So Sunday we set out early with an 8am plane into London, and a bus from there to the little town of Totnes in Devon. There we stayed at the Sharpham Estate. We couldn’t have had better weather in England, and the food we had was delicious. When we finally got in on Sunday, we had some time to relax before dinner.
All Monday morning we had an introduction to the trip and specifically the organization that was hosting us and giving us the tour, called Transition Town Totnes. It’s a conglomeration of people who are not experts, but who became worried about climate change, and decided to look into things. They have a good understanding, and their mission now is to inform anyone who is willing to listen, in the most open communication possible. In town one idea they are focusing on is what they call “re-skilling” meaning teaching people how to garden, do simple home repairs, and the like, so that people can be more self sufficient and less dependent on goods and services coming from far away. There are very optimistic people, who don’t get paid for their efforts. A man named Hal showed us around for the few days we were there, transporting us on “Bob the Bus” (the town’s private bus company, because other bus companies refuse to drive on their small, windy, and steep streets).
After the introduction we enjoyed a simple and tasty lunch made all the better by persistent sunshine (who knew sunshine was possible for some many days in a row in England, even when they told us it was supposed to rain :)). That afternoon we went to Occombe Farm. A small place focused on getting the community involved and invested. There is a lovely community garden with lots of flowers and walking paths, a learning center and kitchen for kids and adults, a small box scheme which also utilizes other local producers, and many walking paths that are always open to the public.
After some more good food we watched a Cuban film about the peak oil situation they faced there. Peak oil is when the highest amount of oil has been discovered and used and there will only be a decrease in available oil after that, as I understand it. Cuba was cut off from oil and most other imported supplies, so they were forced to become self sufficient fast. Farmers are very well off, and I think most of their food is now locally grown. Sleep was well needed by the time we finished for the day.
Next morning we went out to the Dartmoor estate early and hiked for a while amoung the hills, jagged rocks, and sheep.
For Lunch we went to Riverford farm. They have a big box scheme, with farms throughout England that supply the local community. It was interesting to see a more commercial method of connect people with their food, and they are quite successful. They are also helping the local community with a kids garden patch, and they make the cafeteria lunches for a nearby school. They also have a highly acclaimed restaurant (equivalent in England to Chez Panise (sp?), and inspired by that restuarant) where they use the gardens produce to make lunches and dinners. There is a limited menu for the day, and you must reserve a table for your party.
Stuffed to the brim we went to another part of the estate for the afternoon. The Dartington estate is run on trust money and on part of the estate that money is used to support small organic farmers and mushroom growers do what they want to do, without having to worry quite as much about turning a profit. We saw their facilities, and they were interesting and cool projects, and hopefully someone can find a way to make them work on their own.
We had dinner on our own that night, so naturally we went in search of a fish and chips place, and found a gem in a little alley. After walking around for a while we watched Pride and Prejudice (it couldn’t be helped when staying in an estate in the English countryside), and played Sardines (backwards hide-and-go-seek). TTT’s main message is that communities are key, and I must say I agree. It’s one great way to get people to care about climate change.
Wednesday morning we headed back into London. We stayed at the Royal National Hotel, essentially a massive hostel that provides breakfast. After getting settled in we took a walking tour around the sites of the facilities for the 2012 Olympics. London has said they want to make it the most sustainable Olympic games. The building materials are light, and as far as we know there is a plan to involve the local commmunity by giving them the many new jobs, and by assuring cheap housing in the area after the games. It was a bit frustrating because the woman giving us the tour was simply a walking tour guide and couldn’t give us any real answers from the olympic committee. Though, I felt bad because she hadn’t expected such a big group with so much knowledge on the subject. That night we went to an Italian restaurant as a group and had my least favorite meals of the week, not badly cooked, just not my style.
We started Thursday off with a visit to Transport for London, the company that runs or manages most of the public transportation in London. Quick note: I’m not a fan of the tube. It’s crowded, ridiculously hot, and and a very small space. Literally nothing else can fit in those tunnels when a train is going by. For lunch we went to a french restaurant where we had french onion soup and poulet frites, again it was delicious. So far I don’t agree with the statement, the british can’t cook. Quick note: Jamie Oliver put out a new book recently accompanied by a timer, and to help promote these items there are posters up all over London. Unfortunately the timer is shaped like Jamie Oliver’s face, and it has a very creepy smile.
After lunch we went up in the London Eye and got an amazing view of the city.
The free time for the rest of the day. First I went to afternoon tea at The Orangery with a few others. It was a lovely building and a lovely meal.
That evening I went to see a show called Avenue Q. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s sort of sesame street for adults. Some of the characters are puppets and others are people. The main character, Princeton, has just graduated college, and this is about his entrance into the real world. It was absolutely hilarious, and I highly recommend seeing it.
We wondered around the city for a bit, and then I decided to try to find Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station. Platforms 9 and 10 are separated from 1-8 and, contrary to common sense, 9 3/4 is on the 1-8 side. Sadly, I didn’t find this out until after I had come home to Copenhagen ( I like that it is home now, it’s good), so I wasn’t able to visit hogwarts :(.
Anyway, Friday we woke up early, packed up, and went to the Imperial War Museum to see the Ministry of Food Exhibition. During the World Wars the British government put a lot of promotion into growing your own food to supplement the rations and well as to reduce food waste as much as possible. Most of the exhibit was the posters the government used to promote this, as well as the videos. I hadn’t realized this was such a big part of the war effort in England, and it was interesting to see. After wondering around a few other exhibits in the museum we got some lunch and played ping pong in the park with a passing Japanese business man. It was a nice last day in London. While it’s definitely not one of my favorite cities, I have every intention of coming back to see the sites closer up, and go to more museums. It was a little embarassing because throughout the trip I couldn’t help slipping into a british accent from time to time, and sometimes it slipped in during conversations with the other American students. In any case it was a really fun trip, and I’m glad I finally got to go to Britain.