People

Plants For A Future

We had heard various rumours about PFAF before we arrived there. It had been a destination lingering in the future, somewhere we seemed bound to go.
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PFAF, or Plants for a Future, is a project that aims to promote, by example and education, the incredible variety and availability of edible and useful plants that can be grown in Britain.

This was born some 20 years ago, when a few people clubbed together to buy a potato field. The week the transaction went through, the whole area flooded, and all the topsoil, and the spuds, washed down the valley into the stream.

So they had a field, with no soil, that was whipped by vicious winds, and notoriously unproductive. It has been used to grow potatoes for as long as anyone remembered.

They set to work, with the added difficulties of not being allowed to build on the land, or live there for more than 3 weeks per year.

As soon as the hedges started to grow, other plants could settle. And they did so, in tremendously fertile droves. PFAF is today a growing encyclopaedia of the edible plants of Britain and the world. There is very little they do not grown and know.

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When we arrived there, we had both been walking separately for a week, for a little space. Will had met with National Trust rangers in a coastal village, with whom he stayed for an evening, prior to a solo busk in the morning. The ranger knew everyone from PFAF, and made the phone calls necessary. Now Will knew the valley, the red phone box, and the time, from which liaison could be achieved.

In the morning he busked, which was difficult but intensely good for him. And in the afternoon, he got to that red phone box, and made arrangements.

Ed, meantime, was walking as fast as he could toward PFAF, without knowing why nor where he was headed. He took the phone call from Will, and made carried right on.

An hour of being walked around the site with one of its caretakers, Will was saturated with varieties of hawthorn, mallow, and all the rest. Then Ed appeared, exuding fatigue. We completed the tour, were offered a floor to surreptitiously sleep upon. A brief catch-up, and we were asleep.

We stayed for two days with PFAF, helping clear brambles, tidying up old messes. We spent good time with Addy, one of the founders of the project. She taught us stretches to strengthen our limbs, lent us books to read, and generally flowed with solid plant knowledge.

PFAF is an unbelievable resource. It is so nearly the perfect project. What it needs… is people, good willing volunteers to go spend time, to learn and work, in their beautiful Cornish garden-forest. This place is the true Eden of Kernow, with no glamorous glass domes nor wide car-parks. It is the future, and if you are heading West, you should give them a call and go help out.

Also, the knowledge-base they have accumulated at PFAF has been built into a website, and is freely shared. We strongly suggest you go look, here.

Pilsdon Manor

Leaving the hilltop chapel of St Catherine, after a stormy night’s sleep, we descend her hill toward the coast.

Stamping the gusty sea-shore, the pathway is half-buried by drifting sand, and we almost trip over it. Along we go, stopping only to rest, curled up on the spiky tussocks that bulge from the seaside loam.

dorset-hills1We soon reach Burton Bradstock, a merry seaside resort with a small stylish café, very much a Sunday Times Style territory. Its name reminds us of a 1930s film star, but whoever he was, he’s no longer around. We leave, away from the roads and up the hills, northward to Bridport. We find turnips, clamber round floods and over wire, and over wide agricultural landscapes, to suddenly arrive atop a horseshoe valley immediately west of the town. We loop down like skiers, to the left and the right, to enter the urbanity. It is raining, and late in the day, and we take shelter by the fire of the Woodman’s Inn, where we eat soup and sing when asked. We meet a performance poet called Angry Man, who offers for us to record with him. It sounds like a grand opportunity, and we take a number for the morning.

We are then given the name of a fellow running the open mic session in another pub, so along we trot. This turns into quite a night, for as soon as we enter, drinks ar given, and we are immediately invited to stay with a lady who is celebrating her birthday.

We say hello to a lively gang, then are given the stage, following from some ace tabla and sitar players, and a Jimi Hendrix cover band. We deftly refuse amplification, and the technicians are surprised, then pleased and relaxed. We sing, people dance, and it is lovely.
We are then bombarded with drinks and talk, and we follow the good birthday people to the next venue, for much more of the same. Then the birthday girl falls out with her boyfriend, with all explosions.
A cheery chap called Nick comes up, and tells us he has a fine place, with room enough for us to stay. Out we go, all oozing cheerios and drunk thanks, and 20 yards down the alley are taken into a car park, with a corner covered by a high tin roof. Unstoppable sodium light seeps through our eyelids, but the fine drizzle blowing sideways is a wonder for cooling our overheated faces. Good Night Bridport.

We awaken, and Nick, who led us to this shelter, is grinning with two big tins of sausage and beans for breakfast. We thank him, but cannot persuade ourselved to eat meat from a tin so early on. So we head to town, buy bananas and busk. At first we sing by the butchers, and then we move to the Post Office, where there is a constant flow of socializing people. The butcher runs after us down the street, with a bag of freshly cooked bacon sandwiches and pies. We thought he might was about to complain we were sounding rough this morning. Thank-you butcher. We take tea, and sing to a coachful of day-tripping old folk, and talk romance in a café with an OAP called Jill.

For recovery from our adventures, we find the Bridport health food shop, and buy fruit. We tell our tale to the ladies there, and they seem worried by Bridport’s effect. We are given directions to a community, not 10 miles away, that they say would be good for us. It seems a good tip, so we follow it.

A few hours later, with a short fast stretch along a whizzing deep-cut country road, we reach the place where we should find this community. We have no idea what to expect. We are lost, in the dusk, when we spot a painted wooden sign amongst the nettles, which points us down the lane. We follow, and come to a gate, a little after dark. Peering in to se if there is anyone about, we jump, as a cry rings out – “Wayfarers!” – and immediately a lady emerges to pull us into the house’s warm kitchen, to ask if we’re vegetarian, to tell us when dinner is eaten, and to show us our beds, before we’ve had a chance to say hello there.
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We learn at dinner that this is a Christian guided dry-house, a safe rock for people to step upon, between trouble and the cold world. With subtle motifs of Christianity and work, it welcomes any who need succour.

We meet all sorts of people, each with many stories to tell. We are told of the Gorsedd sites, we sing to the assorted loung and chapelfuls of people, and we have space to read. Duringthe days, we join in the community labour, and find ourselves shovelling old donkey manure as fast as we can, determined to do more than is required. We find ourselves running, to speed our barrow-loads to their vegetable garden destiny.

henris-visit-devon-cornwall-031We spend two nights here, which is technically against their rules, but no-one minds. We investigate their chapel, which has straw-bales for pews. Everyone is happy to get stuck in, and no-one asks questions of each others’ past. It is a refreshing and gentle time, a necessary breath after the recent madness. We didn’t really clocked how tired we were getting, till we stopped moving.

Many thanks to the good people of Pilsdon, for the surprising and beautiful support.