Energising Walks with Naomi Wright, tree and lamppost hugging artist


Regen SW and Exeter Community Energy have been working with artist Naomi Wright over the last 2 years and last week, we ran the first ‘Energising Walk’ around Exeter as part of Relight my Fire Festival. Here is a summary from Naomi about the walk. she’s written it in a way to aid and encourage anyone else who wants to lead an energy walk with members of their community to explore and consider our relationship with energy.


Start – Gathering at the Quay – 20th September 2015

Hi, I’m Naomi and  I’m aiming to take us on a walk around Exeter that leads to expanding and changing our thoughts about energy, as well as increasing the energy within our bodies as we go.  We’ll be seeing evidence of energy past, present and future and translating that into what it means for us as  individuals and as a species on the Earth.  Nothing major then!

Before we go I’d like to ask that we look out for each other and make sure that we don’t lose any of us. In my mind as a walking group we are binding ourselves with some sort of cohesive invisible energy. I’d prefer it if that energy glue didn’t come unstuck! I have a mobile phone which I will use in any emergency. I’m aiming for easyish route and few steps, but let me know if you’d rather go your own way.

Shout out any questions at any point, find things out from your co-walkers, this walk is about energy exchange and some of you on this journey will have far more knowledge than me!

To start our first part of the walk, let’s shout out a few words that energy means to us:  “Coffee, Sun, Water, Wind, Dancing, Batteries, Food, Waves, Fresh Air…..”  Thanks for those.  Yes energy to me means all things too – the very essence of what it means to be alive and living.


Stop 1  South Street

Our first real stop – all about Energy Consumption. Exeter has had it’s commercial centre for hundreds of years… and around shops you feel and see the expense of energy in a literal and physical sense. In 1000, Exeter was the 4th most commercial city in the country with 3 markets a week. And later became a city whose wealth came from the manufacture and sales of woolen cloth.  It was a hive of energetic commercialism.

How do you see the energy being consumed here?

Walking, cars and use of oil….. Oil that finite ‘trapped ancient sunlight’ that comes from fossil fuel, crushed forests and animals from millions of years ago. Shopping, stuff, made here, made abroad, manufacturing, restaurant kitchens, gas and electricity, food, food miles.

Stop 2 Exeter Cathedral

Here is a place to stop to consider other forms of energy – any views?

The cathedral with it’s longest nave in the world, it’s solid towers seen for miles. The energy that went into building it well beyond a hundred lifetimes.

This old part of Exeter, it’s history visable, within the roman walls has held many medieval churches, and a priory down the road. There used to be whole streets full of priests…. Parson street – the prayer and spiritual energy that filled this area must have been palpable.

The Cathedral itself is not aligned East West apparently.   It is aligned to the sunrise on 29th June, St. Peter’s Day.  This place of christian worship, giving equal consideration to the sun.

Ley lines then – are they coincidental lines running through three or more prehistoric places…. Or do they hold a particular energy? Are there any about here?? I haven’t found any on a map – but does that mean that they are not here??  Is it all nonsense?

We have different views – but we all agree that as people gather in places to research this truth they can create a positive energy between them.  One person mentioned the Cathedral Green being a place to gather and relax, have picnics, enjoy the atmosphere (what do mean by that?)  Another mentioned rallies that take place in the square, a coming together of thought energy and literal energetic action.

And Dowsing – anybody had a go at that?? Is that indicating real energy in the earth.

Stop 3  Southernay

Here we are in a green and tranquil place in comparison to the commercial centre of Exeter.  The medieval energy in construction, commerce and religion has been replaced by later 18thand 19th century commercial buildings here, built around an open space that has always existed just below the city walls.  Does the energy in Southernhay reflect this? This nature based area kept for healthy promenading throughout the history of the city – more walking energy.

But I’m stopping here to think about the trees – these are special trees that have been planted or grown from seed collected by plant hunters like Exeter based Mr Veitch and grown in the Luccombe nurseries. The Exeter or Luccombe oak in this area grown from a cross between a holm and a turkey oak.

The energy trapped in trees is amazing to contemplate, and over hundreds of years these trees capture the suns energy and with this photosynthetic process turns it into oxygen and growth. I would like to ask you, if you like, to hug or touch a tree in this area.

Can you feel the energy?  Some do and some don’t – but we share an experience from someone who has been told that you can feel the energy change around yew tree trunks about 10cm from the surface – a distinct change in temperature.

Now in comparison to a lamp post – tree like in height, carrying energy in it’s head, rooted by cables. Let us feel the difference and think about the energy in this.

Stop 4 Water – the river, leats and Mills

Surrounded by river estuary, marsh and sea,  you could say that Exeter grew with the importance of the energy potential in the water. And those that managed the water and the energy from it were the most powerful in the City. A likely scenario to be reflected in the world as water becomes scarce in some parts.

Come Saxon times the marshy and boggy land started to be reclaimed for growing food to feed the growing population. Higher and lower leats were dug out around an areas called Exe Island and Shilhay.

A medieval bridge was built – the remains still present – and showing how the route of the river has changed. The water to be crossed all powerful.

Then the water started to be harnessed to drive water wheels and mills.

Stop 5 Cricklepit Mill

The only working mill in Exeter, but also one of the oldest – there used to be 9 in this area.   From Cricklepit street you get a really good view of the building and wheels.  Cricklepit initially built in 1220 using water in the leats.  A weir was contructed by the Bonhay Cliffs to create a larger head of river water to provide energy.  This was originally a Grist Mill, grinding corn later a fulling mill for bashing woolen cloth, and lastly grinding and cutting animal feed.  Now it is open the second Friday of the month, headquarters of Devon Wildlife Trust, and flour can be purchased here.  The new hydroelectric turbine is constantly on the go.

It seems all this land and water belonged to the Courtenay family who also owned Topsham quay. By constructing weirs across the Exe they purposefully kept Exeter quay less profitable and smaller. But they also managed water levels feeding into the mills and therefore the power and produce made from them. They reduced water in fish pools, damaging the fisheries. Countess Weir is named after Countess Isabella Courtenay.  This expression of territorial human energy hasn’t changed!

The all powerful Courtenays eventually upset the royals and their land was given to Exeter City Council to manage. Thus opening up the opportunity to build the Exeter Ship Canal and put in another weir to feed that – Trews Weir.   Mr. Trew was employed by the City Council to help construct the canal.

The presence of the canal from 1560s enabled ships to come right up to Exeter, and Exeter profited as a result.

Stop 6 Exeter Electricity Company and the big turbine hall

Now we are standing outside the old Haven Banks Electricity Power station.  Now a Climbing Centre.

In the 1880s after the Edison invention of the electricity generator, Henry Massingham set up the Exeter Electric Light Company.  The City Council bought this out and it became the City of Exeter Electric Company. Initially interested in hydroelectric power but switching to coal via ship and train this Exeter electricity generation hall was built.   It had a 155ft chimney and a turbine hall of a scale similar to many churches in Exeter.  The naves holding religious energy, the turbine halls containing electricity potential energy. Both ancient and victorian buildings ornate and full of art and technological craftsmanship.

In less than 30 years, Exeter was becoming electric and managing it’s own power.  But all the small companies were gradually nationalized from 1947 when South West Electricity board was formed.

This nationalization of our energy has led to a very powerful group of 6 companies. Now Exeter Community Energy are working with all sorts of enterprises and public buildings to install community owned solar pv.

This generation hall closed in 1955 and stayed empty for years.  2007 brought an end to plans to turn it into a hotel with arson – a very energetic destruction

Stop 7  Gas Works and Welcome Inn

The Welcome Inn was built for the ‘energy’ workers of haven banks.  The Gas works were adjacent to here with their gas holders taken down in 2014.  Gas was provided free to the pub next door.  Gas is now stored in compressed grids underground.  The gas was a product of coal, with coke as a by product.

I find it a shame that these holders have been taken away.  I think it is because to me they had their own living energy – they breathed up and down, in and out like animals.  And like nature, the weather, I never knew what view to expect when I came down to the quay and looked across the water.

Exeter was the first City to have gas lighting in 1815.  So those lamp posts that I like hugging – some of them do have a long history!

Now we are going to find the electricity sub station following the clues from maps of the cables underground.  Western Power Distribution is in charge of these cables and electricity distribution.  They would give you a map too if you asked nicely, and it was for art.

Stop 8 Electricity Sub station

These take electricity from the main grid at 132 Kilo volts and transform them to smaller voltages eventually suitable for our homes (11kv). Each one leaks some electricity and power as it transforms in the alternator.  The hum and the heat disipates and again the station feels alive.

Places known locally, vibrating tingling menacing magnetic. What do you think??

Various information exchanges, the distance between the wires coming in designed to prevent arcing, the voltage maximised to reduce the current and the waste, the engineering of the transformer boxes.  All a bit over my head – literally – but I can see the art in it.

Stop 9 On the bridge over the canal.

We are looking at Trews weir and the paper mill which was driven by the head of water produced and designed by Mr Trew more than 500 years ago.

Our Future energy – So this is a place to look across at solar panels, think about wind both on and off shore, geothermal – more ways of producing energy from the renewable sources around and below us.  People discuss district heating systems being trialled in new towns such as Cranbrook, and community solar projects such as in Wonford.  The future could look bright.

Do we spend more time on technologies that save energy, should we spend more cash on design and development of renewable technologies or shall we cast more votes for those politicians that seem to care and could encourage a difference?

Stop 10 The end

We have walked and form a closed circle of our energy journey in Exeter.

Lets send a physical wave round the circle and then good bye to each other – our day ahead energised, our mind electrified??

Photos to come – better to publish now, than not to waiting for images…. I think.

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