All in a Day's Walk

A month-long slow food walking performance

Archive for vegetarianism

Vegan roadkill

Vegan roadkill at White House Farm

A walk through Dymock to Brooms Green, home of Charles Martell cheeses. I’ve been intrigued by this cheese-makers-cum-distillery ever since I’d heard my friend Hugh (himself of the inspiring artisan cider-producing Dragon Orchard) waxing lyrical about them back in December. I wasn’t eating cheese or dairy then of course due to a suspected allergy, but this time around and in the absence of allergy, their delicious nettle-wrapped May Hill Green has been very sustaining on long walks. I set off late today with a belly full of it. I haven’t called ahead to arrange a meeting, optimistically hoping to bump into someone when I arrive. Or simply for the walk to guide me into an encounter with someone else.

I don’t and it doesn’t. In fact, I barely see anyone closer than waving distance: two farmers mending a trailer and a lone dog walker. So much for talking activism today.

I pass through a sinister concrete bridge under the M50 that looks like it should house a 1960s concrete troll and join up with the Daffodil Way, round the edge of Dymock Forest. I pass an equally sinister looking mansion which instantly makes me think, with a goosebump frisson, of  Sarah Waters’s The Little Stranger. For miles it seems to be watching me with coolly blank eyes, and I wonder why we anthropomorphise houses when really, they are just hemmings-in of space for us to shelter in.

In Dymock I find myself following the Poets’ Paths to Brooms Green. It’s not intentional. In fact, there’s something vaguely embarrassing about it. Perhaps this is because I’m always achingly conscious that walking seems to have a tendency to turn everyone into a navel-gazing poet or philosopher of varying degrees of awfulness, something I’ve been anxious to avoid through informing my walking practice with my environmentalism and other political concerns, of varying degrees of gentleness. By this, I mean that I’m permanently hyperconscious that, for all that I was at pains to put activism in tracktivism, I know there’s still nothing overtly, tub-thumpingly political about it. And inevitably, in the luxurious engagement with natural world that rural walking offers, the political is not present for me in every step. I am not a pilgrim. I can allow my mind and senses to wander.

What I remain conscious of, however, is that this is no rural idyll. These farmed landscapes are constantly changing and responding to the challenges of economy and climate. Less obvious, dramatic and dizzying than the melting ice-sheets to be sure, but still more fragile than we think. As our oil dependency continues and rural infrastructure falters, maybe we should all be walking these paths and writing bad poetry while we still have the chance? In less time than has passed since Edward Thomas, Robert Frost et al. were walking here, who knows what these landscapes will look like as a consequence not only of changing weather patterns and climate but also resource depletion and population explosion.

On the way home, I’m really hungry. I only brought a small sorrel and beetroot salad with me (no cheese or oatcakes), it’s 7 pm and I’ve walked about 17 miles, 5 more to go. Then I see on the side of the road a whole broad bean plant that’s been pulled up and dropped (by a creature? off a trailer? I’m not sure). Some of the pods are broken, but some are intact and I liberate the beans. Vegan roadkill, I think. At a green activists’ event earlier in the year, I’d been speaking on a forum about local food, revealing my epiphany that I’d suppressed my ethical concerns over killing animals to eat in favour my environmentalist understanding that pasture-fed (and finished) meat was a more carbon-neutral form of local protein (and very likely also a healthier one, than grain-fed meats). A vegan member of the audience had disagreed: with enough planning, she said, we were more than capable of growing enough beans to make enough protein to feed ourselves locally and ethically. The beans dont give me much oomph, but in my ongoing unease with eating meat and dairy, I wonder if she’s right.

My how you've grown, maize Maize at Warren Farm Dexter cow Ford at Brockmoor Farm Ford at Brockmoor Lane Hay Wood Stop the cull M50 footpath tunnel Lake at Timber Hall Farm Boyce Court Slow sign, Dymock Slow signs, Dymock Dymock Poets Path II Dead rat Dymock poets path again Charles Martell cheese Pears at Hunt Court Lintridge Green Put the money in the pipe Morris Men Beauchamp Arms, Dymock Lake at Boyce Court

Dams and damsels

I seem to be annoyingly addicted to alliterative blog titles, but I’m just going with it for now.

A walk to Ross-on-Wye and back with my friend Jessie, who is fasting for Dharma Day. It’s the first time I’ve walked with someone else this time around and the baking heat is a total contrast to the freezing hoar frost of my walk with Alison to Much Marcle in December. It’s also humbling to walk with someone who is intentionally and ungrumblingly fasting for spiritual commitment, rather than unintentionally, haphazardly and whingeingly for eco-activist performance.

Last night we sat around the fire in the gloaming and cooked Hope’s Ash and Crooked End beef steaks, picked and ate salad and herbs from the spiral, and, in the cauldron, boiled new potatoes from the field next door. Our own lettuce is growing faster than we can keep up; peas, beans and beetroot are nearly ready.

Today, on our way to Ross we pass through Hope’s Ash Farm again and bump into Robert on the yard. He beckons us over, stops the tractor and opens the door. There’s a slightly pregnant pause and I’m starting to worry that I’ve done something wrong when he says ‘I read your blog last night and it was the first blog I’ve ever read’. He seems to approve of it, and it’s given him some food for discussion (on veganism, dairy and meat) with an A-level student who is currently with them on work experience, heading for veterinary training. He asks me if I’ll have a chat with her about veganism which, he says unlike vegetarianism ‘which is easy’, he believes ‘really is hard’. So I do – ironically, standing with her in the pens of the day old dairy calves necessarily removed from their mothers so that we can drink milk, ‘the guilty secret of the dairy industry’ rearing its beautiful bovine head again.

Jessie and I walk on, talking about Buddhism, vows, our reluctant flexitarian meat-eating and its contradictions. We sprint, squealing, along the edge of a potato field, only just timing it right that we avoid a drenching by the rotating irrigator. Then we drop down and past the massive, industrial-scale Cobrey Farm: acres of fruit and pickers’ static caravans. We pass what I assume (from their accents and dress and our exchange of smiling, gesticulating nods) two European farm workers, also walking into Ross and playing music on their phone speakers as they do. It prompts us (Jessie and me) to discuss how more and more often (as Rebecca Solnit writes) we (culturally not personally!) think of walking as waste of time, a dead space to be filled with music on iPods or mobile phone conversations, neglecting the sensual pleasure that walking has to offer, not least as a mode of engagement with environment and self. We also talk about mobile phones, EMFs and the subtle body: are we living in a massive, global experiment that is scrambling our selves and our eco-systems, our bees and our pollinators and so ultimately our agriculture?

Dropping down into Ross and I make a beeline for Field Fayre, my local, organic, wholefood shop and recent joint runner-up (with Waitrose no less) as ‘organic retailer of the year’. I explain to proprietor David that this is the summer repeat of my winter performance (during which I’d first called in at the shop) and he talks me through the baskets and baskets of local produce. Because the shop is registered with the Soil Association, their remit is to sell certified organic produce, which means using European stock at certain times of year. But now, he says, it’s like ‘a dam bursting’: suddenly all the local producers have got everything:

We call in at delicatessen Truffles too on our way home – I want to thank them for their earlier generosity. They’re actually closed, but Richard opens the door in response to our persistent knocking and talks us through the huge range of Herefordshire produce they stock.

We walk back through Kingstone and stumble upon (if that’s possible), Bollitree Castle. We’re a bit disappointed that it appears to be a façade, but nevertheless I take photos of Jessie – with her spectacular Rapunzel-like mediaeval damsel hair – knocking on the door. When we get home, my partner tells us it’s the country home of Top Gear’s Richard Hammond. Surprisingly (for an eco-aware Buddhist) Jessie is a big fan. Later, I email her the pictures, laughing stupidly at my own subject line: ‘knock, knock, knocking on Hammond’s door?’

Jessie at Cobrey - what is the crop? Field Fayre Carey cherries Local bread board Organic veg Truffles Bollitree Castle 1 Bollitree Castle 2 Bollitree Castle 3 Bollitree Castle 4 Bollitree Castle 5

Guilt and food miles

Walking through wheat

Guilt seems to be such a fundamental part of being human, that we are constantly needing to categorise it: Catholic guilt, Jewish guilt, Non-conformist guilt (my mother’s), survivors’ guilt, climate guilt and now, for me, (lapsed) vegetarian guilt. I experience plenty of the latter today.

As a former vegan (yes, I’ve worn that badge at the same time as self-reflexively laughing at the brilliant joke: ‘How do you know if someone’s a vegan?’ ‘Don’t worry: they’ll tell you’), I’m aware that lacto-vegetarianism is itself a half-way house in the compassionate farming stakes: even a very conscious and conscientious organic dairy farmer I know has admitted to me that the necessary removal of young calves from their mothers so we can drink the milk that is meant for them is ‘the guilty secret of the dairy industry’. So, I was already battling with some uncomfortable truths in being vegetarian. When I was diagnosed with a serious and potentially debilitating auto-immune arthritic condition 6 years ago and  told it was highly recommended I eat fish, I did so, and felt both better and deeply hypocritical. When I completed the last performance of All in a Day’s Walk and heard about the carbon sequestration benefits of local, pasture-fed meat and how this offset methane emissions and provided a source of (local) protein that was not reliant on soya flown in from the other side of the world (and was an important part of maintaining diverse mixed pastoral/arable landscapes), I was forced to weigh up my environmentalism against my vegetarianism. The former won (it had always confused me that even some of the most ardent and eminent environmentalists I know are meat eaters) and I became a slightly reluctant flexitarian. (That is, occasionally eating only local, ethical, usually organic, free-range, pasture-fed meat.) I have also since read Jonathan Safran Foer’s pro-vegetarian treatise Eating Animals – perhaps a strangely counter-intuitive, retrograde choice of book after 22 years of vegetarianism – and, more recently Jay Rayner’s article about a a day in the slaughterhouse. So I remain deeply, deeply uncomfortable by the thought of being part of the meat industry and the killing chain, even in the most (oxymoronically?) ‘humane’ of abattoirs.

However, I am also hungry and in search of local food.

Today my partner’s son is dog-sitting for me, so I plan to do a decent walk to the nearest market town Ross-on-Wye as a reasonable starting point to encounter local growers and sellers. I am following the first part of a route I last walked during the winter performance to interview woodsman Dan at Deep Dean woods (the source of my winter fuel), now crunching and sliding through drying hay (as slippery as winter mud, I’m discovering).

Emerging from the woods below the poetically- (and, for me, autobiographically-) named Dancing Green, I encounter a group of workmen clearing a culvert and in conversation with someone who, from the back, I see is wearing an Open Farm Sunday T-shirt (a good sign, I now realise)… A little nervously – this will be my first true ‘tracktivist’ encounter with strangers to engage in conversation this performance – I stop and ask them if they know of any places selling local food, vegetables, eggs or honey and explain I am new to the area and what I am doing. As usual (because synchronicity is so surprising as to be unsurprising), it turns out this – food miles, local food – is a subject at the very heart of (who I later discover to be) Robert’s beef and dairy farming ethos, and one which he’s been explaining to a group of primary school children just that morning. Not only that but he tells me of a place just back through the woods selling eggs and honey. Success. And if I make a quick detour to get some (sadly they’re no longer selling either but I am kindly given one of the last remaining jars and shown around the magnificent vegetable garden) then head up to his farm on the hill above us, he will talk me through the food miles of the cattle fodder in his grain store. Here is the audio tour of our conversation which ranged from soya to fuel via sugar beet and weather:

Afterwards, and unable to carry a whole Hope’s Ash beef box home, I buy some frozen steak and mince from Rachel in the farmhouse and walk home as fast as possible before it defrosts in my rucksack in the afternoon heat. But as I go, I’m pondering again: I want to support these passionate, articulate local farmers but I’m carrying meat that has been finished with imported soya. If my only reason for eating (pasture-fed) meat is an ecological one, then I’m contradicting myself and might as well eat the imported soya myself (I was tempted, in the grain store). Then again, I think of the eggs that sustained me throughout the last performance and realise (as I hadn’t before) that most free-range hens are fed grain and layers pellets from well outside the county. And so the layers (no chicken pun) of our globalised local food infrastructure peel back and back. All these hidden food miles marching away from me as far as the eye can see – a lifetime’s walking in every mouthful… Food for thought and fodder for guilt.

Stacked bales Freshly cut hay at Lea Garden at Hope Mansel/Bailey Lane End Hope's Ash Soya and sugar beet IMG_5192 Hope's Ash wheat Hay at Pontshill Dancing Green Butterfly at Pontshill Orchard at Pontshill Wheat and heat

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

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!

Fownhope Farm Shop

Fownhope Farm Shop

The Fownhope Farm Shop has been my mainstay and local food hub since the start of this project. Conveniently located almost literally on my doorstep, there has been a farm shop selling local produce at Caplor for the past 6 years or so. Originally this was the farm’s own initiative with all the produce grown on the farm itself, supplying not only the shop but also local schools and restaurants. It then went through various iterations – including a local food and crafts shop staffed by farm residents – before being taken over this year by Dave and Elise Shuker. They now manage the polytunnel on the farm and also keep pigs and hens here, but they stock a range of produce from surrounding local food suppliers. Sourcing all the food locally is at the centre of their ethos, knowing exactly where and who it’s come from: their own eggs, honey from Brockhampton, apple juice from Carey Organics, their own veg (in season) supplemented by a range of vegetables from Aconbury, Allensmore, Bartestree, Holme Lacy and Stoke Edith. Before going for a walk with my friend Sue who is staying,  I visit the shop today. I ask Dave to draw on my map the exact locations of the places where all the vegetables I’ve purchased so far have come from, so I can plan my walks there accordingly and maybe contact the producers. Below is an edited recording of one of our many conversations as I shop…

Audio Track: Fownhope Farm Shop

Shop Open   Fownhope Farm Shop Christmas Tree   Seasonal produce calendar 1   Seasonal produce calendar 3

Daily bread

IMG_3662

I’m hungry already. I realise I will need more (and portable) calories than apple juice and carrots and stew  to sustain both walking and talking and thinking this month. I need to make bread.

{[(Grain + mill = flour) + water + yeast + oven] = bread}

From years of riding, running and walking on and around the farm where I live, I have seen wheat, oats, barley, and corn grown locally, albeit on a small scale. From the map I know that there are many water mills in the surrounding parishes that would once have milled these grains. But what is lost is the connection between them: the grain that is grown on this farm, that is dried here (noisily in the perpetual August whine of the grain dryer), that is briefly stored here (in the perpetual hum of the grain store) right next to my home, is also shipped away to be sold and processed.

A month before this project began, I joined the village (Fownhope) Walking for Health group on their November turn around Haughwoods. Walking next to Jean (also from the village’s Carbon Rationing Action Group) and describing my plans for All in a Day’s Walk to her, I was delighted and surprised to discover that, remarkably, there was a farming-baking family – Gail and Duncan Sayce – in the neighbouring village (Woolhope), who grow, mill and make bread from their own wheat, spelt and rye. I phone and Gail kindly agrees to mill me some flour. But she warns me that while they have combined, milled and baked with their own grain in the same day before now, their current grain has been bought in (Doves Farm, Hungerford – how ironic is the name to my grumbling stomach). Hungry, I decide that the cheat is a necessary one.

Sollers Hope to Woolhope 2

I walk over this morning to Yare Farm via Sollers Hope church, the low sun behind me stretching my shadow in front, like the pull of my hunger reaching ahead of me.  The same sun streams into the kitchen as Gail and her son Harvey share their knowledge of baking, milling and grains. Gail has waited until I arrive to mill the grain, which, she tells me starts to oxidise immediately after milling, losing its nutrient value. (The fresh-milling of their flour is something Gail says draws people to their bread, more so than whether the grain is local or not.) And of course, it’s not a watermill, creaking and clunking into action through a system of sluices as I’d romantically imagined, but an electric mill in a modern farmhouse kitchen.

IMG_3668

Grain

Balletons

But I can hardly be disappointed – their passion for local, sustainable food and fresh produce is infectious: they rise at 4 am to bake a range of different breads for the local farmers’ markets, run bread-making courses and Harvey is even selling his own Herefordshire bird seed mix entirely from grains sourced from within a five miles radius: all in a day’s flight…

Herefordshire Bird Seed Mix

On my way home, I walk the flour on a real journey through an imagined history: altering my route to carry it back via the nearest watermill – Alford’s Mill – I might once have fetched it from. Not surprisingly, many footpaths lead to this place including one in an almost straight line from the farm. I stop and talk to the current owner and learn it was functional from the early 1800s until it was decommissioned in the 1960s. Trudging through waterlogged ground, I record the sounds of transiently restoring lost connection through walking:

Audio Track: Yare Farm – Alfords Mill