The South of the North (Days 65-67) June 1st -3rd
By Steph Bradley 4th June 2010
Day 65 A Little Piece of Paradise
I head out of Quarndon to the A6 which I follow into Duffield; I have known the A6 (which stretches from Luton in the south to Carlisle in the north) as a fast and dangerous road since my childhood in Lancashire, where it passes after Derbyshire. It is, however, fully kitted out with pavements all along the stretch I walk, which is a considerable improvement to many more recent roads I have come across and rejected along this journey.
I enjoy Duffield; it has a post office (I never thought the day would arrive when I spoke of the common or garden post office with the air of one valuing a precious resource) with a friendly postmaster and a host of locals using it. Although the A6 cuts straight through the village it has succeeded in maintaining a cosy feel and at the tiny village square a plaque proudly announces it has won the best village in Derbyshire award.
From Duffield I find an old road in to Belper (or Beaurepaire which meant beautiful retreat) and am initially struck by how strangely familiar it feels; not because I have been here before but because of the stone used in making the houses; it is the same as the stone used in the houses in northern Lancashire.
Walking through this small town with a relatively rural sort of feel with street names such as Meadow View, a terrace row now sandwiched between a very large house and a retail complex, and Field Lane, a glimpse up of which reveals a tiny row of flower drapped cottages now swamped on either side by heavy feeling shops, I am taken aback by the sight of the great East Mill looming up ahead; just as the royal free hospital in Hampstead dominates a tiny beautiful place with a building totally out of keeping so the East Mill dominates Belper.
I read the information plaque and learn that this was only one of several mills constructed by Jedidiah Strutt and sons from the early 18th Century to 1912 when East Mill was built. In 1897 the mills passed into the ownership of the Amalgamated English Sewing Cotton Company and most had been demolished by 1963. I later discover that Belper’s original work before the Strutts brought the textile industry was iron nail making.
On leaving Belper by the back road I come to Beaurepaire gardens which seem so incongruous next to the backdrop of the mill. I have gazed up at the many storeyed building and grieved for the thousands of people, men and women, who would have spent the best part of their lives inside one large machine room within that monstrous edifice performing one small task amongst the many involved in producing the cotton to satisfy the demand for cloth and to line the pockets of one family. I have little doubt those people knew nothing of the meaning of the name of their town, nor ever experienced it as a beautiful retreat.
I think back to Mike Finn in Nottingham telling me about the first slaves sent out to Barbados to work on the sugar plantations being English and wonder how much better off some of our ancestors who stayed behind actually were.
I walk a tiny quiet lane that is paved and has a little traffic but is basically now a track linking farms; farms that smell and look as they did when I was a child, full of animals in small fields around the farmyard. I am in a different country now from the endless flat Americanised monoculture I have walked through as I gradually make my way north. It feels this way; a different country; people speak differently, they have different values from those in the south, different eating habits, different ways. I remember my vow that I would come no more north and remember why. Though there is something comfortably familiar about sights and smells, and the friendliness of the people, it is the hard work, the lack of consideration for good diet, the lack of awareness that things can be different that leave me longing for the place I think of as home, way down in the south.
I have forgotten in the stage between London and here that hills make a nonsense of the concept of mileage. I tell Marion McCartney, my host for the next few days, that I will meet her in Ambergate in the hour and a half which the 3 map miles suggest. It is a further half an hour before I arrive. Leaving the A6 which gently follows the river valley has meant a steady climb up and up to the top of the ridge till the road looks tiny in the bottom.
Marion and I leave Ambergate and walk a gorgeous way along the Cromford Canal tow path which runs between Ambergate and the village of Cromford and from where Florence Nightingale hailed. Local legend has it she got off the train at Whatstandwell, our destination, a stop early, returning from the wars, shy of eager crowds awaiting her in Cromford.
This part of the Derwent valley is known for being the place where river, rail, road and canal all run parallel alongside one another. We pass ancient woodland on our right; Crich (pre Saxon for hill) Woods are said to be remnants of the western most reaches of Sherwood Forest, and there is a village called Robin Hood just a little way away.
We feel blessed to be among the trees; for me they are the salve my being needs after the agro industrial croplands, and the sad remains of the industrial revolution and the trail of disconnection it left in its wake.
We are fortunate to be walking by in the twenty first century; before the coming of 19th century transportation we could not have done this; here two properties joined and Messrs Arkwright and Hurt, the two owners, had keys to pass. Then in 1820 government passed a law for a turnpike road to be opened between Matlock and Derby and the road that used to have to go round came through and eventually became the A6.
After an all too short hour in this idyll we come to the first view of Marion’s house in Whatstandwell. It is not hard to understand why Marion and partner Peter fell in love with it. It has the most spectacular view looking out over the thickly wooded hills across the valley and has a full grown hawthorn standing proudly upright, not bent for hedgerow, as sentinel, at this time of year covered in may blossom.
We cross the footbridge and come up the jitty, a stone wall lined cut through I would call ginnel, and others alley, to the road on which Marion’s house stands.
Whatstandwell , which was named for Walter Stonewell a man who lived by a ford over the river here in the 14th the century, though it is often known as Stannel by locals, was a staging post for the London –Manchester coach and one of last mail coaches from Derby –Manchester stopped here in 1858. In 1930 it was voted in a national paper “the loveliest village in England”.
I settle in to my resting place for the next couple of days and cannot stop myself from drinking in the view of the densely tree covered hillside that is Shining Cliff, across the valley. One would be hard pressed to choose a more suitable spot for replenishing a soul who has walked across the agro industrially ravaged Cambridgeshire land and the industrially ravaged Midlands.
It is not just the natural environment that is balm for my sense battered being; the wounds of watching farmers gingerly pouring toxic chemicals onto our growing food, and my irritated throat from breathing in the toxic waste particles of the incinerator of the world’s rubbish; I am entertained, and hugely, amongst peals of laughter as Peter McCartney and sister Tina regale us with tales of their family farm in SW Ireland after dinner.
I hear of floury Irish potatoes, cabbage, and meat with gravy, the like of which you have never tasted.
“Ooooh, the floury potatoes”
“Oooh, the cabbage” relish obvious in the tone for the freshly gathered vegetables, and the stoic acceptance of the hunks of meat covered in an inch of fat.
Of stewed apples and custard made from the cream of the urn scooped off in a jug, of tea that tasted like you can only imagine, brewed with the fresh spring water.
I hear tales of the family, of old nan who still worked the farm in her eighties, strong as an ox, who everyone was terrified of. Of visitors inviting themselves over at the time of milking and the panic; Tina sent off to hide the cat with an eye hanging out on a stalk, the veneer of polished nicety expressed in front of the visitors and the underlying rule that had been breached; never visit at milking time; the most stressful moment in the day; why a cow might run off, anything might go wrong, and it needed all hands on deck.
I hear the scissor tale and my poor granny is redeemed. One day the priest came to visit and nan and her daughter are doing needlework. When the priest has left the scissors are nowhere to be found. They hunt high and low and no scissors. The priest! Poor man; he is never more allowed to set foot in the house; thief that he is; why he must have run off with the scissors! Long after both nan and daughter have died the family decide to throw an old chair away; it is falling to pieces; they finish the job and as they remove the seat; they find an old pair of scissors…
For the Irish the first thing to be done if you lose something is to search and search desperately; if that doesn’t work you pray to St Anthony (patron saint of lost things; I remember him from my time in Brazil) and if that doesn’t work, why you blame someone else with all your heart. I am one eighth Irish, my granny half. When she started accusing folk in the old people’s home where she now lives of stealing her things the family thought she was losing her mind, dementia, they said. Aha, now I know otherwise, her Irish blood… and her storytelling; well it is famed throughout the family. We laugh and laugh at the simplest of telling, just as I have laughed and laughed at Peter and Tina’s stories. I am moved by this discovering of a little piece of my heritage deep in the heart of Derbyshire; and perhaps the root of my storytelling legacy.
Peter tells the tales of his recent visit to the farm and of how the new fast roads of Dublin give way eventually to roads that are full of lumps and bumps and potholes and signs painted on roads backwards in the mistaken belief that if you were driving they would be the right way up… OVERTAKING NO…and there in the SW you come to a new country, where habits are different, where old men still wear black suits (as I remember them doing in the villages of Portugal) and the pace of life is another.
Marion tells of her honeymoon down on the farm, and of going to mass and not knowing what to do as up and down the people stood and sat in response to alien sounding directives, desperately trying not to offend; I remember this feeling too from my time in South America.
We eat jaffa cakes and I remember they’re my granny’s favourite.
The Matlocks and The Terrible Thing
I sit in Marion’s garden all afternoon after a long sleep and a beginning to take stock of all the blogging and e mailing I yet have to do.
Then, in the early evening I meet Glennie Kindred, co originator of the British diary Earth Pathways, saviour for those of us tired of relying on a an American diary for our moon phases and seasonal information, and Rosemary, therapist, from Transition Wirksworth, 3 miles to the west of Whatstandwell, and Helen and Rosemary of the food group and tree group respectively of Transition Matlock. We eat sorrel soup, homemade with sorrel from Marion’s local veg box, by Glennie and absolutely delicious, and pizzas brought fresh from the new local bakery Loaf in nearby village Crich.
I am regaled with tales of the two transition neighbours, Matlock occasionally teasing Wirksworth for having defected. Marion attends both meetings as she lives between the two and says Whatstandwell is too small to be a transition initiative in its own right and could just as easily fit into either of the two slightly larger places.
The women have a friendly earthy relationship with one another and their environment. They are rooted in their sense of place, pragmatic about the challenges, and practical and patient in their approach. Sitting on the decking overlooking the temperate rain forest that is Marion’s constant neighbour with these women I feel nourished, and grateful that such moments in life exist.
Helen talks about her Jigsaw activity. She designed it for a local food event from the back of her child’s Thomas the Tank jigsaw puzzle. It starts with a central piece, the challenge, then come the outlying pieces, which each contain a food project. Participants find their partners and discuss the links. The next layer out are possible sustainable food businesses that might grow form the projects and again people find their partners and discuss the links. A further development might be what additional businesses are created by noticing the gaps that are there when the sustainable businesses discuss their links.
It sounds a fascinating process to take part in. I urge Helen to take it along to the Transition conference later in the month.
Rowan talks about the Tree Group. Transition Matlock see the Tree Group as being quite distinct from any other group, and essential to transition as it crosses over in to every other group, trees for fuel, trees for food, trees for well being, the list is endless. The Matlock Tree group plants trees everywhere they can, voraciously. They call it the tree rehoming project. They rescue trees desperately trying to cling to thin limestone quarry edges, guerrilla gardening style, and then replant them with permission at council approved locations. This rehoming project all began when the local primary school started a veg growing scheme and dug up ash trees they did not want. The Tree group took the trees from the skips and replanted them elsewhere.
Helen tells us about her lambs. She is caring for Felicity and Gremlin in her garden, feeding them by bottle every 6 hours. She takes it in turns with Rowan and another woman to look after the lambs of their new CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). This project all started last year when Helen decided against doing the CSA workshop at last year’s transition conference in Battersea, not because she didn’t want to do it but because she thought it wasn’t yet a priority for Matlock; she couldn’t see it happening there for 5 or so years. Then a local farmer came to the transition group asking for help and support to get his wind turbine project supported.
This caused all kinds of ripples in the Transition Initiative; they were just at the stage of completing the forms to become an official initiative when the question of conflict of interest came up. The wind turbine project split the group for a time and they had to work hard to find a way through, coming out the stronger for it. In meeting the local farmer Helen got talking about the sheep and was horrified to discover that he could only get £30 a sheep at market price. She asked if they could help and pretty soon the group were committed to buying a few sheep. They are now fully involved in a CSA for lambs, hence the taking care of the 2 runts of this year’s young, one rejected by her mum and the other pushed out by her two greedy brothers.
The other news from Matlock is “the terrible news”.
Ah yes, murmur the others; they all know about the terrible news; Sainsburys have built a new supermarket on the edge of the town, and to add insult to injury they can now no longer cross the old bridge to get to town but must go around on a road all past the Sainsbury’s land to come in a half a mile further away and with a view of Sainsbury’s not the traditional way into town via the old stone bridge.
They are also concerned about the new complex of things the local council say they cannot think of any grounds to stop; a car showroom, an old people’s home, and a whole host of retail outlets. They are applying to build on a brown fill site so my thought is the best way to stop this would be suggest something more meaningful and in keeping with the town. As Rowan points out, any old people that end up living in that home are unlikely to find a way to be integrated into the local community being surrounded by car showrooms and the like.
Wirksworth have been working to green such a site for twenty year s and more. Stonewell was a disused quarry area. They started planting trees there in the eighties and had the site just about ready for the millenium and put a peace memorial there. Wirksworth have a peace ritual every Christmas and have done for years. When Glennie came back from Glastonbury festival one year with a flame from the Hiroshima peace flame (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hiroshima_Peace_Memorial_Park#Peace_Flame) lit by a grandmother from the embers her grandson brought her from the ruins of their ancestral home in 1954 and kept alight every since, the town took on the idea and had a peace flame crafted from one of the old dead trees to be placed in the park.
Glennie tells us how she too kept her flame alight once she had it and eventually after relighting the flame every 6 hours for years lit her heating pilot light with it so that it would always be lit. The man who brought the flame to England was given special dispensation to carry the flame on a plane to bring it to England that it might stay lit over here too.
The Wirksworth Millenium Garden had a central place that often got filled with rubbish. Now the transition group have taken it on and asked for permission to turn it into a community orchard. Transition Matlock have since heard from one of their steering group members that sits on the environmental chair of the local council, that the council now think this was their idea and are going ahead with it. The women are delighted; now the council think it is their idea they will take responsibility for it and the project will go ahead and they can stop worrying about it.
The group talk about Matlock; that it is lovely with it central park but that it doesn’t have a very integrated feel to it which makes it difficult for them to challenge things liken the new plans for the brown fill site. Then beautifully, before my eyes, the group dig around its roots and find a solution, or should I say rediscover its identity. Matlock, so named for the way it locks the river, sitting at a sharp bend in the valley, used to be known as the Matlocks; and was a series of small villages each with its very own separate identity. Of course! This was the answer! To return to this rather than to keep trying to homogise them. There is Matlock Bath, and Matlock Green, Old Matlock, Matlock Bank and Matlock Cliff, and if each could focus on its needs and recreate itself then the whole would be stronger.
Rowan has brought everyone large packets of free tea; the group are slightly concerned about the providence of this gift; not that it was skip dived (Rowan’s student daughter has taught her lodger to skip dive as she has discovered that in her university town of Plymouth there is no need to buy food at all; she can survive on what supermarkets throw out alone!) but that it was thrown out by the Co-op!!
These large packed packages of tea are a day out of date; they will last for months if not longer. We are completely astounded at the waste.
Glennie tells me more about the Earth Pathways diary and how it started up. I am fascinated because I had been one of those many women who bought the American Wemoon diary for its detailed information on moon phases and other astrological information but lamented that it was American and not a local diary and had often thought about compiling the English version if only I could find a likely artist to collaborate. Glennie and a friend took the challenge and made it happen by borrowing £100 from various people, calling them moonshares, which covered the printing costs.
They are now looking to have members to keep the process going; Marion is one of the diary’s shareholders. I am thrilled to be asked to contribute a piece about my walk for the next diary.
The Wirksworth group talk about their celebration group and I encourage them to get in touch with Transition Derby who are so keen to include this aspect of transition and who might appreciate a little support in getting started.
We discuss heart and soul work and agree that Inner Transition is a less culturally loaded phrase that would make this important work available and accessible to all. Both Marion and Helen are going to the conference later this month and will no doubt input into the sessions there.
We have a heart and soul type hug and promise we shall all meet again.
If You’re Not On the Edge You’re Taking Up Too Much Room
I spend this day thinking about my best friend Jayne, giving birth to her first child today, and catching up on blog time; unbelievably time consuming after a week of not having internet access for my netbook and I miss out on a glorious day of hot sunshine. I cannot leave it any longer though; it has started to weigh heavily; there is a commitment to those people who have told me their stories to remember and record them in their freshness.
Am rewarded late afternoon by sitting with Marion on her decking looking out over her stunning views of temperate rain forest and am reminded that this is indeed our natural vegetation and we could have it all the time if we didn’t keep replacing it with concrete!
We talk about the importance of being on the edge; that edge is where things happen, I think of edible edges for cities, wild flower verges, and wildlife corridors; being on the edge of more than one group and being able to act as ambassador between them, and being by the sea, a lakeside, riverbank, and canal tow path, and think of how rich, how delicious, how diverse, how alive, and sometimes challenging edges are. I wouldn’t be anywhere else; it is the only place to be.