The Grassy Paths of the Most Resilient Place in the UK (Transition Tales Day 14) 11th April
By Steph Bradley 12th April 2010
I walked all day through the Isle of Purbeck, and what a good experience it was. I hear from Collette Drayson of PEAT (Transition Purbeck) that Purbeck council have measured it and found it to be the most resilient place in the UK.
This information does not surprise me. I have had a glorious time wandering in countryside I didn’t think existed any more. I find myself wondering why I have never been here before. Although not an island the Isle of Purbeck acts like one. It has retained its traditional farming techniques, villagers here in Langton Matravers know all the farmers who produce all their food and find it easier to buy their food from them rather than traipse all the way into Poole to supermarkets.
I meet Collette and partner Richard in the Square & Compass in Worth Matravers. This fascinating name of this local inn comes from the trade of an earlier owner; a builder. The area’s principal trade is stone building. The inn has a lot more going for it though than just its unusual name. Like so many things in the Isle of Purbeck it has retained its local and unique character.
It is family owned, and as such has no brewery imposing an image upon it. Charlie Newman was born and brought up in the pub. His father, Raymond, was an avid collector and archaeologist and Charlie has inherited this interest and turned half the premises over to a museum of local history and prehistory; and what a museum it is – from its exquisite handwritten labels, demonstrating real knowledge of the finds, to its range of exhibits – from clay pipes to Roman diamond shaped tiles, from renaissance love tokens to dinosaurs (yes, I did say dinosaurs, their bones found in the chalk cliffs below), it is a treasure in a very literal sense. Free to enter, a real celebration in what human kind can do when trusted to get on with their life’s passion and not herded into conformity by a faceless, meaningless machine.
The inn is famous as far afield as London, though Collette says she does wonder what they make of it with its hatch serving area and no bar, its tiny tap room and equally tiny lounge, its homebrewed cider, and beer, and home baked pasties and pies. This inn needs no help from the outside, it is full of people when I arrive, sunning themselves in the front beer garden with its views across the countryside to the sea.
It hosts music events, artists happy to come and play for free for the pleasure of being here, and quirky community events like the pumpkin festival the first weekend in October. Locals bring their pumpkins in to be weighed in a large fishing net suspended high in the front yard, Charlie has been known to sit on the inn roof and fiddle along to the festivities. There is a stone cutting festival too, celebrating the local skill.
Whilst I am there a local lad brings round a big bag of bacon for sale from his family’s farm down the road; it’s small wonder these folk have no need of the supermarket! All the animals for meat are reared locally using traditional methods and if the people don’t know every animal personally they do know the farmer who raised them.
Janine, Collette’s daughter www.jdillustration.co.uk comes to meet me and present me with a gift from Langton Matravers, it’s a green wood turned dibber made by husband Toby. I present them, as PEAT, with the print of Lyme Bay Hugh Dunford Wood of Turn Lyme Green gave me for the next town. Janine, artist, is delighted, Lyme Bay is her favourite place to visit. I accept the dibber on behalf of the next transition town proud to share its craft.
This is a very fitting arrival in the Matravers villages. I have had such a wonderful time walking their green pathways. I left the home of Sophie Pritchard & Andrew Butler late morning accompanied by them and 13 year old daughter Shanti. I am grateful for their company, they are all good walking companions, full of interesting tales, and they help take my mind off the fact that we are walking across an army firing range, and albeit the paths are open today, it is still an uncomfortable feeling for me.
Sophie talks about their excitement about the community farm they hope PEAT will acquire very soon, and its useful proximity to the planned wind farm. Both Sophie & Andrew are clearly proud of their work with Lush, and surprised more people don’t know more about the local, Poole based company that has become a huge ethically trading cosmetic company, and still family run. Lush products are handmade and a lot of effort goes into sourcing fairly traded ingredients. Andrew and Sophie are delighted they don’t use any palm oil in their products, and wish they were using only local ingredients.
They tell me of the Brazilian worker they had who is going to go back to Brazil and start a transition factory with permaculture closed loop techniques, supporting their workers, with food growing land, and reusing all the waste for fuel. Knowing the vibrancy of this country, their sense of community, and their capacity for hard work, I can only imagine this being hugely successful.
Shanti talks about her train ride, then walk, to school, she lives near Heathrow with her mum. She talks about how much she and her friends walk, though they don’t always realise it as they are often in their large friendship groups of 12 or so, chatting as they go about their daily routines.
My companions leave me after 3 miles or so and I continue on, relishing the soft green grass of the pathways along the ridge of the Isle of Purbeck which runs from East Lulwich all along to Kingston. It affords tremendous views of coast to my right and the distant bay of Poole far off to my left. I chose it rather than the famed SW coastal path which really is just a series of ups and downs in the steepest of ways, and doesn’t feel old in any sense, but for modern leisure, and I am ceaselessly amazed at what that entails for some people, who enjoy running it. I have been passed by several groups on my travels and I can’t say that the looks on their faces had much to do with pleasure!
The ridgeway path has much more of a sense of being an old trackway, and involves only one uphill to get onto it and one downhill to get off it! I find I am marvelling at the excellence of the MOD pathways and begin to fantisize of how it will be when folk finally realise we have no need of their prowess with guns and they begin to serve their communities with path building. Shanti & I had already begun to map out how that trackway of the future could look; wide grassy paths for walking, a narrower pavement beside it for wet weather walking, avoiding turning it to mud, a cycle path next to that, and finally a bit of road for any essential vehicle access.
As I walk off from Shanti and the others 3 boys on skateboards zoom past on the adjacent road which is a very steep downhill slope, performing tricks for those of us on the pathways. They are really skilful, and they have the road! Cars have to stop for them. I am admiring of both their skill, and their sense of right to be using the roads. Cars are not after all so powerful if you can have the courage to take the road back!
I cross one very waterlogged muddy field but am pleased to note that my feet are fully recovered from their first week’s walk in the mud and cross it admirably well and arrive at their destination looking a bit dirty but healthy and strong. They have loved the grassy pathways. My transition tale for 2030 involves grassy walkways linking up every settlement in the country.
Collette has so many tales to tell of the actions of PEAT I am bound to miss something out or get muddled up but here a summary;
They are involved in campaigning for local schools; Purbeck still retains the middle school system , but the district council are putting the pressure on for children to go to Wareham rather than stay at Swanage for their 9-13 schooling. This would mean children that currently walk to school having to take the bus for miles.
They have had Peat on the Street where the group took to the streets and genearted loads of public interest. Local children illustrated the picture that is on all their local publicity. Collette has just been persuaded to stand in the parish council, by many of the villagers on her street, some of whom are councillors themselves; they know she will speak up for what matters. She is still ambivalent about if this is a good thing, believing that bottom up is the way, and yet also acknowledging that making good links with the official bodies might be a good thing. In the inn people are pleased that transition, and therefore their views, will be represented in an official capacity.
The challenge for PEAT, as for many involved in transition, is how to make a living when you live and breathe transition! Everywhere I go, such a willingness to do what is needed, to make our planet a better place to be, and to let go of any personal gain. It is both refreshing, and returns me again to the dawning realisation that we need to grow our transition projects into the livelihoods of the future. What is not clear is how we manage the transition from our current monetary economy to one that recognises all the skills needed to make things happen, equally, whatever they may be, so from woodturning, to stone cutting, to brewing cider and baking pies, and the administration that is currently needed to pull it altogether.
I feel sure that we will get there, after time spent in Purbeck; it is such a delight to be here, see community in action, local trading alive and well, comfortable harmony with the land around, and real appreciation for what is good. How could anyone not want that?