Monthly Archives: June 2009

Riding the Dragon

Riding the Dragon  part 3

20th-21st June

pistyll rhaeadr

Pistyll Rhaeadr - one of the seven wonders of Wales, photo by K. Manwaring

Pistyll Rhaeadr and Wrexham Steeple

Snowdon Mountains without its people

Overton yew trees, Gresford bells,

Llangollen bridge, St Winifred’s Wells.

The Seven Wonders of Wales

After three week’s of slog finally … freedom! A long ride to Snowdonia to blow away the cobwebs. I think you can really feel the dragon in the land in Wales, especially if you ride through it on a motorbike!

On solstice eve I was invited to the wedding of Keith and Annie, two old friends from N’pton, on their farm cottage in North Wales – based on the theme of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with the bride as Titania, the bridegroom as Oberon, and the guests providing the rest of the Seelie Court.

Annie the bride as Titania

Annie the bride as Titania

Keith as Oberon

Keith as Oberon

I packed my pointy ears, tent and essentials and set off Saturday morning. I decided to take the route across the middle of Wales, aiming for Aberystwyth (the scenic route, and the longer one). I was hoping to see the sea and stop for a spot of lunch there, but by the time I was in the area, time was running out, and so I grabbed some much needed hot grub at the Red Kite Café (thrilled to spot some of the famous birds with their distinctive tails soon after) and blatted up the fast north road past Machynlleth, Harlech, Portmeirion…(fortunately not chased by white ‘rover’ balloons from the Village, where the cult Sixties’ TV series The Prisoner was filmed). At one point the road plunged precipitously down into the valley overshadowed by the dark dramatic flanks of Cader Idris, the giant’s chair – where those foolhardy enough to spend a night end up ‘dead, mad or a poet’. Further up the road, the sinister bulwark of Magnox North could be seen, blighting the beautiful coast. Crossing the cob into Porthmadog – the causeway linking it across the alluvial flats to the rest of Wales – I was treated to a stunning view of Snowdonia. After a long ride I had nearly made it! Unfortunately, fatigue (after a 5-6 hr ride) meant I made a wrong turning and precious minutes were squandered as I frantically tried to remember the way to Keith and Annie’s place – not the easiest place to find. It really is in the middle of nowhere, along unsigned roads, back of beyond. I pulled onto their land about 15 minutes late. I could hear the ceremony going on so I just rushed down the field where the guests had gathered – an impressive colourful circle of about a hundred ‘fairies’! It looked lovely, set against the backdrop of the mountains.

setting for Keith and Annie's wedding, N Wales

setting for Keith and Annie's wedding, N Wales

The couple were magnificent in their finery. I was worried I’d missed the tying of knot, but this was still to come. No vows were exchanged because this, it turns out, was a renewal of commitment – they had actually tied the knot eleven years ago, but this was a celebration of their love, a beautiful thing to see in this day and age. Afterwards there was a hearty buffet, followed by a puppet show version of Shakespeare’s fairy play

midsummer night's dream puppet show

midsummer night's dream puppet show

and a Welsh ceilidh (which didn’t sound that different from a Scottish one, apart from the odd song in Cymraeg): the dances were identical. Alas, my heart wasn’t into dancing (it felt like the last couple of weeks finally hit me at that point) but it was nice to see everyone enjoying themselves. There was some fire-twirling by Keith and Annie’s son, Rubin and his mate. Then there was more drinking, and much late night hilarity…until, tired from my journey, I had to go to bed. I collapsed in my tent and slept like an Ent.

beer - a reason to be cheerful

beer - a reason to be cheerful

It was strange just being a guest – a sharp contrast to the previous Saturday, where at Stanton Drew I was running the handfasting and performing. The feedback I received from Nigel and Sophie suggested it went down very well: ‘Thanks for a magical time – it was truly amazing. We’ve had loads of great feedback from folk praising your conduct of the ceremony and entertainment in the garden.’  This time, my services were not required and I felt somewhat at a loss. I would’ve happily chipped in a wee poem around the fire, but … there wasn’t one. Instead, there was just boozing and ribaldry in the marquee.

merriment in the marquee - Keith & Annie's wedding feast

merriment in the marquee - Keith & Annie's wedding feast

It was a beautiful occasion, everything had been done with such love – it was just a shame I wasn’t in a better mood to enjoy it. After funerals of two friends in two weeks I guess it was going to take longer than an evening, however enchanting,to shake my gloom.

Next morning, feeling ‘delicate’ I grabbed a cuppa and some makeshift breakfast (a slice of the wonderful waterfall wedding cake) and packed up the old steed and set off. It was noon, summer solstice, not that you would know it – the weather deciding to be grey and overcast. I stopped off at the beach to clear my head – feeling as flat as the sands.

I fuelled up in Porthmadog – thank god for coffee! ‘people petrol’– and hit the road. The rain hammered down to begin with – not very pleasant – but fortunately my waterproofs kept me dry. I had to keep my eye on the ball on those twisty roads in the wet, so I took it easy along the road to Bala, a biker’s paradise … when it’s dry!

Bala gorsedd circle by Kevan Manwaring

Bala gorsedd circle by Kevan Manwaring

When I reached Bala, I stopped to savour the glittering waters of Llyn Tegid, where I camped the previous summer. Then I parked up to visit the Gorsedd circle, where last year I had witnessed the proclamation of the Welsh National Eisteddfod, which will take place there this year. I decided to experience what it would feel like to, to step up onto the main stone and receive the highest accolade. The circle isn’t in the most inspiring of settings – hemmed in by a carpark and a light industrial estate, but it was still a thrill to stand there and raise the awen.

Bala motte

Bala motte

From the carpark I spotted for the first time at mound – a Norman motte – with a tree growing symbolically from its summit. I decided to check it out and ascended in my leathers. When I got to the top I savoured the view over the surrounding valleys, sitting my back against the trunk, letting its strength support me. Apparently, a popular place for local knitters – imagine the gossip shared – and later on, visitors would be charged a penny to visit it. With interest, I noted on the interpretation board that on the opposite side of the lake a castle said to belong to Gronw Pebr once stood: the man who assassinated Llew Llaw Gyffes, according to the legend in The Mabinogion. The bright solar hero who is shot down in his glory by his shadowy rival… on one level this seemed to represent the fact that the summer solstice is the longest day of the year, but also the point from when the days start getting shorter, as the dark half of the year reclaims its losses and eventually ‘defeats’ its rival (until he is reborn at midwinter and the cycle begins again). On a transpersonal level, it speaks of an unfortunate trait I’ve noticed in people: it is easy to take potshots at those who stand up and shine. It is easier to criticise than create – cynicism is the way of the coward. That is not to say one should be naively optimistic about everything – but to be positive, think positive, act positive, requires more effort and courage than the opposite. We can all wallow, and seek to keep others down if they aspire too high – for their excellence emphasises insecurities in some – whileas, I think by shining it gives others permission to do the same. I believe in empowering people, not putting them down.

From Bala, I followed a stunning B-road to Pistyll Rhaeadr – a joy to ride along. The sheer beauty of the landscape made me feel so much better. Nature really is the best medicine.

Tan-y-Pistyll tearooms by the waterfall by KM

And then, finally, when it seemed like the higgedly-piggedly road would never run out, there it was, a white horse-tail of water cascading over the cliffs. I was last here 19 years ago, working on a film called The Runner (a dogdy student flick, a substandard John McTiernan effort ‘starring’ Harrison Ford’s brother). Then I was the gaffer’s assistant, helping to set up the lighting and tracks. First to arrive, last to leave. A freezing night shoot I seem to remember. And now I returned – a bard on a bike!

The place is sympathetically managed. There’s a marvellous note on their website:

‘The falls have not been ‘tamed’ with concrete, safety railings and warning signs, It is a natural in its beauty as God intended it to be!’

The guest house, Tan-y-Pistyll is used for retreats and I read with interest:

‘For generations this location has been held and revered in the hidden orders of druidic folklore as one of there most special and sacred locations. Called the Druids Bowl a place of inner inquiry of the sacred’

I climbed down to the waterfall, and beheld the majestic natural phenomenon. Unfortunately it was hard to get into a reverie when one is being bitten to death by midges, and so I retreated to the café for some warming soup. Afterwards, I found a little summer house, where I was a little safer from attack. Here I could gaze out across to the waterfall, at Lady Pistyll, as she’s called, and ‘channel’ this:

Voice of the Waterfall

From the source I descend,

cascading into your world,

breaking through all barriers

with grace, with joy.

White seam of inspiration,

let it pour through you

do not contain it, restrain it.

Be the flow, the portal of light.

There is so much love,

more than one alone can bear.

it must be shared.

My natural urge is to become

one with the ocean.

Life cannot be separate from life,

and yet it must be allowed

to stand in its own power,

to be fully itself,

shining, magnificent,

a song singing to itself,

expressing its isness,

its soul note.

Kevan Manwaring, Pistyll Rhaeadr, Summer Solstice 2009

There’s a fantastic local legend, which I share below in full:

Dragon Falls – The Gwybr of Llanrhaeadr

Above the waterfall is a lake called Llyn Luncaws. The story goes that in this lake lived a serpent with wings who, once every few days, would fly down the valley to the village and there seize children, women or animals, taking them back to the lake to devour them.

The people of the village got together and, as nobody knew how to kill the gwybr, a number of them set off and walked over the mountains for many days to reach the wise woman of the hills. They told her the frightening story and she listened in silence. When they were finished, she bade them sleep whilst she thought on the problem.

Next morning, when the villagers awoke, they gathered round her and she explained to them in detail what they had to do when they got home. As soon as they arrived back the men got together and went to the blacksmith’s shop, where they worked all day and all night creating three enormous spiked collars of different sizes. The women worked together and gathered in all the linen in the village, sewed it together to make a huge sheet and dyed it blood-red.

In the afternoon of the second day, when all was ready, the whole village set off to the tumuli and great standing stone in the field at the foot of Rhos Brithin. Here the men dropped the three spiked collars over the pillar and the women wrapped the whole lot in the red linen. Then they set about building a circle of fire round the pillar.

The warning was given; the gwybr had been sighted on its way down the river. Quickly they lit the fire and hid amongst the bushes and hedges to watch. As it approached the village, the ring of fire attracted the great serpent and, as it flew closer, it thought it saw another dragon illuminated by the flickering flames. It roared with anger and threw itself to the attack, spearing its breast on the hidden spikes.

Again and again it attacked and each time the spikes drove deeper into its body until it dripped with blood and grew weaker. Eventually it could fight no more and collapsed bleeding and dying at the foot of the pillar.

The villagers, with the help of the wise woman of the hills, had outwitted the gwybr and once more the village was safe.

(from the official site website)

***

I reluctantly left the falls, feeling soothed by its energies and inspired to return. For now, I had to ride the dragon … south … back to my home, where a hot bath and a soft bed awaited.

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Rider on the Storm

Births, Deaths and Marriages

5-16 June

Sometimes life seems to challenge us – events come along to test what we’re made of, what we believe. It’s been one of those fortnights … but with positives that give me hope.

Within the last two weeks I’ve had to attend the funerals of an old friend from Northampton who committed suicide and a dear friend from Bath, who died of cancer last Tuesday: fellow poet, Mary Palmer, whose funeral is today – making two in a fortnight. This one will be a different affair from the one I attended in Northamptonshire for Sarah B, mother of two, who tragically took her own life on the 1st of May. Her ceremony took place at Olney Woodland Burial site. About twenty years ago I went to the first woodland burial in the county, for a lady called Jackie. Whether it was at this site or not, I cannot recall, but it is now a small forest. Many gathered in the carpark – and it was sad to think she took her life, when she had so many people who cared about her. I had ridden over the Cotswolds to be there for 2pm. I had ten minutes to spare, but Sarah’s partner and their daughter kept everyone waiting – turning up 50 minutes later (it must have been a huge ordeal for him and the kids). Many old faces were there. While we waited my bardic chum, Jimtom brewed me up a welcome cuppa in his van, which helped me to thaw out from the ride. I chatted to friends I hadn’t seen in ages, making surreal small-talk. Then, finally, we were ready to start. A guy with a flute led us in procession to the graveside. The haunting sound carried across the groves of remembrance and was deeply moving. A simple ceremony took place at the graveside, by the whicker casket. A poem of Sarah’s was read out. The casket was lowered into the ground. As everyone scattered in some flowers, we chanted ‘the river is flowing…’ led by the daughter and a friend. It was heart-breaking seeing the family, clearly decimated by their loss. Afterwards, we decamped to the United Reform Church in Yardley Hastings, just up the road, where no less than three religious ceremonies took place: Pagan, Christian and Buddhist (showing Sarah’s interests and tolerance), plus a moving presentation of her life – with photoes and music. There was a meal sometime in the evening – but not having had any lunch, I was spaced out and flagging, so I left to visit my Mum, whose 65th birthday it was that day – and the initial reason I was visiting Northampton then. It was a shame it was all on the same day, but it some ways it balanced it out: birthdays, deathdays… And the next morning I visited my sister and her wee bairn, Kerry, now a year and half old – eyes full of shining wonder. The cycle of life continues.

I rode home – wiped out from the draining experience, the funeral and a night around the fire in the rain with my ‘frenemies’, trying to rekindle some of the old Earth Rhythm magic and failing. God bless ’em – but I probably won’t be seeing them until the next one. Once we were close, but now we just get on each other’s nerves. It’s telling it took Sarah’s death to bring us together. A shame, but … people move on.

In extreme contrast to my grim time back in the old town, in Bath I went to a talk by Marina Warner on fairy tales (part of the International Music Festival) at St Michaels church, then onto a private view – my friend, William Balthazar Rose’s new show ‘Horses, Hats, Cooks and Cleavers’. Ah, it’s good to be back in Bath!

The next day I took part in King Bladud’s Pageant, despite not feeling particularly keen to read long complicated texts in large public spaces!

Looking every bit the Bath old fogey I read in John Wood's The Circus

Looking every bit the Bath old fogey I read in John Wood's The Circus, from The Bath Chronicle

Life continued, demanding attention, effort!

I had a heavy week, workwise, with a stack of marking to do – but on Tuesday, a bombshell hit. I received a call saying Mary Palmer had passed away early that morning at Dorothy House Hospice. Her sister was present. Having seen her (fortunately) last Thursday I knew she was on death’s door, but it was still a huge blow. Three months ago she had been performing at Waterstones. The cancer had come back and claimed her very quickly. I read to her in the hospice, and she seemed to be soothed by this, and took solace in the fact her words would live on – we’re publishing her selected poems. In the last few weeks she was able to edit her old work and write new material, up until the last week. It will be a poignant legacy to a brilliant poet. The way her friends have rallied around to help is so heartening.  We are all working hard to ensure her work will survive.

Tuesday night, despite receiving this awful news, I still had to teach somehow, as I was due to do my evening class at Chew Valley School. The session seems blighted – for it was on Tuesday a month ago I heard of Sarah’s suicide. I somehow dragged myself out of the house to go to the lesson, only to find my batteries were flat – and maybe just as well, as I wasn’t really in a psychologically fit state to ride. And today is Mary’s funeral – followed by the class. Not easy, being in the public eye!

Thursday morning I had been booked to run a private dawn ceremony at Stonehenge, through Gothic Image tours. I got up before sunrise and rode there – it was beautiful, seeing the sun rise over the misty, ancient landscape of Salisbury Plain. It was a stunning morning at the stones (for once). Introductions over, I led the small group from the States, Australia and Singapore into the stones, using my wolf-drum to lead the procession. We gathered in the circle and I started, casting the quarters with the help of volunteers (almost one from each corner of the world). In the gorsedd I performed Dragon Drance, which was a thrill to do in the stones, although at 6.30am I wasn’t at my best!  Still, it seemed to move people. A lovely bloke from Kansas wrote to me afterwards saying: ‘I thoroughly enjoyed and was moved by your poem at Stonehenge.  I’m not easily moved, but your words and your voice resonated deeply with me.’ He sent a photo too.

Bard on a Bike at Stonehenge, dawn 11.06.09

Bard on a Bike at Stonehenge, dawn 11.06.09, thanks to Larry Philips of Kansas

After the ceremony, we went back to the hotel they had been staying in, in Marlborough, for a very welcome cooked breakfast. It was nice to chat further with Jamie’s tour group. I don’t normally run ceremonies, but this was a pleasure. The sunshine makes all the difference!

Bon voyages over, then it was back home and down to earth with a bump for more marking!

The slog must go on!

Saturday, I, unusually, ran another ceremony – a handfasting at Stanton Drew, aka ‘the Wedding Stones’. This was only the second one I had done – the first, on my birthday a couple of years ago at Swallowhead Spring, near Silbury Hill, was for John and Colette. They recommended me to their friends, Nigel and Sophie. It was very special, to conduct the ceremony in the stones. Once more, I found myself leading a procession of people (this time much bigger – about 100) across the fields – negotiating an electric fence, cow pats and stampeding cattle (the cows, hearing our bells and seeing the line of movment may have thought it was feeding time – or was just overly curious. After a couple of attempts to join us or cut us off, they opted for circling a 4WD parked nearby, watching the gathering with frisky intent)! The sun broke through as we began. It was a beautiful ceremony – the couple clearly loved it, going by their beaming faces and comments afterwards. Many there hadn’t experienced anything like it before, and the responsive was overwhelmingly positive. Back at the lovely home of Nigel and Sophie (after a further trepidatious trapse through the cowfield) in the capacious garden, where marquees, dance floor, bar, buffet, chill-out yurt and fire had been set up, I led the toast to the newly weds with my poem, ‘The Wheel of the Rose’, and then entertained the guests with a wedding set, which seemed to go down well. My work done, it was time to hit the road – back to Bath, to say farewell to my friend Svanur, who was going back to Iceland, with a much welcome meal at Anna’s place.

Sunday, I needed a day off! I went on a great walk with fellow Fire Springer, Anthony, on the Malverns – managing to do a full circuit, from Swinyard Hill to Worcestershire Beacon and back again in the glorious sunshine, walking in the footsteps of Tolkien and Lewis, conversation flowing. It was ice-cream weather and a pint of a local ale in the Wyche Inn went down a treat too!

Last night, we held a Bath Storytelling Circle at the Raven especially dedicated to Mary, who was a regular attendee over its ten years’ of existence. Many moving tributes were shared, songs and poems performed in her name – and I can’t think of a better tribute than the way we gathered together in poetic fellowship, remembering her with beautiful words from the heart.

And today, the day of her funeral, I am sure many more moving words will be spoken. I’ve been asked to read out  a poem at the service and also speak in the celebration of her life afterwards at the Forum. It is hard being the bard sometimes – the one who remembers, the one who must stand up there and articulate what everyone is feeling (while being assailed with those feelings themselves), but that is my role and it seems destiny has made sure I fulfil it, by thrusting me into these situations. Bombarded by life (and death). It has been a maelstrom of emotion, these last couple of weeks, and at times it felt the only way I could survive was to ‘lash myself to the mast’, like Turner famously did. One has to ride with it, or be overwhelmed – back in Olney, poet William Cowper, captured this in one of his famous Olney Hymns of 1779, ‘Light Shining in the Darkness’:

God moves in a mysterious way,

His wonders to perform;

He plants his footsteps in the sea,

And rides upon the storm.

King Bladud’s Pageant

King Bladud's Pageant7th June

King Bladud’s Pageant

Yesterday I took part in King Bladud’s Pageant, celebrating the legendary founder of Bath, and the centenary of the original Bath Pageant. I had been asked by the organiser, Richard Carder, to run a series of creative writing workshops in King Edward’s School with Year 7, leading up to the event. I got the kids to write stories based upon the local legend and poems based on flying. On the day I was heavily involved in performing – the event began at noon in The Circus with a simple public ceremony. Medieval minstrels (Sulian Early Wind Quartet) played catching the attention of tourists, the sound of the pipes skirling around the incredible space with its triple echo. I had to read out some writings from its architect, John Wood the Elder, from 1749. Not very exciting! Then we proceeded down to the Abbey Churchyard in a raggle taggle procession, led by the musicians and Rob in his white stag head-dress. We turned some heads as we wended our way down Milsom Street, the main shopping artery. We snaked through the milling shoppers, passed the busy busker-pitch outside the Pump Rooms and rendezvoused with the Natural Theatre Company, who had been hired for the event – dressed up as Queen Elizabeth I, Beau Nash, a Roman senator and King Bladud. They looked impressive between the massive ‘chess pieces’ of bull-man and hare-woman created by artist Sophie Ryder. Here I had to read out the whole of the Elizabethan charter, which bequeathed the waters of Bath to its citizens. Unfortunately, Thermae Bath Spa and the council seem to have ignored this fact. It was hard work, getting my way through the chewy Elizabethan legal English to say the least – projecting as best I could in the noisy public space. I found it tedious to read, so no doubt the audience did to listen – but this was what I had been asked to recite. And it was probably the first time in four hundred years Bath’s charter had been heard in its streets. Afterwards the Natural worked the crowd while I caught my breath, chatting to Sheila who did the poster. As we talked a bird crapped on my leg! A sign from our winged king? Or just bloody annoying. I was given tissues to wipe the worst of it off, but my trousers were ruined and I had to go home to change them. On the way back I was struck again – on the shoulder of my nice summer jacket! I must be very lucky! I had to laugh at this, but by the time I got to the Parade Gardens where the picnic was taking place I wasn’t in a great mood – and I needed to just sit down and eat something, so I missed my slot (to read out some of my own work). Fellow poet, Rose Flint, had read some of her work out and with participants placed ricepaper blessings in the Avon, where the hot springs flow out – to counter-act the curses written on lead-scrolls cast into the sacred spring by Roman bathers. People in the park joined in, including the Mayor – who had come down to judge the banner contest (unfortunately there were only 2!). A little restored I made my way to Chapel Arts Centre, where the main concert was due to start at 3.30pm. Here, Richard had ensembled an impressive woodwind orchestra and choir. After some Purcell, I was called up to recite Canto X, Book II of Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. It went better than I expected after the dreary Wood and Charter – Spenser’s lyric were far more oral, designed to be recited in court, methinks. The jaunty rhythm made it rattle along at a fair clip and the saucy allusions made more than the ladies of court giggle. Next, came the main event: Richard’s impressive cantata, especially composed for the event, ‘Bladud and the Goddess’. He used some of the verses from my Spring Fall, and it was amazing hearing them set to music and sung out by an impressive baritone (William Coleman). Rose had her words recreated in similar fashion by Pamela Rudge, mezo. They made an excellent Bladud and Sulis. Before the finale I was asked to read out some of my Bladud and Sulis colloquy from Spring Fall – I enlisted the help of fellow ‘Bladudian’, Caroline Gay Way (middle name after her ancestor, the poet, John Gay, of ‘The Beggar’s Opera’ fame), who read the voice of Sulis. It was a poignant and pleasant surprise to perform with her – she had directed the original production of Spring Fall which one me the chair in 1998. It hasn’t been performed publicly in its entirety since, although I brought out a tenth anniversary edition last year. Richard’s Cantata ended with a stirring finale – and I thought it was a splendid achievement. ‘Bladud and the Goddess’ deserves to be heard more widely – and performed in Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths. Carder is a local ‘Birtwistle’, in what he has accomplished, our own folkloric cycle.

The second half started with some suitably mythic Purcell (The Gordian Knot and the chacony from King Arthur); followed by poems from Rose Flint and her workshop participants; then a stirring new piece composed by Michael Short, which captured the soul of water; local harper, Jennifer Crook, followed with two divine pieces, Lady Marion (Clannad) and Minerva (one of her own). Some more Purcell finished the proceedings.

Afterwards, the core crew – by this time very thirsty – decamped to the Hobgoblin for a much needed and well deserved pint.

Feeling relaxed and in the festival spirit, we decided to check out the play in the park, The Raven and the Rose, which was a good team effort by community theatre Fullsail, and pleasant to watch, though a little chilly and damp – sitting in the rain! But since the play was about the Deluge, and what happened to Noah’s avian emissaries, perhaps the rain was part of it and at the end, though we weren’t treated to a rainbow, there was a lovely sunset. A fitting end to the ‘solar day’ of King Bladud’s Pageant, but …time to thaw out and – find some food!

Wessex Gathering

Kevan about to perform Dragon Dance at the Wessex Gathering, Purbeck 2009

Burnbake Campsite

Friday 30th May

Arrived at the Wessex Gathering (my 7th) after a good ride down in the sun. Sitting outside my tent now relaxing, after pitching by the woods in almost exactly the same place I camped in my first time. Was it seven years ago? Feels like longer – so much has happened. It’s good to stop and take stock. As always, it’s a bit hectic before coming down – putting my house in order, tying up loose ends, attending to business. Yet I still managed to do a bit of writing this morning on my novel (inspired by a fantastic play I saw last night the Theatre Royal, a version of Brief Encounter by Kneehigh; and a beautiful morning). The sun has his hat on!

Riding on the bike makes you focus on the now – you have to be fully present. You daydream at your peril! It wipes your mind of the white noise – the stuff that can keep you awake at night, the things that wear your down, wear you out. There’s so much waiting for me when I get back – a mountain of marking, projects, deadlines…The build up to the solstice begins! Yet here I’ll try to step outside of time for a couple of days in this magical place – the breath before the plunge! Here I’ll reconnect with the ‘tribe’ and synchronise with the turning of the wheel. I hope to raise and share the awen, create a story walk, even kickstart a new book. But the main thing is to relax – connect with this place, the people and myself.

Sunday 1st June

The sun beats down like a gong on Burnbake. It’s a another glorious morning at Wessex (they always seem to have good weather: ‘words with the management’). Yesterday I ran my workshop on creating a local creation myth, which seemed to go well (see below). To my surprise, people turned up at 10am after Phil announced with a blast of his horn and a shout-out. I had about a dozen to begin with. Within a couple of hours we had the legend of Burnbake! We arranged to meet 2.30pm today to have a brief chat before performing it ‘publically’ at 3. After the workshop, I took off since there was nothing on in the afternoon that caught my interest. I went for a pie and a pint of Copper at the best pub in the world, the Square and Compass in Worth Matravers (a true ‘hard core’ pub – its beer garden is decorated with monumental masonry and stone carvings. At one point this used to be the local of the nearby Purbeck Quarry. Now it is the watering hole of well-heeled Purbeckians and in-the-know tourists). It comes complete with its own fossil museum and has an annual ‘rock festival’ of stone-carving. Sitting in the sun, supping my pint, overlooking the sea, I was starting to feel relaxed. Went for a dip in Chapman’s Pool – another tradition for me when at Wessex. This was my ‘beating of the bounds’. The water was freezing but I soon warmed up again, lying in the sun. I ran through Dragon Dance. Then I went on to Swanage – in full knotted hanky British seaside mode – for icecream on the beach, followed by chips (impossible to resist the smell). Wended my way back to prepare for the ceremony and the bardic cabaret. I performed Dragon Dance – my fourteen page praise song to Ablion – from memory to the two or three hundred people gathered. Held their attention and my nerve. It seemed to go down well – afterwards several people came up to say how much they enjoyed it. One guy had been reduced to tears. Even Damh the Bard had been choked up, he told me afterwards. Others were clearly fired up by it and asked for copies, which unfortunately I didn’t have.

After the fire labyrinth – created by the Hearth of Arianrhod – I started off the Bardic Cabaret (another fixture of Wessex) with a new story, for me anyway, The Physicians of Myddvai – and then opened it up to contributions from the floor. We managed an hour’s worth before the Dagda clomped in to do their fire leaping. The curfew curtailed the drumming which accompanied it, but not the singing which went on late into the night. Folk were in fine voice (or at least that’s how it sounded to those around the fire, if not those trying to get to sleep). But it was a beautiful summer’s night – the stars were out, the moon half full or half empty depending on your point of view. Someone saw a shooting star. It was hard not to be enchanted by the ambience. I performed my green man poem as my ‘swan song’ for the night, then hit the sack.

The final morning was relaxed. An even hotter day, it was hard to do anything much. I slowly packed up after lunch and then read my book in the shade of my bike, shawl over my head, like a Bedouin next to his camel, until it was time to lead the story walk – the Legend of Burnbake with the ‘Burnbake Players’. Unfortunately, out of the nine we had the previous day (who were each going to perform a part of the story) only one turned up, Jim. Never rely on anyone! Jim and I muddled through, but it was not the same. Amazingly, some ‘gatherers’ managed to rouse themselves enough to come on the walk, which circumnavigated the campsite, incorporating local features and characters into the narrative. My duties over, I bid farewell to the organisers and hit the road.

Before the long ride back, I paused on Studland Heath to enjoy the view over Poole Harbour with an ice-cream. Wanting one last view of the sea, I popped along to Studland Beach, where I sat incongruously in my bike leathers, sipping a can of Red Bull, then I was off! Back through the winding roads of Dorset to dear old Somerset and home.

The Legend of Burnbake

It was All Wights’ Eve in the land of Purbeck and in the village of the Sifters – the folk who for generations had been the bakers of the area – things were in turmoil. Every year at All Wights’, the Sifters would bake a special cake for the Lord and Lady of the Silent Ones, Lord Stag and Lady Salmon who lived in the Hall of Many Colours – but some had grown tired or sceptical of the Old Ways and that year they had not put so much TLC into the making of the cake. They had failed to collect the nine sacred woods for the fire – and so the cake had burnt. But there was no time to make another one and so it was presented to the Lord and Lady. The rulers of the Silent Ones were furious – and they split the land of Purbeck away from the mainland to teach the Sifters a lesson. They would not return it until they had placated them – proved they still respected the Old Ways and honoured the Silent Ones.

The villagers realised they had to do something to make up for their slackness. And so a group of the Sifters set off to make a new cake. First they had to gather the nine sacred woods from Dapple Wood, the enchanted wood that bordered their village. They crossed over Salmon Brook into the perilous forest, said to be the domain of a hideous beast – to protect themselves they called out its magical name: Obezag! Into the wood they went, searching for the nine sacred woods. They gathered branches of oak, holly and beech, of birch, hazel and pine, of gorse, chestnut and vine. Each time they asked the dryad nicely: ‘old tree, old tree, may we have some wood from thee?’ If the tree obliged, they thanked it properly. ‘Thank you, thank you, old tree, for the wood you’ve given free.’ One by one they gathered the woods – but they needed something else. They needed special water from the Salmon Brook to make the cake with – the banks of the stream were treacherous and were the home of a gnome called Norman. Up he popped. They had to answer his riddle and, guessing it correctly, Norman reluctantly agreed to help. He dived into the water, creating an e-Norman-ous splash, which sent all the water in the stream into the Royal Cake tin awaiting back at the village of the Sifters. But this left no water in the stream, and this was not good. The life of Lady Salmon was tied to the stream – and she began to sicken and wane. That naughty gnome! He was always tricking unwary folk! Fortunately, there was a remedy – and the villagers collected the magic pine cones which would heal the Lady. Then, with the nine branches and pockets bulging with cones, they returned to the village. As they left Dapple Wood they said the magic word that would return them to the real world – the monster’s secret name backwards – Gazebo!

The intrepid bakers made their offering of cones to heal the Lady, and then they set to work – making their fire from nine sacred woods. When this was ready they prepared the cake mix – stirring in some special ingredients: love, beauty, joy, hope, moonlight and magic. The giant cake tin was placed in the oven pit. As time was precious they accelerated the baking by running around it, creating a vortex called a ‘micro-wave’. The cake rose and, topped with special icing from the Arctic, hundreds and thousands from the Milky Way, glow-worms for candles and so forth, was ready!

The sacred cake for the Lord and Lady was processed through the village to cries of: ‘Here comes the cake!’ All was going well, until they realised they couldn’t find the Hall! It was lost in a strange mist. Norman the Gnome popped up and offered to show them the way. They didn’t really trust him but had little choice. Purbeck was drifting further and further from the mainland – any longer and it might not ever be connected again. And so they followed him. That naughty gnome led them into a claggy quagmire called the Dagda’s Porridge. Fortunately, one amongst them remembered the way to counter the tricks of such a trickster – by turning an item of clothing inside out. This was done, Norman got vexed, the mist vanished and the Hall re-appeared. The Sifters made it! They presented their new cake to the Lord and Lady. The rulers could see the villagers had put their hearts into it this time, and so agreed to return Purbeck to the mainland – the Sifters were saved! The Silent Ones were appeased for another year. The fertility festival of We-Sex could begin when many buns in oven would be baked! Ever afterwards, that land was known as the Isle of Purbeck and that village was called as Burnbake.

The End

Created by participants of the ‘Creating a Local Creation Myth’ workshop led by Kevan Manwaring, Wessex Gathering 2009