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


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