…and one giant head for mankind

Posted on July 3, 2012 by admin

In North Devon, Barnstaple, Bideford on 3 July, 2012

The newspaper I’m reading on the train from London Paddington to Exeter St David’s is not bringing me particularly encouraging news: more than a century’s worth of meteorological records lie in soggy tatters as June 2012 weighs in as the undisputed heavyweight most-water-bloated month since records began. The newspaper also had the decency to tell me that some funny business with the North Atlantic jet stream means that the moist weather is here to stay. This does not bode well for my next three weeks, which involve cycling around North Devon, North Wales, and the West of Scotland. At the very least these places aren’t famous for their arid landscapes[1]. It seems reasonable to ask why I’ll be submitting myself to all this wet pedalling.

I’m partaking in a new pagan pilgrimage, visiting sites around Great Britain where giant wicker heads sprouting vegetation have been hoisted up into the forest canopy to survey their surroundings and their neighbours. The appearance of these mythic heads aims to push the boundaries of art in the environment, inviting people in these areas to approach their local forests in a new way, and acting as a stimulus for learning about forestry practice, art, and the development of environments as the seasons change. I’ll start my cycle at the North Devon biosphere, and then ‘pedal’[2] to the Dyfi biosphere in North Wales, followed by the soon-to-be-opened biosphere in Dumfries and Galloway. From there I’ll cycle through two Giant head sites South of Edinburgh in the Tweed valley, one in Kilmartin Glen, and one on the Isle of Mull. The arrival of the Giants appears to be linked with the imminent inauguration of the third UK UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Dumfries and Galloway, adding to the nearly 600 worldwide.

It also seems reasonable to ask whether biospheres are interesting at all.

Well, they are. Super interesting (see what the United Nations have to say[3]). Hawaii and the Danube Delta are some of the, perhaps, more glamorous ones. Essentially, they’re areas where sustainable development is promoted both through the community and through sensible scientific approaches. They need to be special environments, with a local community who are active and committed to creating sustainable solutions which preserve the area and its traditional practices, while promoting growth and development as usual. However, unlike the declaration of a national park, the ordainment of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve involves no protective legislation[4] being passed, but instead relies on the willing of the community and council to enact supportive policies.

Matt Edworthy, Outreach Coordinator for the North Devon Biosphere Reserve[5] met me at Barnstable station, and helpfully explained most of this to me, as “I know that I know nothing” I hadn’t conducted proper research beforehand. Happily, everything Matt described seemed evident in North Devon. The local community certainly demonstrated a willing to develop sustainably – our first stop was for a bacon and egg bap in the train station café, were Mike, the café owner, had made the station a small environmentally converted wonder, running off ground source heat pumps, functioning as a café/conference centre, and revitalising the Tarka train line and serving as a tourist gateway into the area. There seems to be a rather willing council here in Devon, too, with the biosphere team recently relocated from their old home in the historic Bideford railway hut to the bosom of the Devon County Council on the 5th floor of the concrete monolith civic centre in Barnstaple.

After a North Devon Biosphere Reserve briefing, I was off to find my first residence (pagan giant head pilgrimages come with the benefit of real houses with wifi to stay in instead of lonesome camping under torrential rain in a field). Conveniently, the cycling backbone of the Biosphere is the Tarka Trail, a cycle route connecting Barnstable to my accommodation in a cottage just south of Bideford. The Henry Williamson nature/cycling love-in runs along the route of an old industrial age canal built to transport clay from Meeth to the coast, and lime the other way. The canal was replaced by a railway, and then finally replaced by the lovely Tarka Trail. Instead of dodging hulking articulated lorries and black taxis like in the London I know and love, here the obstacles are adventurous-yet-tragically-misguided snails, and a small army of elderly dog walkers.

It seems a fitting start to my experiences in the biosphere: an area focussed on sustainable development in harmony with community and council, established on the re-appropriation of environmental scars from the industrial revolution. Go biosphere!

And the giants are clearly smiling upon me. I’m staying in the luvverly chauffeur’s flat of an 1840s stately home. And they left me fresh cookies! And apples from the estate orchard! And homemade marmalade!

Tonight I live the domestic dream, tomorrow I go giant hunting.

[1] The North Devon biosphere, although not actu-ally arid, is famous for its extensive sand dune sys-tem. Which does sound a touch dry.
[2] ‘Pedal’ via the train network.
[3] http://www.unesco.org/new/en/natural-sciences/environment/ecological-sciences/biosphere-reserves/
[4] Similarly legally binding as a marriage to Henry VIII.
[5] www.northdevonbiosphere.org.uk

What Others Are Saying

  1. Josh September 28, 2012 at 10:20 am

    They were really good and artistic i love them the tarka trail is so much better now.

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