“Ba ba badda, ba ba badda! Take the Trans Pennine Trail at the speed of a snail…” I have to amuse myself on the long cycles somehow. Going from East to West from Penistone, the Trans Pennine Trail is well surfaced and only gently inclining as it is along the route of a closed railway line, it’s also very well used.
We often think of the Netherlands as being a biking heaven, yet it wasn’t always that way. In fact they had very high car use. It was only through changing government policy and building biking infrastructure that they turned it around.
Where routes are easy to cycle, safe, and going where people want to go, people will cycle. My memories of the Pennines had me dreading crossing it by bike but it was beautiful. Once you hit the beginning of the old railway tunnel however, you have to over the top and things get bumpy and steep but at least it’s mostly downhill. Unless you’re a masochist I wouldn’t go West to East from Manchester at the moment.
The story of the Netherlands shows how a transport system can be remodeled and people’s behaviour will then shift. The current government is investing heavily in new roads, which leads to increased car use and car ownership. If we want more sustainable transport, first we have to commit to it. Build it and they will cycle.
A chance encounter with Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust introduced me to their new project to vaccinate badgers in the local area. The government policy of badger culls to reduce TB in cattle has not been backed by scientific evidence, in fact it is understood to make matters worse by causing the remaining badger population to migrate. In areas surrounding TB infection, DEFRA is offering to fund half the cost of vaccination and the wildlife trust is trying to raise the other half.
“The Trust, which is opposed to culling as a means of controlling the bovine TB, believes badger vaccination can play a crucial role in preventing the spread of the disease in both badgers and cattle.”
Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust does a huge amount of good, managing a large number of different reserves and works to protect habitat and wildlife. Like many conservation groups, some of the Trust’s funding comes from the government, putting them in a difficult situation when government measures are harmful to wildlife. You can find out more about the vaccination campaign from the Trust’s website.
Walking through Cambridge last year I did not notice a huge difference between it and a certain other academic City, but on bike the difference is very apparent. Special bike paths, bike traffic lights and bike lanes in the roads that are actually wide enough, all make you feel much more welcome and safe as a cyclist.
During a visit to Cambridge botanical gardens I came across this fascinating new development using plants to generate electricity. The botanical gardens are also investing in a new research area for using algae to make biofuels.
I first met Oscar during last year’s Buzz Tour because of his connection with Transition Cambridge and neither of us spoke much of politics. Yet when I met him in the days running up to the election, I was on the Green Party campaign bus and he was speaking to hundreds of people on the street explaining why he wanted to get elected. At the last election Oscar became Cambridge’s only Green Party city councillor, having never been a councillor before.
In his maiden speech last week, Oscar made two proposals that were passed by the council, one about TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) and one in defence of human rights. As a result, Cambridge has joined 18 other UK cities in pledging against TTIP.
I am fortunate enough to be sustained along the road by warm hearted people and friends new and old. In Farringdon after a exhausting and painful ride I met Lesley in The Rookery, an organic café and hairdressers, where two Frappes, a deep conversation and two hugs later I was recharged and ready to roll.
Coming into Oxford over the lock I heard someone shouting “Eve!” and was shocked to find my friend Ben on a boat, passing the lock at exactly that time. In Oxford I visited the newly opened Wild Honey for the first time and saw the wide range of ethical and organic products as well as yoga classes.
Oxford’s Lush hosted me again for the afternoon so I could sell our book and tell people about the journey. They also gave me a gift of some of their beautiful makeup that I had an eye on. Lush’s makeup confused me – it’s healthy liquids in little coloured bottles and looks like nail varnish but actually it’s lipstick, eyeliner or eyeshadow depending on the brush attachment that you choose. Now with confidence about how to use it I’ll be enjoying some girly beautification.
The day finished off with a cosy film screening with friends. It was such a pleasure to show the film to the bees Rupert and Miranda for the first time!
Hawkwood college runs a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) biodynamic farm and this month they have opened up a share offer to help the farm grow and take on new land.
The college is a centre of learning about food, crafts, art, music and social change. This weekend was the very special Seed Festival, the speakers for which included: Charles Eisenstein, Satish Kumar and Natalie Bennett. I could only attend the first night but with an attendance of only 500 it’s a fantastically intimate festival and a way to learn about a wide range of things in a fun environment.
Local people become members of the CSA in exchange for their vegetables, and the monthly fees give the farm workers a steady income. The land to the south of the college farm has recently come on the market and the college wants to raise £380,000 to purchase the land and run it biodynamicly as part of the CSA. The share offer closes on 24th of July 2015. Anyone can buy shares and if you are interested in investing and helping Hawkwood to grow you can find out more on the biodynamic land trust’s website.
It’s comforting when things you love are stable, and in Stroud it was mostly the things that hadn’t changed which caused a contented smile on my lips.
The shop Made in Stroud is still thriving (but with a few more awards), still selling locally made goods and making positive influences everyday.
The Stroud Valley’s Project is still promoting conservation and offering educational courses. They recently ran a scything workshop after seeing it done wrong on Poldark! Scything is less damaging to the environment than mowing and also helps you to easily leave rare species. The day I visited they were about to run a bat ecology course and head out with bat detectors.
Those creating positive change in Stroud had a higher average age than people I met in other towns, and had been in the town for longer. As Julie, the fundraising manager for Stroud Valleys Project says, “Who would want to move once you’ve landed here?” The town has a more stable, developed feel to the community than other places I visit. In the Stroud Valley’s Project office they have a reciprocal arrangement for work or rent with the Car Club and Transition Stroud. Transition Stroud have been running open eco-home event and open garden tours with about 1000 house visits. A new addition by Transition Stroud at the back of a closed pub is a pop-up “rain garden” to make efficient use of rainwater runoff from roofs. So simple it makes you wonder why on earth we normally pipe it all down the drain.
Stroud Against the Cuts has had a great turnout at its events and Stroud Co has become a thriving hub for selling home grown food surplus.
It feels like there are lots of people steadily making improvements in Stroud and the cumulative effect of that over many years is to have made a very special place and a very special community.
I’m in love. With a bike. Sadly not the bike I currently have. Let me present to you the object of my affections, an electric bike called A2B.
Many people said to me that I would just get more fit with this tour, and that yeah, I could probably do about 50 miles a day no problem. Well, it has transpired there is a problem, lots of them, they are called hills, and England is littered with them. I’m not unfit, but I’m not one of the steel-calved peddle pushers that keep overtaking me either. I’m an ambler by nature and every hill I have to dismount and push Polly and my luggage up the hill with cars passing stressfully by. I’m sweaty, panting and grimacing – not an advert for cycling. I’m sorry, I tried to like cycling, but I only like the flat or downhill bits. Then I visited eCycle in Stroud who sell electric bicycles, to get myself educated.
Jacob didn’t bother with the hard sell, he just invited me to go for a test ride. “These things sell themselves,” he said smiling. Oh my gosh yes they do, but since you can’t try one right now I’ll try and explain. You still pedal on the bike but the battery assists you, so you fly up the hill, laughing gleefully. They’re not heavy like I expected and it looks like a normal bike. To charge it you just take the battery out and charge it up for a few hours from a normal plug and then it’ll last you about 60 miles. But you don’t have to have it on all the time either. I tried a couple of bikes but the relaxed touring style is definitely the one for me. I remember when the ipod came out and thinking “This is it, this is an invention which will really make my life easier then carrying all those tapes.” Well now I know what will be a viable alternative for me – this bike.
Cycling is not for everyone, but most people can enjoy an electric bike, if you can afford it. And that’s the sticking point. The only reason I didn’t leave with an A2B bike is I can’t afford it. But love knows no bounds and I will have it. Jacob has my details and when an ex-display model becomes available I am first in line. In the meantime I’ll have to get paid work to save up the money…
Now I just have to cycle all around England on a normal bike, knowing full well what an electric bike feels like instead. Joy.
There are many different ways to operate a local currency and many different aspects that can be changed to help the economy function. A local currency can only be used locally, thus keeping money in the town rather than bleeding it out to corporations. The currency’s will often deliberately devalue over time (demurrage) to encourage people to spend it and keep it circulating. The Stroud Pound was a local currency for Stroud and the Five Valleys area, but after a few years the currency declined in use. Yesterday the local group working on the currency were kind enough to let me sit in on their planning meeting about the relaunch of the currency as the Teasel.
The group are currently in the process of growing their team with a view to relaunching the currency next year. Coming up on October 17th in Stroud is an exciting Medieval banquet night where revelers can learn about local currencies and hear speakers from other successful local currency schemes.
An innovative approach they are investigating is to link the currency with renewable electricity.
To return to projects and visit people again has a wonderful relaxing deja vu. The memories from last year are often so clear – the places and people having been captured in my notebook, on camera and as unusual special memories. So to see the progress at the community garden in Dursley was a lovely experience. Last year the garden was a concrete pad with rubble, and a whole series of dreams and diagrams.
Now there are planter boxes made from recycled crates, a shed, a polytunnel, fruit trees, flower beds and poles for a performance stage area to be built.
Although last year’s Buzz Tour did not pass through Frome, I made a visit there this year because it is a place where a lot of environmental activity seems to be happening. I’ve heard Frome described as being in the same family of towns as Brighton, Totnes and Bristol, and interestingly there seems to be a certain movement of people between them.
In 2011 Independents For Frome formed, aiming to transcend party political disputes and reengage democracy by fielding independent candidates for all wards. The independents had a landslide victory and the council is still independent-led now, with the Green Party stepping down last election in order not to divide the vote.
At the Welsh Mill Hub I discovered Edventure Frome, a school for community enterprise, helping young people to get projects off the ground. To top the day off, after showing the documentary I met Jane at the pub who was preparing to live for a month by iron age technology. This will be the second time Jane has undertaken such a project with a group. They tan their own leather, make tools, light fire by friction and live using only technology available during the iron age.
“The hardest part was leaving,” Jane told me, “I can’t wait to get back!” Jane does not have a website for the project as she believes in face to face verbal communication, but later this year she will be doing a TED talk in Totnes, at which point I will grab it off the internet and share it with you!
Vanessa has some fascinating insights about bees. A natural beekeeper for many years, Vanessa focuses on the natural ecology and well being of the bees and encourages not just honeybees but many other species including solitary bees. She does not prevent her honeybees from swarming as she views it as an important part of their life cycle for maintaining their health. Instead she anticipates where bees may swarm to and provides lots of baited hives for them to move to.
When a swarm leaves a hive, interestingly they take almost no varroa mites with them. When bees are stressed by the use of chemicals, frequent hive opening or being fed sugar syrup instead of eating their own honey, they can become unhealthy and susceptible to disease. When they do get ill the hive can become dirty and attract varroa mites. Vanessa’s latest hive, a sun hive, is intended to mimic the natural preferred habitat for honeybees.
“Bees like to be up high,” Vanessa told me, “if you see a swarm naturally they’ll almost always be much higher up in a tree where it’s less damp, rather than on the ground for our convenience.” Then there is the shape – honeybees prefer round spaces and the queen will naturally gravitate towards the top of the hive, so the sun hive allows that to happen by not using a queen excluder.
“If you make a bee hotel with cardboard tubes for solitary bees, they like it to be somewhere fairly shaded and not too damp,” said Vanessa. “The thing to remember is that this is where eggs will be.”
Vanessa was dismayed that beekeeping clothing on the market is very expensive and made in sweatshops so she also now runs a business, Buzz, selling beekeeping supplies which she has carefully sourced herself.
A year on from when I first interviewed the Avalon Community Energy (ACE) group, they’ve made some great progress. Their proposal for a local renewable energy park now has a site, which will have an anaerobic digester, and this weekend they launched their share offer so local people can now invest in the project. Starting with solar panels, the group will be gradually expanding and installing different renewable technologies and food production so that they compliment each other and form a resilient and diverse range of energy generation for the local area.
As part of the future plans for ACE, the group is considering aquaponics so I joined Maddy from ACE on a tour of bioaqua farm, where co-founder Antonio was generous enough to share his time and advice with us. I asked Antonio about the difference in nutrient content between hydroponics (plants in a water based system) and aquaponics where the plant nutrients in the water system come from fish which are farmed on the site.
Seeing Colin again at the E&TV railway reconstruction is a pleasure in itself – his quirky humour, passion for railway and inexhaustible knowledge are certainly entertaining – but learning from the site he built and staying in the railway carriage is a very special experience.
The map below shows, in black, the railway lines that were decommissioned a few decades ago. Those of us that have grown up with a rubbish railway connection service may think that it has always been that way. It has not. Many of the lines are still 80 or even 90% intact and were decommissioned not because they were unprofitable, but as part of a policy move towards car use.
For forty years Colin has been campaigning for the reinstatement of the railways. He lives what he preaches, having reconstructed a section personally, and travelling around by bike, train, and occasionally this highly efficient mini truck called Bee.
A climate change and justice activist, and a wonderful friend, Mel is inspiring in many ways, but it’s her commitment I’d most like to tell you about. Mel came on the first two days of the tour. But it was supposed to be four. When she told me that sorry, she was going to have to change plans, I knew better than to ask why.
Two days later I heard she was one of thirteen people arrested at Heathrow airport for blocking the runway in protest of the proposed airport expansion. The group of friends from Plane Stupid put up a tripod and fencing on the runway and locked themselves on to it to protest the airport commission’s recommendation that Heathrow expand.
The UK has made a commitment to it’s people, to other nations, and to all future generations that it will reduce it’s carbon emissions. If Heathrow expands we will break that commitment.
There are citizens who believe that that we must keep our word, and they are committed to ensuring that we do.
My bike Polly (Pollination) has a difficult relationship with trains. It’s one of those relationships that should work, but when you live it, it just doesn’t. Bikes are technically allowed on trains, but all is not well amongst our many rail companies. Every rail company has a different policy regarding bikes – some require an advance reservation, some it’s turn up and see, some railways stations do not allow you to board trains with bikes at all, and none of them let you book your bike in online or necessarily tell you these things.
First Great Western usually has a separate luggage carriage where bikes are strapped in, and the station staff are sometimes helpful and tell you where to stand. However, the seat reservation was for a carriage at the other end of the train, leaving you not enough time to run down the platform to get back to your bike. With other rail companies you may need to strap it into a specific area or just hold it in the doorway. You may be treated as a nuisance or menace by railway staff and other passengers, or you may not be able to travel at all if there is not enough space for your bike.
It took two and a half hours to book my return ticket from Edinburgh with Virgin West and then East. Nearly 50 minutes of which was spent on hold. One company can not see the train times or bike spaces of another, and overarching companies like trainline.com can not see bike spaces at all. So on a standard journey you may go through several train companies, each of which you will have to call separately to book your bike space, having already booked your ticket.
If we want people to cycle, we need a joined up public transport system which allows them to transport their bikes. Here’s my suggestion of a vision of the future. One publicly owned railway system where you book your bike in online at the same time as you book your ticket, into a designated bike carriage. Those travelling with bikes sit in the carriage with their bikes. Amble space for bikes and luggage, and sufficient time for loading and unloading. And to complete the logic, bike racks on the front of buses.
We were a nation of railway builders, engineers and logistics organisers. We can make it possible to transport a few bikes.
For the Buzz Bike Tour’s first night I partnered up with Steph Bradley for a Journey to the Heart at Bowden House Community in Totnes.
In Steph’s entrancing storytelling style she told of 13 aspects of wisdom in the warriors way, based on a month long walk in Wales, using a found object to represent each.
So much of what Steph said resonated with my own experiences and journey in a way that was very grounding. With immense relief I discovered that the lovely people attending really enjoyed the Buzz Tour documentary and found it very inspiring.
It was a good reminder to relax and that after all the hard work, logistics and sleep deprivation of putting it together, it’s now time to just enjoy the journey.
Starting tomorrow, for thirty days I will be cycling around England with the Buzz Tour documentary and copies of the book Pollinating Change (dressed as a bee of course). 1000 miles, 20 towns and cities, about ten events and a whole lot of anti-chaffing cream. To make this daunting task more jolly it would be wonderful to have people supporting me as I go. If you’d like to cycle along with me or just cheer me on as I pass through, here is the itinerary for the tour. Email me the dates you’d like to join and I’ll give you my number to keep in touch as I get closer!
The one month Buzz Bike Tour begins in Totnes this Friday with a Journey to the Heart at Bowden House, 6.30-10pm. To see when we’re in your town visit our events page. If you’d like to help organise a film screening or cycle along with us, send us an email!
I’ve been getting to know my local bike group over the last three weeks – Guildford Bike Project – where they refurbish unwanted bikes and teach people bike repair. This is Jim who has been patiently teaching me about bike repairs that I hope I will not need. From plenty of practice fixing punctures, changing wheels, changing a gear cable and adjusting brakes. A few practice rides have been useful to see what my legs and bum will have to cope with but with only four days I’m going to have to just train as I go!
After an incident with a dismantled bike on the back seat of a borrowed car, I now also know the best way to remove a chain oil stain: rub it off with olive oil, cover with bicarbonate of soda, leave for an hour then brush it off.
This is the bike to be my chariot for the next month, kindly donated to me by the Guildford Bike Project. She hasn’t got a name yet but with the amount I’m likely to be talking to her, I’d better get on a first name basis. Suggestions?
Several people are already cycling with me for stretches of the journey, and if you would like to join in too, please let me know. There is no limit to how many of us can cycle during the day, but for accommodation I can only have one companion at a time.