All in a Day's Walk

A month-long slow food walking performance

Archive for January, 2013

Epiphany

I arrived… “to walk there is to earn it, through laboriousness and through the transformation that comes during a journey” (Rebecca Solnit 2001, p. 51)

 

 

Wassail! Drink Hail!

Landlord Matt in costume outside the Crown

It’s my penultimate day and the sun is shining, weakly. I’ve got what feels like a long walk ahead of me as I set off – possibly more perceptually than literally because I’m walking to Ledbury and back over the lip of the Marcle Ridge (which organic dairy farmer, local historian and general polymath Will Edwards told me they believe may have originally formed the England-Wales border, an older and much more easterly Offa’s Dyke than the one we think of now and which would have put at least half of what is now Herefordshire into Wales). The wooded ridge pouts broodingly on the farm’s eastern horizon and makes whatever lies beyond seem laboursome to reach.

I set off purposefully, scuttling across to Sollers Hope Church and up the road past Whittlebury Farm, a neat inversion of my first day’s walk. On the long diagonal slide of road that strokes the flank of the ridge I’m almost surprised to pass a solitary walker (I’ve not had many walking encounters this month). And then I’m dropping down over the other side and the flat expanse of fields opens out between me and the spire and sprawl of Ledbury. This is comparatively uninhabited country for Herefordshire – looking at the map as well as the landscape in front of me I’m struck by its blankness: the absence of roads, dwellings and farms in this stretch of countryside. The sleeping blue dragon of the Malvern Hills form my easterly horizon now, towards which I’m directly headed. It’s a strange flat trek across endless arable fields. Absentminded or brain-numbed, I lose the footpath and accidentally trespass past the dramatic silhouette of oasthouses in a farmyard – the owner reminds me – I shouldn’t be crossing. Then roads and more clay-heavy arable field crossings until I reach the industrial outskirts of Ledbury.

My destination is the Three Counties Cider Shop (not far from the iconic black-and-white market house) the town outlet for Once Upon a Tree cider, but which is also passionate about supporting other small, local cider producers from these adjacent counties (Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire). I’m greeted by the enthusiastic Sam Pardoe who explains the shop’s ethos, recommends and allows me to sample some of the excellent produce (including the cider on tap with which they will fill any receptacle; decadently I give him one of my empty Sigg water bottles for some Gwatkins Stoke Red to fuel the walk back) and then engages in lively conversation ranging from growing up locally on, as it happens, the UK’s then largest organic farm, to ethical meat production, to bartering and skills exchange as the way forward for local sustainable living.

Audio Track: Sam at Three Counties Cider Shop – perry-making and ice-wine dessert cider tasting

Audio Track: Sam at Three Counties Cider Shop – on supporting local artisan producers

Audio Track: Sam at Three Counties Cider Shop – on growing up on a fruit farm, bartering and meat

It’s nearly 3 pm by the time we’ve finished talking, and I’ve a long walk back over the ridge to Woolhope where I’m bound to the wassail at The Crown for 6 pm. I’ve arranged to meet my friends and don’t want to be late. Carrying rather a lot of cider and perry in my rucksack, I flounder back through the clay again, enjoying – as symbolic of this whole month’s Tolkeinesque ‘there and back again’ walking mission – the refinding of my footprints from the outward journey. This – Ledbury/Aylton/Kynaston – is orchard country and I also enjoy the neatness of this day, seeing the sunset through the apple trees while carrying cider to a wassail (for those not in the Herefordshire know, a pagan ritual of the cider-growing counties that traditionally takes place on or around Twelfth Night (whether that be 5th, 6th or 17th Jan) to drink, sing and dance the health of the apple trees). After nearly 3 hours of walking through the gloaming into darkness I arrive with 15 minutes to spare, to find Matt, the The Crown landlord tending the braziers in the car park and blacking his face with a cork (wassailers traditionally had a cork-blacked face so that they could not be recognised as ‘beggars’) ready for, what he explains articulately, is going to be a ‘very rustic, DIY wassail’:

Audio Track: Woolhope Wassail

It is indeed: hearty, life-affirming, community-building and magical; a wonderful celebration of what is good about local community and local food production.

We return to the pub – where they have a cider menu of over 30 local varieties here as well as local meats from adjacent farms – for more local food conversation and rambling chat:

Audio Track: Local Food at The Crown 

And then my friend Lucia and daughter Esme kindly take my cider-heavy rucksack (which they will deliver back to my doorstep on their way home to Hereford) clip my bike light to my hood and set me off walking, not entirely in a straight line (‘tacking’ as Matt would have it), through the orchards and across the fields for home, the stiles miraculously hoving into view in my headtorchlight as I now know the paths like the back of my hand).

From farm to orchard to town to wassail to pub to farm: all in a day’s walk… I am euphoric.

Whittlebury Farm Hall Court, Kynaston for free range eggs Cross country to Ledbury Lillands oast houses Free range children Ledbury Market Three Counties Cider Shop There and back again...2 Sunset over Lillands Lillands orchard Aylton Hamster baskets Turnip Lights of Ledbury from Marcle Ridge Woolhope The Crown Inn Crown landlord Matt prepares for Wassail Brazier at The Crown Crown's own very local perry Very local drinks 2
Matt in costume again..  Milling at The Crown Milling at The Crown 2 Fire at The Crown Esme with wassail torch  Wassail torches Lucia with wassail torch
Tracktivist sound recording One of the twelve fires (in a cardboard box) Wassail fires Apple tree apple tree we are here to wassail thee   Wassailers approach the tree Around the tree 1  Wassailed tree with toast in its branches, cider on its roots  Lucia and Esme in torchlight

Gwatkin's Yarlington Mill  Preparing for the last walk home Home by headtorchlight, navigating by luck

Hearth is where the home is…

Knacker's Hole Grove Bonfire at the Falcon

A walk from Lea to Ross-on-Wye and back to Caplor via Deep Dean woods at Howle Hill, to interview woodsman Dan. I get lost on the way there and run through deep leaf litter along mediaeval holloways in a floundering panic to be on time to meet him. We sit on a flatbed trailer in the chestnut coppice for me to catch my breath a while as Dan talk about the wood and its history…

Audio Track Dan at Deep Dean – on coppicing & woodland management

before walking on through the plantation so he can show me how it is managed in practice.

Audio Track: Dan at Deep Dean – a walk in the wood

Audio Track: Dan at Deep Dean – on old logging methods

Audio Track: Dan at Deep Dean – on monoculture

Dan is quietly and humblingly articulate about the importance – and skill – of using wood to heat water and home, cultivating an understanding of natural processes and slower rhythms that connects us not only with the natural world but also with history: fire as a thread that burns through our evolution and culture.

Audio Track: Dan at Deep Dean – best wood for burning

Audio Track: Dan at Deep Dean – on local wood for local people

Audio Track: Dan at Deep Dean – on the ritual of fire

He is also very much a rural worker, aware of the pleasures and pressures of local living in a rural county, including the role of walking as a necessary mode of transport, and the historical role of work – in the woods, on the fields – as the original form of ‘exercise’ which, in an office-driven culture, we have lost and now seek out elsewhere (including through recreational walking!):

Audio Track: Dan at Deep Dean – on walking

I walk back through market town Ross-on-Wye, which feels like a metropolis after the last few weeks. It’s two days ’til the end of the project, so in readiness I buy medjool dates (California – ouch) and porridge oats (Shropshire) from organic wholefood shop Field Fayre. I am amazed by my restraint that I don’t eat them on the way home (or, writing this retrospectively, until the end of the project).

The sun is setting as I follow the Wye back. And, as I pass the Falcon a couple of miles from Caplor, there’s a wood fire burning outside; dancing fire demons to welcome me home and then, in the glow of my headtorch, the white face of a Herefordshire bull.

Hen at Cobrey Phantom train sign, Ross-on-Wye Orographic (?) clouds on the Black Mountains from the A449 Brampton Abbotts Another flood Oak near Hole-in-the-Wall Sunset above Hole-in-the-Wall Wye below Lyndor Wood River Wye below Lyndor Wood 2 Windmill at Ingestone Sunset over River Wye at Ingestone Sunset over River Wye at Ingestone 2 Pilgrims Way, How Caple Oilseed rape (?) at How Caple Sunset at How Caple  Bull looms out of the dark at Capler Camp

Late Calennig in Lea

Pigs at Crossington Mill

A walk to Lea in the sunset, to discuss yurt-making, shelter and expanding photons. I pass noisy pigs at Crossington Farm.
I carry a sourdough heart and mumpets as a (late) calennig gift and recite this poem in time with my footsteps as I walk and on the doorstep when I arrive:

Dydd calan yw hi heddiw,
Rwy’n dyfod ar eich traws
I ofyn am y geiniog,
Neu grwst, a bara a chaws.
O dewch i’r drws yn siriol
Heb nesid dim o’ch gwedd;
Cyn daw dydd calan eto
Bydd llawer yn y bedd.

We visit the local shop to find supper. Shopkeeper Fran tells us that most of the extensively farmed local potatoes go up north (Herefordshire) to make Tyrrells crisps. My host kindly makes me a local supper: onion and potato frittata with Ross-on-Wye eggs. We sit in the local pub while it cooks and drink (semi-legal) cider: it’s locally made (Westons) and with Herefordshire apples, but not necessarily walkable-to local ones. Sigh.

I like it here though: good local shop with good local produce…

Caple Forge sausages Chapel in the farmyard at Chapel Farm   Sunset in Yatton Wood Sunset over Penyard Hill Potatoes at Coldborough Park 2 Potatoes at Coldborough Park 1 Staddle stone in sunset  M50 in the gloaming May Hill from Crow Hill

Organic Wednesday

Holloway at Hoarwithy Dropped chard

A walk to the organic veg farm at Aconbury, then back (or so I intended) via Henclose organics (goats milk) and Carey Organic farm shop. Both veg producers – who supply the Fownhope farm shop too – have been mainstays during the past month. And I’ve heard that the Henclose unpasteurised goats milk is superb.

It’s very overcast, and the walk along the road to Hoarwithy slow and tedious, enclosed between high hedges. Crossing the Wye at Hoarwithy, I pass behind the church and pick up the Herefordshire Trail – one of the most newly instituted trails that allows walkers to circambulate the county, taking in all the major market towns and crossing some of the interesting landscape features on the way. (Walking has become an important income stream for the county since the farming community and economy was decimated following the foot and mouth disease crisis in 2001.)

It’s not raining, and I’ve been grateful that for a change, I’ve not got wet feet. Until following a footpath that passes straight through a farmyard I sink up to my knees in mud and slurry. Oh well…

On the way to Aconbury I stumble on a fantastic den of sticks in the woods. Then the faintest glimmer of blue appears in the sky (As always the bizarre line comes into my head: ‘Is it enough to make a sailor a pair of trousers?’, half-remembered from a Victoria Wood sketch that has stuck with me since childhood).

When I eventually arrive at the farm, it’s lunchtime and when I knock tentatively on the door, the family – at least two generations, by the look of it – are about to sit down to some food. So I don’t want to intrude or ask for an audio recording… I explain what I’m doing, ask them if I can buy some veg from curious ‘shop’ housed in what can only be described as a dark green plastic container (yes, leave money in the honesty box), then exchange a couple of pleasantries about the weather. One thing the farmer does say is that it’s been a challenge to grow broccoli in these increasingly wet winters – ‘it doesn’t like getting its feet wet’ he says. As I stand there with slurry still oozing inside my trainers I think ‘Yes. Quite.’

It’s a long way back down through Much Dewchurch. I pass Henclose organics (no one in – apart from the goats rustling in the straw of their shed) and head across country down towards the Cottage of Content (a pub, sadly, not a gingerbread house.) As I pass a small house, I bump into its two residents. I think these are literally the first people I’ve randomly bumped into outside for almost the entire month. In surprise, I ask them if they’ll consent to me audio-recording our conversation which ranges from donkeys and bananas to local food in London.

Audio Track: Lower Knapp Green 2 (Denuded rural infrastructure & post-war farming)

Audio Track: Lower Knapp Green 1 (London, local food, donkeys & bananas)

Finally, I head towards Carey and get there as the light is falling. I’ve missed the shop, also closed (arghh). But I can hear a tractor working up in the fields so I head up the lane a little way. I pass a field of young Swiss chard, but no longer hear or see the source of the tractor noise. I look wistfully at it (the chard), realising I hadn’t eaten green leaf vegetables for some time and feeling an intense pang of hunger for chlorophyll tang of leaf. It didn’t even occur to me to pick some. Then as I turned to leave the field, I saw one uprooted chard plant lying muddy on the rutted tracks – fallen off the trailer or pulled up by an animal, I wasn’t sure. But it was going to waste. I picked it up and took it back with me, triumphant at my ‘roadkill’. [Curiously, just days later I discover that the Institute of Mechanical Engineers has published a landmark report Global Food: Waste Not Want Not – which opens with the shocking statement that ‘it is estimated that 30–50% (OR 1.2–2 BILLION TONNES) OF ALL FOOD PRODUCED ON THE PLANET IS LOST BEFORE REACHING A HUMAN STOMACH.’ I read this and remember that chard plant which has, ever since, become indelibly marked in my mind’s eye as a sad signifier for waste]

And then just a long walk back in the dark along the Hoarwithy road in headtorchlight, and my red bike light clipped onto the back of my hood.

 

Perygl Tân - Athelstan's Wood Athelstan's Wood 2 Athelstan's Wood Fungi in Athelstan's Wood Den in the Athelstan's Wood Inside the den Merrivale Farm Organic Dairy Merrivale Farm Merrivale Farm Barn Merrivale Farm Shop Merrivale Farm Shop 2 Merrivale Farm Shop 3 Merrivale Farm Shop 4 Water at Merrivale Farm The Plough Inn, Little Dewchurch Crop field at Little Dewchurch Henclose Organics, Little Dewchurch May Hill from Much Dewchurch Carey Cottage of Content Carey Organic, Whitethorn Farm Chard in sunset, Carey Organic Chard in sunset, Carey Organic

 

Hooves and health

Merlin's Legs

Merlin’s equine podiatrist comes to trim his hooves. He’s been barefoot – i.e. unshod – since April 2004 when I first became involved more intensely with the discipline of natural horsemanship and began to train as an equine podiatrist myself. This before dance training made me too precious about my body to want to consider standing underneath big horses all day, as they thrashed their legs around and I vainly attempted to hold onto the ends of them whilst wielding various sharp instruments (knife, rasp etc.)… But I remain a passionate advocate of ‘whole horse hoof care’, a relatively new (certainly, in the last decade or so) way of thinking about horses’ hooves as part of the whole beast and a key physiological marker of the health and well-being – nutritional/metabolic, cardio-vascular/musculo-skeletal fitness, even psychological – of the whole animal.

This may seem blindingly obvious, but traditionally, as British horse-owners, we have practiced a heartily devolved responsibility when it comes to our horses’ feet, entrusting their care – these distal points of their four precious limbs – almost exclusively to the farrier. (Not, as it happens, unlike our disconnected relationship to our food which is produced ‘somewhere else’ by ‘someone else’ and purchased from the supermarket, neatly packaged (in a protected atmosphere) in sterile plastic.)

‘No foot, no ‘oss’ the famous saying goes. And yet, few of us questioned if a man (for their invariably are) visiting every 6 weeks and nailing rigid metal to this (actually surprisingly mobile) proteinaceous tissue was perhaps the healthiest thing for the natural function of the foot. (Or even the less natural uses we might put it to – in that riding a horse is already inherently unnatural.) Suffice to say, it is now increasingly recognised that it is not. Though it is not as simple as simply removing the shoes. Barefoot horse husbandry – for high-functioning working/sport horses at least – requires a commited attention to the environment in which the horse lives, its nutrition and the ‘conditioning’ that one is prepared to do. In other words, if you want to drag your horse out of a muddy field once a week and go on a ten mile ride on the road or a cross-country competition, then you should probably stick to metal shoes. (Or get a quad bike. Or reconsider whether you have a respectful and meaningful relationship with that animal at all…)

My journey through the landscape of having a shoeless horse has necessitated and given rise to some big leaps of faith and understanding, not least that Merlin’s metabolic health – as evidenced by and echoed in his hooves – is in delicate balance, that it fluctuates seasonally, that British lowland pasture (largely now now rye-grass monoculture to maximise dairy production – and Caplor is a former dairy farm) is too rich in summer sugars for horses, whose digestive systems are still in time-lag, adapted to the dry grasses of the vast, arid plains where they evolved (and where their hooves were healthiest), and that hoof-infesting yeasts thrive in the warm, wet mud of climate-changed British winters.

If we listened to our own bodies as intently as I ‘listen’ to Merlin’s hooves, we might have a better understanding of our own nutritional – and seasonal – needs. And if we took greater responsibility for those needs – not handing them over to the supermarket ‘farrier’ – we might have a better sense of the whole systems in which we live, eat, breathe, participate.

Amazing, really, how I can now manage to bring every conversation, blog post or social encounter round to climate change, food and our relationship to it…

(And Debbie, Merlin’s trimmer, brings me some vegan Christmas cake too. Only 6 more days before I can eat it…)

Vegan Christmas cake