After a winding bus ride through small villages with traditional thatched roofed houses we found our way to the path leading up to Steward Community Woodland. Started in April 2000, a group of vegan activists dedicated to intentional living bought the woodlands and moved in.
Now the group consists of six adults and a one-year-old baby. Together they manage the forested lands planting indigenous trees, work in the ever-expanding gardens and forest-gardens, maintain an excellent website and publish a newsletter sharing their skills and experiences. They also run a 'forest school' where local children come and learn about the forest.
We took a look at a leaflet and map we picked from a box at the trail head. This is produced by the Stewards for people to take self-guided nature tours through the woods. We then continued up the trail, passing by the garden area, and on past the sign marking the settlement area. We were met by Cheryl, who showed us to the 'visitors bender' - a structure made from bent tree branches, canvas tarps, and blankets for insulation.
We had a nice view through the window into the forest below, a big double bed, and a little wood burning stove. Cheryl made it very welcoming with flowers and pamphlets about the bus system and things to do in the area.The trail to the kitchen went by the sloping kitchen garden and led to a huge tent with several rat-proof cabinets stocked with plenty of foods, a big high table for preparation, a sink with running water from the spring, a picnic table, and a grill.
The common living bender was the 'Long House', with a nice sitting area, an office, and a sizeable library of many interesting books that kept Erika reading all week. We soon met Pete, who continued the tour explaining about the different areas in the forest, and letting us peek at some of the other benders. Other structures were a half finished bender-bathroom and wood burning hot tub, and a double chamber composting toilet.
Soon it was dinner time and we came together to help prepare the meal. We met Dan, (who was a coordinator for the McLibel trial), Becky, Merlin and baby Rowan. Another member, Ben, we didn't see much of as he was in the The Pink Castle, the famous direct action anti GMO campaign.
Dan took a bowl and showed us where to collect all sorts of wild foods, and also more common foods from the gardens. The other vegetables came from a weekly CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm. There was usually plenty of ripe fruit, which came from reject and almost-reject fruit distributor. Bulk grains, nuts and seeds came from an organic food distributor. They even had a little food co-op in one cabinet where you could buy luxury items like dates, halva, almonds, and other goodies. We also got into the habit of juicing wild grasses and nettles in the morning. The meals were either completely raw or mostly raw, as Dan was a hundred percenter, and the others were either happy to eat raw or fine with it. how nice.
Electric energy was all self-produced, from a self built water turbine and wind generator, to solar panels and a bike generator. Our bender wasn't connected so we usually went to sleep early, after reading by candlelight. Transport was mostly by bike and bus, and there was also one communal van for occasional communal trips and bringing food.
The cost of visiting was £4/day per adult. The residents paid a bit less into a common pot. This low cost of living, makes it possible to live on savings for quite a long time and some of the members do part-time computer work from their benders during the wet and cold winter.
We spent the rest of our visit working in the gardens when it wasn't raining (rare), reading, and chatting for hours by the wood stove. We have very fond memories of our visit and often talk about someday going back.
We met the Stewards later in the Big Green Gathering, giving us a chance to watch a BBC TV program about their difficult process of getting planning permission for their low impact, sustainable development associated with agricultural/forestry enterprise incorporating educational and residential elements in contrast to approved single-family monster-home real-estate projects. Read more about this story and terrific DIY guides on their website at
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