I leave idyllic Morland, perhaps a little too quickly for my liking; a part of me would love to spend an hour simply absorbing its beauty. Di is walking with me though and I really value her company and hearing more about her projects. Born and bred in Morland Di loves her home and yet perhaps cannot see it through my eyes. I am stunned by its beauty; want to stand and drink it in; cannot believe such beauty is possible, that some actually live in such a place.
We and Dingo the dog walk through the village and onto the bridle path I have identified as the best way to the next village. I have the notion that bridle paths are safe…that they are fenced off from cattle territory. It is a lovely walk and Di says she has now discovered a new dog walking route. We come to a field of sheep which the path crosses, we come to a field of cows; my heart misses a beat, and I am glad I am walking in company. We are in full swing discussing youth work and the accompanying challenges, CRB checks and risk assessments, health and safety and its affect on spontaneity. The cows cast a desultory glance in our direction and ignore us.
Two fields on Di turns back; she has to be at work soon. We hug goodbye and I continue in good spirits…for two more fields and then back to a fenced in bridle path; I can see Bolton up ahead, I relax into appreciating my surroundings…and then the bridle path comes to a gate, I cross through and reach the brow of a hill, look down, straight into a field of fresians. They spot me and start to gather at the gate. I remove my red skirt layer and change my red flip flops into turquoise, just in case red attracts cows too. I take one of my trekking poles in hand and approach the gate.
The Fresians, young and old, around twenty in total, huddle up to the gate in expectation. They are not being territorial, they are being curious, who is this new visitor; they push their heads through the bars of the gate, heads that are bigger than my torso, and stretch their necks through the bars of the gate as far as they can do lick me. The ones at the back object to being shoved back and shove forwards eager to interact with me too. I cannot be scared of them, they are clearly not a threat as such; they just want to explore me. I stroke a few noses and get to the roots of my fear. I am not afraid they will attack me, but they are big, much bigger than me, and there are a lot of them, they are overwhelming. I do not want to be in a field surrounded by these beasts. I do not want to be accompanied so closely, licked so thoroughly. Perhaps it’s like the difference between rape and sex; it is the element of choice and mutual appreciation; I do not want to enter into a mutual appreciation session with 20 large herd animals.
I turn away and go back the way I came, turning around to see the cows still crowding the gate, on a sheer practical note how would I have got through the gate and closed it without them getting out, and cross nervously through the field of indifferent cows and get to the road.
Roads in this part of Cumbria are blissful; they contain no cars! Walkers and cyclists paradise; I see maybe 2 cars all the way until I hit the slightly busier B road from Colby into Appleby. There is time to stand and stare and enjoy the scenery, the spectacular fells seeming grey and lilac in the distance, lush grass land and meadow between the foothills and the road for as far as the eye can see, full of sheep and cattle peacefully grazing, often together.
I am in Appleby to meet Nigel Jenkins of PACT (Penrith Action for Community Transition). He lives in Burrels a hamlet just south of the town and is working until 5.30. I pass the time exploring Appleby.
My first foray is into the Hare & Hounds after some lunch, it is hot and they have tables outside on the pavement which appeal to me. I go in to the bar; it’s full of men who stare suspiciously and mutter
“it’s either sex or drugs” ominously to one another
The barman says they don’t serve food and I am quite relieved and thankful to leave. I had forgotten just how slow things are to change so far away from the cities; a lone woman in short summer clothes cannot simply be just that; must be up to no good! Perhaps I should have sat down and engaged them in conversation, helped change that perception but I was still too disturbed by their judgement.
I read the information boards fastened to the castle gates and learn that it has been closed to the public since 2004, plans to work on it to renovate part to be a venue for weddings and conferences to enable finance to carry out essential maintenance work have been rejected by English Heritage. I read the timeline of the history of the castle and discover that whereas the castle has withstood numerous attacks the town has been destroyed many times, marauders from the north and the south as allegiances changed and the town’s strategic location been as much a curse as a blessing.
I wonder what effect this heritage has had on its inhabitants; I wouldn’t have thought they take to strangers too easily. In general though they are friendly, tourism must play a key part in their economy.
I buy food in the bakery and retire to the river to spend a couple of hours basking in the sun. I am between the river and the cricket field with the grassy churchyard in the background; the very epitome of a quintessential English town. Children and their parents play on the small pebble bank, people sit a while on the regularly spaced benches, and it is hard to imagine it ever being very different.
As I leave the river I spot large metal flood gates. Later Nigel tells me that the area of town by the river is very prone to flooding and that the buildings on the far side have no flood defences at all. We talk about the floods in this country in recent years and the issues arising of insurance, and considering where to build or buy, and the seemingly natural instinct for settlements to be built by rivers but not on their floodplains, but how with time the knowledge gets forgotten, the warnings from the past go unheeded, and short sighted thinking takes over. Nigel worked in Asia for many years and watched as Singapore built its new business district over 10-15 years on land that is slowly but visibly subsiding into the marshy area it was built on.
How have we come to such a place of disconnect with our environment? Why do we think money will solve all problems? Nigel tells me the story of an American woman in France stranded by the volcanic eruptions in the Spring refusing to accept she couldn’t fly uttering the classic
“What not even in business class” !!!
Delighted at the opportunity to quiz an engineer with all the gaps in my technical knowledge I ask Nigel about Wind Farms. I have been curious ever since I saw the protest in Cambridgeshire. I discover that a wind farm is planned here too, and now I begin to get a sense of what the objections are all about.
Far from it being purely a matter of aesthetics, though the Wind Farm turbines, as opposed to the slender wind turbines I have been quite taken with, are on a very different scale, I learn that there are two main arguments:
– The Wind Farms that are being proposed are not community owned small scale local energy initiatives, where a turbine would owned by, and cared for by, a town or village as a cooperative. They are projects of large companies being subsidised by the government as a part of their bid to fulfil their target quota of renewables. They are akin to a Tesco’s moving into town; the revenue does not come to the settlement; the energy not used locally but put into the national grid…
– And here the second objection; there is no reason to suppose this initiative to harness wind to power the national grid will be successful. The national grid works from a steady state, which means that it supplies a consistent amount of energy everywhere all the time. When there is a spike, ie when it is half time during the world cup, and everyone all over the country puts the kettle on, the gird must be able to provide a power surge immediately. It needs its steady state to ensure it can provide for this.
Wind power does not provide steady state energy of the type that is useful to the national grid; it provides energy in spikes; producing a lot when it is windy,& little or none at all if there is no wind or too much. This is useful for locally generated power, and particularly as a back up and why community owned power would be a good way of utilising the wind for energy.
The other reason why Wind Farms (or factories, as Nigel suggests) may not be the solution some, including myself, have believed, is that as with many large corporations, BP would be a good case in question here, the environmental impact is not seriously considered as a factor. Money will solve any disasters we have been told; and I wonder how many of us still believe that now. The planned Wind Farm for the North Pennines is to be built on peat bog…
Now think about the implications of that for a moment; for one, peat is carbon fixing, essential to maintaining our eco system. The peat bog will be drained to support the 15m square concrete slabs necessary to support the structure of the huge wind turbines proposed for the site. I wonder how much research has been carried out into the consequences of the bog returning to its natural state in time of flood, not to mention the harm caused to the bio-versity of the region if it is drained, and the possible results of the loss of those life forms.
I feel ashamed of my ignorance and more than ever appreciate that rather than polarizing our differences we’d all be far better off if we honoured our own skills and natural leanings and honoured those of their opposite equally. I am not technically minded at all, yet all my passion for engaging people cannot truly be part of the solution if I do not understand the problems sufficiently. Nigel and I talk about the Transition Conference. This is my first opportunity to find out how it was this year. It sounds like it was as packed full of amazing things as was last year in Battersea, and with that the inevitable overwhelm of so much going on that it can be quite a challenge to know when you are full and need to step away and have down time. Nigel, for whom this was his first transition conference, was struck by how wonderful it was to have so many like minded people to talk to, and how great a setting Seale Haynes was, in terms of it being pleasing historically, and that it was residential and everyone could be together.
His greatest challenges, coming as he did from a corporate engineering background, were the open space, in that he didn’t feel clear about exactly what was going on and not knowing where to be, and the heart and soul slots where there was a whole group guided visualisation. I think, from my own realisation that engaging the side of me that is less developed – my logical, spatial intelligence – is essential, even if it simply takes the form of asking questions when I don’t understand, that what is equally needed is an acknowledgement of the deeply intuitive spiritual intelligence, and yet for that to happen, Nigel &I agree, the language needed to communicate effectively is key.
I was thrilled at the layperson’s explanation of wind energy I received from Nigel, and I always love Rob & Ben‘s wonderful explanations of difficult concepts such as the economic situation that I am frequently party to in the transition office. I feel empowered and able to contribute my part, using very simplified language, and love the patience of those who have made the effort to speak to me on this level. This makes me think a lot about heart and soul, inner transition, and my passion for self awareness, and how difficult I find it to communicate the ideas to anyone less immersed in this field.
I think about web design and internet language and how hard Ed Mitchel, Transition Network web manager, works to keep his language as transparent as possible, often having to play the of role of interpreter between the designers and the users of the site. How can we whose passion is inner transition find a language with which to communicate inner transition in a similar fashion? Nigel voices a concern that transition be perceived as a cult, especially as there were people going to the door of the Transition Network office and having their photographs taken outside it during the conference period, and I am rather alarmed after having watched a slightly tongue in cheek short film with Di and Dave at Morlands on the community site Diggers and Dreamers on how to recognise a cult leader.
Transition is so unlike a cult that I struggle to think of anything less cult-like, however, the language of self awareness is fraught with opportunities for misunderstanding, and I do start to think that as inner transition is as fundamental to successful transition as outer transition, and bearing in mind how many transition groups struggle with finding a way of working with it, there is serious work to be done in finding the right language. I am looking forward to conversing with others who were at the conference to hear what heart and soul sessions came up with.
I ask Nigel more about PACT. This group incorporates Penrith (pop 15,000) as market town and its surrounding towns and villages. Appleby has a population of just 3000 and Nigel feels PACT is too small as yet for its members to disperse into their own immediate communities; they need to work together and are very involved in awareness raising activities including film showings that are often previewed by short documentaries that Nigel makes about local projects. You can see some of these on the PACT website – http://www.penrithACT.org.uk which Nigel maintains.
The documentaries are seen as important as they show things happening locally which can be seen on the films. PACT are string on waste and recycling and have had events around this and are currently involved in getting the region to be plastic bag free.
Another successful local project is Vista Veg, a local veg scheme in Crosby Ravensworth, a village I will walk through on my way to Shap to visit Peter Dicken, PACT’s storyteller and local food enthuisiast. Watch this space on Thursday for tales of this.
For Nigel the best thing about transition is the diversity of skills the transition members have and share. He is thrilled by how many good green building and associated skills are around in Cumbria such as red bed makers. The biggest challenge is his own fluctuation between positive hope about what can be done locally and doom and gloom as he is so aware of the growth in Asia that is happening in reverse to transition progress, and at an alarming rate.
We talk about how best to attract new comers to transition and agree that the most accessible the better; and that a recent SW transition festival that he had attended and that had had security guards on the gate might perhaps not have been the best way of attracting new folk to get involved!
I recall a conversation with Di about life in isolated rural communities and how I found it hadn’t changed from the time I lived in a tiny hamlet outside of Coniston; a police presence hovering constantly around anyone who is slightly alternative in their lifestyle. My enthusiasm for the local community based ideals of transition can sometimes blinker me to the challenges of living in a very close knit community; and of how the new is not always perceived as refreshing, but sometimes threatening.
I am struck by polarities today; and how important it is to value all perspectives. It started with the indifferent cows and the curious in the morning.
It is reflected in my two very different transition hosts today; Beautiful dreadlocked Di and housemate Dave, their longing for an alternative low impact lifestyle, their 5 year plan for a land coop with the guidance of Radical Roots, and their work with community participation, and forest schools, and corporate fell walking loving Nigel and his desire to work with the local community, willingness to face the issues of large supermarkets muscling in to a town with 4 already, and to engage with the council and hear their perspective and keen enthusiasm to put together a website and films to engage local interest.
Even the houses I stay in are very different. In Morland I stay in a flat of Morland House; a delightful old small mansion with exquisite walled gardens and a stream running through; a house once designed for collecting rain water from its roof which it could so easily return to doing, as it could reutilise the stream and get the water mill going again. In Burrels a purpose built eco house with shredded newspaper insulation between all the walls, so well insulated that it feels different inside, it is hot outside so I cannot experience the heat it retains in winter but I can feel the protective layer it has. Nigel tells me that it never falls below 15 degrees even in the cold winter we just had.
I hear about Freeglke again; Nigel gets most of the thing he needs that way and recently managed to prevent his neighbours the farmers from having a bonfire to get rid of lots of old timber. Nigel advertised on freegle and someone from PACT came that same day to pick it up for firewood.
A final thing from today; a confirmation from Nigel with cattle as his neighbours; when they are in teenagehood they be just as disruptive as the human variety can be; pushing at a neighbours’ fence to get at her plants. I am glad I decided not to pit my wits against the Fresians early today!