A Celtic revival and a transition community .. both rekindling their towns – Penzance at the far end of Cornwall, while Totnes is to be found in the beautiful rolling countryside of Devon by the River Dart on its way to Dartmouth and the Naval Dockyard, which can be used as an alternative tourist route west into Cornwall.
Penzance, the railway terminus to the west arrived in 1852, has long been the jumping off point for the colony of artists who fled the towns to paint “En Plein Air” as the movement, also in Paris and California, became known. Artists longing for their freedom – to be expressive, while at the same time revelling in the light fantastic of the changing coastal landscapes of Newlyn and St Ives.
Sir Humphry Davy statue (of miner’s lamp fame) overlooking the Golowan festivities
The artists brought their families and friends – more creative peoples adding to the local talent already in situ – providing arts and crafts that were so desperately needed in a place that was so far away from the immediacy of modern life.
Totnes, residing as it does in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, is a thriving centre for music, art, theatre and natural health .. and is known as a place where one can live a bohemian lifestyle.
So two towns .. but do they have different approaches to their futures? .. Totnes already well established with its twice-weekly market offering antiques, musical instruments, second-hand books, handmade clothing from around the world and local organically produced products – was declared the capital of new age chic by Time magazine in 2007.
Fishing Cottages, Lamorna Valley, Penwith Peninsula, by John Noble Barlow (1861 – 1917)
Let’s start with the westerly town, Penzance, in the area known as Penwith (Penwyth is Cornish for extremity) where my mother used to live and where we went on holiday when we were children .. so well known and loved by us.
A revival of the Gol Jowan Festival (Cornish for ‘Feast of John’) in mid June is revitalising an old tradition and is one of the biggest annual celebrations of local identity held in the UK. The Golowan Festival, as it is known, brings together artists, musicians, storytellers and poets as it is also home to a large number of creative Cornish people, who have been attracted by the beautiful seascapes and rugged coastline.
Gol Jowan Festival looking back up the hill in Market Jew (Cornish for Thursday Market) Street, Penzance towards the Sir Humphry Davy statue
Feasts and celebrations of festivals were an accustomed part of life through the centuries, which had been recorded in journals on Penwith over five hundred years ago .. the feast at the Quay being no exception .. a few of the chief attractions in the early 1800s were the large quantities of strawberries for sale, the going out for a short sailing cruise in the fishing boats, and the children having gathered and garlanded flowers, threading their way through the streets bringing light and cheer everywhere they went .. in a mazey fashion.
The public-houses at the quay remained open all night – and you can guess what happened .. in the closing years of the 19th century the authorities shut it down, describing it as ‘a rowdy outdated superstition’. Mazey Day, part of the midsummer celebrations involving the working communities in the town, took its name from the “mazey dance” .. in Cornish dialect mazed or mazey means confusion, topsy turvy, everything upside down.
Golowan has been revived since the early 1990s – continuing the tradition, where if people feel isolated and away from ‘up country’ they make their own entertainment, which now brings in a mix of 130,000 people ranging from the creative artists, locals and interested visitors.
Totnes on the other hand has looked forward – its artistic and creative community is set to stay and the town has adopted an idea brought over from Ireland by Rob Hopkins, originally a teacher overseeing a permaculture project at Kinsale College. Permaculture is an approach to designing human settlements and agricultural systems that mimic the relationships found in natural ecologies.
Totnes: The Eastgate over the High Street in 1983
The term “transition town” is now applied and is a community project equipping communities for the dual challenges of climate change and peak oil. Two students took the concept presenting it to Kinsale Town Council, resulting in the historic decision by Councillors to adopt the plan and work towards energy independence.
The initiative has spread quickly, as there are now over 300 communities around the world – in the UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the US, Italy and Chile .. while the term ‘Transition Town’ has morphed into Transition Initiatives to reflect the range and type of communities involved .. e.g. villages (Kinsale), suburbs (Portobello, Edinburgh), through council districts (Penwith – whose main town is Penzance), to towns (Nelson in NZ), cities (Los Angeles) and city boroughs (Brixton, London).
The main aim of the project generally is to raise awareness of sustainable living and build local ecological resilience in the near future. Communities are encouraged to seek out methods for reducing energy usage as well as reducing their reliance on long supply chains that are totally dependent on fossil fuels for essential items. Food is a key area, and instead of food miles the talk is of “food feet”!
Community Gardens to grow food, business waste exchange, a repair shop .. rather than throw items away. While the focus and aims remain the same, the methods used to achieve these vary.
Totnes has introduced its own local currency, the Totnes Pound, which is redeemable in local shops and businesses, keeping the ‘dollar’ in the town, while supporting those local firms; there’s a garden share scheme promoting local and season produce.
To get around tourists and locals can make use of the two Rickshaws imported from India, to be taken up the hill before leisurely strolling down past the shops and restaurants, which will provide the sustainable recycled fuel oil .. the running cost of each rickshaw is £2.80 ($4.2) per week .. so if you visit Totnes – please eat more chips!!
With the number of participative communities growing at such a fast rate there has been the inclusion of the global financial crisis as a third aspect beside peak oil and climate change – but a more long term perspective is developing through the Transition Network websites and interchange of ideas.
So Penzance with its ancient Feast of Gol Jowan revival is in keeping with its District Council’s adoption of the transition initiative so fully embraced by Totnes, some 85 miles to the east.
The River Dart, Devon
With the United Nations’ Year of Biodiversity as the subject of my previous post .. this post has distinctly captured that essence, as well as adding a few ideas .. a local town pound, the tuk tuk or rickshaw to get around, community gardens ... bohemian lifestyles meet 21st century needs.
Dear Mr Postman .. my mother’s hearing has still not returned .. which makes life very tricky – but she is watching a little of the tennis. Apparently she talked constantly on Saturday night .. her brain is still fully working .. everyone’s told me! She talks to Hardwick her comforter dog, who is a special pal to her.
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories