March:  Monkton Wyld Court – Sustainable Education Centre,  Dorset

On reflection Monkton felt like a place we bedded down for the end of winter and waited for the spring … such a long time coming.

The Art and Craft Room!

Monkton had been a free school in the 60’s and I think the first that Chris Woodhead shut down! The arts and crafts room was a tongue and groove elongated wooden shed that stood in a dark hollow below the house. There were still strange painted paper maché crafted weird things on shelves, odd objects left here and there and stashes of art materials boxed and saved for a time when it would be used again. Closed eyes, opened ears, a little imagination and the sounds of creative and chaotic young people from another era were not difficult to depict. But it had not been used in that capacity for a while, resident artist Gill Baron paints there, tried to run her sign writing course from there and uses it as a base for building yurts for activist groups.

A place like Monkton needs a space like this – but it does need to keep the rain out. One of our jobs was to refelt the roof.

IMG_1568We thought the art and craft room would take us a couple of days. Just like re-felting a massive garden shed really. Alas, it was probably a few decades since it had been properly attended to and consequently there was no quick fix. I hated the pitch roof and wouldn’t go on it. Happy enough to work from a ladder, I painstakingly removed IMG_1616hundreds of clout nails twice… for no sooner had we got the felt off there was another layer! Rob, ex rock climber, didn’t flinch too much about the roof (one side of it anyway)! Just as well really because taking off two layers of felt left gaping holes and rotting areas of the old tongue and groove boarding thus the location of our near futures unfolded – we IMG_1715_edited-1were to spend the best part of three weeks up there around breaks in the weather. We drafted Chas in, who pointed out that Monkton didn’t seem happy unless they got him on a roof every few days! Rob IMG_1718bemoaned the banana shape of the roof and vowed to make everything in the future square sided and a multiple of 8’ x 4’ the standard size for anything in a sheet in the building trade it would seem. Once I had gardened around the outside, de cobwebbed and cleaned, scrubbed the algae away, had a go at painting sections and fulfilled every aspect of ‘assistant’ I skived off preferring to hang out in cow muck piles, making beds or cleaning… anything really!

But it was job well done and Gill’s gratitude as we were working helped keep us going. Great for the yurt making space to be waterproof and in use again – hopefully some other stuff will happen there too!

Courses

Monkton is an education centre and ran three courses whilst we were there that I was very peeved to miss. 1) Woodland Management over 5 days! Visits to local woods, the how to s of writing a management plan and charcoal making, taught by Jez who had a wealth of knowledge. 2) Sign Writing – I should have just done this one. I’ve since been asked to make signs by a new WWOOF host so the opportunity to learn from Gill was, in retrospect, daft to miss – maybe there’ll be another chance! 3) Just as we were leaving there was a hedge laying course. Big hedge: lots of wood and after two days it was looking like a very beautiful job.

Tenant Farm

IMG_1637Two beautiful Jersey milking cows, a couple of calves, two pigs and chickens. Twice daily, Simon Fairlie and Gill Barron (co- editors of The Land) hand milk the cows. There is the clatter of stainless steel, sterilising, pasteurising, processing activity every day- twice. Milk is pasteurised or not. Butter and cheese are also hand made. Amazing big round cheeses that form lovely dark crusts when left to mature in IMG_1629the cellar.

A new green wood barn was waiting to be finished and a lovely job for a skilled volunteer.

The Scythe Association is also run from here.

 

Pasture

I listened to how you turn rough grassland full of ragwort and other perennial weeds into pasture for the cows. I played a part in possibly improving it.  Reseeding patches, scraping away cow pats, barrowing manure, flicking it about with a rake and spraying seaweed solutions will hopefully make some difference! I discovered the Lazy Dog to remove thistles – it’s on my Christmas list as is a four pronged muck fork and maybe a Jersey cow!

The Community

Monkton is run by a resident community and overseen by the trustees of the charity. The community members fulfil specific roles to serve the house. There are years of expertise amongst the members which complement each other. Long term volunteers supported this, not least woodsman and gardener. An 8.30 meeting orientated us for a 9 ish start.

  • I liked that Marky 11 ish grinned with glee when he received renumeration for mole catching from Simon.
  • I liked that Wenna at 15 cooked a two course meal for the community and paying guests (say 20+ people) on her own. (Both home educated).
  • I loved dancing to rock and roll music in an 8×4 shed: The Pub with lots of us and laughing.

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  • I liked the view from our room: “Willow” with a view of gentle Dorset pasture.
  • I like cow muck (I know it’s weird but it’s pretty damned important stuff).
  • I liked visiting the Jurassic coast: pebble beaches and cliffs
  • I liked lemon curd and chocolate spread on oatcakes!
  • I liked being around Catherine and her ability to cobble great food together and her Yorkshire expression of “it’s dead easy”.
  • I liked that Lyndon and Sarah had a baby!
  • I liked that Noah 2 ish was just around.
  • I liked the woodland day despite the weather. Carting logs back from piles to the trailer better than prozac for the mind I’m sure. We do need to learn to work with horses though.
  • I liked Chloe’s rallying of everyone to join in cards or whatever, Michael’s laugh, Rocky’s description of what was “ridiculous” and where did Chas disappear to?
  • I liked listening to conversations about the 1980s road protests.
  • I loved watching the video about horse drawn people.
  • I liked that I finally got a back strap made and the basics of a back strap loom mastered: maybe the beginnings of bringing my own arts and crafts leanings up to the surface.

I didn’t like the limitations of my skills and using space heaters in rooms. (I know I shouldn’t have! But it’s hard to tolerate the cold!)

On politics

It’s a privilege to be in a position of exploring what we are doing. It doesn’t always feel like that. I have become quite closed off from politics and activism- trade union meetings and demonstrations, small local anti privatisation campaigns, massive anti capitalism, anti globalisation campaigns have left me feeling helpless rather than angry and fighting. Moving into doing things at a very local level has been where my energy has been. Politics hinged around land rights and food politics is becoming ever pertinent. A meeting for a UK  Via Campesina:  took place in Bristol whilst were at Monkton. And as we were leaving there was a weekend gathering of Reclaim the Fields.

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Five Penny Farm

IMG_1675A walk across the fields from Monkton is Fivepenny Farm without a doubt the most inspiring place I’ve been to in terms of local food production.

Jyoti Fernandez was giving a tour to a Bristol permaculture group so we tagged along.My notes are here – Five Penny Farm_March 2013.

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