Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Breath of Welsh Air

It turns out that I've arrived at Llanfyllin just at a time when there is lots of change in the air. Steve is moving on from the Workhouse project and working on plans for several new projects through the Permanent Housing Coop. The core of this is to buy land for a permaculture site with all the features I've wanted to help to develop for years: organic market gardening, forest gardening, a forest garden nursery, a tree nursery, teaching facilities, therapy/retreat facilities and even ponds for trout. It's all really really exciting - what a great time to have turned up. Then I heard the news that the Welsh Assembly has extended the Low Impact regulations that have helped Lammas to set up their project in Pembrokeshire to the whole of Wales. It feels as if the tide has finally turned - in Wales at least.

Land hunting - another field
Powys is a lovely part of the world, a multitude of interconnecting, lush, steep sided valleys with old trees and beautiful views everywhere. It's a patchwork of small fields, a bit like a very wet, colder version of Portugal and is the second least populated part of the UK after Sutherland. I cycled over to work with Steve at Llanrhaedr the other day and came back to sleep at the Workhouse through the dusk - nice to have very little traffic but still hard work with the steep hills.

In need of modernisation - untouched since the 1930's

I helped Steve on a Permaculture Introduction weekend course which was good fun and very informative even though I've already done the course with the Brighton Permaculture Trust. Steve is inspirational, a storehouse of information, has a wealth of practical experience and boundless energy and enthusiasm - a great teacher.

Steve in full inspirational flow

Chicks at the edge of the forest garden already established at our venue, Farm2Grow

An unusal seedling to see - a baby Monkey Puzzle Tree. It bears delicious nuts after 60 years, but you need a male and a female and you can't tell them apart until they're 40 years old...patience...
It reminded me a lot of helping John and Carol with the Upledger CranioSacral Courses - lots of fun and learning all the time. If you've not studied Permaculture already sign up for a course straight away wherever you can. It gives you a framework to help you respond to change and design versatile, resilient systems at any level. I believe that we are entering a phase when Peak Oil, Climate Change and many other challenges will force a period of unprecedented upheaval on us. Permaculture will help us to adapt and get prepared as best we can. Check out: Permaculture with Steve Jones at Sector 39 and Brighton Permaculture Trust.

Cwm Harry

this is an excellent project that Steve is managing in Newtown. It's an old industrial site which is now being used to make compost from food and garden waste and has an organic garden on site as well. Many volunteers help on the site including young offenders and it's produce goes into a local veg box scheme. After just three years it shows how much good stuff can be done on a vacant lot like this.

Organic Gardening Course

I joined the Workhouse Organic Gardening course for a day. It's only 19 weeks old but is already producing lots of food from raised beds.

The insect hotel - more about this eye-opener soon. You need the aphids as well as the ladybirds.

Steve with one weeks's produce from the small plot

This system of mixing many kinds of seeds together has been helping villagers in Nepal to gain a succession of crops from the same plot. Pioneered by another Permaculturist, Chris Evans, a network of hundreds of villages now use it successfully.

I'll be writing more about this - they can be set up to help people gain access to land as well as housing, with capital and without capital.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Bike-athon, Second and Final Week

The Bike-athon has been an amazing experience! In the end I only cycled 200 miles of the journey, with a maximum of 50 miles in one day. All the same, I've explored what its like and learned a lot of lessons. I've been able to take enough clothes and equipment, computer, camera, tent etc to work and live a simple life down here and have got cheap local transport sorted too.

I wouldn't rush into cycling on busy main roads again. Most traffic gives you a good wide berth but a couple of cars got pretty close to me. It's just not very pleasant on main roads even with a cycle lane at the edge. The cycle lanes can be a bit of a joke, they certainly were in the Lake District. They're intermittent, usually just bits of pavement with some painted symbols on them, they often change sides from one side of the road  to the other. It's all a bit of a token gesture towards cycling - the roads are designed for cars really aren't they? There were a few good moments cycling in the Borders, seeing the hills of the Lake District for the first time and finding some nice deserted back roads but mostly it was a bit of a slog with all the weight and scarey going down steep hills, feeling out of control and that the brakes wouldn't really be much good especially in the damp.

First view of the Lake District hills

View from the campsite at .... forgotten the name of the place!
During my one wild camp on wasteland near the M6 at Carnforth with eveything getting damp including my phone, which packed up, and running low on clean clothes and water I decided to take the train from Lancaster on down to Wales. The train just cost £41 even with the bike so would have spent more than that on food, water and camping. I never felt hungry or really cold on the trip but I did get thirsty. There is surprisingly little drinkable water in the landscape and if I didn't fill my bottles at a campsite I had to resort to petrol stations, and I really resent paying £1 for 750ml of water when using 2 or 3 litres a day.

Even my trusty Vango Tempest 200, hero of the Lammas Deluge, is starting to look a bit bedraggled - like I'm feeling
Journey's End! The Workhouse Project at Llanfyllin - Steve and I are enjoying a couple of pints and a health-giving pizza not long after this photo.

And I suppose this is a big part of the reason for my cycling - we're going to have to do things a bit differently one way or another.

Bronze Age in the Borders

I had a lovely few days near Kelso with my old friend Alex, her husband Mick and their boy Joe at their house in the Border's countryside near Kelso. Alex and I did the first level of CranioSacral Therapy together many years ago (Alex's infectious laugh used to spark the whole group off)  and we went on to work together at the Centre for Natural Health in Perth - so lot's of fun catching up to be had! As I meet up with people in my travels I find again and again that the intelligent, well-informed, open minded people realise that Big Change has already started to happen and that the implications for daily life will be pretty radical. Mick and Alex are no exception and we talked lots and lots about growing food and their dreams of making a woodland low impact home as well as the day to day stuff of treading more lightly on the planet. Alex and I made some experimental milk substitutes with sprouted seeds - aduki bean milk tasted a bit odd but almond milk has definite potential.
I hadn't really spent much time with Mick before. His interests range far and wide, from Neolithic civilisation to science fiction to whales and dinosaurs and all the experience and observation of many years work in NHS healthcare - so a fascinating guy to spend time with.

Mick with a model of a fantasy creature from a Science Fiction book he is writing... 

...and another beast from Mick's fevered imagination.

I believe all our knowledge of Neolithic people and others who lived in balance with their world will become more and more relevant. Mick is interested in the Bronze Age life of the Naue II period, about 1200BC and has made a replica of an early version of the kilt worn in that period. It's a versatile item of clothing which can be worn in many ways, as a hooded cloak or slung over a shoulder.

Mick looking the part with Bronze Age sword, spear and shield completing the outfit.

Simple looms produced a forerunner of tartan with wool from differently coloured sheep. These people may have lived in round houses with many features of the those at the Lammas project. There's a wealth of ancient wisdom we could do well to re-learn.

Joe and I had great fun making monsters too - ours were made out of lego though

Mick and Alex kindly gave me a lift from Kelso to Carlisle - very welcome, Big Thanks again you two!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Bike-athon First Week

 Collecting my bike and trailer from Ally at Richards in Perth. My mum bought me my last bike from the shop way back in the 70's from the present owner's father - nice that there are still small independent shops on the go - great helpful service from Ally and Drew as well.
 The mountain of stuff...even with the trailer and four panniers I can't fit it all in and have to leave some behind with Laura. After emotional goodbyes I head off South from Perth. The weight of stuff makes even the smallest hill feel like I'm dragging a grand piano up the Matterhorn. My heart pounding I soon start walking alongside the bike up the steeper hills. There's a strong head wind and it takes me seven hours to make the 35 miles down through the back roads of Fife to Dunfermline. I arrive exhausted and dehydrated but glad to have made it.
 I spend a few happy days with my new friends and relations Helen and Alan helping them with a bit of kitchen fitting and floor laying. They are both very interested in my therapy and eco stuff and we have great long chats about everything under the sun. We watch "Garbage Warrior" the film about Mike Reynolds and his travails bringing Earthship building methods into the mainstream - a good film. Helen and Alan have done a lot of travelling themselves and have fascinating tales of India, Turkey and many other countries to tell. Thanks for all the friendly hospitality, lovely food and endless cuppas you two!
 No  more trailer! One day of the grand piano in disguise was enough for me. Helen and Alan kindly make space for it along with a couple of boxes of stuff for me and the trailer goes on Gumtree. I can't help thinking of the explorer who was preparing for a polar sledge trip and even trimmed the bristles on his tooth brush to save weight. Another time I wouldn't take nearly so much gear.
 It's a windy day when I set off from Dunfermline and the Forth Road Bridge is closed to high-sided vehicles and crazed eco-cyclists. I only have to wait a few minutes though before one of the bridge maintenance guys gives me a lift over with the bike in the back of his van. It's the first of a succession of fascinating road-meetings that would never have happened otherwise. Bridge Man, who is often right up in the suspension towers, tells me that press reports that the cables are about to break are highly exaggerated. Only a dozen or so of the 12,000 cables that make up the main supports have parted and they may have been like that since the bridge was built. Well that's a relief! And I was just waiting for the whole lot to come pinging down under the weight of my stuff.
 I have an easy run along cycle tracks round the Northern suburbs of Edinburgh and find a good campsite at Musselbrough.
 The next day I have my first serious hill, the Soutar, but manage up pushing the bike a lot of the way. It's a bad traffic day with only sporadic cycle lane but generally cars and trucks give me plenty of space. I have another interesting road meeting with a lovely girl maintenance worker managing a crew of strimmer workers who gives me lots of good advice on the route. Bizarrely, the guy above stopped in the layby at the top of the Soutar where I was resting and released these crates of pigeons on their first training flight.
 After another twelve hours' sleep at a campsite in Lauder I set off for Alex and Mick's place near Kelso. It's a perfect cycling day, sunny and warm with a fresh breeze to keep the flies away, cruising along or walking up the hills through open hilly farmland. I clock up my first 100 miles. Yay!