Over the May Day Bank Holiday weekend I took part in two seasonally-themed events. The first was the Wildheart Gathering, over in West Sussex – this small festival, run by the Spirit Horse Foundation, is the ‘first of the season’ and we hoped it would be a chance to ‘raise the May’. It turned out to be a be a complete mud-fest, as the rain did not let up, but still there was a warmth there – in the instant community created around the ‘village green’, a kind of ‘fellowship of the mud’. The taking off and putting on of wellies became a ritual practice over the weekend (the sound of one leg hopping), as we boldly went on our yurt-trek. The daytimes were dominated by the many interesting workshops (we were offering our own respective ones – mine on ‘Writing the Land’); the evenings, by lovely music from a range of talented people. On Sunday a big Beltane Ceremony took place – celebrating the ‘start of the summer’ (which begins on the 1st of May, in theory…). The Jack was crowned alongside his May Queen and together they blessed everyone there – a great finale to the weekend, for us at least – for we set off straight after, keen to get back to hot baths and soft beds!
The second was on Monday – the annual Hawkwood Open Day – where Jenni and I were also running workshops. After a quick turnaround we ‘rebooted’ ourselves back out of the door and up the hill, to the lovely grounds of Hawkwood College (originally a Jacobean House called the Grove until renamed after the English military hero Sir John Hawkwood in the 30s). Various talks and workshops were in full swing, as well as an assortment of stalls to peruse. I set up for my storytelling workshop in the ‘sitting room’ – and this co-created tale (in embryonic form) was the quirky, spontaneous result:
The Legend of Hawkwood
A long time ago, so long ago it seems unlikely to have happened at all – but the land remembers and there you are – there was a big pile of fresh hills, waiting to be named and told what to do. These were divided into two by Sabrina, goddess of the river – who liked things to be tidy. One side became England, the other Wales. The edge of the hills on the English side were garlanded with springs. Ten of these bubbled up in a wood frequented by hawks. One in particular stood out from her sisters – protected by a grove of old, old trees. This was the Spring of Summer and the nymph who lived in it was particularly lovely. Her hair was like sunshine on a summer’s day, her eyes as blue as cornflowers, her skin as smooth and pale as cream – you get the general idea. All the animals of the forest loved to drink at her spring – for the water had a special magic to it, making you feel good inside. Not wanting the animals to have all the fun, the two-legged ones cottoned in on the act and were soon making pilgrimage to it from far and wide.
Following it so far? Good.
Well, there was a Lord, scarred by wars, who decided he wanted to keep it for himself – so he caught the nymph and locked her up in a stone tower next to the spring. Here, he made his home and his name was Lord Hawkwood. He invited his sister to move in – she was to winter what the nymph was to summer. The place became chilly and gloomy – which suited Lord Hawkwood’s mood. They were happy in their misery – keeping summer under lock and key.
You can boo at this point.
Well, everything has a knock on a effect. Around these parts they say when Lord Hawkwood sneezes, the rest of the West Country catches cold. The villagers of Warmley were in the frontline of this blast. It became very chilly there. Nobody could get warm and everyone wondered where summer had gone – for the year was taking too long to warm up, and poor Old Grannie – well, it wasn’t doing her chillblains any good. There was a meeting – in the draughty village hall – and everyone added their coughs and sneezes to the proceedings. Mutters and grumbles rubbed shoulders with one another. No one seemed to know what to do but everyone enjoyed a cathartic moan.
Then Willow – Grannie’s grand-daughter – piped up. She had an idea. ‘Sshhh!’ they said. This was serious adult business. But Willow was wilful and wouldn’t pipe down. ‘Why don’t we just go to the Spring of Summer and bring some of its water back here?’ Silence descended and everyone stared. Why had no one thought of that? Well, who was going to go? Everyone found an excuse – it’s my knees; it’s the cat; it’s the this, it’s the that. ‘I’ll go,’ said Willow, much to their relief. They showered her with advice and sandwiches and blankets, flasks and kisses.
And off she set – on a motorcycle fuelled by lemonade: pop – pop – pop, it went… all the way up the Severn Valley, along Sabrina’s flanks, who was pretending to sleep but was secretly enjoying the whole thing. Willow started at dawn and rode through the whole day and night. At noon she stopped and let the sun warm her bones – it was not so chilly once she left Warmley. The meadow she lay in was covered in yellow flowers which looked like a cloth of gold. She decided it was and picked it up, wrapping it around her shoulders. ‘That’s nice,’ she thought. ‘I’ll keep hold of it – just in case.’ And she carried on her way, until dusk – when the sun set and the moon rose, lacing the trees with silver thread. Willow stopped again and gathered some of this up – ‘That’s nice too – and it might come in handy.’ And she carried on her way, cheered by the sight of the moon. But the moon leapt over the sky and slipped down the edge of the land, like a coin down a drain, leaving only starlight to light her way. The stars glittered like buttons in the sky and so Willow stopped and reached up – picking some – for everything she took a shine to was in risk of ending up in her pockets. The stars glittered in her palm. ‘Pretty – and who knows, they might come in useful.’
And so laden with her useful things she carried on her way.
But by now it was very dark – no moon or stars shone her path. She was a bit lost, and then a lot. She pulled up and chewed her lip. What was she going to do?
Suddenly, there was a shuffling and a snuffling and a badger shambled into view. ‘Hello,’ he grunted, ‘I’m Bertie, how do you do?’ The badger, as you can gather, was friendly and offered to show her the way through the wood. He seemed a kindly sort and so Willow leapt back on her motorbike and followed him – which took some doing, as Bertie scurried off pretty sharpish.
Soon, they had arrived at another bunch of trees. ‘Here we are,’ said Bertie.
‘Where are we?’
‘The wood of the three hawks. You can ask them for help – if you can find them. Good Luck!’
Hawkwood! Willow thanked the badger with a kiss on his wet nose, who went on his way rather pleased with himself at receiving this fine treasure.
Now all she needed was find the hawks… Willow peered up into the dark branches – black against a blacker sky.
She was in the dark.
Suddenly, a figure appeared in a cagoule, wielding binoculars. ‘Hello, little girl,’ she twitched. Blinking through her field glasses she added: ‘Are you lost?’
‘Yes, who are you?’
‘I’m an orni …’ Twitch. ‘An orni…’ Twitch. ‘A bird-watcher. Can I help?’
Indeed she could – with the watcher’s help they soon spotted the three hawks. Willow thanked her new friend, giving her a sandwich and a flask of tea.
‘Be polite to them. They are old and wise. Support the RSPB! Goodbye!’
Willow paused for effect and then stepped up to the first. ‘Hello. I am looking for the Spring of Summer. Can you help?’
‘The Lord of Winter wants to feel the sun,’ said the first mysteriously.
‘The Lord of Winter wants to dream the moon,’ said the second with equal clarity.
‘The Lord of Winter wants to hear the stars,’ added the third, just to confuse matters further.
Willow pondered these odd statements for a moment – they didn’t seem to be directions … or perhaps they were! All three birds were staring in one direction … Willow followed their keen gaze … to a tower on the brow of the hill, it’s windows glowing like … well, hawk eyes.
Thanking the three hawks, she set to work – she took the cloth of gold and sewed on the bright buttons with the silver thread. By the time she had finished she was rather impressed with her handiwork. With this splendid cloak she walked up to the Manor of Lord Hawkwood and knocked on the door.
Heavy footsteps came down the echoing corridor; there was the sliding of bolts and the rattling of chains, and finally the door opened. ‘What is it?’ Before her stood Lord Hawkwood – tall, pale and wintry, a sour look in his dark eyes.
‘Please, your Lordship – my village is feeling the cold and missing the sun. Could you spare some water from your magic spring?’
Lord Hawkwood curled a lip in contempt. ‘My child, why on Earth would I want to do that?’
‘Because I have made you this nice cloak – why don’t you try it on?’
And so he did. He didn’t get many presents. And, you know what? It suited him fine – in fact, he was rather taken by it. ‘How do I look?’
‘Dazzling,’ said Willow, and he was. It brightened him up no end. Death, with a makeover.
Lord Hawkwood’s gaunt face broke into a smile. ‘My child, you are a wonder. I feel … lighter some how. Here, let me open the spring.’
Lord Hawkwood took the cold iron key from around his neck and led the girl down to the big tree which grew by the spring. He bent down and unlocked the strong wooden lid that covered the spring – to stop anyone just coming up and helping themselves.
Up burst the nymph – delighted to be released. She showered her blessing on them both and the world seemed brighter. Indeed it was a new day and warmth returned to the land.
‘Take as much as you like,’ said the Lord, and so Willow did, filling up several five litre containers with the special spring water. These were lashed to her bike and, waving her thanks, off she set back to Warmley – bringing the summer home.
To celebrate there was a big party – May Pole dancing (for it was the start of summer), stalls, music, fine food and revelry. The people wore their brightest clothes and light returned to their eyes. Neighbours practised their smiles on one another. Beaming became a popular past-time.
Willow was praised by everyone for her courageous act – and was given a year’s supply of lemonade, enabling her to go on further adventures.
Lord Hawkwood continued to live at the spring – letting any who needed it take the waters, for healing and inspiration. His wintry sister thawed out and kept him company. When he finally passed on, she looked after the place by herself – it got a bit much, and so she asked for the help of the nymph and together they created a holistic college, which stands there to this day.
Created with participants of ‘The Legend of Hawkwood’ workshop, Hawkwood Open Day.
Kevan Manwaring 7 May 2012
This workshop proved to be a pleasant taster of the full-day one I’m running there on Sunday 20th May: Climbing the Beanstalk – storytelling in easy stages; and the longer course I’m scheduled to run in the Autumn – the Storyteller’s Journey.
A bit of nonsense? Perhaps the honouring of place is worthwhile, as is creating a space for creativity and imagination to flourish – honouring our own personal genius loci. Thomas Moore, in his classic Care of the Soul said: ‘Storytelling is an excellent way of caring for the soul. It helps us see the themes that circle in our lives, the deep themes that tell the myths we live.’