I hadn't cycled up such a big hill in ages. To begin with I had to have a few rest breaks and roadside chickweed snacks, but it is amazing how soon my body settles into a rhythm and my stamina kicks in. I was definitely spurred on by the fact that I was running late and I really didn't want to miss the International Permaculture Day tour and talk that Jon Kean was giving about LAND centre, Pennerly Permaculture Plot.
As it was, I had missed the beginning of it, but I made it in time for the tour of the forest garden - my home for the night. It was really interesting to see a forest garden in action. I have read a lot about them, but I don't think I have actually seen one before. It is still in its early stages, but I could already appreciate the different layers and stacking - there was a whole variety of young trees surrounded by islands of fruit bushes, chop and drop comfrey, mints and gigantic alpine strawberries, all interwoven with grass paths. There is definitely a great variety of plants and it is already productive both for people and wildlife. Jon has also experimented with a hugelkultur windbreak, with mixed results - a tree shelter belt would make a better windbreak, but it does create some different microclimates. After the tour, and with lots of new ideas buzzing through my mind, we moved on to Peoplecare, enjoying the 'bring and share' cakes and socialising.
In the spirit of Nearly Wild Camping, Jon and Cheryl had kindly offered free camping to anyone who wanted to stay in their forest garden that night. As I have spent the last year or so helping make the Nearly Wild Camping Co-operative a reality I decided it was too good an opportunity to miss, so had also lugged my camping gear all the way up the hill with me.
Nearly Wild Camping is a network of locations offering small scale, simple camping, providing opportunities for people to explore more of our countryside and sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm. Many of the locations use the 28 day rule so avoid planning and are not strictly campsites, rather they are locations that the owners are willing to share with others for a small income and which provide unique opportunities for people to stay and learn without committing to voluntary work.
I ended up cheating slightly, as Jon and Cheryl kindly invited me to join them for dinner and lots of interesting discussions. Jon, a keen cyclist, suggested that we should recommend a cycling route between several of the locations, letting people see a diversity of places in an area, a great way to integrate the locations together and to further the support and sharing network we envisage developing. And I am still cherishing the idea of using Nearly Wild Camping to create journeys around LAND centres in a region and to introduce lots of new people to permaculture. People who don’t currently have the time or inclination to volunteer or who wouldn’t go out of their way to visit LAND centres, but who would willingly pay for a holiday in a wilder location where they can get involved in informal activities, like collecting eggs, or having a site tour. And with the added yield of contributing to the polyculture of livelihoods for the location providers.
I did eventually head back out to my tent, prompted by Cheryl needing to get up at 5am to go on a dawn chorus walk. I must admit to feeling slightly smug that I would get to enjoy that amazing experience without leaving my sleeping bag and it was stunning, an almost white noise with the throaty cuckoo distinguishable from the din.
This is one of the things that I love about camping - being immersed in nature, connected, really feeling you are a part of it. Hearing the scrabblings near the tent and wondering who’s out there… Field Vole? Blackbird? Wood Mouse?… and opening the door in the morning to the dew spangled world, freshly made. For me this is equally about personal Peoplecare as well as Earthcare, as this nature connection de-stresses and re-energises me.
I found it interesting how much more thoroughly I was observed when staying overnight in the forest garden. I thought I'd had a fairly good look around during the tour, but deciding where to pitch my tent made me suddenly acutely aware of physical aspects, such as slope and how the sectors moved through the forest garden; where were the wind tunnels and sheltered areas, where would rain pool or flow, where could I catch the morning sunshine for warming my tent (it was April after all), I would like to add in the dawn chorus sector too and I imagine you would quite quickly become aware of things like the badger sector! It gave me a completely different perspective on the site and made me wonder whether I should try camping out in my veg patch as part of designing it! It also gave me a heightened appreciation of my basic needs – food, water and warmth/shelter. I really appreciated the water tap by the gate, the food I had bought with me and the shelter from the mornings chill breeze both in my tent and in the lee of the hugelkultur bed.
As I offered my thanks to Jon and Cheryl, loaded everything back on to my bike and set off homewards, I was also very grateful for that wonderful renewable resource, gravity, and the effortless speedy descent that started my journey home!
Anyone interested in joining or learning more about having their own Nearly Wild Camping opportunity (as a location provider or camper) please visit www.nearlywildcamping.org