When I leave Loughborough I follow the river Soar navigation and have a lovely time watching the canal boats float by and exchange friendly greetings with their happy boaters. It is a beautiful stretch and even when the path is partially overgrown and there are nettles to be negotiated I still have a great time. And then….as Zouch appears on the opposite bank, over in Nottinghamshire, problems start to emerge; it turns out Leicestershire is as difficult to leave as Leicester was; I am curious to know if there is anything in the history of Leicester that makes it long for people to stay put? I remember Robin telling me that whereas people seemed to flow in and out of Nottingham Leicester was a place where people stayed.
I want to leave, though, very much. Especially after the final couple of escapades; first comes the mixed message signpost, pictured…
As I am dithering at the edge, having changed my bright red flip flops for turquoise, an elderly jogger rushes by and when I mention why I am dithering he, without slowing down for a second, almost as if there are people chasing him, tells me that the bull is not in this field but the next and that in any case he is friendly, he himself has patted him on the nose. I want to ask him to slow down that we may go that way together but he has jogged too far on to speak now and is soon to be seen crossing the next field.
I take a deep breath and enter the field and the next; no livestock to be seen; I have been told by keen walkers in Newtown Lynford that they have often come across redundant bull signs and that they are left as a deterrent by farmers who resent having a public right of way through their land. I have to admit I am beginning to resent that farmers are allowed to own land at all; surely they should simply be custodians, stewards of the land, and that public access ought to be open everywhere.
I meet a dog walker and a fellow lone walker as I cross the fields and begin to relax; and then I meet the final hurdle in my Leicestershire stage; a private fishing stretch. I can see the path and the bridge over the river …and I cannot go through; it is gated and private. How anyone can possibly believe it is OK to own a river bank is completely beyond me and I begin to wonder why we as a nation allow ourselves to be hoodwinked in this way.
I have to walk to the nearby village, and walk around the private land for about 2 miles on lanes and a road. I could have walked to Hathern in the first place had private land been marked on the map and saved myself about an hour of walking.
I cross the bridge and see a wonderful sight… I am in Nottinghamshire! The sense of relief I feel is immense, this is the best boundary crossing I have made in the entire journey!
I follow clearly signposted paths back to the river navigation and across the fields into my first Nottinghamshire village, Sutton Bonnington, where I am so delighted with the friendly locals that I quite forgive the pub fare of pre packed sandwiches of the modern era with no possible choice for a diary intolerant vegetarian.
I am surprised by how similar accents have been to the Lancashshire one I grew up with ever since that first ‘ow do that I was greeted with outside of Oakham. It seems that the north of the Watford gap stories I have heard all my life are perhaps true, though I would say Watford is a little too far south; and that the people start to be different from around about Rutland.
I am surrounded by interested locals at the pub who want to know what I am doing and why. They do not really hear about transition, but they do like that I am going to Nottingham, a place they are very proud of and I begin to get a sense of how much people love the places they choose to settle in and that this is the way to engage people. They advise me about roads and which are quiet enough to walk along and where there are pavements and tell me I must take a trip to old Jerusalem, the oldest pub in England and my imagination is caught.
I learn that the next village, Gotham, is not pronounced as in Superman but as Goat-(h)am, and I set off eager to learn more of this ancient shire. I discover it is civilised; there are footpaths along all the roads and that they are not too busy to walk along. People are willing to slow down when they see a walker, and I have a real sense that here real people are engaging with real people, and the sense of survival as the main focus that I felt over the border has disappeared. I am left seriously wondering about what kind of work the council in Leicester has done to integrate and include its huge immigrant population into its city or whether its top down rule based approach has strangled the life out of an organic process of adjustment.
In Gothan people try to offer me lifts into the city of Nottingham and volunteer themselves to help read my map and give me best directions. It feels like I am in a different world.
I get to Nottingham and even crossing the ring road is possible; cars slow down and look concerned until I have made it to the other side. I feel cared for and that I matter. I call Thea Marsh, my host for the next couple of nights and she gives me the best city directions I have yet had. I follow them straight to her door in West Bridgford which I discover is not quite in the city; it is south of the Trent, and a vibrant community all of its own.
At Thea’s I meet lots of friendly people; She lives in a house with lodgers, and with lots friends and neighbours always stopping by; she talks about a recent party she held in her garden to welcome a couple who have just moved onto their street to the neighbourhood. This is heart warming to hear; a little piece of transition future already taking place.
I talk of my near encounters with cattle which seem to have replaced my earlier fear of cars and keen walker Ian tells me it is illegal for anyone to keep dangerous animals in a field where there is a public footpath and Jack says it is only when there is a dog that cows get aggressive. Apparently the things to watch out for are bullocks because they will chase you if you run.
Ian prints out great maps of my ongoing journey into Derbyshire using streetmaps.com, a site I have been recommended before and had forgotten about. They are much better for looking at ordnance survey maps online than Ordnance Survey themselves.
Thea is a folk singer and entertains us with her lovely voice. She also tells me of her involvement with transition. She is part of the garden share scheme and shares her large and beautiful garden with a man who comes and plants and tends vegetables for which they share costs and split the produce. When Thea needs other garden support she chooses someone from the Gem scheme; a local skills share where members pay for an hour of each others’ time with 1 gem (a pretty jewel like tiddlywink). Thea has a trailer that she loans out for 1 gem, and also offers beginners music lessons at the same rate. She has had plumbing and electrics work done in the same scheme, brainchild of Karina Wells who I will meet during my stay.
Jack wants to know about transition and though I give an overview he wants to know more, there are things he is struggling with. His work involves flying and he feel the personal touch is important so is reluctant to rely on conference calls and video links. He is concerned that if we stop flying it will engender international hostility, and on a personal level that it will result in loss of income for him, something that he is concerned about as he has to find money for a divorce settlement. It feels terrible to me that people are trapped into a system that requires them to remain in non sustainable work and life situations because of these type of money related commitments. It seems like a question we need to address in a transition future; how do we move away from valuing everything we do in monetary terms. How do we heal broken relationships in a healthy way and not by using money as compensation for hurt feelings.
In Jack I sense a real edge of fear about what is coming and at the same time as wanting to know more about transition a feeling of threat, how will it impact on his life and how can the necessary societal changes come about so that he is not left without a way to manage. I suspect there are a great many people in this situation and feel a little helpless in knowing how to reassure them; that when we all insist on change, make change happen, step by step, all the pieces will fall into place. I do not have the financial burden of earning a lot along with its curiously common companion equal burden of having to outlay a lot so I cannot feel firsthand the fears involved. Only my example of doing this walk on a shoestring budget and trusting that it is by taking action that we show the way forward.
I am delighted by Thea’s new kittens and discover nature’s answer to too many flies in one locale; kittens are natural fly catchers – no need for toxic fly sprays if you have got one. Freddy even had a swollen mouth from eating a wasp which bothered him not one iota!
I sit with my feet in a bowl of warm water, eat Thea’s delicious lentil bake, and hear how she is getting photo voltaics for her roof. I get a tour of the garden, which over the years has been home to a playgroup, and many other community minded projects and currently is a paradise of curvy areas of wild and beautiful flowers and shrubs with the raised beds for veg down at the bottom.
I think about the protected wild verges scheme that I first saw and heard about in Oundle in Northamptonshire and have followed all the way up. The government are now giving out 10 year grants to replace hedges with wild flower verges. This is of course wonderful news, but when you realise that 10 years ago the government were giving out 10 year grants to rip up verges to pant hedges you begin to realise just how vital the transition movement is; with short sighted planning like that we cannot hope to make a society that works; as any good teacher knows a successful project involves long term planning with built in flexibility, and the willingness to accommodate individual needs and skills, and to have the confidence to scrap the entire plan and change direction as soon as it is not serving the needs of the group.
Rigidity is not healthy to a living system and as all systems are living rigidity means stagnation and eventual death. Hence the awareness we all have deep down that rules do not work, cannot work, it is by our passion for what we each know to be right and immediate responsiveness to changes that we make meaningful healthy developments in our society.