Plans at last!

april land 1After the treacherous late snow in March comes our first Spring at Pi Acres! The snow made it impossible to get to the land, but I’m not moaning because it was harsher on the poor creatures that had to try to survive it. What I will whine about however was how hard it was on my pocket. There were days my shop couldn’t open and takings plummeted to less than a third of our usual achievable target turnover. This means I’m very poor because the VAT man still wants his money, the wages and bills all still need to be paid, and the cogs cannot stop turning in this capitalist wheel of slavery or the whole thing collapses. I lose my income completely if I don’t keep up this western economy juggling act. But….

My fiancé Paul (yes that’s right – we got engaged in February!) and I have been escaping to this, our haven and prepping the land for things to start happening. We brought family on one of the days we visited and I cooked vegan chilli over a camping stove (our bushcraft skills need honing somewhat yet so that we can make a roaring campfire quickly and efficiently!) We weeded and pruned, and carefully moved the saplings I wanted to save (that were soon to get mowed down when John did the brambles). My son Oliver replanted the trees in the border and I’m delighted to say that the next time we visited, they had all sprung into lush lime green leaves and seem most happy in their new spot! (I think they were Alder and Hazel but I didn’t have my tree ID book with me that day be to completely sure!)

There’s a lovely chap called John that Andrew (the gardener that lives opposite the land) introduced us to, who lives up the hill in Dowland. After deciding to wait until the snowdrops had finished – (but not too late because we didn’t want to destroy any ground nests), he came down with his tractor and mowed all the brambles and nettles.

Afterwards, we wandered around our land truly astonished at how big it looks now! It’s meant that we have finally been able to look at what we’ve actually got and start working out some plans. We will be putting together a planning application next year as a lot of what we would like to do like digging ponds and putting a cute bridge over the stream requires permission, but until we know where we want to dig and create, we will stick to only doing what won’t get us in any trouble! Eventually we will have to decide on where the ponds should go, and I’d quite like a greenhouse style geodome, but then also a tree house or deer/bird hide? I’ve yet to even think about the trees I want to plant and propagate – I’ve been saving Holm Oak acorns to try and grow them. It would be so lovely if I was around long enough to see a Holm oak acorn I planted grow into a full tree. Maybe my super healthy vegan lifestyle and fresh air will help me live until I’m really old so that I can see how this project matures. I’m seeing it as my legacy and have even started thinking about setting it up as a trust but my head starts to spin after a while with those chains of thoughts, so for now, I’m content to just mow the grass and weave some willow! My current dream (or perhaps obsession?!) is to buy a sit on mower but we have no money at the moment so it’s all just a dream. If we have a good bank holiday weekend at the shop, maybe a really old one could be considered!

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Ian Chadwick from the Devon Wildlife Trust came and looked at what trees on the nature reserve side of the boundary could be pruned or removed to allow daylight into the old pasture where horses used to be kept. We need to start trying the tame the land so that things like wild meadow flowers will grow there. The banks of primroses everywhere make the place magical, and now that bluebells have joined them in the woods, I realise how quickly the time has gone. I’ve always maintained that summer doesn’t really start until my birthday has been and gone and the bluebells have finished, but what happened to Spring? It feels like it’s only been here five minutes!

This is by far my favourite time of the year; when the bluebells carpet forests in deep purple hues and the sun is warm on your face, but a cardigan is still required, and a camp fire at the end of the day is welcome to warm yourself up.  I’ll be concocting my own midge repellent with citronella oil and coconut oil – so I’ll let you know if it works when we start having the odd campfire and staying until it falls dark. I’m usually quite delicious to biting insects but I really don’t want to use chemical repellents.

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So, here’s our first plan! I realised after doing half of it that it’s upside down if you want North to be at the top, but this isn’t how I see it in my head and the other way up was just far too confusing for me; I read from left to right so it makes sense that the plans go from left to right from the entrance! We are still getting to know the land so much of it at this stage is hypothetical; we are still working out where would be good locations for ponds (some of the land is so boggy it almost demands we dig it out and allow the giant boggy puddles to realise their full potential!) and where is dry enough (higher ground) to plant fruit and nut trees.

When I first saw the land, I envisaged a giant pond up the far end away from the entrance, and an area half way down where I would plant all the fruit and nut trees together in neat lines and make it a proper walk-through orchard, but now I’ve visited regularly through a wet Autumn and an elongated winter, I can’t see that working. There are too many boggy areas and the places that would be perfect for fruit and nut trees are dotted around on higher levels. Many of them will get planted in small clusters so it creates dividing copses to break up the long thinness of the land. I want to create small copses and idyllic openings with grassy meadows and the odd well placed bench and willow sculpture. Certain areas are already standing out as great places to erect a tent and have a go at camping on the land. I’m a bit of a princess I’ll be honest and the truth is, I’d rather sleep in our van, but at the moment that would mean sleeping in the car park as only a tractor can get in and out of our boggy marsh land!

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As you can see, it looks a lot more bare than the estate agent picture that was taken last Summer! It will be interesting to see how well things bush up when all the trees and shrubs have caught up to the idea that it’s nearly Summer. You can see from the latest picture that even a tractor struggled through the boggy part of the route in.

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Next time we visit, John is meeting us to help us work out a gully system to redirect the water that currently comes down the hill and straight through our gate. There’s already a ditch along our border and the road and I reckon it just needs some kind of stone gully put in it to send the water to the stream. Once we’ve done this and the land dries up a bit, we’ll have to think of a way to drive the van in. I’m all in favour of selling the van and getting a 4 x 4, but as we are going on a road trip round Brittany in our van for our honeymoon that plan will have to wait. A solution is to put some stone down just inside the gate and then we can park there. I have concerns that it will look ugly until it grasses over, but I have some super fast growing grass seed so it won’t take long until it looks nice again. In fact, I’m sure our battle will be stopping everything bursting into chaos as things grow rather than urging seeds to sprout!

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This is the view looking back at the mound – you can just see it through the opening. I love how the trees are already shaping separate areas, so that we just have to add to them rather than create them. The way time is dashing by, I can’t see us doing much more this summer than make a couple of log stores and keep mowing the meadow areas so that by next year they are good for spreading wild meadow flower hay everywhere. If anyone knows where I can get this, please send me a message because my only lead at the moment is Exeter City Council roadside gardens – I noticed they didn’t harvest the wild flower beds at all last year – what a waste!! I’ll happily go harvest them if they let me.

Soon we will go see Ian Chadwick at the Meeth Nature Reserve as they have ponds they created some years ago – I’m keen to see which plants just arrived without them actually planting them as I’m fascinated to see how things develop naturally and without too much landscaping on my part.

What we are planning to do this year that may set tongues wagging is get married on our land! Well, I say married – it’s obviously not a licenced wedding venue but we still plan to say our vows to each other in front of our family and friends in a small gathering followed by a campfire, guitars and singing. People might think we are weird cult members or pagan witches if they happen to be walking their dogs in the nature reserve on that day, but I can assure you we are not! I’m thinking of erecting a silk parachute covered geodome for the event, so some might think we’re a mini Eden project in the making which, you never know might just be the case in years to come! So, to dispel any myths or speculation about what we are up to, I’ve had a sign made to go on the gate:

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So if you’re reading this because you’ve walked past this sign, and spotted by blog address, welcome! I’ve been explaining to so many interested passing parties what we are up to that I thought I would post my blog address on the sign and you can follow what we are doing as we do it! If you would like to lend a hand, send me a message via this blog. The plan doesn’t show you all the nature art installations we are planning – most will be using natural materials we scavenge off the land – I can’t wait to see lichen and moss growing on some of the woven art I have planned. In fact, our first Nature Sculpture and Art Day is soon – we’ve planned it for May 19th, so if you love nature and art, follow this link to secure yourself a place: Nature Art & Sculpting Day – we’re limiting numbers because the last thing we want is to over trample the recovering pastures! Plus, parking is an issue, so if you want to come, please walk in from the village and keep our impact on the environment as low as possible. Let me know asap if you want to join in on this or any other things we have planned (2019 orchard planting for example!).

Whilst this is a space we will ultimately want to share with people on certain days, it’s not quite the same as making it a public space – we will be putting living hedges (and dead ones for those that don’t take!) right the way along the boundary as we will need to discourage dogs and dog walkers in favour of the ground nesting birds I want to attract. Please respect the boundaries and don’t trespass!

As an ex Scout leader, I’m quite keen to get the local scout group involved and eventually have an archery range that they come and share with us, but like so many things it’s a case of seeing how it evolves for now.

I’m concerned about the amount of cans and bottles that I found on the land – people just throwing it over the hedge from the bridle path. I also worry that some of the beautiful areas we create might get vandalised (locals have been regaling tales of vandals and thieves so much that I’m convinced our plot must be like the Brooklyn of Dolton!) but I can’t let that stop us! Soon, when I have more money, we will put live nature cam up everywhere and try to attract as much wildlife as possible so that we can capture on film the beauty of this magical place – and that in turn should prevent horrid things happening – from humans at least! There will be no hunting on my land. I’m a vegan, so I can’t bear exploiting or killing animals for sport or food. It’s astonishing how angry meat eaters and hunters get when I say I am not prepared to kill animals. What about crucial culling, they ask. If I find I have issues with, say too many deer for example, I will fence off or protect the trees they could ruin if given access to them, but generally I will be welcoming all the wild life I can.

If you’ve not read any of my posts before, there’s one about falling down the rabbit hole of veganism; if you wish to better understand the journey I am on (and trying to advocate) it’s worth reading! Or if you just want to be nosey about what we are doing with the land, there will be updates with each post even if I go off on my anti-capitalist, hippy rants about how we should all be communing with nature. We should! It’s good for your soul, your mental health; it grounds you (literally) and helps balance out the evil influences of the controllers of our sick nation.  I’m hoping I can tame parts of the land enough (pesky brambles will be the challenge) that walking around barefoot is relatively peril free, so if you see a bare foot, curly grey haired lady wandering round picking up sticks to make arty things with, that’ll be me 🙂

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And the handsome beardy weirdy is Paul. You’re more likely to see him up trees hanging the art we make. Feel free to say hello if you see us, but as we work long hours in the Exeter and Plymouth city rat races when we are not on the land, time is very precious so chatting about what we’re there to do might be a bit of a luxury. Please don’t think us rude if we crack on with it!

 

 

Why Pi?

The journey begins…

land1Because I just bought 3.14 acres of land. That’s Pi that is.

I’d been looking at buying woodland, and had even gotten into a bidding war last summer on woodland near Exeter, Devon. My bid didn’t win, but just a couple of months later, I found my Pi nestled between Halsdon Nature Reserve and Dolton Village in mid Devon. It’s a long skinny stretch of land that runs along the edge of a stream that joins the River Torridge and a Devon Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve.

Halsdon Nature Reserve is made up of over 57 hectares of stunning woodland and countryside and is home to a vast array of wildlife including otters and kingfishers. At the moment the forest is covered in snowdrops, and just like my wee slice of Pi will soon give way to wild daffodils and then before you know it, my favourite: bluebells. I am hoping that by the time the forest floor is carpeted with purple hues that I will have tamed my overgrown slither of land and made it a place to be. To just Be.

I realised about 18 months ago that I had become a slave to the system and had somehow been ensnared into the belief that I had to grow my business and pay VAT and corporation tax and set up pension funds for my employees and pay National Insurance and income tax and bills, so many bills and for what? To secure my future. But then shortly after moving into my property refurbishment nightmare, I injured my back. I couldn’t move, couldn’t leave my new flat, and couldn’t function properly at all, even after my back improved. Whether it was fatigue, stress burnout, (or as a member of my staff said: ‘I’d clearly had a nervous  breakdown’) I realised I couldn’t carry on the way I had been going.

The stress of divorcing a sociopath, (I’ve written a novel about that so no need to elaborate further), moving house twice within a few months, dealing with a rogue builder, acting as a witness in court against my alcoholic insomniac neighbour in a case against him breaching his ASBO, running a business growing so fast I had to run to keep up with it, at the same time as dealing with a teenage son, a breast cancer scare and attempting to date in a hook up culture I didn’t belong in all took it’s toll. I had reached a point of giving up. I have no real family (apart from my son of course) so there were times the loneliness was crippling; especially when it seemed like everything was going wrong. I took to hiding beneath my duvet and facing only the urgent tasks. I delegated everything I possibly could at work and gave in to it. Gave up. But there’s something very beautiful about giving up; about surrender. Erkhart Tolle says that suffering is only necessary to discover it isn’t necessary (or words to that effect) and there was an element of that in my burnout/breakdown/sleepfest. It was in my surrender I found acceptance not just of the hell I was living in, but in a deep knowing that the darkest hour is just before dawn. That all of this would pass, and I just had to get through it.

I also realised many of my problems were of my own doing; if you can’t handle the stress of collapsed drains and rogue builders, you shouldn’t be a property developer. Even though I now live in a beautiful flat that’s doubled in value with the work I’ve done, I will never take on a property development project like that again that’s for sure. And if you can’t handle the stress of being a Managing Director, you should do something else. So last year I put my fashion business up for sale and very quickly had a buyer ( I actually had two, but I chose the local couple who wanted to be more hands-on than the other buyer) and that was when I started looking for land to buy. The buyers I chose seemed to be decent people (he was a semi-retired Christian minister and she was an ex head-teacher with a grown up daughter who had studied fashion). There were delays to completing on the sale of the business because the solicitor acting for my landlord took months to release a draft lease, but the buyers feigned a continued commitment long enough to run up thousands of pounds worth of legal fees (made considerably higher by them challenging things like buying new carpets at the warehouse should they destroy them while in their care) only to drop out after eight months. Long enough for me to believe I’d sold my business. Long enough to find the land and plan the dream project.

Despite the immoral way they handled backing out of our deal (they had their solicitor drop a one line email to my solicitor), I couldn’t let the opportunity to buy the land slip away, so I took out a loan and bought it anyway. I’m now so utterly broke, I can’t afford to pay anyone to do anything on my land, but it hardly matters now because I feel victorious in making the leap. Of doing it anyway.

I found the land just before I found Paul. His arrival into my life felt like an alignment of the planets; perhaps even a celestial reward for being so good. You see I’ve been very good for so very long, even when things kept going wrong. I kept my integrity, and despite all the challenges (some I still face daily) was brave enough to be authentic. So now it feels like it’s time for things to start going right for me. Karmic balance if you will.

Finding land was not all joyful; I was surprised to discover it was laced with sadness when I thought I would have to make my dream project come to life on my own. I’d always imagined skipping through the meadow hand in hand with the one I love while the sepia tones of summer evenings made everything look hazy and warm and stress free.

Paul came along just a few days after I found Pi acres (I’m wondering whether to call it that?) and it feels as though my soul must have cried out to him ‘Oi, divvy where are you? I’ve found the land so you need to get here quick!’. There’s a saying ‘Build it and They Will Come’… I think I did a version of this in that I bought it and he along he came. So now, instead of the project seeming so daunting it keeps me awake, I’m excited about our working the land together. You see, it’s his dream too. Long before he met me, he was dreaming about a project like this one, in a place like this. I’m his answered prayer as much as he is mine.

I’m inviting you to join us on this adventure, and as I write, I will share all our plans and drawings and keep you updated on my quest to lead a life of integrity. It’s not easy in our brainwashed Western culture; we are addicted to our phones, to soap operas, to booze, to believing material gain is the route to happiness. We have been fooled by industries that keep us sick so we buy their pharmaceuticals, by governments who encourage debt, by barbaric murderers feeding us sentient beings and normalising hunting and war. We have been desensitised by the horror and gore on our screens everyday and forgotten how important it is to just stop. To be present. To connect with nature; with each other. To feed our souls and not just our bellies and our addictions and our anger with each other. We are kept so busy we don’t have time to consider the consequences of our choices. We choose convenience over integrity, tastebuds over honouring our fellow creatures and bury our heads in the sand when it’s clear that the entire planet is run by narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths.

But I will try to not to rant too much about the state of the planet or rue the day I moved into a city, but instead focus on the dream; on positive mental attitudes. On being present. On being happy because I have really started to think you manifest good things with the power of positivity. Negative thought seems to attract negative things, so it’s time to stop worrying and start creating. I hope my documenting this journey will inspire you to chase your dreams. To believe. To make things happen. To do what’s right even when the world tells you otherwise.

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

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