All in a Day's Walk

A month-long slow food walking performance

Archive for eggs

Equine empathy

Merlin at Adam's Cot

Yesterday was a long and hot and hungry horse-relocating day. (I got so faint and stomach-crampy, that my partner fed me some non-local sourdough bread. Sorry, but it was necessary.) Now Merlin is calmly installed in his new home next to the growing vegetables (Martin the proprietor of Adam’s Cot is also a supplier of excellent local veg boxes).

Today is about beginning to cultivate Merlin’s own landscape empathy.

Back before I even contemplated or conceived of the idea for this performance, I’d long been interested in connecting my artistic and domestic practices, or my rituals of exercise (walking, running, riding) with more practical pursuits. (I waffled on about this way back in December in ‘Home is where the art is…’. But more and more I am discovering that this is becoming a preoccupation for many artists, interestingly most often those living and working rurally.)

At Caplor, one of my favourite short rides on Merlin was a jaunt (usually bareback) across the lanes and fields to buy honey. This route became known, famously, as the ‘Honey Run’. Here I already seem to have discovered a new equivalent: the walk up to Aston Crews to buy duck eggs. ‘Duck Run’ isn’t cutting it, but they have hens eggs too. So, with apologies to Aardman, it’s ‘Chicken Run’.

Merlin and combine

Duck eggs and sunset

Ash and Cai in the Warren Farm wheat

walk in the evening cool and the setting sun with the dogs to Aston Crews to get duck eggs, passing fields of wheat and maize and wild strawberries in the hedge. It’s all excitement here.

Warren Farm wheat Sunset over Warren Farm maize Maize at Warren Farm Duck eggs from Aston Crews

Crooked End

Crooked End, Ruardean Deer in the Forest

A walk south to Ruardean where I’ve been told about Crooked End Organics. I still have the dogs and no-one to puppy-sit for me, but I’m pretty desperate to get hold of something more sustaining than strawberries. I also have friends visiting tomorrow and would like to offer them some decent, local sustenance. My guests don’t have to adhere to my ‘regime’, as my visiting friend Rachel is already referring to it (as a down-to-earth daughter of a Lincolnshire farming family, this performance art is decidedly self-indulgent and not to be indulged), but it’s a matter of artistic pride for me to demonstrate that I can respond creatively to the score and serve up some delicious, local ingredients.

Cai is four-and-a-half months old and the counterintuitive rule of thumb for puppy-walking is five minutes for every month, up to, but not more than, twice a day. I self-justify wildly, take this with a pinch of (illegal, non-local) salt and estimate that Ruardean is a seven-ish mile round trip. (It’s more like ten I later discover, oops.) IF we take it slowly, IF it’s just a one-off, IF we have lots of breaks… will this be OK?

It takes us a good two and a half hours to get there: walking with puppies is excessively punctuated with sniffing, pooing, lead-clipping-on/offing, whereabouts-determining, recalling, treating, disciplining and, most challenging of all, stile-negotiating. It’s also about finding a common rhythm, especially when they’re both on the lead and we’re all effectively attached to each other. We’re all a little different and true to stereotype: bristlingly alert husky Ash is a no-nonsense worker who wants to stride ahead and get on with it; ganglingly elegant saluki Cai is a dreamer who wants to drift and loop between scents and sights. I’m inevitably somewhere (in location, physique and personality) in between. (For more on the rhythms and responsibility of dog walking – and its relationship to writing – it is well worth visiting Tony Williams’s excellent blog.)

Today Ash has been ceremonially fitted with her panniers so she can carry the dogs’ water and help me bring some produce back. It might be anthropomorphism, but she always seems pleased with this responsibility, strut-trotting more delightedly and purposefully than usual as soon as they’re on.

We walk up Lea Bailey, into the Forest, along the edge of Harechurch Wood and drop over and down into Ruardean. As I browse for home-grown vegetables (borlotti beans, chard, spinach, cucumber, mange tout and mixed salad complete with nasturtiums), local butter, eggs and yoghurt, Cai lies in the shade under the raspberry bush and Ash stands in the puddle under the water tap, howling plaintively.

On the way back, a few hundred yard from home, we pass the village allotments. I stop to ask someone if any of the allotmenteers sell their excess produce and she begins to tell me about their first six months on the site. They’ve just picked the first broad beans of the year and very kindly give me a handful to take home for my supper recommending the young pods to be cooked whole and eaten with butter. Delicious…

On the way to Crooked End Crooked End 4 Crooked End 3 Hounds at Crooked End 1 Hounds at Crooked End 2 Crooked End 2 Crooked End 5 Be a responsible dog owner Lea Bailey honey Broad beans for supper

Storm in an egg cup

Storm kettle eggs

Hungry, I visit the village shop for an urgent breakfast. I can buy local eggs (Ross), onion, carrots, beetroot (Over/Gloucester) strawberries and raspberries (Newent and Weston-under-Penyard). Phew. I still want to aim to buy direct from the growers themselves, however. And I still have to walk to wherever the produce came from, so I already have a developing list of places to visit. I just need enough energy to make the journey. And, importantly, to talk to people. (In the winter, my hunger was isolating: sometimes I felt too locked in with it to initiate much conversation with strangers.)

Frustrated, I boil the eggs on my storm kettle. We have never got on, me and this kettle. It boils water OK, but I can’t seem to feed it enough to cook on (The YouTube videos of people calmly making ‘proper’ dishes totally baffle me). I miss my trusty woodburner. We could do anything, me and that Clear View.

Hot, I walk the dogs through the wheat to the cool of Lea Line woods and back through whispering barley (I try to stop Cai jumping in and out of the crop: I’m suddenly painfully aware of waste and damage. That wheat could be my supper…) and the village allotments (no-one around this evening). I pick elderflowers on the way back, and combine it with mint from the garden to make tea.

Puppy-minding, I will be limited in the distance I can walk for food over the next week because my partner has had to go away and the dogs can’t be left alone too long in the cottage either. Cai’s puppyish personal horizon had become mine: my own edges defined by his (or the ones we have to impose to care for developing joints: otherwise he would bound for miles even at four months old.)

Elderflower and mint tea Storm kettle 1 Dogs in the wheat

Empathy and wild strawberries

Wild strawberries Cai licking his chops Cai unimpressed

Mads, a good friend and wonderful walking artist I know, recently introduced me to his concept of  landscape  e m p a t h y:  the sensitive, receptive, mutually-supportive relationship we can allow ourselves to cultivate with place as well as people. I love this: it resonates perfectly for me as a much-needed explanation of the way in which the landscapes to which I’ve developed a commitment make a tangible tug on my heart strings, as if I’ve woven myself into them, viscerally. When I first left Aberystwyth for Herefordshire 10 years ago last spring, I felt like I was being unfaithful to Wales by developing a new relationship or love for the (as I saw it then) much tamer and more inhabited landscapes of this ancient border county. I’m ashamed to say I even scoffed at the statistic (true) that Herefordshire is the most rural county in England. To me rurality was directly equivalent to emptiness.

My first job here was a two and a half year stint as a project officer on the Herefordshire Rivers Lifescapes project, attempting to connect wildlife habitat mapping at a landscape scale, with community aspirations for the biodiversity enhancements they wanted to see locally, with the ultimate intention to facilitate community-led landscape-scale conservation. (It was very new, sexy and ambitious and only partially successful: it inevitably needed much more time.) After a full time dance-training hiatus, this was followed by a six year sojourn in local government as a landscape officer, with a colleague both passionate and knowledgeable about these intricate landscapes: ancient and planned, wild and cultivated. Her enthusiasm was infectious and slowly wore away at my deeply ingrained landscape snobbery (and ignorance) as did running, walking, riding and cycling across the county. One day, I was travelling back from a (landscape) conference and seeing the road sign for Hereford, felt a strange pang of both yearning and relief. Then, I knew: this county had surreptitiously made itself my home. Now, I know: (in my appropriation or interpretation of Mads’s term) I have landscape empathy with Herefordshire.

Key to this was my particular relationship with the eccentric, remarkable place that is Caplor Farm in Fownhope (South Herefordshire) where I have lived with my horse Merlin for nearly nine years. It’s a surreal community of people, horses and creatures, randomly juxtaposed in a range of dwellings (yurts, trucks, flats, caravans) to form a bizarre post-modern collage of humanimals. While it had been my intention to leave this year, to move back to Wales and reconnect my empathy strings for those landscapes, I had not expected that the first performance of All in a Day’s Walk would deepen my relationship – my empathy – with this place and reveal to me, as if in neon (or something more ecological perhaps), a vibrant, vital web of passionate and inspiring people I wanted to know better. I also had not expected to fall in love with one of them, nine miles down the road.

So I did leave. Just nine miles down the road, where I find myself now.

I’m a bit in limbo: after three weeks away being an aerial dancing ladybird in north Herefordshire, I’m only just landing. I arrive with a bag of sweaty dance clothes and even sweatier PhD reading, and most of my stuff is still at Caplor awaiting the end of this performance in a month’s time when my yurt will go up in the garden here. Merlin is going to join me next week. I know almost nothing about this area (Lea, Ross-on-Wye). But this time, I do have someone else’s ready-made landscape empathy to rely on.

So, my first walk of the project is with The Pack – my partner and our dogs – up the lane, past Rock Farm (potatoes and raspberries, when they’re ready) to Adam’s Cot (organic or local veg boxes) to arrange livery for Merlin. There, Martin tells me that due to the unseasonal spring, the veg is almost three weeks behind this year and they won’t have anything for me ’til the end of the month. Gulp. But horse livery sorted, we walk on past raspberry polytunnels (won’t fruit ’til next year), down Green Lane to Warren Farm (wheat and potatoes: not ready yet). With Cai, I walk on alone to Aston Crews in search of duck eggs. So far I’ve only drunk some Dragon Orchards apple juice (a gift for a talk at the Ledbury Food Group Ox Roast event) and eaten a head of elderflower (‘are you sure it’s not cow parsley?’ my partner, remembering a blog about a foraging malapropism on Ten Mile Menu that’s been a great source of amusement recently). We find some tiny wild strawberries in the hedge and I graze. Cai is curious but, as a  hunter is largely unimpressed by my gathering. No duck or hens eggs left at Aston Crews. I’m hungry. And a bit scared.

So here I am walk-fasting again…

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