Coleshill Organics recently played host to 30 pilgrims from Listening to the Land who are walking the Spine of Albion from London to Glasgow to bring a message to global leaders at the upcoming COP26 UN Climate Conference

In the midst of winter 2020, I received a phone call. We were in lockdown and the person on the other end of the line asked if I would be willing to host up to 30 pilgrims who were planning to walk from London to Glasgow along the ‘Spine of Albion’ – the ancient Belinus and Ellen Ley lines from London to the COP26 UN Climate Conference in Glasgow.

It was the first time I had heard anything about ‘Listening to the Land: A pilgrimage for nature’. The purpose of the walk was to gather stories on the way: stories of the land, stories of people’s connection with the land, stories of peoples hopes for the land.

Listening to the Land pilgrimage

All of this would be woven into a People’s Charter shaped by the soil and the people they meet. This will then be worked into a piece of immersive theatre and presented, after two weeks of rehearsals in Edinburgh, at COP26 UN Climate Conference in Glasgow in November.

My response was instant: yes, of course I would host them! They could camp in the orchard. They could have hot showers. I would feed them, too, with the garden’s bountiful produce. As we talked more, I felt pretty sure my friend Barny Haughton of the Bristol-based Square Food Foundation charity would want to be involved. Fortunately, he did — which was a huge relief!

And so it was: the gardener and the cook would feed the pilgrims from the soil of the walled garden here in Coleshill. It was exciting. It was something to really look forward to. But as with all plans we’ve made over the last 18 months – including our original idea to celebrate 20 years of being certified organic by the Soil Association! – I wasn’t going to hold my breath in case it never happened.

During the spring and summer, more phone calls and discussions were had and slowly plans were put into place. Eventually, we all decided that we would open the whole event up to anyone who felt they had a story to tell or who wanted to listen to the stories of others. Unlike Chaucer, we had social media and Eventbrite at our disposal. So we named the event ‘A Meal and Moot’ and it was out there.

Due to the nature of our guests being on a pilgrimage, and so trying to arrange an event at a distance and while on foot, we didn’t really know how many people were going to gather here at Coleshill. Perhaps 10 or 20 tops? So as the day approached, we were delighted to learn that over 70 people would be joining us that night. Amazing! And all proceeds from the kind donations received would go directly to Barny’s wonderful Square Food Foundation charity, too.

And so it began. We cleared a barn, set up two long tables, chopped wood for the fire pit and harvested vegetables for the meal. At some point during the morning of the meal, Barny realised we needed a lot more help – and miraculously it appeared. Gemma, my neighbour, kindly offered to help and spent most of the day helping to prep vegetables. After they had spent the morning harvesting, the Coleshill Organics garden team also set about scrubbing and chopping, too. And then six pilgrims appeared in the kitchen to help. It all worked out.

The feast was a Grand Aioli (or Cashew Aioli for vegans) with an array of garden vegetables cooked in all sorts of ways, home-made bread, organic and local cheese, fruit tarts with apples from the orchard and blackberries from the hedgerows picked by the local Cub Scouts!

Our guests included the pilgrims themselves, but also farmers, growers, local villagers, our veg box customers and close friends. Somehow between the food, the garden, the fire and the people, amazing alchemy took place. The talk was loud, the laughter heartfelt and the overwhelming feeling of being part of something very special and important was all-embracing.

As the moon rose high in the night sky and people began slowly drifting off to their homes or their tents, the soil had worked its magic. We had fed over 70 people from the garden, with enough leftovers for the pilgrim’s onward journey. We all gave thanks to the growers and the cook — and the hot showers in the morning!