On Sunday 8th April, I headed south from Findhorn for the English and Welsh legs of the Millionth Tree Lecture Tour that I’m doing as part of the build-up to the planting of our millionth tree at Dundreggan on 20th May. After an overnight stop at a vegan Bed & Breakfast near Kendal in the English Lake District, I continued down to Wales, where my first lecture was scheduled for lunchtime on Tuesday 10th April at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), near Machynlleth.
I stayed on Monday night with Ritchie Tassell, a Woodland Officer with the Countryside Council for Wales, who told me that he’d been a fan of Trees for Life for many years. We had some interesting conversations and the next morning, before going with me to CAT for the lecture, he took me to see an area of woodland he’d been responsible for planting trees in, and achieving natural regeneration as well, about 20 years previously.
We also stopped to look at some mature oak woodland in the upper part of the RSPB’s Ynys-hir Nature Reserve. This was all green and mossy, although the trees didn’t have their new leaves yet – it was a remnant of the temperate rainforests that formerly covered much of western Wales, in a similar fashion to the Atlantic oakwoods of the west coast of Scotland. As in Scotland, most of those woodlands have been cleared, and sheep pasture predominates in much of Wales today, with the sheep preventing the growth of new trees in most places.
I was pleased to return to CAT, as I’d been very inspired by my previous visits there in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but I hadn’t been back since 1985 and the centre has changed and developed in many ways since then. I gave the lecture in one of the new buildings there – the WISE building, an impressive structure made from rammed earth and other renewable materials.
Being at CAT also provided an opportunity to meet up with a good friend, Peter Harper, who has worked there since the 1980s, developing many of their nature-related and gardening features. He’s also the author of a highly-regarded book, ‘The Natural Garden Book’, and has visited Findhorn several times over the years. Then, as on this day, we had some very stimulating conversations, and he took some time, before giving a lecture himself to a group of students beginning a course there that afternoon, to show me around some of the projects he’s been involved with at CAT.
I had to leave quite soon though as I had another lecture to give in Shrewsbury that evening, and although the talk itself went well, the evening was overshadowed for me by the onset of a bout of food poisoning. This affected me quite badly, leaving me weak and suffering from diarrhoea during the following days. However, I had quite a rigorous schedule, with a lecture organised for a different town each evening, in Hereford, Aberystwyth and then Worcester. Despite feeling unwell, I managed to deliver all the lectures, although I spent much of each day in bed, only getting up to drive to the next venue and give the talk each evening!
I was very grateful for the kindness and support of the people who hosted me, including Graham and Janet Bennett in Shrewsbury and Dave Purdon and his family near Aberystwyth, and also the volunteers who helped me set up for each lecture. The talks themselves didn’t attract as many people as I’d hoped, due in part perhaps to it still being the Easter holiday period, when folk were away. However, the people who did come were very interested, and included a couple of Trees for Life life members, people who’d been on some of our volunteer programmes, and one or two people whom I’d met before and/or who recognised me from visits they’d made to Findhorn etc.
By Saturday I was feeling slightly better, and had an afternoon talk scheduled that day for Stroud, which wasn’t too long a drive from Worcester, where I’d stayed in a B & B in a wonderful old 16th century farmhouse on the Friday evening. I hadn’t been sleeping well at nights, because of being sick, so I stopped en route to have a nap in the car, and also to photograph some wild cherry trees (Prunus avium) that were flowering by the roadside.
Spring was noticeably further advanced here than in Wales, where none of the trees had their leaves out yet, although there had been some blackthorns (Prunus spinosa) flowering in the hedgerows. That species produces its flowers before the leaves open, and I’d photographed it in Glen Strathfarrar a couple of weeks previously. I was surprised to note that spring was about as advanced in Scotland as it was on the way to Stroud. Normally I would have expected the Highlands to be lagging behind by a couple of weeks, but perhaps with all the unseasonably hot weather we had in late March there’s not such a differential this year.
The lecture in Stroud had a few more people at it than some of the others, including a dear friend, Katie Lloyd-Nunn, who had lived at Findhorn back in the 1990s, and 4 other former Findhorn members that I knew well. The audience also included Adam Druett, who did a sponsored cycle ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats in 2009/10 to raise funds for us, and Peter Cornish, a good supporter who has attended some of our events at Dundreggan. It felt like talking to friends in a way, so I was very well received, and gained some more sponsorship for my participation in our Treelay event next month. If you’d like to support me in that as well you can do so online here – I’m over 10% of the way towards my target of £5,000 now!
In Stroud, I was also warmly hosted for the night by Alice Wyndham, who said she’d met me at Findhorn many years previously. She told me that Stroud has had a Green Party mayor for most of the past 20 years, and my brief impression of the town is certainly that it has a very positive, forward-looking and environmentally-focussed approach, perhaps best typified by the signs that welcome visitors on the roads leading into the town!
Sunday 15th April is a rest day, with no lectures, and I’m pleased to say that I’m finally feeling back to full health again, ready for the next phase of the tour …