Monthly Archives: July 2013

Lammas Flush

Lammas Flush –

Druid Camp 2013

Druid Camp 2013

Druid Camp 2013

 

I hadn’t been to the Druid Camp, at the Rainbow 2000 site, for five years – but when the organiser, Mark Graham, invited me earlier this year, I thought, what the heck. It would be a chance to catch up with some nice people, if nothing else. I knew of a few good friends going – Anthony Nanson and David Metcalfe (Fire Springs); Dr Graham Harvey and Professor Ronald Hutton; plus Nimue and Tom Brown – with whom I had corresponded extensively, but never met. These drew me to the camp – the performers (Carolyn Hillyer and Nigel Shaw; Seize the Day) and speakers were a fringe benefit. I knew there would be workshops and ceremonies galore – but I could take or leave those. Yet the weather boded well, on the whole, and I had a good feeling about it, as I pulled onto the site in the sun, to be greeted by Mark (lean and sun-tanned as usual) with his daughter (‘a future Emily Eavis’ I called her).

 

I arrived midday Wednesday – the camp officially opened at 5pm with its customary ceremony – and pitched my tent at the bottom of the main camping field, not knowing where any of my other friends were camped. As it turned out, they had not arrived yet – so I left my bike by my tent to act as a landmark. Sure enough, my friend Anthony found me there. It was good to have a fellow Fire Spring there.

 

Bard by a bike - my friend Anthony chills out with a book

Bard by a bike – my friend Anthony chills out with a book

I went to the facilitators’ meeting (‘Silly Taters’, to me) and failed to recognise Druidic bigwigs like Penny and Arthur Billington. Whileas such luminaries might be familiar faces in such circles, they mean little to me – remember my five year absence; and also a lack of respect for pecking orders and puffed up egos. Still, everyone was friendly enough. I introduced myself and my offering – ‘Dreaming the Land’, in which I guide people to the temple of Nodens at Lydney on a shamanic journey.

 

The opening ceremony was nicely balanced I thought – not too long, not too fluffy. The vibes were good, going by the grins and laughter, and the warmth generated by not only the awen.

 

Old Bards - me and my storytelling buddy, Adrian Beckingham, the Man from Story Mountain

Old Bards – me and my storytelling buddy, Adrian Beckingham, the Man from Story Mountain

That night I enjoyed some music in the ‘canteen’ marquee and settled into Camp life, chatting to folk. A bloke I got chatting to offered me some of his cider – despite an intention not to drink, I thought it would be rude to refuse, so I cracked open a can, sat back, and got wurzeled.

 

Personal Highlights of the Camp:

  • The ‘Beating of the Bounds’, in which organiser/ecologist Mark Graham led us on a nature walk around the site.
  • Meeting Nimue and Tom Brown at last, and hanging out with them.
  • Bumping into old friends, like Adrian Beckingham – the Man from Story Mountain.
  • Making new friends.
  • ‘Bird Spirit Land’ – the workshop led by Carolyn Hillyer and Nigel Shaw. Sublime, inspiring and deeply moving.
  • Seeing Tallis Kimberley, Simon and Chantelle Smith perform for the first time.
  • My ‘Dreaming the Land’ workshop.
  • Ronald Hutton’s edifying talk on ‘pagan heritage’, which really challenged the status quo, and lazy preconceptions in his usual scintillating style – ‘intellectual viagra’ I called it.
  • Appreciating the Awen flowing in the many other performers and speakers, and general level of conversation/interaction around the site.
  • The wonderful weather (for the first three days).

 

I was deeply inspired by Carolyn and Nigel’s workshop in particular, and I felt a renewed connection and commitment to honouring the land, its genius loci, ancestors, and narratives.

Although I had to leave late Friday night (to catch a train to London the following morning) I felt replete – in those three days I had ‘got’ what I needed from the Camp. I am sure there were many other fabulous items in the programme, and it would have been nice to tell a story round the fire, but it sometimes better to quit when you’re ahead, eager to return, than feeling worn out by it all. Three days is quite enough for me at a festival. After saying my goodbyes in the middle of Hillyer and Shaw’s sublime concert, with many a fraternal hug, I walked back to my bike – just as a shooting star rocketed overhead, a fiery arrow in the sky seemingly ‘just for me’, which I took as a good sign. Like the eternal souls in Cloud Atlas, connected by the comet-shaped tattoo mark, I felt I had (re)connected with kindred spirits with whom there is much magic to conjure.

Five years ago I had ‘lost my faith’ when my father died. I feel as though I have experienced re-enchantment thanks to this lovely gathering. Mark mentioned the ‘Lammas Flush’, when oak trees put out a second growth of leaves (due to their first canopy being too damaged by parasites, etc, to photo-synthesize sufficiently). I feel this camp has prompted my own – as I leave it inspired to follow-up several conversations and ideas. Thank you, oak-priests! May we all keep the Awen flowing.

/|

Rogue Males

20-21 July

Rogue Male alert - me at St Adhelm's Head

Rogue Male alert –
me at St Adhelm’s Head

Last weekend I set off on a ‘ride-about’, having had enough of all work and no play (‘red rum’ running round my head as I hammered away at the keyboard). I loaded up the bike and set off for the Somerset Levels, visiting some old friends who live above Wookey Hole. I hadn’t seen them since they’d had their child – a lovely brown-eyed girl who was now 2 and a half, and bright as button (like her parents, one a university lecturer, the other a website designer). But it was like old times, catching up with them over a fantastic B-B-Q, Spanish style, in their garden high above the Levels. The mundane and its demands are always there, preventing us from sustaining such special connections – unless we make a real effort. In the summer it’s a lot easier and pleasanter, blatting about – so I’m determined to make the most of it to catch up with old friends.

Capn K, ready for the road - riding pillion on my Legend

Capn K, ready for the road – riding pillion on my Legend

The next day I rendezvoused with my friend K at Castle Cary, and I took him pillion on a jaunt down to the Dorset coast – the object of our quest was the legendary ‘Stone Age’ pub, the Square and Compass, Worth Matravers, near Swanage, but sixty five million years distant in many ways, secreted in its remote nook of the Dorset ‘Jurassic Coast’. But before we sampled its fine wares, we made a bee-line for Chapmans Pool – essential on a summer’s day, especially after a hot ride.

Chapmans Pool

Chapmans Pool

We parked up the bike and hoofed it down the 400ft to the shingle, the waters awaited. We were soon floating in the cooling brine. There was not a cloud in the sky. It felt good to be away from it all – literally drifting, cut loose from our commitments.

open roads await

open roads await

Afterwards, we beat over to the pub, where a long afternoon of ensozzlement awaited – slowly sinking the local ale as the shadows lengthened. Sitting in the ‘Stone Age’ beer garden, tables and benches made of monumental slabs of stone from the nearby quarry like a set from the Flintstones, enjoying the grog, pasties and view over the blue, there is no better watering hole in the south-west. Complete with its own Museum of Fossils (and I don’t mean the sun-weathered regulars) it feels lost in its own time-warp.

Stone Age grog - at the Square and Compass

Stone Age grog – at the Square and Compass

Later Elephant Talk performed a hot set in a ridiculously small and stuffy room. The atmosphere was ‘frisky’, although my companion didn’t need much egging on (this whole jaunt could be misread as a ‘bromantic weekend break’ but K was chatting up everything that didn’t have a penis – no waitress or random German cyclist was safe). However, I was flagging and in need of some peace and Dorset starlight. We staggered down to a field and rolled out our mats, and were soon fast asleep – somewhere in the fold of a lynchet, hidden among the gently swaying grasses. We were in the East Man meadow below the pub, but we could have easily have been in a hollow-way somewhere above North Chiddeock – the obscure location of Geoffrey Household’s cult novel, Rogue Male, about a Englishman who fails to assassinate an unnamed European dictator, and has to go on the run – ending up going to ground, quite literally, in the deep ferny clefts of the Dorset countryside. There he survives in a primal fashion, living off his wits, and befriending a feral cat he calls Asmodeus. Household’s novel vividly evokes the landscape – specifically the wild in the liminal; and expresses something instinctual in the male psyche, which loves caves, roughing it, and being ‘outlaw’ and off-the-radar. Men like to feel wild, at least now and then. A subsequent conversation with a male friend confirmed this. Once when hitching with a mate, he was picked up by a solitary woman, finding himself a little disappointed when she commented that she had felt safe in offering him and his friend a lift, ‘because they didn’t look dangerous’. As men, we like to feel a little dangerous sometimes – even if this fantasy rarely breaks the surface. It remains underground – dormant – like a hunted assassin in deep cover. Hence, I suspect, the appeal of Household’s book, which has spawned a sub-cult, with the ‘Wild Places’ author Robert Macfarlane as its high priest.

Rogue Male - the classic Penguin edition

Rogue Male – the classic Penguin edition

A bit of wild-camping and Stone Age bingeing is sufficient to scratch that itch for now. The hollow-way, feral cats, and deadly end-games with enemy agents will have to await.

The 2 Ks by Cerne Abbas - trying not to feel an inferiority complex!

Size is everything. The 2 Ks by Cerne Abbas – trying not to feel an inferiority complex!

The next morning, we returned to civilisation – well, Swanage, and succumbed to the beach, along with half the population. The soft sand, fish’n’chips, bikinis and surf worked its magic, but eventually we wended our way north, via Dorchester and the Cerne valley – paying our respects to the Cerne Abbas giant. This mysterious sixty foot ithyphallic figure seemed like an apt way to round off our ‘Rogue Male’ weekend – but it was too hot to linger long. We washed our sandy feet in the Mill leat – blissfully cool and cleansing on my poor blistered paws. A cut had grown worryingly deep, but such ‘war wounds’ are all part of a rogue male’s ‘badge of honour’. Unless you have acquired a few cuts and bruises, you haven’t really had a good time, according to its macho code. This is ‘Fight Club’, Dorset-style, with Cerne Abbas as the ultimate logo. A coffee at the Giant’s Inn, then it was on the high road back to Somerset. Dropping my friend off, I made a spontaneous detour to Glastonbury Tor, from the heights of which I savoured the beautiful evening light over the Levels – the Tor, the hub of a great wheel, around which I had come full circle.

The ancient chapel at St Aldhelm's Head, Dorset

The ancient chapel at St Aldhelm’s Head, Dorset

Laying the Dust

The Cove Avebury

The Cove Avebury

9-15 July

Last Tuesday my German friend O visited (a month before she gets hitched to a fellow storyteller) and we went to Avebury to rendezvous with Z, resident of The Lacket – her family home nearby in a ridiculously picturesque National Trust village. If you can imagine a filmset for a movie about fairies intruding on a quaint English hamlet, this would be how it would look … but it’s for real. A line of thatched cottages surrounded by recumbent sarsen stones, Lockeridge Dene feels as though it straddles the worlds between mortals and the Good Folk. In exchange for giving our hostess some feedback on the incredible story she is writing about her and her famous grandmother, who was married to Scott of the Antarctic, we got to stay the night. We shared stories by the fire in the ‘Little Room’ as the living room is known, the shelves and walls steeped in history (rare volumes; memento mori; old photographs of famous friends and relatives).

The Little Room, at the Lacket

The Little Room, at the Lacket

Sipping sherry left over from her father’s funeral and eating some creamy camembert on home-made rye bread, we talked into the wee small hours. Then I staggered out into the night – and nearly ‘drowned’ in the sea of stars above my head – a spectacular star-field, due to the lack of light pollution (or anything from the 20th or 21st century) around. I stumbled my way to the Roundabout – the cute thatched ‘gnome’ house which was to be my bedroom for the night. I felt very privileged to be staying in such a place. Thank you Zzzzz…

Gnome, sweet, gnome - The Roundabout, my bedroom at the Lacket

Gnome, sweet, gnome – The Roundabout, my bedroom at the Lacket

The Lacket

Stars like sarsens

scattered across the sky’s meadow.

A house heavy with bristly thatch,

eaves, a furrowed brow.

Timbered frame riddled with history,

the ghosts of literati,

dubious diplomats,

the Polar extremes of Scott and Peter Pan

(the explorer’s son named

after their friend Barrie’s creation).

A lost father immortalised in the Neverland of ice,

leaving Wendy to run the house.

The garden, a habitat of Tinkerbells,

hedges good enough for a Woolf to jump in.

A cow-licked meadow

of glacial erratics,

a stone circle workshop,

Avebury in utero.

Here, great dreams and fragile visions are born,

eminent Victorians nurtured,

erudite Edwardians pandered,

visiting diplomats indulged.

Ineluctably, at the Lacket,

magic is forged,

protected in a vale of deep peace,

where time takes a hiatus

(wristwatches stop in the middle of the night,

stuck on the Roundabout of dreams).

A funeral sherry is sipped

in the snug of the Little Room,

beneath the sepia gazes of

the famous and familial.

The timbers, spines of rare books,

stained with the centuries of

mercurial repartee, firefly passion, hearts

breaking like an Antarctic ice-shelf,

minds locked into themselves,

imprisoned in the past,

imaginations roaming free.

 

Kevan Manwaring

July 2013

 

The next day, we went for a walk up Cherhill with Kevin, gurned to the camera in front of the Lansdowne monument and white horse, before ending up at the Black Horse for some quaffing.

Cherhill sunset

Cherhill sunset

The next day I accompanied O to Bath, and met up with my Icelandic friend, Svanur (aka, ‘The Viking’ as we affectionately call him), who was passing through town on his way back to his homeland, where he works as a tour guide. The last time I’d seen him was Easter 2012 in Cornwall, so we had alot of catching up to do – which we did over a few beers. His wife, Suzanne, and friends joined us for a pleasant afternoon sat in the beer garden of the Pig and Fiddle. Skol!

The Viking in Bath!

The Viking in Bath!

On Saturday my friend Robin visited and we walked the Wansdyke – even though we set off at 4pm, the heat was still formidable, and it was hard work to get up onto the ridge. Stretching from Bristol to Marlborough, this ancient earthwork is attributed to the Danes, hence its name, Wansdyke, or ‘Woden’s Ditch’, but it might well pre-date this. The fact it links several significant ancient sites – hill-forts, long barrows, and camps – makes it feel more like a processional route than a defensive structure. This is certainly how it feels, walking along it. I remember once on the way to Tan Hill (its highest point, and site of a famous fair) I found a verse and melody popped into my head, something along the lines of ‘I’m on my way to Tan Hill Fair, I hope to find my true love there.’ It seemed to arise out of the rhythm of my progress along the ancient way – the May trees, in full blossom, enhancing the sense this was the sacred route to the Hill of Bel-Tane. Higher up, there was a trace of pleasant coolness, and the going was far easier – it felt like one was a giant striding over the land; that one could go on for miles. Just as well, as we had several to go to our destination – the Barge Inn, Honeystreet, where there was a summer knees-up – and the shadows were lengthening (‘our shadows taller than our souls’). By the time we dropped down into the Vale of Pewsey and made our way along the tow-path to the pub, the sound of revelry guiding us, it was getting dark. We arrived five and half hours after setting out, having walked around 12-3 miles, with detours (navigational haziness; a Roman road that was now a blocked right of way; a vast field with no way out like the one in Ben Wheatley’s new film ‘A Field in England’). We were in need of sustenance – alas, the kitchen had shut. The slender bar-maid failed to inform me there was a BBQ, so I got us some Ford Prefect peanuts and myself, a pint of ‘Croppie’ (de rigeur in Wiltshire’s legendary crop-circle pub, a favourite watering hole for cerealogists, stranded aliens and yokels). These were consumed with ravenous haste. Then I managed to grab the last veggie-burger (minus a bun) and some cake – thus was our West Country repast for the night. Fortunately, the beer was good and the atmosphere pleasant. We sat and watched the bands for a bit – even vaguely dancing at one point, although the swaying might have been more from exhaustion, and being on the state of collapsed. Replete with the fullness of the day, we staggered off to find a place to wild-camp, which we did, nearby in Alton Barnes, by the squat Saxon church – found at the end of a Corpse-path in the middle of a field. Dog-tired, we didn’t notice any ghosts – only something rustling in the undergrowth and the police helicopter overhead, searching for rogue males, no doubt! Nevertheless, it was a peaceful and pleasant night’s sleep – it was so warm, a mat and sleeping bag was all that was needed. I awoke, hearing the first bird break the dawn – before being joined by the feathered choir for the morning’s chorus.

Robin on Adam's Grave

Robin on Adam’s Grave

We arose and walked up to the ridge, stopping at Adam’s Grave, a long barrow, to enjoy the sublime view – the mist burning off in the Vale below. It was only 7am and we had the whole morning before us, a good feeling – and practical, as we avoided the heat of the day. Following a seldom frequented stretch of the Ridgeway, we reached Avebury from the south in a couple of hours, arriving via the Avenue of menhirs (this was about my fourth time walking up it in a month and it was starting to feel like Groundhog Day). We’d run out of water, so replenished our bottles, and I brewed up by the roadside like a tinker. There were no buses back to Calne, alas – so we grabbed some sarnies from the NT cafe, and hoiked ourselves along the road, thumbing up. Drivers looked at us as though we were escaped criminals. Fortunately, at the Beckhampton roundabout an old hitcher on his way back from a car-boot took mercy and gave us a lift up the road – it wasn’t far (7 miles) but boy, were we grateful: my feet were blistered enough by the time we got back. Limbs scratched and dripping sweat, this bardic bod was in a sorry state – but I felt exhilarated too. Our footloose foray had been a success. We freshened up and had some lunch – again, the simplest food can be so satisfying when you have a proper appetite (and not just eating out of habit). I got changed and ready for a tour I was due to lead in Bath – no rest for the bardic! I gave Robin a lift to Chippenham station, then blatted it over to Aquae Sulis, where I met up with a couple of Americans from Maryland, on a whistle-stop tour of English culture spots (Winchester, Stonehenge, Avebury…). Despite being wiped out by my Wansdyke walk and the heat, I think I acquitted myself well. An hour and a half later, I was given a very nice tip and bought a pint of Bell-ringer in the Coer-de-Lion, Bath’s smallest pub – this most certainly needed to lay the dust of the road down, like the pump used to do by the Marden river in Calne. By the time I got back to the Wiltshire town I was not much more than a bardic zombie, shuffling around sore-footed and staring, looking for a take-away.

The following night I went back to Bath for the Storytelling Circle at the Raven, which I used to run. It is now hosted by David Metcalfe, a fellow Fire Spring member. At first, there was only a handful of ‘usual suspects’ there, but it rapidly filled up and there was a good crowd and an entertaining cross-section of offerings. I told the story of The Far-travelled Fiddler from my forth-coming collection of ‘Northamptonshire Folk Tales’ – being published by The History Press – in the week I had received a proof of the gorgeous cover from Katherine Soutar. To see seeds sown in early Spring (when I submitted the manuscript) come to fruition is immensely satisfying, and offers some consolation for my ‘exile’ in one-horse Calne, which the visit of friends and various sortees makes more bearable.

Friends by Cherhill

Friends by Cherhill

Laying the Dust

The Cove, Avebury

The Cove, Avebury

9-15 July

Last Tuesday my German friend O visited (a month before she gets hitched to a fellow storyteller) and we went to Avebury to rendezvous with Z, resident of The Lacket – her family home nearby in a ridiculously picturesque National Trust village. If you can imagine a filmset for a movie about fairies intruding on a quaint English hamlet, this would be how it would look … but it’s for real. A line of thatched cottages surrounded by recumbent sarsen stones, Lockeridge Dene feels as though it straddles the worlds between mortals and the Good Folk. In exchange for giving our hostess some feedback on the incredible story she is writing about her and her famous grandmother, who was married to Scott of the Antarctic, we got to stay the night. We shared stories by the fire in the ‘Little Room’ as the living room is known, the shelves and walls steeped in history (rare volumes; memento mori; old photographs of famous friends and relatives). Sipping sherry left over from her father’s funeral and eating some creamy camembert on home-made rye bread, we talked into the wee small hours. Then I staggered out into the night – and nearly ‘drowned’ in the sea of stars above my head – a spectacular star-field, due to the lack of light pollution (or anything from the 20th or 21st century) around. I stumbled my way to the Roundabout – the cute thatched ‘gnome’ house which was to be my bedroom for the night. I felt very privileged to be staying in such a place. Thank you Zzzzz…

Image

The Lacket

Stars like sarsens

scattered across the sky’s meadow.

A house heavy with bristly thatch,

eaves, a furrowed brow.

Timbered frame riddled with history,

the ghosts of literati,

dubious diplomats,

the Polar extremes of Scott and Peter Pan

(the explorer’s son named

after their friend Barrie’s creation).

A lost father immortalised in the Neverland of ice,

leaving Wendy to run the house.

The garden, a habitat of Tinkerbells,

hedges good enough for a Woolf to jump in.

A cow-licked meadow

of glacial erratics,

a stone circle workshop,

Avebury in utero.

Here, great dreams and fragile visions are born,

eminent Victorians nurtured,

erudite Edwardians pandered,

visiting diplomats indulged.

Ineluctably, at the Lacket,

magic is forged,

protected in a vale of deep peace,

where time takes a hiatus

(wristwatches stop in the middle of the night,

stuck on the Roundabout of dreams).

A funeral sherry is sipped

in the snug of the Little Room,

beneath the sepia gazes of

the famous and familial.

The timbers, spines of rare books,

stained with the centuries of

mercurial repartee, firefly passion, hearts

breaking like an Antarctic ice-shelf,

minds locked into themselves,

imprisoned in the past.

Kevan Manwaring

July 2013

The next day, we went for a walk up Cherhill with Kevin, gurned to the camera in front of the Lansdowne monument and white horse, before ending up at the Black Horse for some quaffing.

Image

The following morning I went to Bath with O and met up with an Icelandic friend I hadn’t seen for yonks (Easter 2012). Over a few beers in the Pig and Fiddle we caught up. Svanur, aka ‘the Viking’ as we call him, is a tour guide in Iceland and was on his way back home. Skol!

Image

On Saturday my friend Robin visited and we walked the Wansdyke – even though we set off at 4pm, the heat was still formidable, and it was hard work to get up onto the ridge. Stretching from Bristol to Marlborough, this ancient earthwork is attributed to the Danes, hence its name, Wansdyke, or ‘Woden’s Ditch’, but it might well pre-date this. The fact it links several significant ancient sites – hill-forts, long barrows, and camps – makes it feel more like a processional route than a defensive structure. This is certainly how it feels, walking along it. I remember once on the way to Tan Hill (its highest point, and site of a famous fair) I found a verse and melody popped into my head, something along the lines of ‘I’m on my way to Tan Hill Fair, I hope to find my true love there.’ It seemed to arise out of the rhythm of my progress along the ancient way – the May trees, in full blossom, enhancing the sense this was the sacred route to the Hill of Bel-Tane. Higher up, there was a trace of pleasant coolness, and the going was far easier – it felt like one was a giant striding over the land; that one could go on for miles. Just as well, as we had several to go to our destination – the Barge Inn, Honeystreet, where there was a summer knees-up – and the shadows were lengthening (‘our shadows taller than our souls’). By the time we dropped down into the Vale of Pewsey and made our way along the tow-path to the pub, the sound of revelry guiding us, it was getting dark. We arrived five and half hours after setting out, having walked around 12-3 miles, with detours (navigational haziness; a Roman road that was now a blocked right of way; a vast field with no way out like the one in Ben Wheatley’s new film ‘A Field in England’). We were in need of sustenance – alas, the kitchen had shut. The slender bar-maid failed to inform me there was a BBQ, so I got us some Ford Prefect peanuts and myself, a pint of ‘Croppie’ (de rigeur in Wiltshire’s legendary crop-circle pub, a favourite watering hole for cerealogists, stranded aliens and yokels). These were consumed with ravenous haste. Then I managed to grab the last veggie-burger (minus a bun) and some cake – thus was our West Country repast for the night. Fortunately, the beer was good and the atmosphere pleasant. We sat and watched the bands for a bit – even vaguely dancing at one point, although the swaying might have been more from exhaustion, and being on the state of collapsed. Replete with the fullness of the day, we staggered off to find a place to wild-camp, which we did, nearby in Alton Barnes, by the squat Saxon church – found at the end of a Corpse-path in the middle of a field. Dog-tired, we didn’t notice any ghosts – only something rustling in the undergrowth and the police helicopter overhead, searching for rogue males, no doubt! Nevertheless, it was a peaceful and pleasant night’s sleep – it was so warm, a mat and sleeping bag was all that was needed. I awoke, hearing the first bird break the dawn – before being joined by the feathered choir for the morning’s chorus.

Image

We arose and walked up to the ridge, stopping at Adam’s Grave, a long barrow, to enjoy the sublime view – the mist burning off in the Vale below. It was only 7am and we had the whole morning before us, a good feeling – and practical, as we avoided the heat of the day. Following a seldom frequented stretch of the Ridgeway, we reached Avebury from the south in a couple of hours, arriving via the Avenue of menhirs (this was about my fourth time walking up it in a month and it was starting to feel like Groundhog Day). We’d run out of water, so replenished our bottles, and I brewed up by the roadside like a tinker. There were no buses back to Calne, alas – so we grabbed some sarnies from the NT cafe, and hoiked ourselves along the road, thumbing up. Drivers looked at us as though we were escaped criminals. Fortunately, at the Beckhampton roundabout an old hitcher on his way back from a car-boot took mercy and gave us a lift up the road – it wasn’t far (7 miles) but boy, were we grateful: my feet were blistered enough by the time we got back. Limbs scratched and dripping sweat, this bardic bod was in a sorry state – but I felt exhilarated too. Our footloose foray had been a success. We freshened up and had some lunch – again, the simplest food can be so satisfying when you have a proper appetite (and not just eating out of habit). I got changed and ready for a tour I was due to lead in Bath – no rest for the bardic! I gave Robin a lift to Chippenham station, then blatted it over to Aquae Sulis, where I met up with a couple of Americans from Maryland, on a whistle-stop tour of English culture spots (Winchester, Stonehenge, Avebury…). Despite being wiped out by my Wansdyke walk and the heat, I think I acquitted myself well. An hour and a half later, I was given a very nice tip and bought a pint of Bell-ringer in the Coer-de-Lion, Bath’s smallest pub – this most certainly needed to lay the dust of the road down, like the pump used to do by the Marden river in Calne. By the time I got back to the Wiltshire town I was not much more than a bardic zombie, shuffling around sore-footed and staring, looking for a take-away.

The following night I went back to Bath for the Storytelling Circle at the Raven, which I used to run. It is now hosted by David Metcalfe, a fellow Fire Spring member. At first, there was only a handful of ‘usual suspects’ there, but it rapidly filled up and there was a good crowd and an entertaining cross-section of offerings. I told the story of The Far-travelled Fiddler from my forth-coming collection of ‘Northamptonshire Folk Tales’ – being published by The History Press – in the week I had received a proof of the gorgeous cover from Katherine Soutar. To see seeds sown in early Spring (when I submitted the manuscript) come to fruition is immensely satisfying, and offers some consolation for my ‘exile’ in one-horse Calne, which the visit of friends and various sortees makes more bearable.

Image

Ride, Groove, Elevate

5-7 July

The view from the Thomas memorial stone, above Steep, Hampshire

Over the glorious weekend I want on a ‘rideabout’ on my Triumph Legend, making the most of the sun.

Friday I rode to the coast – ostensibly to pick up some biker boots from Hayling Island, but I made the most of my blat to the South Downs by visiting Steep, Hampshire – the stomping ground of the much-loved poet Edward Thomas (1878-1917) who had three homes in the area over a period of a decade (1906-1916). I have long wanted to visit this ‘holy place’ of English Literature and so arrived at the vertiginous village with a pilgrimage consciousness. I hunted down Thomas’ three domiciles, obscure cottages tucked away in backlanes, unadorned by blue plaques. There were no signposts from the road pointing the way, and so it was with some satisfaction that I managed to track down all three, beginning with Yew Tree Cottages, near the Cricketers Inn.

Yew Tree Cottage, Steep

Yew Tree Cottage, Steep

This was the last house Thomas lived in in the area, and I felt a poignant sadness, imagining him saying goodbye to his wife Helen from the doorstep before heading off to France, never to return. Nearby I found the village war memorial – and spotted Thomas’ name there amongst the fallen – this I also found incredibly moving in its understated tragedy. From here I retraced the footsteps of Mervyn, Thomas’ son, who would walk from the privileged fastness of Bedales School back to Berryfield – their first home in the area. This I wended my way too through ancient chalk woodlands, thrilling as I walked in Thomas’ footsteps – trying to see the botany of the area as he would have seen it (the undergrowth in ancient woodlands is especially rich). The interpretation signs encouraged visitors to look down as well as up, and this I did – enjoying the cool shade on a hot day. The footpath came out onto a lane and I followed this to Berryfields – an impressive house hidden behind a hedge. I took a sneaky peak – and a lady came out, wondering what I was doing. ‘I’m just a Thomas fan, paying my homage,’ I explained, and she seemed to accept this. From here, I traipsed up Shoulder of Mutton Hill – hard work in the hot sun – stopping at the top to enjoy the splendid view of the Sussex Weald. Here, a memorial stone was placed by poet John Masefield – and I enjoyed the fact it was a sarsen ‘from Avebury’ (presumably from Fyfield, rather than the stones themselves), connecting me back to Wiltshire and Gloucestershire simultaneously.

Edward Thomas memorial, Steep Hampshire

Edward Thomas memorial, Steep Hampshire

My reverie was somewhat disrupted by the arrival of a couple of mums with their little boys, but the juxtaposition of memento mori and youthful energy was piquant. I took the Hangers Way – following the folds of the dramatic chalk escarpment, back down into Steep. I jumped on my bike to find Thomas’s third house, up Cockshott Lane. Here, a little girl behind a garden gate kindly gave me directions to the Red House.  The newest of the three properties – although especially made for the Thomas’ in the style of William Morris – the family were the least happiest here. Thomas was prone to bouts of depression and the incessant wind troubled him – but as a lover of the elemental this was perhaps more indicative of his nerves than anything. Until Thomas found his Muse he was deeply unhappy in his lot as ‘hack’, bringing home the bacon for his growing family.  By now I was hot and thirsty, and so with relief I made my way to the Pub with No Name – by a crossroads above Steep.

The Pub with No Name

The Pub with No Name

The sign is indeed empty – and I only found it because a wedding was due to take place the next day and a sign was up. It really is off the beaten track, and the Edward Thomas Bar, in the former smithy, drips with atmosphere. Here Thomas wrote his first poem, ‘Up in the Wind’, inspired by the monologue of the bar-maid. I savoured the Boondoggle in a dimple that I ordered – wishing I could stay the night, enjoying the campsite, but I had to get back and hope that the winding road brings me here another time.

STEEP SEED SOUL 059

The reason I had to get back (tired and sweaty) was because the following day I was due to do some storytelling at the new SEED Festival, Hawkwood College, back in Gloucestershire. I set off in the morning on a mission. I made my way to Stroud town centre, then onto the site – a stunning location overlooking the Severn estuary. The grand old Sycamore tree (2nd oldest in the country) had lost a substantial limb on the Monday prior – nearly taking out the main hall, and so that area was ring-fenced off. Some took it as a sign, although of what was a matter of rumination. The tree had spoken … but nobody could agree on what it was trying to say. After the opening ceremony I performed a set of ‘Green Tales and Verdant Verse’ to a small but appreciative audience. Acquitted of my bardic duties I cracked open and beer and kicked back, enjoying the rest of the day – a stimulating mixture of talks, workshops and performances. I did sit in on a couple of talks (Theo Simon from Seize the Day; and ecocide lawyer Polly Higgins) but felt more inclined to soak up the vibes and connect with folk around the ‘party tree’. There was a sublime Japanes duo; an amazing kora and djembe player; Kiwi Sika on digd; and the prolific Seize the Day, who wrapped things up with a stonking set that got everyone dancing.

Anthony Nanson performs at the Seed Festival

Anthony Nanson performs at the Seed Festival

The next day – an astonishingly hot one – I took it easy, chilling out around Daisybank and the Heavens, and saving my energy for the evening, when I was co-hosting Awen Forum with my friend Jay Ramsay. We had invited up a bunch of talented folk from Frome and London (award-winning author Lindsay Clarke; ecopoet Helen Moore and International Times poetry editor, Niall McDevitt; and the Children). The theme of the evening was ‘Soul of the Earth’, which the company explored through different art forms with equal eloquence and intelligence.  I performed my story of the ‘White Horse of Uffington’ (from my collection of Oxfordshire Folk Tales) and this seemed to go down well. Afterwards, we had a well-earned beer in the Golden Fleece – delighted that the evening had been a success (decent crowd; excellent discussion; lovely atmosphere). A result! Not bad, considering I’ve been moving house and living in a different county. Sometimes, the awen flows – and we just have to ride with it.