All in a Day's Walk

A month-long slow food walking performance

Archive for home miles

What I think about when I walk about talking

Capler Camp trigpoint

A walk back from Caplor to Lea. It’s a rite of passage: having lived at Caplor for a decade but moving to Lea, I’m leaving home and walking home at the same time. It’s a walk I first did back in early January, and repeated a week or so later in thick snow. Now I’m carrying strawberries and wearing shorts and sunglasses.

I’m carrying the strawberries (from Holme Lacy, purchased at the Caplor Farm Shop) because I can’t fit the punnet in my rucksack. It’s annoying, carrying them in my hand, so I’m attempting to eat them, but I don’t feel that hungry. What a conundrum: to carry in my hand or my stomach? It reminds me of something our fitness trainer once told us in dance training, that our stomachs are as big as our two hands cupped together, and that this is the amount we should eat in any one meal. Suddenly that makes even more sense: surely as naked, unpocketed, unrucksacked hunter-gatherers, we would only have been able to eat as much as we could carry in our cupped hands?

Yesterday, I bumped into friends in the Rocket Cafe in Hereford. I explain the project to them and they ask ‘what do you think about then, when you’re walking?’. They want to know if I remain constantly conscious about what I’m doing – the wider, activist ethos of the performance – or if my mind wanders onto other things. It makes me smile because only yesterday morning I was furiously composing an email rant in my head.

The relationship between walking and thinking, walking and writing, running and thinking has been so often discussed – and far more articulately and sophisticatedly than I can hope to – that I’ll leave it to the experts. But, while in my own practice I like to think I’d be able to keep the intention of the walk and the overarching performance running through my head, inevitably the rest of life intrudes. (To empty my head, I speak phenomenally long to-do lists into my phone and that seems to help.) That said, I’m so often passing through fields of food crops, there are constant visual, aural (rustling wheat and barley, tractors droning in the distance, cows snuffing and huffing as I pass), tactile (maize leaves whipping my face) reminders of what I’m doing which serve to tether my attention to food and farming.

Poppies in the oilseed rape Raspberries at the Falcon 1 Raspberry scrumping Leaf A trout? Caple Forge Cobrey land as far as How Caple Purple crop? Clouds over Lea Harvested and ploughed since I passed yesterday

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…

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.

I do not know how to make moisturiser from a nettle…

Being hyper-aware of where my food (and energy) is coming from, I’m suddenly hyper-aware of the ‘away-from-here’ ness of all the things I use and need: the ‘consumables’ that I consider essential (to varying degrees) or at least have become accustomed to being able to use whenever I choose. I make a substantial list even from the first things I’ve used within an hour of waking that day:

Toilet paper (recycled, natch)
Toothpaste (Kingfisher, of course)
Toothbrush (Monte Bianco, saving the planet one toothbrush stalk at a time)
Shower soap (Weleda)
Deodorant (Weleda)
Toilet cleaner (Bio-D)
Surface cleaner (Earth Friendly Products)
Sponge (alas, from evil supermarket)
Board chalk (village shop)
Moisturiser (Burts Bees)
Matches
Baking parchment (If You Care, FSC-certified – REALLY)

It’s worrying that, even through the frisson of eco-smugness that could be attached to the ‘ethical consumer’ brand names (=fewer chemicals, minimalist packaging, biodegradable, hand-made by free-range unicorns on a guaranteed minimum wage etc.), there is still so much  s t u f f  here…

Are you local?

And then there are all the containers – glass, plastic, film, cardboard – they are squashed, poured or rolled into and around. In all their colourful (yet also, of course, tastefully restrained) plumage, they form a textured map of the complexity of our dependence on  t h i n g s: products that I – for all my supposed knowledge about ‘eco-living’ – would have little idea how to make myself or replicate the effects of using only locally available herbs or chemicals. (A sudden pang of eco-inadequacy: I do not know how to make moisturiser from a nettle.) And our dependence on oil to package, transport and store them.

Through my focus on local food and my physical, pedestrian relationship to fetching it, I am suddenly acutely aware of all that is coming in to my home and all that is going out and the physical journey it made to reach here. And thinking like this, even my own home – a static caravan at present – feels suddenly alien, other, with no relationship to me, my making or the materials available in the local environment. It’s as if we’re all caddis flies from a littered river, surrounded by a constructed carapace of compulsively-collected detritus that is not of our making… I mourn suddenly my recently-taken-down-for-repair yurt – with its wooden frame (trellis walls (khana) and roof poles) made from a Herefordshire oak felled by the maker himself. I had never before considered the ‘home miles’ of the shelters we choose to live in.

Yurt Frame

Impractical as it would be (for me and the rest of humanity) I can suddenly understand the urge to live in a bender in the hills…