wait for dinner to be ready I get some answers to my questioning the other day about famers and villains and why the status of some changed from tenants to owners and discover the roots very likely lie in the commissioning of the Doomsday book; the survey ordered by William the Conqueror in 1085 and completed in 1086, during which ownership of land passed from its English holders to new Norman lords, making the previous owners tenants on the land that had once been theirs. Once it was written down in the Doomsday book it became law and could not be changed. William saw himself as overall owner of all the land he had conquered, perhaps a reminder to us now of the dangers inherent in ceding our power to others, and taking their authority as read, without question.