The Call of the Wagtail

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It is spring, 2016. The hedgerows are stirring with life, and the wagtails are courting. There’s a smell on the breeze that reminds us of past springs and fills us with a longing for the once-more unfurling and the green and the ever-lovely flowers that garland the lanes. And it calls to us of the road ahead, which this year is a road long-awaited and long-dreamt and which, until now, has felt almost impossibly far off.

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Preparing to take truck out of barn – photo by Pete McCowen
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Preparing to take truck out of barn – photo by Pete McCowen

A year and a half ago, we drove our 1965 Bedford lorry to a barn on a hill on the edge of Dartmoor, and the work of turning it into the home and travelling theatre we had dreamed of began. Since then, endless skill and thought and craft and care and time and money and patience have gone into building this project of ours. Leo Singleton, who has been our main creator, architect, soundboard, craftsman, carpenter, metalworker, mechanic, engineer, thinker, maker, builder has given so much of himself throughout this journey, and we cannot sufficiently express our deep gratitude for and joy in what he has helped birth. Without him, this thing would not be. He has stayed with us and the project when exhaustion and frustration swamped us, when money was tight and nerves frayed, when icy winds blew in through the barn walls and the coffee ran out. He is truly incredible and will be missed: we would take him with us if we could.

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Leo thinks – photo by Pete McCowen
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Leo – photo by Pete McCowen

In this year and a half of building, our lives have also changed immeasurably with the birth of our son in February 2015. Over this epic year, we have lived in a yurt for 6 months, and with friends for a few more, whilst we waited for our home to be born. We have set out on the incomparable path of parenthood, our path made harder by the immense work that has been the birthing of Hedgespoken, but also with a sense of planting a flag in the ground ahead, making a life for our boy that is stitched with stories and adventure and the colourful stuff of dreams. This bit was bound to be hard, but the stretch has been more than we could have imagined, and we are not quite at the other side of it yet.

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Truck (pre-paint job) out in the open, and happy family! Photo by Pete McCowen

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Three weeks ago we moved in. Work continues on the outside as I unpack belongings, fill cupboards and stitch curtains on the inside. Beyond these beautiful windows as I write, Leo welds frames underneath the truck to hold water and gas tanks, Tom paints the bodywork in Crimson Lake and Classic Green, and uncovers the original chrome. We are very, very tired and working toward a deadline – we want to leave at the beginning of May to start our summer of travelling, and reach our first fair in time, allowing for a slow slow journey. And there is lots to do before then. The hugeness of excitement at being finally in our home is almost too bright to look at directly for now. We feel compelled to keep putting one foot in front of the other until that day, not so far off now, when we can pull up in a green lane somewhere and put the kettle on and breathe out finally, and say We Did It.

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Here are some pictures of our beautiful new truck home, inside and out, with bedroom winched up and stage winched down. As you can see, we are still deeply embroiled in working to finish things off, unpack and clear and sort and attach. Underneath the chaos and overwhelm and tiredness, there is deep joy and a sense of rightness: the sound of the shifting and re-configuring of the tectonic plates of our lives into something that fits much better. We are ever-thankful to our dear friends Emma and Graeme, whose barn was womb to this creation for a year and a half, whose friendship and love and land nourished us and held us throughout, I cannot express here how very much that has meant.

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The interior carpentry was done in oak and elm and ash and cedar and pine and various other woods and scraps by two wonderful local craftsmen – Sam Dooley, who built our kitchen and cupboards and table (and the wonderful steps), and Kit Gouge, who made the bedroom end of things, and storage seat. The kitchen worktop and doors are made out of the original oak truck sides, and the kitchen drawer and doorknobs are bits from the truck too (salvaged and crafted by Leo). There is a a 12v solar system with dimmable (!) LED lighting throughout, an Outback FLEXmax 80 charge controller, two big Rolls batteries and two 235W Schuco solar panels (which form the fold out back porch canopy) – all installed by Seth Kirton. Our spacious pop-up bedroom has a canvas section in the wall which allows in a gorgeous golden light (a bedroom window is yet to come). On the outside, our beautiful red and green and Hedgespoken-printed canvas stage canopy creates a wonderful undercover outdoor space (and stage to be!). All the canvas work was made by Kel Odgers-Brown of The Way Out West. On the inside of this pop-up section, we will have a felt wall hanging, made by Yuli Somme of Bellacouche, who is busy felting hedgerow beings into it as we speak! This will provide insulation disguised as beauty; we are very excited to see the finished work! Another local craftsperson – basketmaker Linda Lemieux – has made our beautiful log and kindling baskets from her homegrown willow. We are really happy to have the work of West Country makers who are dear to us stitching together the fabric of our home. And we continue to be deeply grateful to all of you who supported us during our crowdfunder with money and with cheers of encouragement. Without you also, this would not be.

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Our plan this summer is to make a meandering journey with our beautiful home, and learn the tilt of its ways for a time before we take a proper show on the road. This summer we will go to a few fairs and festivals with art and stories and to show off the newly-finished truck; we will travel the byways, not the motorways, and stop in villages to buy bread and milk; we will learn to go slowly (the truck’s comfortable cruising speed is 19 mph, top speed: 39 mph!); we will learn the routines of unfolding our home when we stop – winching up the bedroom roof and winching down the stage, hooking on the ladder, and putting on the kettle, we will learn how it is to travel with a little one, and remember the dirty-fingernailed, water-conserving, wood-collecting ways of the off-grid life. We imagine the pattern of our year to be shared between travelling and stopping. The summer-half of the year will be spent adventuring and showing our magics, meeting new folk and new places; the winter-half will be spent back here on the edge of Dartmoor, moving occasionally between park-ups, but essentially home and resting in our beloved community, and also creating the shows that we take out during the summers. We hope that this balance will provide us with the creativity and liminal adventure we enjoy so deeply, as well as the slow building of community relationships and rooting in a particular place which are also so important to us.

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When we return to Dartmoor this September, work will begin in earnest on our first proper Hedgespoken Theatre show, which we intend to debut over the winter in Dartmoor, and then take on the road the following summer of 2017. There is much brewing beneath the surface with regards to the Hedgespoken theatre, and we will tell you of that in time, but for now, I will tell you of our rudimentary summer plans:

We intend by hook or by crook to make it to our favourite fair Weird and Wonderful Wood in Suffolk on May 14th and 15th, which will begin our season for us. We plan to travel diagonally from Devon to Suffolk and are giving ourselves just under two weeks (with stops) to make the journey. From there, we will linger in East Anglia for a while, and attend the Wild Tree Fair not far away a fortnight later. Then, when it’s time to head on, we’ll wend our way south, skirting London, and heading into Kent. Then our road will take us slowly back west again, through Sussex, Hampshire, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and more… to the Green Gathering in Chepstow in August and thence to Base Camp – a new gathering of the Dark Mountain Project, to be held at the wonderful Embercombe. More festivals may be added to this list as we go, but for now, we shall take to the road and see how it goes and where it takes us. We’ll stop to see friends and family and take our time.

Should you live along our route and have a green spot with a wide enough gate and a tap where you’d be willing to let us park for a few nights, we’d really love to hear from you. Likewise if you know of any wondrous fairs or gatherings along our route and up our street, do let us know! And should you wish to help us keep our big wheels rolling, you can keep on buying books and calendars from the Hedgespoken Press shop, or throw a coin our way here, it would really help right now:

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We are looking forward to sitting on our porch as the dusk draws in, surrounded by the coos and chirps of birds coming in to roost in tree branches as high as we are, in the blue evening light and the cool green summer air, a glass of wine on the bench and dinner on the stove, little one asleep just at our backs in the truck. Perhaps we are parked in a little lane on the way somewhere and have found a wide secluded place to pull in, sheltered by trees. Perhaps we can stay there for a few days because the farmer is welcoming and interested when he comes by the next morning whilst we drink tea and make lego caravans. Those beloved mornings of warm sun rising over dewy grass, outlining hedgerow cobwebs are what our imaginations now reach for. A world of possible turns and roads to take lies ahead, but we are always home wherever we go now, and so we don’t have to go back.

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29 thoughts on “The Call of the Wagtail

  1. It already looks so loved and lived in. Congratulations on this deeply magical manifestation! Wishing you winding, beautiful roads full of whispering stones and cackling crones and endless, wild-berry scones (“scones” rhymes better in American English, hehe) And may those scones be eaten with wild-crafted tea, shared with newly found, inspiring souls. Bon Voyage!

  2. I am so happy to see this dream coming true! It’s so important that you have worked on creating the right life for yourselves and your child – any other work could never be worthwhile. I am crying tears of joy for your family and all whose lives you will touch with your hard-won magic!

  3. So many blessings Dear Rima and Tom and Beautiful Boy! Goodness me, What joy, what work, what dedication, what heart, what vision, what inspiration, what commitment, what artistry, and oh heavens above, what beauty! We are cheering you on with all our hearts, raising a glass and waving colourful flags as you wheel away, round the bend and into the next chapter of your exquisitely-handcrafted and heart tended- lives, hurrah! Blessings and Love from this West Coast Homestead~ Xo Nao and Mark at Honey Grove. (Too bad Canada is so far away, because we would sure love to have you park up here for it bit).

  4. What a lovely, cozy rolling nest you have created. Touch a bottle of champagne to her prow, then drink some bubbly before you head out on your travels. I’ll be looking forward to hearing more of your adventures.

  5. Amazing guys! Have been following your build and am so pleased your almost done! We are at the start of our house truck build! We will be staying on a half acre spot just outside Glastonbury. Its not ours but im sure you will be welcome to park up if you war passing by for a few days! All the best!

  6. beautiful work, art and craft in one. Safe journey and blessings go with you and your venture. Keeping traditional stories , songs and skills is so important in our age of chaos and crisis.

  7. I came across your blog on Facebook, what a fascinating story and I wish you safe journeys and the best of luck following your dreams with this amazing project. The story of the restoration and conversion of the vehicle is fascinating and what lovely interior spaces. I will follow your progress with interest!

  8. What a wondrous path you have forged and what wondrous ramblings await! I love these glimpses into your hedge and look forward to more. Cheers and Best of Luck!

  9. Such a beautiful truth and honesty to your dream story – so looking forward to seeing you at the Green Gathering ♡

  10. Oh Rima, I am actually weeping aloud– these images and words just yanked a great cascade of unexpected tears from me. This is so beautiful and it touches my heart so deeply, what you and Tom have dreamed and birthed together with your community and your sweet boy, the lifeway you have brought into this world despite all the obstacles, all the long days and nailbiting moments. I am so happy for you, it really goes beyond words. A hundred thousand blessings of every hedgeflower and hedgebird upon your Way, I can’t wait to visit you in some green byway. Sending all my love. xo Sylvia

  11. Journey well intrepids… There is space by the Magiltan Creek here in North East Victoria.. And the billy is allways on .Go very well.

  12. We have been hearing about your dreams from Pam. I envy you for talking this journey together in your wonderful traveling home. May your roads be filled with joy and magic!

  13. What a wonderful, inspiring, heart warming and magical sight it is to see the Hedgespoken truck and to know there are amazing creative people with the courage and vision to see their dreams through to reality. Well done to all of you and I hope to see you one day, down some leafy lane in the South West! Best travels and happiness to you.

  14. Dear Rima and Tom (and little one)! If your resident genius, Leo, could construct a colossal set of marvellous, magical wings so that Hedgespoken might become airborne and able to transverse oceans, then there is a patch of green, with a wide enough gate and a tap (pure rainwater straight off the Great Southern Ocean) right here for you. You can see the ocean by day, and let it lull you to sleep at night, as the Southern Cross turns overhead. In making your dreams come true, you have also made ours, your faithful followers and wishful dreamers, come true too. I may never have the chance to live in a Hedgespoken travelling theatre truck, but now I know it IS possible, and through you, I will get to experience what it might be like, and I’m so glad that I was able to add a few drops to the ocean of generosity that made it possible. There is a little bit of all of us travelling with you. Can’t wait to hear all the news of the road in the coming months!

  15. Aarrgh, apologies for double comment! The first one disappeared into the ether, then made a triumphant return after I’d rewritten the whole thing!

  16. It was beautifully put Christina…worth reading twice! My heart is already in the leafy byways with you little family…thank you for your intrepidness of vision and perseverance. Await your tales too…even more excited about Basecamp now! xxx

  17. It’s been amazing following the progress of this wonderful dream! I love the cosy interior, it looks like one of your paintings Rima. Have a fantastic summer and someday I hope to catch you on your travels! Jess xx

  18. What a marvelous adventure for you and your son. Hope the journey is a safe and happy one. Keep us house-bound people posted.

  19. Wonderful progress, Rima, Tom and community. We love the colors of your old steed, the truck!! Your cozy place suits you so beautifully. Thank you all for the bright light of your lives. Sending you clapping hands.

  20. Hello both. This is Heather and Mick -Sylvia’s wiltshire friends. Come and stay if you are near Marlborough. We live in paradise and you would be very welcome to share what we have

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