All in a Day's Walk

A month-long slow food walking performance

Archive for yurt

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…

All change

Tonight marks the start of the second, summer performance of All in a Day’s Walk. It was first performed in the incessant rain of a cold, dark and muddy winter, from midnight on 6th December 2012 to midnight on 6th January 2013 (coincidentally Epiphany). Very coincidentally the current performance finishes on the Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ. And currently it is, of course, very very coincidentally Ramadan.

It’s a different season and I’m in a different place, so I’m anticipating a new and different set of problems and provocations. I am living in a cottage not a caravan (albeit with a yurt in the garden). I am living with others not alone. I am cooking on a storm kettle not a woodburner. I am, as a result of the last performance, a reluctant and uneasy ‘ethical’ meat-eater (a flexitarian, apparently) and I now seem to tolerate a certain amount of dairy. I’m still an auto-immune arthritic avoiding potatoes. I am now a dog owner (more limiting than it might sound, because a four month old puppy can’t walk very far, or isn’t meant to). I am still a horse owner. I have spent the last three and very intense weeks being an aerial dancer.

I’m a bit tired, to be honest.

And I’m not sure how prepared I am for any of this. But let it begin anyway…

Cai

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…

All in a Day’s Walk

All in a Day’s Walk is a month-long tracktivist walking performance. From midnight on 6th December 2012 to midnight on 6th January 2013 (Epiphany) I will be living entirely within the distance I am able to walk away from home and back in a day, sustaining myself only on the food that is grown, harvested, processed and obtainable within this distance. I will walk for 6 days a week, measuring out by foot the limits of my month’s existence-subsistence-persistence. I will travel only on foot, accepting no lifts and using no public transport. I will not accept hospitality or food from visitors that does not meet these criteria. I will try to follow all the rules even if I can’t answer all the questions. My walks will facilitate talks: conversational encounters with the people I meet, either randomly on my route or pre-arranged at a specific destination… walkers, farmers, growers, millers, bakers, apiarists, artisan cider-producers, woodsmen, solar installers, yurt-makers, hauliers, butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers. We might talk about the weather. Or we might talk about local food, loss of rural infrastructure, longest nights, lorry-driving, loaves, love and longing (as a vegetarian with a dairy allergy and an auto-immune arthritic with a potato problem, I’m going to be rather  h u n g r y). It’s slow food meets slow activism meets slow performance… so please take some time to meander through these pages if you wish, and leave some slow comments…

Jess Allen 06/12/12
Caplor Farm, Fownhope, Herefordshire HR1 4PT