What was today all about? Waking up with sunburn and having to wear far more clothes than I generally would on such a hot sunny day; setting off earlier than I have been wont to do with a good 20+ miles ahead of me. Losing a footpath in the midst of crops and having to do an extra two miles and missing the pub for lunch and somewhere to fill up my water bottle – OTT in many ways…
But the really exciting OTT about today is Oundle Transition Town! This group held its first public meeting in February of this year calling Sir Julian Rose local author of “Changing course for Life: Local Solutions to Global Problems” to speak to some 120 people. This was followed by an open meeting a week later, and a handing out of eco kettles light bulbs, cost monitors and TV power downs thanks to Giovanna Bezzina of ENC at the monthly farmers market.
Alan Rayden, who along with Eleanor his wife is my host for the evening is secretary to the steering group which was founded in June 2009 by Tony Hodgson with a bring and share supper, and now has 12 members who meet monthly. They started by looking at food, energy and transport, followed it up by spending half a day with Transition Ely and then had a training day together with the Director of Creative Partnerships, Anne Miller.
Eleanor tells me that Oundle is a small market town with a population of 6000, having expanded a lot with housing spread out all around it. Both Eleanor and Alan taught at the independent school the town is well known for (http://www.oundleschool.org.uk/) As well as the independent school there is also a feeder private primary school, and a middle and high school in the town, so lots of children come into Oundle from neighbouring villages. Parents have been asking for improved cycle routes so that they do not need to bring their children in by car. Oundle is getting very congested as it was not built to accept so much traffic.
Both Alan and Eleanor agree that Oundle is a very community minded town with lots of environmentally concerned people. It is also diverse culturally with the independent school accepting children from all over the world. This makes for an interesting place to live, and Alan and Eleanor are clearly proud of their town.
They tell the story of a couple of locals who, dismayed that two local woods were about to be sold off, borrowed the money to buy them and then started to fund raise to pay back the loan. When the money coming in only managed to pay off the interest they put on a huge mediaeval market and raised £10,000.
They have now bought a strip of field to link the two woods to act as a wildlife corridor. They plan not to manage the strip but to allow it to regenerate naturally. I am inspired by this act of service, so much better a thing to use money for than a new car or an extension!
I have encountered this generous behaviour, albeit on a smaller scale, already today. When I arrived at Old Weston, some 8 miles from Oundle, and a good place to replenish my food and drink supplies, half an hour later than planned and found the Swan closed. Locals sitting outside finishing their last drink took me off to a neighbouring house where they raised a friend who filled my water bottle and gave my fruit and chocolate. His comment about Old Weston; “the place that time forgot”. It certainly had some fee of that, being the first settlement I have seen after miles and miles of continuous arable farming. I cannot believe the extent of the endless fields with only an occasional barn or farm house to relieve the monotony.
It is difficult land to walk through, its flatness means you can make out a distant building like a church spire for miles away but you never seem to get any closer. I realise after a while that this is not necessarily the way flat land needs to feel; if it weren’t given over to few people owning a lot of land, and were separated more frequently by trees and wild edges it would be much more interesting and support more wildlife. I see one solitary red poppy in a field edge in a whole day of walking. When approaching civilisation where there are more trees and people’s allotments on the edge of villages it is quite attractive. I think again of the people packed into London and how creative we could be if this vast expanse of land to the north of it were not being farmed in this large scale American style monoculture so alien to our landscape.
When I finally get into Barnwell I am delighted, manage a pint of orange juice and water, a quantity unheard for me, and admire the change in landscape. I am in Northamptonshire now and already the feel of the place is different. Trees abound, and the village sits either side of a brook. I have joined the Nene Way, a trackway that runs up to Oundle along the river Nene.
I manage the last 3 miles into Oundle, tired feet but nourished eyes, there are colourful canal boats along the river, and trees everywhere. Alan comes to pick me up from Oundle, he lives three and a half miles west of the town, a nonsense for me to attempt now after my marathon day. Oundle is lovely; a real old fashioned market town with its high street swelling out in the middle to accept the Thursday market.
After a delicious bath with arnica and comfrey oil and equally delicious dinner Alan and Eleanor tell me about Transition Oundle (OTT). Although it has only been going for a year they have already succeeded in gaining a little initial funding; £400 from BiteSize, a parish and towns plans grant.
They have a website www.oundletransition.org.uk with 100 people already registered and have just held two more public meetings, one in April where they visioned the future with steering group member Sally Lewis, and had ideas such as supporting allotments, creating municipal bonds, and re-establishing the railway station, and another in May when they formed their working groups –Energy, (Alan and Eleanor have solar powered hot water and I have my second solar powered bath of the year), Transport, Food, Lifestyle/finance/social, and Education/employment/ skills, and Water.
Alan and Eleanor are very keen on renewable energy, Alan first got interested in the sixties when he saw a programme about a Swedish project that involved having a large solar powered hot water tank in the garden where the water heated in summer could be used in the winter. They tell me about a great day out OTT had to an event organised by Transition Belper as a transition skills day where 7 workshops were put on and one of the ideas they heard about was a local wind farm Belper had, it was a collaborative project to put one wind turbine on a local farmer’s land, he is very happy, and says it is the most productive thing on his farm, and the people who clubbed together to raise the money are happy too. We talk about the unhappy villages I have passed through who are opposing a wind farm and come to the conclusion that is likely to be because the farm have not consulted with the villagers first, and allowed the idea to come from them and become a collaborative project.
All in all I am very encouraged; Oundle is a good salve after a difficult and tedious day’s walking through unsustainable large scale farms.