Saturday, December 18, 2010

Hill-walking with Janko

During our recent family reunion in Shrewsbury and the surrounding Shropshire countryside, I came to the realization that we are a pretty diverse and eclectic bunch. Among our number are a glass artist, a naturopath, a newspaper journalist, three linguists, two kindergarten teachers, two community social workers, a housing consultant, an organic farmer, and a renewable energy specialist.

It was important for me to spend a day out walking with Janko, my nephew and the recent graduate in renewable energy studies in Berlin. We have a common love of wild places, open country, the great outdoors, so it was only natural that we chose a walk up on the high Shropshire hills, with magnificent views in all directions. We set out at the ancient stone circle of Mitchell’s Fold, which sits high in the Shropshire hills, on the long ridge of Stapeley Hill, 1000 feet above sea level and close to the Welsh border. Its exposed position gives fine views of the Stiperstones to the east and the Welsh hills to the west. From this heathland height, we clambered down the steep valley slopes to fenced woodlands. Here we were happy to stir up no end of pheasants and were taken aback by each new sudden ruffling and noisy flight of pairs. We stopped at an old ruin of a homestead tucked into the fold of the valley, a pastoral setting at one time for a sheltered orchard and meadow. On the slopes above grew corn and grain, carved out of the autumnal brown ferns and the green uplands shorn by roaming sheep. As we climbed again past ponds through the soggy soft grasses, light shafts flitted across the distant hills bathing the land in that poetic light so special in British hill country. At the craggy tors atop the ridges, we paused to inhale the clear crisp air and reflect on the splendour of the 360-degree view.

We talked about the endless opportunities for Janko as he sets out exploring possibilities with wind, solar power, super-efficient energy-saving alternative power systems and the places around the world to effect and implement them. Living in Berlin, Janko loves to get away to the woods and lakes of northern Sweden, sharing in food growing, bee-keeping, fishing, living on the land within a local community with a number of friends from several countries. To return to the land after an arduous spell of urban confinement is to let out a primal roar and then open up one’s soul to wonder. I am fortunate enough to be opened up most of the time, living in the hills, working the land, and growing fresh food for Gundi and myself and to take to market. However, I do envy young man Janko as he sets out on a fascinating path that – I have no doubt – will lead to much invention and fulfilment, as he helps to introduce brilliant, simple energy-saving systems that make homes, communities, businesses smarter and more efficient. “Why didn’t I think of that?”, they will all ask about each new innovation. If I had my time over – with more of a pragmatic bent - I would be following Janko’s path, effecting change based on simple, natural methodologies.

Our walk ended at dusk, up on the Long Mynd, with spectacular views to the distant Brecon Beacons, Welsh Hills, and the Malverns. It seemed we looked out on forever, with the bewitching lights twinkling on in the farms, towns and cities all around, and we two blown away by the cold wind, steep drop-offs, and a deep sense of communion.