I love Nature partly because she is not man, but a retreat from him. None of his institutions control or pervade her… If this world were all man, I could not stretch myself, I should lose all hope. He is constraint, she is freedom to me. He makes me wish for another world. She makes me content with this.
Henry David Thoreau (Journal, 3 January 1853)
It’s the middle of the night and I’m laying in my tent, deep in the woods. Suddenly I hear footsteps. They’re coming closer and closer to me. My heart races nervously. Something, or someone, is trying to get into my tent. I scream. The next morning, I discover that a creature has gnawed a hole through my tent. And the following night, the footsteps come again. As I fumble desperately for a torch, I put my hand on something furry and scream again. I have previously camped in forests inhabited by wolves and bears, but it is this creature, which turns out to be a tiny mouse, which finally manages to scare the hell out of me!
My camping spot is in Wales, on the hills of the Wye Valley (which borders Wales and England). I’m here for the WISE (Wales, Ireland, Scotland, England) Isles Rainbow Gathering. Rainbow Gatherings are hosted by countries all over the world, and last one month. A group of people scouts a location and then a community is started from scratch. We live very basically, cooking on a fire, washing ourselves in cold streams (using no chemical soaps) and drinking from fresh springs. Decisions are made by consensus, meaning that everyone gets a say. People sometimes put on workshops and share knowledge. Everything is funded by a donation pot, known as the Magic Hat. The Rainbow is Fluffy Anarchism.
This Rainbow is tiny – there’s about 20 of us maximum – and someone describes it as being like a Reality TV show, where you’re thrown into a location with complete strangers. On some days it certainly feels like this, and it’s more intense when there’s only a few people because it’s impossible to avoid the one or two Rainbow Egos who are at every single gathering!
The gathering is already on its second location, after being evicted (probably illegally) by thugs from their first location. We are now being taken to court for trespass in this second site, and an injunction is being applied for by the Welsh Ministers, banning us from Cuckoo Wood (our home) and the surrounding woods. I become stressed by police coming into our camp, and my frustration builds when people are greeting them and answering their questions.
“How many people are you expecting here?” The policeman asks.
“We’re hoping for hundreds. We’re building a shower today! We go to the toilet in small latrines to fertilise the soil”, someone answers.
I get upset. We’re NOT expecting hundreds at all, and I think that this information will most likely lead us to a very fast eviction. I also know that there’s no such thing as just a friendly chat with a police officer: they will be documenting every single piece of information. I wish that the others could see that the police’s job is to protect the state and the rich, and not to protect those who wish to reclaim their basic human right to camp amongst the trees. I try to talk about the impending court hearing, and the response I get from my fellow Rainbow friends is “don’t engage with it”. But the court will engage with us, whether we like it or not.
I feel completely isolated, understood by no-one. I reminisce about how sensible and practical my activist friends are in comparison, and how much we look out for each other. But then I think about the Rainbow community, how connected they are with the Earth, how they are so in touch with creativity, singing, and are not scared of long hugs and eye contact. I long for a community that merges my two worlds together.
We are evicted from our camp two days after the court hearing. A High Court Enforcement Officer, who’s driven all the way from Croydon, comes to do the job. I am immediately untrusting of him. The others, on the other hand, are immediately on first-name terms with him. (His name’s Ken, and he tells us how he has led many activist evictions, “and if you’re a squatter, it’s likely that you’ll run into me again!”). Ken tells us that we need to leave the forest immediately. Someone replies that we need to hold a counsel first, but that Ken is very welcome to be a part of it. The counsel starts with us all holding hands around the fire and singing together. I can’t believe that Ken is in our circle, holding hands, and I get the giggles. It’s certainly one of the most miraculous things I’ve ever seen! Ken sits patiently with us as the Talking Stick goes round the circle and everyone gets their say. Ken tells us that it’s the most peaceful eviction that he’s ever done. And a few hours later, we’re still casually packing our stuff up in the sunshine. If I’d been in an activist camp, there’s no doubt that the eviction would have panned out very differently. I laugh again at how surreal this situation is.
Ken tells us that he will help us to move to our new location, and sure enough, he helps us with luggage. Some of our stuff even goes in his car. There’s only one or two people who agree with me that telling a High Court Enforcement Officer our exact location is a stupid idea. Once again I feel isolated and alone in my views and am extremely frustrated and tearful, and I know it’s time to leave the Rainbow.
I have one last, beautiful night and day with my friends at our third Rainbow location in the woods. Despite this being the most difficult Rainbow that I have been to, I have also connected with some really, really amazing people. I have especially bonded with all of the women at this Rainbow, and in the end, I leave with sadness and tears in my eyes.
I then hike twelve miles across fields and forests to meet Chris, who is travelling from Brighton to meet me. Walking on the Wales-England border proves to be problematic, with many public rights-of-way being overgrown and non-existent, or ignored completely by farmers, who plant crops over paths. Some gates are even locked or have barbed wire on. This photo shows what I battle against on my hike:
And as I fight my way over a stile that’s overgrown with huge nettles, I jump down into a massive pool of mud and cow shit. Swearing, I march through the field, to find myself confronted by two bulls. I stop. They stare at me. I start to walk towards them again. One bows his head. I weigh up my options: walking towards the bulls, or retracing my steps, back to the pool of cow shit. I choose the cow shit.
I meet Chris and we spend our next few days hiking and camping in the Forest of Dean and the Wye Valley once again. The Wye Valley is so stunning that I can’t believe that it’s in the UK. It’s one of my new favourite places in the world. Wild camping (where you don’t use a campsite) isn’t a right in England or Wales: 1% of the population owns 70% of the land in Britain, and you’re supposed to get permission from the landowner!! But this area is PERFECT for wild camping, and you’ll often go a whole day without seeing another soul.
We visit Devil’s Chapel, which is an area of beautiful rock formations in the Forest Of Dean; we sleep in forests inhabited by wild deer; we get bitten by hundreds of horse flies and we see many pompous PRIVATE ESTATE signs, reminding me constantly of this ultimate theft – robbing a human of their right to land, their right to roam; and of this ultimate travesty – privatising Nature, which is not a commodity to be bought and sold and disrespected.
Hitchhiking home towards Brighton, we decide to hitch the “scenic” route, avoiding the motorways. Our new, supposedly picturesque route takes us past England’s very own AXIS OF EVIL: the GCHQ building, drone testing site Boscombe Down, and military bases. Hitchhiking is really easy in Wales and England, and we rarely wait more than twenty minutes for lifts. One driver takes us for one hour just for the fun of it, despite not needing to go in our direction.
What a beautiful few weeks I have had – and I didn’t even need to leave this tiny island to experience it 🙂