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!

Tartan Trail Adventures: part two

23rd August 2011 by

Hello hello hello

Warm welcomes to the second installment of Otesha’s Tartan Trail adventure!  What a whirlwind training we had at the wonderful Whitmuir Organic Farm... Flooded out of our field within the first few days we relocated to our new home – a big dry barn, camped up near the pigs and later joined by an army of baby turkeys, who we’d helped herd into the neighbouring barn to tweet to us through the night.

We had a varied programme, from our first read through of the script, to conflict resolution workshops, to bike maintenance, to writing up our food mandate: what to eat and where to buy as agreed by the team.  Tartan Trailers will abide by a “flexigan” – flexible vegan – diet, buying as locally and organically as feasibly possible!

There was a whole lot of laughter and new friendships were made – including jolly moments jamming with guitars, a tambourine and our new friend Doug (a charming bloke in charge of Whitmuir’s livestock).

A highlight of the week was our first excursion with the trailers – off we tootled to Penicuik where we indulged in long hot showers (the first in FIVE days!).  Well… let’s make this an honest blog… two thirds of us indulged in cleanliness whilst the remaining four continued to delight us with their “natural” odours since bike repairs took priority. We certainly were smelly but happy campers.

Training week concluded with a magical day with Calu, Edd, and Iona who organised an impromptu treasure hunt, which had us running across fields, scouring chicken sheds, and creeping into a teepee, until we discovered an antique treasure chest filled with delicious fairtrade chocolate and a mysterious invitation to don our glad rags for a delightful dinner party, accompanied by instructions to bring along bike lights…

It is important to note at this point that the Tartan Trailers’ “glad rags” include face glitter, underwear over muddy trousers, “dresses” created from sarongs and many other exciting bits such as ….wait for it…a CLEAN shirt.

…De de dah….  and our team were bestowed with our upcycled Otesha t-shirts in an array of colours, followed by a jolly knees up and our very first one minute bike light disco!!!

Phewee – what a week! It was then a farewell to Edd and Iona, and a day off before the big pack up and goodbye to Whitmuir farm as we mounted our two wheeled steeds and swooped towards Edinburgh with our first performance at the Fringe in sight!

Our amazing training week location!

9th March 2011 by

Super news folks – we’ve found a beautiful spot for the Northern Soul training week!  The beautiful Felin Uchaf project is tucked away in the north-west corner of Wales.   “The Felin Uchaf Project grew out of a vision to create a place where people and the land on which they worked could nourish each other in body, soul and spirit and to found a Community Enterprise Centre based on a holistic understanding of our spiritual and physical needs.”   I can’t do it justice in a few words in a blog post so  – check out their website!


Amongst all our other super fun training week activities: we’ll be dining locally on fresh veg from the gardens of Felin Uchaf; doing some work exchange; and sharing our performance and workshops with volunteers, staff, and hopefully some nearby schools.

So if you’re already coming on the Northern Soul tour – get excited!  And if you’re super excited, but not yet coming on the Northern Soul tour – get applying! This is just the beginning of all the amazing places we’ll be visiting this summer…


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