Archive for June, 2014
How much plastic do you normally use in a month? One great way of finding out: trying not to use any at all. Plastic-Free July is a month-long challenge where you try to avoid single-use plastics: things like straws, bread wrappers and yoghurt pots that are intended to be used once before being thrown away.
The idea started in Australia, but it’s become popular in the UK too. Last year various members of Sustainable Witney decided to give it a go for the first time. We were encouraged to find that people from all over Oxfordshire were inspired by our blog posts to join in. The challenge was reported in the Witney Gazette and I was invited to give talks about it in East Oxford and at Oxford Brookes University (in the rather un-July-ish months of November 2013 and February 2014 respectively).
So are we doing it again this year? You bet we are! We’ll be blogging about our efforts throughout the month and hoping it will be as much of a community challenge as it was last year. We’ve already inspired people as far afield as Croydon to try it this year – see the Plastic-Free July in Croydon blog posts if you don’t believe me. (Sustainable Witney got a shout-out on the Plastic-Free July in Croydon website and on Croydon radio – fame at last!) So we’ll be keeping an eye on how people are doing in Croydon as well as reporting on our own efforts. Why not join us?
We wrote back in February about the new TGV service from Paris to Barcelona. In early May, Kate and I had a chance to try it out. How was it?
In a word: great. We’ve been doing the journey London–Barcelona (well, Witney to Alcossebre) for a few years now, as my parents live out that way. Over a year ago, Kate blogged about the sleeper train options then available, and while we’ve always loved the sleeper, the TGV will now have an extra-special place in our hearts!
We still recommend Loco2 for booking trains, and The Man in Seat 61 for information about European rail in general, but specifically crossing Paris to make the connections. But there are other options, as we detailed previously, and hopefully the information below should also help to take some stress out of the journey for you, leaving the pleasure of the TGV behind.
(Witney to) London
Eurostar singles can be £35 per person, far enough in advance. Note that you need to plan to leave London early, to get the 2pm (Paris time) TGV. We opted to stay over in London with family, so as to comfortably make an 0830 Eurostar. Tracking back, you’d probably want to leave Witney on the first bus of the morning, at around 0545, to get an 0630 train and across London in good time for an 0800 check-in.
If you buy a “London International” train ticket from Oxford—you need to produce your Eurostar tickets at purchase and on demand during travel—then you’ll have at least some options if you miss a connection and it’s not your fault, under the international conditions of carriage (CIV). This ticket also includes an onward tube connection to anywhere in Zone 1: so Paddington to St Pancras, depositing you just below the Eurostar terminal and the signposting is pretty good up to the check-in desks.
You’ll need to change from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon (not Gare d’Austerlitz, where the sleeper is.) For this, you have to use the RER-D rather than the metro-5. They both leave from similar locations—under the GdN concourse—but the RER is a bit further to go, at both ends. Also, at GdL, you have to keep climbing, as it has several floors. Look for “Acces Grande Lignes”, and the station layout maps here might help.
Seat 61 is brilliant on this change. The best bit? A video of the 20-minute journey, edited down to 2 minutes. Follow his advice and it’s hard to go wrong.
In theory you can do this journey in 20-25 minutes. In practice, leave at least an hour: we left two hours, then had a drink in the Jazz Cafe (under the slightly-too-posh Train Bleu restaurant) and soaked up the atmosphere.
The TGV: Paris to Barcelona
The best bit! The TGVs are like double-decker Eurostars, with loads of space; from the top deck you get an amazing view: the foothills of the Alps around Dijon, the saltwater flats and bays near Narbonne, and the snowy Pyrenees overlooking Perpignan.
The journey was smooth and quiet, the carriages clean and comfortable, and the whole experience somewhat magical. At one point, near Carcassonne, we looked down from our windows to see a village square, peopled with old gentlemen playing petanque in the evening sun!
Single tickets on the TGV can be as cheap as EUR59, but note that the buffet car has a restricted choice of food. So pack snacks, books and water, and before you know it you’ll be in Spain! We left Paris just after 1400, and arrived in Barcelona Sants at 2040: six and a half hours.
At that time of night, there aren’t many local services still running. In the end we took the airport shuttle, where we met our long-suffering parents. It’s something we’re looking into so hopefully there’ll be another update later! If you’re willing to stay a night in Barcelona – no great hardship! – then local services to Benicarlo begin in earnest at 0930.
In total, our journey from door to door was about fourteen or fifteen hours. It sounds a lot compared to a plane flight but once you factor in getting to and from the airports, and going through security, and checking in well in advance, then the journey times start to become comparable. Certainly the train journey, if you leave plenty of time for connections, is much less stress on your body: the holiday starts at St Pancras!
And besides, compared to air travel, European rail is more civilized, welcoming and friendly. Security checks are minimal, packing requirements cursory. Stations and carriages are spacious, and you can get comfy if you’ve small children or mobility problems. You can bring your own food, and almost as much luggage as you can carry: in eight years I’ve never seen the limits enforced. And the lower environmental impact (perhaps 1/20 of flying’s CO2-equivalent emissions) makes journeys more sustainable, helping to secure a future for many more such trips.
Anyway, you should hopefully now have everything you need to plan your own trip. So have a pleasant journey: or is that bon voyage, or even buen viaje?
It’s a bit last-minute, but here’s a quick note to say that a number of Oxford’s “green energy pioneers” are speaking at a public meeting tonight:
- Adam Twine, a farmer from Watchfield, home to the highly successful Westmill Wind Farm and Solar Park, a cooperatively-owned venture
- Barbara Hammond, who led development of the new Osney Lock Hydro-electric scheme and is Director of the Oxford Low Carbon Hub
- Moira Dorey, a Parent Governor at Cherwell School, host to a new solar power system
The meeting is at the Oxford Baptist Hall, Bonn Square, Oxford at 7pm and is hosted by Oxford Friends of the Earth. They’ll be joined by speakers including
- Fiona Booth, the new head of Community Energy, at the Dept. of Energy and Climate Change,
- Friends of the Earth’s national campaign manager, Quentin Given, and
- Oxford City Council’s Environment Manager, Jo Colwell.
Not strictly Witney-based, but Bonn Square is a hop and a skip from the Gloucester Green bus station!
The Saturday just gone, Witney Bike Users Group kicked off Bike Week 2014 with a cycling infrastructure safari. Leaving from Cogges at 1pm-ish, we meandered round the Cogges, Madley Park and Hailey Road estates, looking at cycling provision and what could be done better.
It was nice seeing familiar areas of the town through new eyes, especially at a genial pace and on such a sunny day. Somewhat less nice was the quality of the provision out there—the Cogges cycle racks hidden in bushes, the blocking metal gates and bollards that prevent any non-standard-size cycle or use of cycle trailers—but it was still cheering to start to see how cycling was starting to tie up across east Witney: from the bottom of Church Lane, there’s a continuous (if road-crossing) cycle track all the way up Madley Brook to join up with the Woodstock pavement path, which some of us hadn’t really appreciated before. Also, almost incidentally, our guide Kevin introduced us to a remarkable cafe: easy to get to, but hidden in deepest, darkest Elmfield….
All in all it was a great afternoon out, much more fun than you’d imagine from looking at cycling provision – plus we’ll get some great, useful information out of it to present to the council(s) and hopefully improve such future trips, both for idle flâneurs like ourselves but also for people simply wanting to get places.
You and a friend should turn up on site using some kind of bicycle or similar, to take advantage of the offer; I’m reliably informed you don’t actually need to wheel it all the way round the museum! There are bike racks just outside the cafe and shop area; more exciting news about them to follow later….
West Oxfordshire District Council are hosting another Compost Giveaway on Friday 27 June, at The Leys in Witney (down near the public toilets.)
Times stated are 12pm–3pm, although the previous one at Cogges did arrive a bit earlier than that. We’re not saying camp out, but look sharp! Residents just need to bring their own containers, to get the compost on a first-come, first-served basis.
Also available for free will be food waste bins and caddies, kitchen caddy liners, recycling box nets and recipe books from the Love Food Hate Waste initiative. There’ll be discounted home composting bins too: half price, at just £10 each.
When it’s gone, it’s gone. So, gardeners: stick 27 June in your diaries!
Oxfordshire is getting a new eco-festival and it’s happening very soon. Tandem Festival takes place Friday 20th June – Sunday 22nd June at Hill End outdoor education centre (Farmoor). It’s described by organisers as “a local music festival with an eco-twist” and the line-up wil include folk musician Sam Lee and folk-pop group Moulettes, plus many local artists from East Oxford’s Catweazle Club.
There will also be workshops and talks on things such as making your own afternoon tea from scratch, traditional green woodwork, permaculture and more.
Local groups such as Cultivate Oxford, Bicester Green and Abundance Oxford will have a presence there too. As for Sustainable Witney, two of our members will be travelling there on a real tandem! (Do we get a discount for that?)
Many of us have thought about trying to reduce our carbon footprint, but given up because we don’t know where to start:
“What kind of changes should I be making to my lifestyle?”
“Will reducing my carbon footprint mean compromising on other things that matter to me?”
“Which changes make the biggest difference?”
“Why should I be reducing my carbon footprint anyway?”
You can get answers to all these questions (and more) through Carbon Conversations, a series of group meetings taking place in Witney this summer for the third year running. The idea behind it is simple: give people a supportive, non-judgemental space to talk about climate change and what it means to them. If you’re dithering about how to do your bit to prevent climate change, feeling guilty about not doing enough or feeling totally clueless about what it all means, Carbon Conversations is for you.
Essentially, it’s about having a chat. But unlike a regular chat with your friends, the group meetings are led by trained facilitators. You get a handle on the concepts involved through activities such as games and timed discussions. The groups are small and friendly and there is zero preaching or judging. You’ll learn the basics of climate change and get practical no-obligation advice on reducing your own carbon footprint.
The first Carbon Conversations meeting for 2014 starts on Thursday 26th June. There are still two places left in the small group; if you are interested in joining, please contact us.
The full list of dates is as follows:
Thurs 26th June
Thurs 10th July
Thurs 24th July
Thurs 7th August
Thurs 21st August
Thurs 4th September
This blog post was edited on 13th June to reflect a change in the meetings schedule.
For our summer SW meeting, we’ll be chatting with the good folks at local organization network CAG Oxfordshire, accompanied by a bring-and-share meal. This will take place from 7.30pm on Wednesday 9 July, at St Mary’s Church, on the Leys end of Church Green.
Oxfordshire is especially lucky in the sheer scale of its network of Community Action Groups (CAGs), of which Sustainable Witney is one. These groups both support each other and also benefit from the great centralized help and advice provided by the kind folk at CAG Oxfordshire.
That means it’s easier than you might think, to set up and run your own local CAG. So why not come along: for ideas, inspiration, and maybe even a helping hand?
Start at 10am on Saturday 21 June at St Mary’s on Church Green for a gentle ride to Aston for tea and cake; back by 1pm. A fun outing for cyclists of any age and skill along bridle paths and quiet country lanes to an idyllic Oxfordshire village. All welcome!
(Organized by WitneyBUG, Sustainable Witney and Witney Mountain Bike Club)