Within Sight of May Hill (Day 133) August 8th
By Steph Bradley 12th August 2010
The morning starts late for me after a quiet time writing up my blog in bed, and then breakfast with Rachel overlooking her beautiful new raised beds. This is the first year she has grown her own vegand she is delighted with her sweetcorn, and marvels at the squash plant that has walked all across the bed and is half way across the garden headed for the other bed, with a large developing squash laying serenely on the ground between the two.
Rachel takes me up their office at the top of the house and shows me May Hill, a local landmark, and scene of much festivity, especially at the time of Beltane, May, when there are Morris dancers dancing till dawn. The hill, with its distinctive circle of trees, too many to count, can be seen way down into Gloucestershire, she tells me
We talk of another of Transition Ross’ projects; they have gardening parties, rather than garden parties, where they go around to each other’s houses to learn from each other’s expertise, and to share skills and to work together on each gardens. Rachel has been delighted to learn how much more work can be done when you work together, and how much more fun it is.
Rachel presents me with a pot of homemade apple chutney to take on to the fledgling Transition Gloucester, and I leave the Resurgence Gathering’s offering of Ann Marie’s DVD of music for our times for Transition Ross, and Richard walks out with me, guiding me as far as the next hamlet, Bollitree, where Richard Hammond lives… in a castle!
It is just 8 miles to my next destination; the home of Ken and Anni Allan, in Gorsley in the parish of Newent. They have a lovely home with solar power and PV panels and the most amazing winter garden where they grow all the fresh food, using a no-dig system and a shallow layer of organic matter, they need for over winter in a lush patch just about 2×3 m large including a comfrey patch for all their own fertilizer and a large compost area. I see pinto beans, squash, kale, onions, leeks, carrots and parsnips, and raspberries. Their once landscaped garden includes also an area of meadow, full of the most diverse wild flowers, and there is the summer patch of fruit and veg too, going mad with raspberries and asparagus, onions, celeriac, and fennel. In the greenhouse the tomatoes and cucumbers are trained to grow around and around and produce much more fruit.
In a year, since getting to grip with transition principles, Ken and Anni have turned from nursery gardens and landscaping that was their business, to no dig gardening and permaculture and have transformed their showpiece gardens into prolific food growing gardens.
We go for dinner with Ken and Anni’s good friends John & Sue to celebrate Anni’s birthday week. John is a meditation teacher and Sue a potter, and I am shown the lovely mediation space and pottery they have in their garden. On the way back to the house we pause to admire the view of May Hill, and the friends tell me of their yearly trip up the hill to join in the festivities for Beltane, the music and the dancing, and I am thrilled that these ancient celebrations continue still at least in some parts of the land.
In the conservatory the other couple of friends come to celebrate Anni’s birthday are Chrissie and Michael. Michael is a plum farmer who sells to Waitrose, as they stock local fruit, and are very good at listening to what locals want, they say, and tend to adjust their stock accordingly.
Those of you who are fans of “In Transition”, the great first transition movie, will remember Chrissie, of the recycled bag making workshop fame. Sue and Chrissie spent plenty of time getting ready for that famous event, and I am shown a couple of the beautiful bags they kept.
We feast on local wine (from a mile down the road) and food, including plum ginger cake Chrissie has made from Michael’s plums and delicious potatoes and green beans from the garden. I didn’t see the bottle long enough to catch the name of the vineyard, so Michael and Chrissie, if you are reading this, please could you supply the name of the producers of the wonderful sparkling white we drank.
After I have told my tale to this small but active selection of Transition Newent folk I hear their tales, of the LBA schools’ project and of the local shop competition where local shops provided the prizes for a quiz that asked questions about their produce, encouraging people to visit the shops to fins out the answers and to return to collect their prizes.
I hear too of the Hedgerow Christmas Decoration day that Sue and Chrissie organised, taking people out to collect what they needed from the hedgerows and returning to make them into their Christmas wreaths and table decorations. They will do this again, they say, for it was fun and useful. Then there is the apple gleaning day, and I learn that gleaning is the word used for collecting up all the apples from fruit producers, after they have harvested the best of the crop for wine, juices, and for selling, to make things. They discovered on this day that many of the women did not know how to make apple cakes and pies, jams or chutneys. They exchanged skills, and had a press to make juice too.
The food group hosted a Question and Answer show like there is on television, and invited local politicians and local farmers and growers to participate.
Transition Newent have been very active in helping other groups get off the ground as well, i Ledbury, Ross, and neighbouring villages. They help by providing templates for leaflets, and by sending out regular newsletters, and networking between all the different like minded groups that already exist. They see that inner transition is as important as outer transition, and encourage everyone to feel empowered enough to do what they are passionate about, not to wait for councils or government to do for them what they can do themselves. They have a lively discussion about what inner transition really means, and everyone has an opportunity to speak and be heard. It is refreshing to hear, as each person’s understanding of the concepts of inner personal work and how it manifests in their actions in the world are aired and talked through.
The evening finishes and as bags and jackets are gathered, Sue shares with Anni and I her mother’s technique for bread making. Sit with a large old mixing bowl on your lap as you sit and converse with friends and family, lifting the dough gently from the bowl and letting it fall back, to add air to the mixture. It sounds such a gentle process, far more appealing to me than the pound al your emotions into the daily bread that some advocate (and which I am inclined to think must be as bad as eating meat from stressed and badly frightened battery animals in the transfer of emotions from the food to the eater), and nicer somehow than letting a machine do the work. I shall experiment with this technique when I get home. Thank you Sue, for passing on your mother’s wisdom to us all.