Everywhere is Walking Distance If You Have the Time*.


Or… The Tolpuddle Pilgrimage
Setting Out

Once, in a time that was, and was not a time of transition, there met, on the Mayflower Steps, in the city on the shores of the river where once plum trees did grow in abundance, a goodly group of folk, gathered there to begin a walk, a journey of some 60 leagues and more.

They were about to set out upon a journey to commemorate the pardon of six goodly men who way back when in the year 1834 had been transported in slavery to the far away land of Australia for the crime …of keeping a secret.

In those days it hadn’t long been allowed to meet in group at all, to form a friendly society, but what wasn’t yet allowed, was to swear an oath of secrecy. In those days landowners were not at all comfortable with workers demanding to be treated well; the French Revolution hadn’t long happened and those with more land and privilege than others were naturally feeling anxious.

Well, our six goodly men wanted exactly that; to be treated right. For several years now wages had been going down each year as more and more machinery was developed, taking the place of the labour of men. When good Farmer Heartful, George Loveless, was meeting with his co – spiritors, wages had been reduced for the third time. Bread was getting harder and harder to put on the table for his wife and their 3 children.

The landowner for whom he worked had the 6 men arrested and taken to Dorchester to explain themselves. They were sentenced to 7 years hard labour and put aboard ship and sent off. The beginnings of the Trade Unions, horrified by what had happened gathered together hard earned pennies here and there from fellow workers to keep the wives and children from starving whilst they set about trying to bring the men home.

800 000 rose up to demand the return of the heroes; the Tolpuddle Martyrs, and 3 years later they returned to these shores, by the Mayflower Steps where once the Pilgrim Fathers had set sail for the New World. And on this fine summer’s day in 2014 another group of pilgrims stood ready, to walk across this land from the mouth of the Plym in the land of Devon to Tolpuddle in the land of Dorset, to traverse the old land of Wessex.

There was Jonny Pilgrim himself, the one with the vision, to walk the land to celebrate our brave forefathers, and gathered with him were more; He of Kindly Nature and lover of both slow travel and fast, and He Who Stood Tall, there was too She of Belief in a Positive Future for all and WynnAlice the Storyweaver, as well as He of Music, Philosophy and Finesse.

Came one who said they must to the centre amass to join those there with flags and whistles, who protested that very day for the right to retire before they got too old, and so the pilgrims went, and were waved off by teachers, fire fighters and they that work for those who think they know best, all gathered together to ask for more.  Here too the pilgrims were joined by 2 more; there was She of Many Tales and Many Shoes and too She Who Jewels Would Collect and She of Kindly Disposition.

There were those with machines to capture light images who followed them out of the great city of Plymouth that morning, as the pilgrims set out for the place where Ivy covers the town bridge. ‘Twas to be a long day for the 9 that walked, and many a wrong turn was taken.

It first took quite some considerable time for the pilgrims to get out of the great city;

“Is this the Laira Bridge?” one or other of them would ask of the Plymouth based walkers, who grinned and said;

“Not yet”

Over and over, as first one, then another bridge was crossed and the buildings of the city passed by. She of Kindly Disposition, walking only for an hour or two, took the large pack of a fellow pilgrim to carry a-while and when it seemed they had almost escaped the clutches of the endless streets full of houses and roads full of cars, they met the next challenge; the path vanished in the centre of a housing estate in a fashion not marked up on the map.

By means of local guides happy to help the way through was found and into the woods walked they. ‘Twas here the first choice of way was given; short and steep, or gentle and longer.  The short cut was chosen and She of Kindly Disposition at this point turned back returning the pack to its original carrier and 8 pilgrims onwards went.

along the way

Though now the city had been left behind the challenges had not… and at a cottage where a cat had rejected all affection the wrong turning was chosen and the pilgrims ended up at the path’s end…overlooking a steep wooded river valley, far below. As they sat and ate together two goodly farmers did arrive to laugh with glee at the mistake and to help the merry band on their way once again…return do to the place of the indifferent cat and turn there, said they.

the road to nowhere…

And soon they were off again, over style and across field, wary of cattle, and wary of taking wrong turns did they wend their way eastwards across the land of Devon… only to get lost once more…in a a field with a circle of trees, that the pilgrims did walk around, and around, and around till He Who Stood Tall was heard to suggest that maybe they should head off downhill and find their way once more, which they did, by the means of a thick rope left to dangle down a steep bank to aid the walking down to the road.

Once all were safely down they were off again and though the last stretch was long the goodly band of folk did finally arrive in the place where Ivy Covers the Bridge where they were taken to the community field to hear the sad tale of the field that was to be taken over by housing developers, for profit, and when the townsfolk said No, and protested, they discovered the history of that place. 19 young American men had been stationed there in the war and the townsfolk had made friends with the Bedford Boys. Then D Day came and the boys were sent on … and never came back. The townsfolk won their field back from the developers and on the site caused to be built wooden benches to commemorate those young men, a chair back for each one, with his name carved therein.

With tears in her eyes did a townswoman relate the tale and with tears in their eyes did the pilgrims respond, and remember ever that people will do whatever it takes to honour the deeds of another.

Later that evening to the RiverSide Garden did they proceed, townsfolk and pilgrims alike, to eat well and drink well and listen to good music played by a fire and be told of local community markets, recipes for cordials, and local community gardens.

To bed did the walkers go, each to a host and She of Belief in a Positive Future for All did return to her home that night and then there were 7.

Next morning the goodly group did gather again, at the new community garden in the centre of the town, next to the market,  to help plant herbs and meet the mayor and there gathered to their number He of Community Action and The Green Leader to walk with them a day, and now there were 9 once again.

As they walked out of town following lanes for none in that company had local knowledge enough to lead them across the wild western moor, She Who Jewels Would Collect did spy a treasure; a small sparkly ball that would onto Tolpuddle go, beneath a bridge beneath the monstrous Eh Thirty Eight, instead of a troll.

As they walked along the edge of the mighty moorland men in shoes carrying sticks with which they were wont to hit small white balls some distance were most disgruntled to be held back in their game by a gaggle of pilgrims crossing the green and He of Local Community Action was heard to describe the perfect timing for all things as being not dissimilar to the carving of a good piece of wood. If you go against the grain and try and carve straight through knots you will cut fingers get and a goodly amount of frustration. If you do instead follow the natural way of things, working gently, with focus, and taking your time why a masterpiece will you create said he.

Onward and onward did the merry band progress their journey east and for those of you who might have expected the Martyrs Cry:

“We will, we will, we will be free!”

May instead be surprised to learn that the chant the goodly folk did constantly call was;

“Car! Car! Car!”

as first one then another metal box upon wheels did threaten to squash them all flat in its passage along the narrow country lanes built for cart, horse and foot.

He of Kindly Nature waits for the stragglers to catch up

At the village of South Brent on the edge of the moor did 3 women and a man stop to take tea with a kindly hostess, bandage feet, and partake of healthy raw chocolate snacks, relax and talk of this and that as a company made up mainly the female variety are wont to do, whilst 3 men and a woman to the inn did go to purchase tankards of beer for he who a birthday did celebrate.

mosaic in goodly hostess’ home

As they neared the good community village of Rattery an elderly dog did come out to greet them, welcome them, and The Green Leader shared her vision of 2050:

“And all shalt work but 21 hours a week and more than this each shall receive his equal share of essential coins to put roof over head and food on the table” said she and the vision of what is to come was good.

That evening to the farm at the old school at the little settlement on the Dart did the pilgrims go and rest weary feet and eat their fill, later to bed to sleep awhile, to awaken replenished the next morn to meet atop a hill where a castle once had been built.

Here, in a town that was not too big and not too small with a river running through it and a steep, steep hill leading to said castle, two proud ladies did meet them to share of the history of that rebellious place.

Said they that back in the memorable year that The Conqueror had come to these isles a castle upon a hill would have been no precious sight but rather one to instil dread into the hearts of those earlier peoples. Tis said too that the fat conqueror was no dearly loved hero but hated by subjugated and followers alike and though he repented on his deathbed ‘twas too late and he was left to die alone where his body became swollen and then burst in terrible fashion, but his nobles were not there to see the sight for they had already to our isle returned, as quick as you like, to grab all the prime land they could.

And so dear listener, here is the sorry tale of a landless people on a small island, where few own much and many little or none at all. From that land grab cam more and soon not much of the commons remained, as enclosure after enclosure privatised the common good to line the pockets of they who could.

Totnes though tis well known is a rebellious place and the townsfolk for ever fought to keep things square in the green rolling hills of the Devonshire land and of late ‘twas coffee barons they fought off, as the little town of 8000 folk with its coffee houses 42 did say ‘No’ to Costa and won their case.

Came this and many other wonders from the folk who believed the times were ripe for change and practised the Art of Transition whenever they could, launching their own currency and putting solar panels on every roof top they could, growing veg on every patch they could procure and handing out green prescriptions to those who were sick to get themselves up the Lamb, a small community garden where they could learn to grow food and become healthy and make friends in the doing.

From this place the pilgrims set forth after lunching on fresh local breads and pastries, having lost She of Many Tales and Many Shoes and gained in her stead the little Flower Maiden, espoused to He of Music, Philosophy and Finesse, and too He Who Light Images Did Take to remember the occasion in pictures for all time. Went with them also a Musician of Great Renown, a bard, a cycling troubadour, though on this day on his feet did he walk.

Though that day the distance walked was short still there was no shortage of adventures as the pilgrims, chatting as they went, came to a field where a herd of red cattle did gaze upon them in wonder. Gazing back some of the pilgrims marched forth, having been told that cows are quite short sighted, and waving their arms in big gestures thus kept the cattle back whilst the other half of our merry band back tracked to seek another way through, not trusting their safety at the feet of the large clumsy beasts not to trample them.

The brave forward marchers waited in vain for the rearguard to follow; looking hither and thither to see where their companions might emerge. Sat they on the grassy bank as the cattle looked perplexed; what were the strange clothed beasts doing, and why did they wait?

At length the latter half of the group of pilgrims appeared, one by one, from over the brook, having braved barbed wire fence and nettle beds to find a path though to rejoin their friends, and all the while the large red beasts did stare and wonder.

The ruinsof a castle perched high above caught the imagination of the Flower Princess and WynnAlice told her the tale of that place; one of jealousy and its cruel deeds. For once upon a time 2 sisters did live in that fair castle till one day a prince came and captured both their hearts. For fear of losing her beau the elder had her sister locked in the dungeons far below and there she stayed until she died and tis said in these parts that her ghost haunts still the place of her betrayal.

Berry Pomeroy Castle

Onward though did the pilgrims go, finding the way easy though she with the map, unused to a guide who knew the way more than once did question the path and found herself wrong. In the final field her confusion caused more until pretty soon one and all stood in the centre of the grasslands pointing this way and that, till another one was asked as he walked by with his dog and soon the way was regained and it didn’t take long at all, blisters and all that the band of walkers arrived at the farm in whose barn they were to sleep.

a pause for a  mid morning snack of … nasturtiums

‘Twas here a little disappointment settled up on the faces of some, who had thought the journey through, but no, there was still a little way further to be walked, and after stocking up on food supplies and beer the pilgrims continued along their way, waving goodbye to their guide for the day and he who had transported heavy bags for them too.

So they were come to Warren Barn, and there to settle. The Flower Maiden cooked up a mighty feast assisted at kitchen by WynnAlice with knife a chopping and soon did they all sit down to a banquet of Argentinian fare, wild flowers decorating the long wooden table, and fresh sour dough bread did the Minstrel provide.

As they ate to their fill the place around the fire pit began to fill and soon they that had come to be entertained were gathered there and the pilgrims, led by their storyteller and minstrel too, came to sit with them as the first flicker of flames began to lick the logs there placed by the good guardians of that place.

Of pilgrims’ tales did the storyteller tell, following on from the ballads that poured from the Minstrel’s mouth accompanied by strains of melody from the wooden guitar brought along for the occasion by She of Golden Locks, good lady of Jonny Pilgrim himself.

And all were amused and none more than the small boy when the Minstel did sing the tale of the monkeys and the hats, and later when most had retired to their beds the pilgrims lingered on and the Minstrel played for their delight and some joined in with voice and makeshift drum will one by one they too wound their way upwards to sleep. Tis said that He Who Stood Tall was rather bemused by the sleeping bag he had carried, for when it was opened it was found to be but a third of his length; in fact perfect for a small boy only to sleep comfortably the night away.

Still ‘twas a warm night, and covers were found and the next morning all were found to be well rested and ready for the next stage of the journey. The Minstrel too walk homeward back the way he had come and the Flower Maiden and her fair spouse to wend their way too to the town that was not too big and not too small to explore a little before they too were homeward bound. That left just 6 walkers to continue along the way now turning east facing the yet distant Tolpuddle.

As they perambulated the settlement by the sea they call Torquay they were joined for a short while by a lady and her son, good walkers and good companions they accompanied the pilgrims on their journey through the city but were soon to be left behind as the road continued on through St Mary’s and beyond.

They had spied the ocean and one and all were well pleased at their new companion; none more so than Jonny Pilgrim himself, who had missed its presence through the hedgerowed lanes of Devon.

Morning Glory View

They had bargained, however, without the memory of how it is that coastal paths, designed by whom they did not know, bear their companions up and down in quite alarming fashion and so it was that though there eyes were glad their legs were not and tired they laboured up and down the perilous path till exhausted they came to the place where refreshments could be had and the gentle men to the inn did go to slake their thirst as they ate their fill whilst the good lady folk, now just 2, clambered down the steps to the sand and the sea, to dip tired feet in rejuvenating salt water, to sit on golden beach and picnic as one bandaged feet and the other bought ices for their delight.

A pilgrim’s flag makes it to the beach

Re united the six set out once again in their hearts hoping, nay, praying, for a smooth straight way such as a train might enjoy but ‘twas not to be and the path did continue to test their tired legs as up and down did it lead them rewards of a view to die for only partially compensating their labours as Jonny Pilgrim strode onwards determined to be there on time. Soon lost to view was he and the others plodded and waited for the ladies to catch up and little by little the short miles that felt like leagues were made and at last in the distance the sounds of a party were heard, strains of music perambulated the air and down below the town on the Teign could be spied

and holding back their legs from running away with them they stepped eagerly down to the harbour where they looked impatiently around to find the ferry:

“Where is it?”

“Shall we call and ask?”

“Is it here?”

The gentlemen were eager to be there, on the other side of the mighty estuary, but the ladies came along slowly, relaxed at their arrival upon flat ground at last and soon the ferry boat was a-spied coming across the water and they and fellow companions climbed aboard and paid their fifty pence pieces one and all and wearing extra layers for protection against the ocean breeze did gain the other side quickly and there were waiting a goodly gaggle of folk, amongst them He of The Press who took names and photos and  hurried off to publish them whilst the pilgrims did follow their new hosts to the old garage now become hub for all manner of community activity in the centre of the town.

Here there were crafts and artwork displayed and too a fine spread of food to tempt and delight the newly arrived walkers. A goodly welcome did they receive, as with cheers and clapping did they usher them inside to ask of them questions and tell them their news and by and by Jonny Pilgrim told of their endeavour and WynnAlice  was prevailed upon to recount their adventures once more and then to the back room moving images to see that told of the magic and the glad hearts of those who knew that growing local food was the solution to so much and that even within our cities large these are the projects that are changing the stories we have believed for far too long.

At this point WynnAlice took her leave as did the Taker of Light Images, and then there were 4 … and that is a tale for another day….

Read Kevin Treweek’s daily blog for more adventures, and how it was the pilgrims made it to the Tolpuddle Festival.  http://www.dotdolly.com/treweekpilgrim.html

Hear Tim Graham’s version here: http://www.timgrahammusic.co.uk/

 *Title Credit: Teign Transition

Listen to the story on radio  here: http://www.mixcloud.com/StephanieAWBradley/stories-with-steph-the-tolpuddle-pigrimage-230714/

Read my article on Storytelling and Walking here: http://stirtoaction.com/stir-summer-issue-pre-order-25-off/