Petersfield to the Sustainability Centre

A jolly stroll, in which we meet ghosts, and the wizards of Permanent Publications. We learn a few new songs, and feast on food from a bin.

go on, read it up…

So we’re two again, walking along out of Petersfield, all Ginger-less. He is sped away into the west, and we move more slowly and southernly, toward the Sustainability Centre at East Meon.

First amongst the wonders we visit is the Petersfield Physic Garden, as recommended by a kindly man with the surname Bowman. His ancestry, he says, does link him to Agincourt, where the yew bows were used with such deadly power.

The physic garden is dedicated to plants traditionally used in medicine, and it absorbs our full attention for an hour or so, until the good lady curator locks it up with iron gates.


Will feels lonesome

She sends us on our way with good blessings, and we get lost around Petersfield for one last time. Then it is out, off, away, through classic post-war industrial areas, a built up zone of oversized sheds, all selling MOTs, garden machinery or paint. It has a strange nostalgic smell, as though it knows it is already outdated by the massive neon super-shopping zones that surround bigger towns nearby.

We find nipplewort, and also that Jack of the Hedge has started to flower. Spring turns to summer with a hot pace, and we feel we’re almost being left behind.

The next step onward is over a foul busy road, so we hop to the middle, and are pleasantly surprised to find Scurvy grass thriving in the central verge. So we stop awhile, to photograph this plant and greet it, a brave life to grow between the two lanes.


Tranquility and life are to be found...everywhere

Then the small hills grow gently toward East Meon, which we visited on an earlier walk on the recommendation of its church’s good font. We never did see the font, so we decide it would be good to catch up this time around.

A lane between ancient ashes and beeches is found, which stuns us with its tranquil potency. Hooped roots, and small natural benches have been formed by the chalk’s eroding, and we also discover a hollow based beech, into which we intone as a sound chamber. There is a natural shelter here, with room for one, which would keep the worst of a storm from a solo sleeper’s body. But being 2, we step on.


back to roots

small-ed-under natural-ridge-before-east-meon

Ed in the one man hotel

We next encounter a footpath crossing, which goes off in 5 different directions, once centrally blessed by a huge waymarker tree. The shavings and detritus all about tell us that it was not long chopped down, so we stand awhile in silent lament. Then the light fades, and the rain drizzles in.

East Meon is not so very far from here, and our steps quicken us in. An old working forge is spotted as we enter the village. This is a village built on water, and a gentle stream runs strong through it.


Ventian streets of East Meon


the way we cam in

The rain now stopped, we do as we did before, and stop in the church porch which overlooks the village. It has, since our last visit, been cursed with a perpetual light, so respite is not to be granted as it once was. And the church door is locked firmly shut, so the font inside must still remain a mystery.

With few clear options in the fast fading light, into the local pub we step lively. Here we meet young lads who are obsessive about tattoos and trial mountain biking. We share neither interest, so conversation continues a long time, as we have much to learn of these strange pleasures. We sing a ‘cold haily windy night’ for the old boys on the other side of the bar, and they grudgingly tell us we are doing a ‘good job’. It is well.

We hang around here till midnight, long after the locals have all left, talking with the manager, who tells us about his early life in the free-party scene. “I had a head like a peanut, a body all puffed with muscles, and I used to dance for days” he tells us. Talk webs around such topics as ambition, love and marriage, and eventually we retire church-wards, unsure of our night’s place of rest, but with bellies beerful, and heads richer in pleasant concepts.

Knowing the church is locked, we try the door anyway…and it swings invitingly open. We cannot resist to step over the threshold, and so we do. The lead font is alit by the sluggish moonlight, piercing thick glass, barely defying the stony darkness.

And immediately we both feel the heckles of our necks rise sharply, and we are certain that we’re at best only half-welcomed in this place, at this time, that something else is used to its peace here, and does not enjoy being idly disturbed. We do not know if it is the dead that lie beneath here, or something more ancient that claims this place upon which the church was built. But it is big, and it is old, and it is approaching us. We can feel panic rising in our blood, and the urge to turn and run.

But we do not. We stand our ground, as creatures of flesh and blood with the birthright to be here, upon this plain for the days of our lives. Peace being needed, we say our gentle greetings, and sing the Leaves of Life to whatever it is that surrounds us. It seems to be enough. The atmosphere is placated, the tension loosens, and we are able to calmly and gently walk out again, and close the door tight behind us.

We are both somewhat exhausted by whatever meeting that was, so we fall to sleep on a footpath that runs just behind the church, a night of sleeping with the dead. We choose for our protector a mighty yew with a great stone cross rising from it, and lay down to dream.


Protection is given

Will wakes early, but Ed cannot be arisen. It is around 6 o clock, and Will’s first instinct is to return to the Church, to see if what he felt last night is still there. But the door is now locked tight, immovable and unyielding.

He returns to shake Ed up, as dog walkers are starting to perform their morning rites, and he is asleep across their path. Ed rises torturously from the sleeping realms, a man who has been dreaming with the dead. We break our fast in the church porch again, waiting for a warden to come and open it.

And sure enough, by 8 of the clock a friendly fellow with a ring of huge iron keys arrives, while we sit chewing our oats and water. We ask him if the church could have been open last night after midnight, and he assures us that “there’s no way that could be. I locked it myself at nightfall, around 7:30, and I’m the only one with a key.”


The World begins, as according to East Meon font-wisdom

We decide not to tell him about our private invitation inward. Looking around this morning, in the clear daylight, makes for a very different experience of the place. It is calm, and airy, and relaxed. What was awake, now lies dormant


East Meon church all calm and daylit

So we have leisure and inclination to be tourists, and we finally see why there was such fuss over the East Meon font. It is crafted of lead, and reputed to be older than the church herself. It is one of a series of 5, each of which tells a particular story from the book of Genesis. This one shows the creation of the Earth, and Adam and Eve, replete with dragons and pillars of the earth, and other exciting biblical details now lost in transcription.

It has a sturdy great padlock upon it, which seems out-of-place, but the local historian’s pamphlet explains that the holy water within was usually mixed with oil and salt, and used for blessings during an entire year’s cycle, and so it was particularly attractive for practitioners of non-Christian rituals. It was thus often stolen to this end, so the church had to protect its blessings. Lock up your waters – here come the pagans!

We finally walk slowly from the village toward the Sustainability Centre, which sits atop the South Downs just below here. We have an invitation to sing and say hello, and so up the hills we struggle.


Tired Edward trundles drearily

Ed is absolutely fatigued beyond reason, and Will too. So once the hill has been climbed, we both disappear into spaces to go back to bed. Ed chooses a small copse on the crest of the hill, and Will jumps a fence to lie just beside the South Downs trail, hidden by a great hawthorn bush.

We both steal 2 more hours of daytime sleep, in the fresh air, away from piles of dead people or stone temples. And we both wake as the sky starts to darken, and meet each other at precisely the right time, to walk to the Sustainability Centre in a refreshed and happy frame.


friendly floor dweller

Arriving there, we pass by a great Navy listening centre, all razor-wire and small square housing lined in a crescent. This was known as HMS Mercury, a ship on land. Mercury was (is) the God of travellers, and thieves, and communication. He had winged sandals, and stole Apollo’s backward-walking cows, to make a lyre which was so beautiful that Apollo forgave him.

leydene mercury and sus centre

if you set your camera to self-time, and throw it high in the air...

Anyway, this listening boat on the hillside is now allegedly defunct, yet enjoys well swept concrete pathways; so we surmise that someone is caring for the space.


like a hornet, the chinook puts us vaguely ill-at-ease


Ed bonds with comfrey, outside the Sus Centre

Behind the big dry boat we find the small green gem that calls itself the Earthworks Trust. This is the Sustainability Centre. We stroll into the office, and meet the fine people herein.


The innermost workings of Permanent Publications

The office is the heart of Permanent Publications, and by all accounts we have come at a good time for the people and place. A new hostel is running well, a café is opening soon, the woodland burials are hearty and welcomed by local mourners. And of course Permaculture Magazine is designed and crafted from this very venue.

It is truly an honour to be speaking with such accomplished and positive humans as Maddy, Penny, John and all. There is a strong sense of purposefulness in this office space. Multiple screened computer machines are plucked expertly, and we are soon sent to find our way through the more tangible realities of this project.


the yurt in which, 2 months back, a beautiful baby girl was born


The toilets, solar and wind-powered...


The Earth Oven on which we can sit our bottoms down


Home for the night


the sky before a brief squall blows in

That evening a huge corona surrounds the moon, and we ponder it as we go to bed.

(“if the moon be compassed about with a circle, like a great wheel, or is misty and dim, rain follows, or snow within 24 hours” – from an ‘old book’, quoted in an old book)

The sky is clear, but we are sure this implies some weather change is en route. We decide to leave the door to the yurt open to keep a close ear on developments.


from the inside, out...

Sure enough, we are up in the night to bar our shelter from the battering rain which rushes in full swiftly and hardily.


water makes art


rain the paintbrush, ash the canvas

The next evening and day pass beautifully, and we could not imagine a better place to heal our newly divided group’s wounds. We wash our clothes, and dry them on the hemp twine which bands the yurt’s canvas, enjoying the post-rain sunshine.

We give a lunchtime concert to the centre’s workers, and are happy to say that for half an hour we stop the Permanent Publications machines, while all come out to listen to the old songs, and to offer advice and well-wishing. Nigel, the family accountant, steps forward with a particularly surprising depth of knowledge about traditional song, and he recommends a number of groups and songs of which we had never previously heard.

And we are donated an excellent piece of technology from the shop here, a solar monkey, or phone/camera charger, which will allow us to harvest sunlight for the enrichment of our technologies. John, the kind donor, tells us: “ can’t do what you do – I’d love to, but it’s not going to happen, and I can’t sing. But I can support you like this.” It is an incredible and generous gesture, and we feel righteously blessed. And then, Ayla arrives with her mother, who is to visit for the evening.


all this land was once a military football pitches...


ed, annette, ayla, and will

So we all pack away, and head toward the hills nearby. We are returning tomorrow, as Annette, Ayla’s mum, has full family responsibilities to return for. But tonight we will make fire and song and feasting.

We walk up and across to the edge of the hills Eastward, thinking a fair spot to lay low might be found. A huge telegraph aerial tells us where we are, upon the highest hill in Hampshire, and we can all smell the salt sea air blowing in. We ponder some time on where to go, for we don’t wish to fully descend the hill, nor do we want to remain on its exposed summit…so we follow a small path into the woods on one side of the crest.


one day these things will sprout legs and stamp on us...

Walking to and from along this ribbon of footpath, as the darkness falls down quick, we are gazing into the half light trying to discern a flat bit in the woods below. It all looks pretty steep. And then we realize…we’re standing on the flat part!

So we resolve to enjoy our earth-rights, and sleep right where we are, on the flattened hillside footpath. Where better could be found? It is away from the wind, and the rushing sounds of motorway are hidden by the hill. So a fire is built, and food is cooked.

Ayla, before coming out to meet us, went knocking on the door of her local supermarket skip, and so came with a boxful of bounty that is only inedible in the falsest and most bureaucratic sense. It is good food that only a fool would throw away.


that's skip-food price (chink chink)

So on strange assorted delicacies we gorge. Song flows freely, and there is room for all of us to camp down comfortably. Annette says to us perhaps the finest compliment we have yet received: “You two challenge my idea of manhood – you are outgoing and adventurous, and yet you are tender. You are two men together, strong, but so gentle.” These are beautiful words, and we sing in their honour.

Fare thee well, sweet lovely Nancy:


ash budding, the male aspect grows

Will burns his hands on the titanium handle of a cookpot, and even as the white weals are speedily uprising, the St John’s Wort and Calendula lotion that Ed carries give him insta-cure, pain-relief and visible subsidence of the wound. It is good plain strong magic.


burning flesh made whole again

Annette tells us she is going to go home and start a women’s song group, so inspired is she by this little journey. It will be called “Larks Ascending”. She teaches us a song or two:

Turtle Dove:


Rage Rage against the dying of the light:


And we all sing an old classic together – The Drunken Sailor:


As we lay to sleep, the rain comes softly in. Annette carries only a rice-paper thin sleeping bag, the sort of thing a camping shop would sell you as quite suitable for spring and summer, those devious merchants of chilly slumber!

So she borrows Ed’s bivi bag, to keep dry, while Ed and Ayla snuggle under an improvised tent made from 2 lightweight ponchos.

We all sleep soundly, and waken to Annette’s laugh ringing through the trees. She was cold last night, but has woken enervated by the fresh air and joys of rooflessness. We pack up our sundry articles, and walk back slowly to the Sustainability Centre. A heavy mist sits thick on the hill, and even the mighty telecom mast in invisible 50 yards away.


misty willy


walking blind


hiding in the day

Sun burns through slowly, and we find ourselves parting from Annette, but Ayla is staying with us awhile longer. So away we go.

One Response to “Petersfield to the Sustainability Centre”

  1. Lilly Medin says:

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