I can’t believe it was almost two months ago that I was in Devon, helping with the Steward Wood 2012 Permaculture Development Course. I first visited the Steward Wood community in 2006 with Fern. We’d set off in our battered old converted van on a magical adventure round the west country and had intended to go WWOOFing at various places to get a taste of low impact living. Steward Wood was our first stop and we loved the place and the people so much that we’ve been back ever since, at least once a year to visit them. Check out their website and if you get the chance go and visit them. It’s such an inspiring place.
The Permaculture Development Course is two weeks long and they often have volunteers to help. I arrived with my little case of spices from North and South India, ready to cook up some of my favourite curries. There’s all sorts of things that need doing to keep the course running smoothly and keep the staff and participants happy. Firewood needs splitting daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner cooking, plus for heating the bathhouse. Veg needs to be washed, peeled and chopped and carried up the track in wheelbarrows. An axe handle broke one day so I borrowed a shave horse and got to work with some ash to make a new one. The shave horse hadn’t been used for a while and the legs had dissapeared so I improvised with some chairs.
By the end of the course the handle had dried enough so I tapped it home with a seasoned ash wedge.
All the cooking is done on wood fires, much of it outside either on the fire pit or on rocket stoves, but we also used an Arga in the communal kitchen. Cooking for twenty or thirty people is always a bit tricky when you’re usually cooking for one or two, but it doesn’t take long to get the hang of it. The communal meals are always really nice; organic veg and nice conversation.
I was on a shift with Seth one night so we did our usual belly-busting curry. I did a few South Indian curries; bannana curry, coconut curry, spicy tomato curry and a potato curry and Seth did his speciality..onion bhajis – the size of cornish pasties, and popadoms. Here he is with Ash, one of his three sons, finishing off a massive round of popadoms.
The group on the course were all really nice and it was good to work hard to fill their bellies every day.
I did have some time off during the two weeks so was able to carve some spoons and went collecting Alder with Dan from a woodland nearby. I also found the time to join one of the course modules, led by Son and Becky. It was a session called ‘The Healing Hedgerow’ and of interest to me because I love to forage and use wild plants when I can. Son and Becky have spent many years living in the woods, using the plants to cure family and friends for many ailements. They run courses themselves and make healing salves, tinctures and teas for sale. We started in the glade…
…and after an introduction from Becky, (left), and Son, (Right), we set of to learn about the many plants that grow around us and the many uses they have.
We had time to hear about a dozen or so plants and what they have to offer the hedgerow herbalist before heading back to the glade for a summary. Three books were recommended as good reading for anyone wanting to learn more…
Son very kindly gave me a tincture for coughs and colds and an antibacterial salve, both made from wild plants growing around their settlement area. Very good medicine it is too.
Son’s daughter Daisy was on the staff rota this year and I was on a couple of shifts with her and her Mum. She makes a great mustard salad dressing and a wonderful roux to thicken a sauce for mushroom stroganoff…and after the shift she introduced me to what may well be the next must-have fashion accessory. Well, a hoody just isn’t complete without a sharp-toothed, albino ferret…
I should point out that food prep and ferret were most certainly not combined!
One of the volunteers was a great guy called John, who’s parents just so happen to live a short distance from Roger’s Wood in Hertfordshire where my lathe is set up. So a week or so after the Permaculture course John came to visit. He’d always wanted to turn a bowl on a pole lathe. He roughed out a blank from a cherry log, and then proceeded to turn his first greenwood bowl. Here he is in action..
He enjoyed the experience very much and I look forward to another visit at some point in time. I love to see other people discover the simple pleasure of working with wood using traditional tools and techniques. There really is nothing else like it.
To conclude on my visit to Devon I will introduce another of the full-time residents; the lovely Kate. Here she is in customary full-on laughter mode…
Kate suggested a few of us go to the sea one afternoon so off we went for a swim at a secluded cove near East Prawl. It was the Equinox and all manner of strange things happened that day, which I needen’t go in to here. Suffice to say that just as the day was a balance of equal day and night, so we all shared a balance of wonderful highs and rather unsettling lows. The day ended well though and I slept like a log in my little tent after the very cold swim and the journey back to the wood.
Come January 2013 I’ll be heading back to Devon to look after Kate’s home at Steward Wood for a couple of months while she is visiting friends in Bristol. Because she’s going to be away this winter, Kate wants someone to keep the woodburner ticking over and very kindly asked me if I’d like to house sit for her until March. So I’ll be taking my lathe and turning bowls through the short, dark days and I really can’t wait to back there. I’m very grateful to Kate for the invitation and to all the community members for agreeing to the idea. I just hope the old landrover will make the journey fully loaded with lathe and a winter-worth of bowl turning timber…