As I left the hotel with a wave, the wind was picking up and it was clear that rain was coming. By the time I was splishing past a clay quarry the white puddles were making targets for the traffic of fast cars. The day stayed grey with gently persistent rain. I took a satisfyingly long respite in Chudleigh, making the most of my £1.50 pot of tea.
Arriving at Embercombe there was a long walk down the drive, past yurts, wood sculptures, wood buildings and large outdoor wooden tables. With my found wooden staff and giant green poncho I arrived at the carved wooden office building and slowly removed and hung my many layers. The day had been a stressful one for the staff as that evening they were starting a course, as well as taking in a new group of volunteers. But my timing was excellent, as dinner would shortly be served.
My loyal boots were soaked. In the center of the giant dinner yurt was a big wood burning stove where I propped my boots. A wiser soul kindly saved my soles later by moving them back from melting range.
The new arrivals for the Catalyst course were excitedly finding places on the wooden benches and getting to know each other. The eighteen to twenty five year olds had been asked to prepare a drawing of their life as a river and as we polished off our hearty vegan meal many were making a last minute creation. Paper and coloured pens were put out and tomorrow they would introduce themselves and talk through the drawings. Chatting with the group at my table I joined them in drawing. The variety of styles really surprised me (then I was surprised at my surprise), some with lots of colour, others with waterfalls, whirlpools, some were abstract, some a map.
My own river started as a canalised straight line with handrails, had a geyser which nearly stopped the flow then gradually widened into a flower lined wavy river.
Older volunteers had a meeting to try to explain what Embercombe was to the new arrivals and let me sit in. It was an interestingly difficult conversation. “It’s really good at opening your eyes to what you do and who you are.” “A place where you can really be, with genuine people who can reflect you back.”
The site has emerging traditions and activities like joinery, cider making, growing vegetables, but “It’s not the activities, they are the way you learn, but not what you learn. This place could be a heaven, or a hell even, depending upon what you bring with you.” At this point I really still didn’t understand what happened at the site, then one of the volunteers kindly told us about its history.
“The founder, Mac, wanted a garden to grow people. He used to do leadership training for companies, and one of the businessmen he worked with, David Mann funded Mac to start this place. Embercombe is a business so people running it can be really busy.”
The following morning I climbed out of my tent and looked across the beautiful valley. Warming up in the drying room I checked on my clothes. The evening before I’d washed all my spare clothes in the sink with soap and hung them in the purpose built drying room. They were satisfyingly paper dry.