Western Quest – tales from a slick and well-oiled performing machine

21st August 2012 by

Friday 17th August

Last Friday, a sweaty, slightly confused-looking group of strangers heaved their bikes up a stony track and arrived at a barn on the top of rather large hill in Gloucestershire. It was the start of Otesha’s Western Quest Cycle Tour. One week later and we’ve been transformed into a slick and well-oiled performing machine, ready to bestow our dramatic talents onto unsuspecting school children. Sort of.

We’ve spent our training week camping at the beautiful Highbury Farm near Redbrook, Gloucestershire. The farm is 25 acres of rolling countryside and ancient woods, including a section of the Offa’s Dyke trail.  The community living here, The Stepping Stones cooperative, are aiming for self-sufficiency and responsible land use with rainwater harvesting, sustainable woodland management, food growing and efficient heating. They’ve even built some of their own houses with reclaimed materials.

However, despite being in a beautiful place, we have been working VERY hard! Our days have been filled with rehearsals for the play and workshops that we will be performing in the schools; learning about and using consensus decision-making; getting to know each other with numerous ridiculous and imaginatively-named games such as ‘poor little kitty cat’ and ‘Bipedibop’; deciding on our food mandate and then implementing said vegan diet. We’ve also learnt a lot about bike maintenance – be prepared to be impressed by our ability to fix our own brakes. Wowee.

The play is quickly taking shape. Jamie Oliver, Simon Cowell, Jessie J and AntorDec make regular appearances in the barn on the hill. Jenny is learning quickly about sustainability and the banana pirate has been banished from this fair isle. Soon to be famous characters include the ‘udderly exhausted’ Morag the cow, Tom the ‘blushing’ tomato and Ant or Dec with their questionable Geordie accent. It will be a hit.

As preparation for the cycling that we will be starting next week, we went on a training ride to Symonds Yat on Tuesday.  A near-vertical hairpin hill made for a bracing start to our first group adventure, especially for the poor Sara and Katie who were bravely battling with the effect of gravity on two rather large trailers.  But after stopping for a breather on the Symonds Yat Rock and munching on our celebratory quarter-of-the-way-there flapjack, we were soon well on our way to a local, free-range ice cream and a bracing dip in the river in the village of Symonds Yat.  OK, we were over an hour late back for dinner at Highbury Farm, and had to reluctantly pass the leisure centre and its promise of the our first showers of the week, but we have high hopes about our stamina, if not our hygiene, for the weeks ahead.

When managing to dodge the (frequently) torrential rain, we’ve spent evenings huddled around a camp fire, watching shooting stars and occasionally sampling Highbury Farm’s homemade apple wine.  The fabulous Jenny Tree and Ally have cooked us wonderful meals of vegan fajitas, quinoa stew and apricot soup. The pulses and beans are producing rather predictable results, but they’ve kept us well-stoked for the endless play rehearsals and gruelling schedule.

We’re looking forward to moving on on Sunday and taking what we have learned on the road. We leave behind fond memories of bananas cooked in the fire; Himalayan Balsam; the beautiful Wye Valley; stunning sunsets; our inspiring Otesha gurus, Sam and Iona; and our wonderful hosts. Look out Stroud, here we come!

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