All in a Day's Walk

A month-long slow food walking performance

Archive for December, 2012

Personal horizon (or Stoke Edith in search of swedes)

New Year's Eve sunset

A New Year’s Eve walk in torrential rain to Stoke Edith (or, just beyond, to Newton Cross) where the swedes I’ve been buying from Fownhope Farm Shop come from. Today’s walk is just about walking (and talking if I encounter anyone, which seems unlikely in this deluge). Twenty-six days after I started and I’m only just now getting back to my original curiosity and key intention behind the project: to measure through the medium of walking the limits of my existence, beating the bounds of my ‘personal horizon’. For J. G. Ballard, who coined the term, this was based on sightlines (the limits of where he was able to see from the ground outside his home): only three quarters of a mile for him, in flat country. (According to psychogeographer Iain Sinclair, Ballard spent his year on a driving ban at home in Shepperton, refusing to take public transport and only walking three quarters of a mile in all directions, which meant he got to know his local area very well, and also that he ‘wrote more and better’, Sinclair says.) But for me it was more about ‘effortlines’: how far I was able to walk away from home and back in a day – preferably within daylight. (My original idea was to follow a simple formula of calculating how much light remained between setting off and dusk, then walk as far as I could in a more-or-less straight line for half of this time, then turn around and come back home.) This would of course depend not only on the time of year but also on the terrain, topography and, as it turns out, finding enough calories to sustain me.

It seems laughable now that, at the outset, I saw the local food I’d be eating as largely incidental – the walking would drive the work (and the talking, about food), but I had not considered quite how vital the food would be to fuel the walking. It has turned my idea of what a sustainable – and sustaining – art practice really is, completely on its head (as discussed in yesterday’s blog.)

So it’s both a revelation and a relief to have finally found a balance between calories in and calories out, and to understand in a very profound way how the landscape I’m walking and moving across is literally supporting me, nutritionally as well as ‘gravitationally’ (?). It seems a genuine embodiment of the former Countryside Agency’s Eat the View initiative, which was about connecting consumers to the countryside that provides for us.

This last week stretching ahead of me feels too short – there is too much to do, too many more people yet to talk to, in the food web that my encounters with others has uncovered. I also need to catch up and start ‘walking the food miles’ (as a friend succintly described the project) to all the places where some of the food I’ve been buying elsewhere (or on the farm shop here) is actually grown. So it’s also a relief to strike out away from home with a very physical purpose and rediscover the sheer exhilaration of crossing space. My determination beats even the weather, which is relentless. (My first exchange of the day is on the farm yard with monosyllabic but expressive cow-man Tom, who is also, like me, peering out of a small gap in his head-to-toe waterproofs. He gestures at the sky with his walking stick and says ‘Don’t think it’s going to stop’.)

I have almost given up taking photos of the mid-field rivers, floods, puddles and lakes that have appeared all across Herefordshire… almost.

Saturated plough on the footpath to Wessington Farm Really? New rivers Different muds running together

But after a few miles, even I’m defeated. If I take pictures of them all, my obsessive documentation will slow me down even more than the mud. I also pass (depressingly) intensive broiler chicken sheds in Woolhope, the grain hoppers (unlocal grain? who knows) feeding straight into the windowless sheds in an automated system, so that even that simple connection between feeding – and acknowledging in the process – the animals we eat is lost. I walk over 9 miles beyond Stoke Edith to the main Hereford-Worcester road along the verge in incessant and depressing traffic to Newton Cross, then I turn around and come home. I didn’t see the swedes. But I was grateful for their sustenance and the miles they’d travelled. Every muddy last one of them.

Broiler (intensive chicken) sheds 1 Broiler (intensive chicken) sheds 2 Footpath bridge nearly flooded Perton Quarry Stoke Edith Church Gargoyle at Stoke Edith Stoke Edith Estate Stream in spate A4103 Stoke Edith

And then, after witnessing the beautiful sunset, I buy luxurious duck eggs, Once Upon a Tree juice and vegetables from the  Alumhurst Veg and Egg Shed

IMG_4212 IMG_4214

Home is where the art is…

Beetroot and apple mumpet Mumpet - cooking Sourdough heart

Just two months ago, a visit to my hometown Aberystwyth fortuitously coincided with a talk at the university by John Fox (formerly of Welfare State International, now of Dead Good Guides and  ‘a total legend’ as an awestruck someone sitting next to me at a Tipping Point Newcastle described him as he got up to speak there…). John’s two-act lecture The Poetry Under our Feet was a reverse journey through his own constantly evolving and inspiring life-art practice in which, amongst other things, he asked ‘why do we make art?’. Showing a slide of his neatly-stacked wood store (he and Sue Gill now live in a beautiful self-build eco-house on the shores of Morecambe Bay ), he explained how he now derived as much creative satisfaction from the process of creating this ‘sculpture’ as from his woodcuts and other formal art work. (He also talked about how, in the process of stacking the wood, ‘the materials themselves help to find the solution’ and I liked this; that the wood ‘knows’ how to be stacked.) He described this as ‘a creative way of living’ and this has resonated for me more and more through this project.

My hunger and tiredness has thrown into focus an interesting realisation about my relationship with walking. Much of my interest in walking as an artistic practice has derived from the kinaesthetic, muscular satisfaction I get from pushing myself to travel hard across space: it’s an interest in finding the edges of (dis)comfort,  about what Tim Edensor has decribed (in the context of recreational walking) as ‘specific notions of achievement’ (2000: 93) and what Dee Heddon and Cathy Turner might describe as a more stereotypically ‘solitary male’ approach to walking (2010: 22). I realise, with a jolt of embarrassment, that I’ve been out to prove something through my ‘art’, if not to others then certainly to myself. But this approach to my practice has always been supported by a comparatively thoughtless relationship with food and how it is acquired: a banana here, some (organic dark) chocolate there, a handful of (organic) nuts or dates, a bowl of (organic) soya milk porridge to set me off in the morning. Fast food eco-hippy-vegan style.

Now I am  s l o w.  And, unpolluted by sugars or pretty much anything else, my clear head opens up to the wholeness of a practice brought home. It’s a profound (if profoundly obvious) epiphany: how the art of being at home (in one’s body too, as the somatic practices have taught me but I have somehow failed to translate to the domestic) is necessary to support a whole creative practice and thus becomes an inherent and absolutely essential part of it.

It is domestic performance art, or the performance of domestic art (as a friend recently said to me ‘can you BELIEVE that they ever called it “science”?!!!’)

it is in the JUGGLING of kettle, stew, eggs and bread on the woodburner
the CHOREOGRAPHY of choosing, mixing, stirring ingredients
it is the stacking of an AUDIENCE of wood, to dry around the burner (and contemplate its fate)
and the SCULPTING of bread (a particular pride in my sourdough ‘crown’ that cooks better on the burner for being hollow in the middle)
and the PLAYING of the wood burner airwash lever like a trombone slide (controlling to increasingly subtle degrees the temperature)

Too close to HOME, so I had to come back HOME to find it.

Eggs and kettle on burner Sourdough leaven Weighing leaven for bread Kettle keeping warm on logs drying next to burner Fully open...quickly boil a kettle Partly open - bread, stew, cakes Shut down ticking over at night or when out Clearview thermometer

Edensor, T. (2000) ‘Walking in the British Countryside: Reflexivity, Embodied Practices and Ways to Escape’ Body & Society 6, (3-4) 81-106

Heddon, D. and C. Turner (2010) ‘Walking Women: Interviews with Artists on the Move’ Performance Research 15 (4) 14-22

A conversation on my doorstep

Home sweet home

Some old friends whose pony is on loan at the farm call by on their way past to visit him. We stand and chat on my doorstep and I tell them about the project. It’s a long conversation and Jan makes some interesting observations about the resistance there could be (in terms of visual intrusion) if we were to reintroduce more (and modern) food processing facilities into very rural landscapes (we’re talking specifically about the grain mills and presses that could have allowed me to eat locally grown oats and use rapeseed oil). I’m not sure I necessarily agree (processing facilities would not need to be large-scale industrial eyesores if they were run at a local/community level and/or made use of redundant farm buildings…) but it does make me return to the thoughts I had during a previous project Tilting at Windmills, where I questioned whether our responses to change in rural landscapes should be aesthetically driven if they are helping us lower emissions and address climate change. Especially considering the very real changes to landscape that climate change could make, and one could argue is already making through changed/extreme weather patterns and our responses to that.

I also tell them about slow activism and the idea that face-to-face conversation (though typically in a context specifically framed as an arts or performance practice) is the true site of real, sustainable behavioural change. And then I also realise that I am engaged in slow activism with them. And the nub of a life practice is just this: even the conversations we have on our doorstep.

Little green shoots of change

Aspen House

A walk through the morning to Hoarwithy, where I’ve arranged to interview Sally Dean and Rob Elliott, who run the appropriately sub-titled ‘Real Food’ B&B Aspen House [which has since closed, in 2015].

I walk over Capler Camp and through Brockhampton, hemmed in by high hedges, passing polytunnels (which Gareth talked much about), puddles and  floods and being passed by the four-wheel drive convoys of the pheasant shoot… I stop to record the racehorses on the gallops at Aramstone (a racing yard) Audio Track: Aramstone gallops and later (because I’m earlier than expected for our meeting) to record the flooded wye forcing its way under the bridge at Hoarwithy Audio Track: River Wye (in spate) at Hoarwithy bridge. Then I visit the remarkable (and unexpected in this small village) Italianate church, before heading down the road to Aspen House.

Sally and Rob are more than ‘just’ B&B proprietors: they are passionate advocates (and activists) for local, seasonal, ‘real’ food. Sally, a nutritionist, is also local chapter leader for the Weston A. Price foundation (an organisation organic dairy farmer Will Edwards also spoke passionately about). Rob is a writer (The Food Maze and How to Eat… Like There’s No Tomorrow) and blogger. Both are extremely knowledgedgable about nutrition, local infrastructure, farming, growing and how our rural eating-living needs to work in order to be sustainable and just as well as genuinely nutritious. They are hugely inspiring and uncompromising in how they live and their desire to communicate what they do to as many people as possible. We have intense, wide-ranging discussions which I’ve edited only a selection of highlights below, as they are both best represented in their own, articulate words:

Audio Track: Sally and Rob on the importance of slowing down: slow food and slow cooking

Audio Track: Sally and Rob on meat and balanced food production

Audio Track: Sally and Rob on localised food infrastructure

Audio Track: Sally and Rob on local food activism: ‘little green shoots’ of change

A huge thank you to them for their time and sharing their knowledge so passionately..

Capler Camp flood Capler Camp gorse Capler woods Wye floods from Capler viewpoint Hoarwithy Holly hedge 4WD flood Oh no, I have to walk through this... Not as bad as it looks Strawberry polytunnels Flooded Wye at Hoarwithy bridge Flooded Wye - Hoarwithy tollhouse Flooded footpath at Hoarwithy Hoarwithy Italianate Church 1 Hoarwithy Italianate Church 2 Hoarwithy Italianate Church 3 Hoarwithy Italianate Church 4 Hoarwithy Italianate Church 5 Hoarwithy Italianate Church 6 Hoarwithy Italianate Church 7 Hoarwithy Italianate Church 8 Hoarwithy Italianate Church 9 Hoarwithy cider press  Soda bread and sourdough Kefir Kefir grains Hoarwithy mill race? Strawberry plants

And then later in the evening, because it’s Friday, I walk (4 mile round trip) through the dark to the pub with friends for local bitter

There’s no such thing as inappropriate clothing, only bad weather

When I first heard the (apparently Scandinavian) phrase ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing’ I immediately, gleefully and smugly adopted it as my new life mantra.

This winter, I’m not so sure. It doesn’t seem to matter how much Gore-tex I layer onto my body, the water is still finding a way in. Even in wellies. This does not make a December walking performance very comfortable. It slows me down – and not in a good slow-food-slow-activism way either. I’m not sure if drawing my own minute attention – through the immediate discomfort of soggy feet – to the changing patterns of weather and climate is particularly useful in an activism sense, but still…

I’m reminded of my conversation last week with Caplor farmer Gareth on his experiences of extreme weather events in Africa and Fownhope, and how his farming practices are, finally, changing:

Audio Track: AIADW Gareth on weather and climate change

 Caplor lake 2  Flooded footpath 2 Wellies 2  Wet footpath  Flooded ditch below Caplor Marcle Ridge path underwater Wet walk home from Alfords Mill I fell on my arse Be safe, be seen 2 Stanier gaiters for hobbits There's no such thing as bad weather: the arsenal Christmas (walking) stockings  Christmas stockings 2 Be safe, be seen Drying Inov8s

Feed the birds

I should be walking today. But it’s stormy and torrential and in my excitement about the apples yesterday (and the pint of extremely strong Tumpy Ground at lunchtime) I stupidly didn’t make bread, mumpets, stew or any particularly sustaining, portable food for today. And I let the wood burner go out. Epic fail.

Staying in and cooking, sound-editing, catching up on reading and writing seems like a good idea. I’ve also got another project. Seeing two birds fighting over a crumb outside my window recently (and empathising with their hunger) I’ve also been wanting to make a bird feeder for the Herefordshire bird seed mix I bought from Harvey Sayce at Yare Farm.

I found these instructions on the RSPB website a few days ago but saw that they required a plastic bottle. As I’ve got none in the house and I won’t be buying anything that’s not local (and, interestingly, all the local food packaging I’ve come across has been glass, paper or card), I thought I’d have to raid the farm recycling. But on yesterday’s walk to the Crown, I found a discarded Coke bottle on the Woolhope road = perfect eco-smugness factor: de-littering the countryside and feeding the birds at the same time.

Bird feeder 1 Bird feeder 2 Bird feeder 3

Christmas @ The Crown

Christmas at The Crown

It’s Christmas morning and I’m feeling very honoured to have been invited to join the Stanier family at The Crown Inn, Woolhope, where their traditional Christmas walk across the Marcle Ridge takes them for drinks and aperitifs. I walk over from the opposite direction, via Alfords Mill across flooded fields, which slows me down like a reverse (rural) travelator.

Walking to the Crown

There is a pint of their own (Once Upon a Tree) very fine Tumpy Ground waiting for me when I arrive, as well as bags-full of their own cold-stored eating apples and a bottle of perry. I could squeal with happiness. Their generosity is overwhelming and their interest in this project – the rules, the questions, what it’s revealing about the local food infrastructure (which their own amazing company is a vibrant and enlivening and positive part of) – is really rallying. Conversations range widely, but I mention my slowly emerging realisation that maybe I should eat meat. We talk a lot about their home-raised pigs, and the importance of knowing and honouring the animals we eat – not a piece of nameless, faceless protein packaged in plastic in a supermarket – even if that means that they ‘still deserve a name’.

I return home in the gloaming as the moon starts to appear

Moon appears at Alfords Mill

Wet footpath

in a considerably unstraighter line from the one I walked out with a rucksack full of precious, glorious apples, sit by the fire surrounded by them and eat five in quick succession. I am as happy as a (free-range) pig. A huge thank you Staniers!