Things have been restless in the woods of late. Despite the relative tranquillity of the surroundings, I haven’t slept as well as one might expect. The main reason for that has been the noise of rutting stags in the forest. Though it seems you can hear their unseemly belching most times of the day, the noise can become almost cacophonous at night, as I’ve recently discovered. Its a mysterious sound, a sort of cross between a cow’s mooing and a lion’s roar. It actually reminded me a little of the haunting sound of the howler monkeys I once heard in the Guyanese rainforest, which I was lucky enough to visit a few years ago.
Cardiff Architecture School
This week has seen some other disturbances in the forest. A small group of students from the Cardiff School of Architecture have been here for a few days to familiarise themselves with the local area in preparation for a week long workshop later in the year. Their last night here was enlivened by bats flying into the kitchen at St George’s bungalow, just across the field from the farmhouse. Apart from the nightlife, one of the things the students are examining is how wood from the oak trees, which surround Ruskin Land, can be used in new ways in design and construction.
One of the highlights of their visit, at least for me, was the entertaining and informative overview provided by Jim Waterson, from Harper Adams University, of the current agenda affecting forestry. He covered a lot of ground including conventional forestry practice, new directions in woodland management, and the ever-present challenges from tree disease. Tim Selman, who leads the Wyre Forest landscape partnership (and one of the reasons we are now living here), summarised recent work in the Wyre, and I spoke about policy and political issues surrounding change and development in the rural environment. I fear it was a case of information overload. I wonder what they made of it all!
The students have an interesting project to get stuck into. If the outputs of last year’s group are any measure, they should come up with some fascinating responses to their brief. I saw the exhibition of that group’s work last year in a gallery in trendy Hoxton, east London. It was inspirational to see the qualities of the raw material being explored in so many different ways. I’m looking forward to seeing what emerges this year.
The connection with the Cardiff architecture school is just one of the ways in the coming weeks that the Ruskin Land project will be reaching out to designers, arts and crafts practitioners. In November we will be hosting a seminar involving people from different creative backgrounds to explore how we can develop a ‘cultural programme’ of activities, in tune with John Ruskin’s thinking and linked to the land here. There has been an enthusiastic response to the invitation. We hope to be able to organise similar events in the future in nearby Birmingham and further afield in London to tap into wider networks. Our ultimate goal, broadly conceived at the moment but to be refined in light of these discussions, is to become an influential rural centre for arts, education and the environment which inspires people from all walks of life.