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Tales from a tail of wooded land (Days 164-165) September 8th -9th

Day 164 A Sense of Place

I look, over breakfast,  at the CommonSense publication which Anne Marie directed with Dougald Hine, published by Access Space , the open source free computer access space in Sheffield, and in the front of the 2008 booklet about the Commons, a poem by John Clare, who died in 1864:

There once were lanes in nature’s freedom dropt,

There once were paths that every valley wound,

Inclosure came, and every path was stopt;

Each tyrant fix’d his sign where paths were found,

To hint a trespass now who cross’d the gground:

Justice is made to speak as they command;

The high road now must be each stinted bound:

-Inclosure, thou’rt a curse upon the land,

And tasteless was the wretch who thy existence

Plann’d

It is a fitting poem for the realisations I have made on this walk of mine, where my way has been stopped so many, many times by

Private Property

Private Road

Private, Keep out

Trespassers will be Prosecuted

Bull in Field

Beware – guard dogs loose

Beware of the dog – he bites

By walls, barbed wire fences, padlocked gates, roaming loose dogs,

All across the land a sense that ownership is a thing to be honoured is displayed

And those that would wander free – be misfits, outcasts, criminals to be feared

The land once belonged to all of us, and we to it...

And still does, in reality

It would be heartening to think that there could be trust regained in place of the fear, what is it that those who honour ownership above all else fear? And from whence came the sense of alienation from one another, and the sense of entitlement of one above the other?

We discover in “1000 Cornish Place Names Explained” that the name Lostwithiel is Cornish for “a tail of wooded land” and that makes us think about the great oak forest that was which Georgiana and I spent several days walking through, and now known as Dartmoor (the name Dart being an old word for oak) and a realisation dawns of just how mighty that forest once was.

It seems to be a day for such revelations; after Georgiana and I have taken our leave and she and Anne Marie have taken the train to Totnes, a journey that will take me some days to complete, I head off into the town to explore and in the museum I hear the duty volunteer explain Cornwall’s series of four capitals by way of their accessibility for trade. First Launceston, then Lostwithiel, because of its navigable river, the Fowey, became a port and a stannary town, till the river silted up and was navigable no more and the capital shifted to Bodmin, itself replaced by the modern day capital, Truro, and a cathedral built there, because Bodmin had only side railways tracks but Truro was on the main line.

We, in our day, have become accustomed to thinking that things have always been the same, and have forgotten that things have always been changing, and we have had to adapt, and changing very often because we were not living in synch with our surroundings, so it was that we chopped down trees as if they would last forever till no trees were left in whole forests, mined so hard and thoughtless for the environment that we silted up the rivers the trade depended upon, and then had to invent new technologies each time on which to depend on for the lifestyle we’d become accustomed to, and each time created devices that were more and more damaging to the environment, and all the while imagining that life was becoming more and more civilised... sound familiar? Next time someone talks to you about techno fix solutions, remember to ask them about the resources needed and if they think they will last for ever...

I am inspired by Lostwithiel’s museum; it is managed by  a group of 15 or 16 volunteers who offer up two hours a week of their time and have been doing so since the 70’s when it began and since then locals have been bringing in things they have had in the family for generations, have found, or been bequeathed, and the little former jail is packed to the brim with real local history in the form of artefacts, each one having a story to tell, of local people, living local lives, here in the town of Lostwithiel. There is the police constable, by day a tradesman, husband to Grace and nine children, shot dead by two drunken soldiers passing through on their way to Plymouth, and there is the young woman who married during the war, her navy skirt suit a far cry from today’s meringue like affairs.

Every stone in this town, according to John Betjamin, is steeped in history, and this honouring of the past is still to be felt to this day in the narrow streeted town with its beautiful 12th century church and medieval bridge, its ancient shops and houses, still sporting stone plaques telling something of their tale; such as a lease from 1652. Lostwithiel, though it has lost its market, has not lost its identity, not at all, locals and blow ins alike revere its roots, and so it is that it can move gracefully forwards into its future. No clone shops here, only a Co-op, looking remarkably streamlined and modern in its central location, yet not incongruous, fitting, a modern addition, one addition, bringing the new into the town at a rate that is at people speed, at town speed, gently, so that it can be absorbed into the old to create something new together with it, not supplanting it.

I search in vain for a cash machine, and am somehow delighted by my failure. I find both banks, but they are closed, it is late afternoon by now, I have been tarrying by the river in the sun eating lemon cake and basking, and there seems to be no way to get money till tomorrow. Now there again is people speed, I simply have to wait, till another day, and something in me relaxes, and strolls back home to where I am staying.

There Joe tells me that there is a plan to open up the volunteer scheme in Lostwithiel , to keep a sort of data base so that every time a volunteer is needed anyone on the list can be called on and different people can get to volunteer on different projects. It seems like a really good way for people to have a notion of what is going on their town. It will work well for Anne Marie when she needs folk to pick apples for the Abundance project.

Joe has just found out he has been made Arts representative on the Forum, a local initiative that exists alongside the local council, and he and Anne Marie are hopeful that this will mean they can bring some new ideas into the town. Joe says that most of the people on the council are business people and so it feels a little like the forum is just like the council but we hope that it will be possible to start people thinking about different things.

I like this town, and feel that though I am only passing through, it matters what happens here.

Day 165 Carbon Weevils and the Good Life

I watch the Clangers and the Telescope episode  (see day 163) with Joe and he tells me about Forkbeard Fantasy, a theatrical and film company (http://www.forkbeardfantasy.co.uk/Summer%20School.html ) and their amazing animation “Carbon Weevils”, which you can watch here if you follow the link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nALyKU_N5x0 

It is for me the most fantastic objective over view of modern society that I have ever seen and well worth seeing if you are able to laugh at yourself....

Later I venture out into the glorious sunshine, marvelling at how this summer is just lasting and lasting, and how I have been able to celebrate it by spending most of my days out of doors.


After a leisurely potter about the town, and a visit to the ancient church full of an ancient sense of the sacred, I enter Muffins, the truly local food cafe, serving even Cornish grown tea, which the lady who serves me admits is a bit of clever marketing; the Duke of Falmouth aimed at the Harrods market and the teas, a tin of which sells at over £8, are a blend and no one quite knows the quantity of Truro grown tea and how much comes from overseas.

I eat truly local though, and treat myself to Newlyn crab and salad. As I sit in the sun kissed garden supping peppermint tea from a pleasingly rounded spotted teapot I wonder if it is actually possible to be any happier than this. I lazily eavesdrop on conversations that flutter by me on the air of gaily dancing royalty, and Americans cremating dearly departed pets, and of the things one finds in attics, and gaze up at the clear blue sky, eat locally made passion fruit and chocolate ices, and wonder if we will still get such exotics for a mere £3 in the future.

I watch the bees, wasps, and hornets busy in the echinacea patch by my table, the long stems dipping their fronds towards me and hooking themselves into my hair, and think back on my summer existing on little more than 1 month’s salary, and think

“it don’t get much better than this” 

By the river I watch the water rise as the tide comes in and discover the shade of a wall where I can still see my laptop screen and write. Good place, this, Lostwithiel.

Later Anne Marie and Joe and I sit down for dinner and talk about the merits of various transition type films and Anne Marie talks about a season of transition films Transition Lostwithiel will put on in the Spring. We talk about the different “languages” needed to reach each different group and how maybe the script of “Carbon Weevils” could be “translated” into lots of dialects and cultural specific speak with drawings to match.

Anne Marie talks about her project around raising awareness about GM crops and how Grow Sheffield and Abundance grew from this and all she learnt about the history of growing cereals and harvesting them in this country, the traditions and the links to the cycles of the year. I am presented with a gift to take onwards to Totnes, which I will blog about when I have taken it there.

As I get ready to end this day I get a call from Radio Stroud asking for a follow up interview and am surprised at how long ago it seems since I was walking through Gloucestershire.

Editorial Notes: Another extract from Steph Bradley's Transition Tales journey around the UK.

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