Category Archives: Bard on a bike

The Fairy Pools of Skye

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Fairy Pools, Skye, K. Manwaring, Sept 2016

The Fairy Pools of Skye are a series of cascading cataracts, tumbling down in pellucid pools and falls from the foot of …… a distinctive cone shaped peak. They are a tourist honeyspot, and it can get very busy, but as I was staying nearby at the Glenbrittle hostel I was able to get there early. There was only one other car when I arrived – and about fifty when I left. It was a ‘soft’ morning, the peaks of the surrounding Cuillins obscured by a ghostly mist, and a drizzle was setting in, so I wrapped up in my waterproofs and, grabbing my trusty walking pole (essential for testing the firmness of the footing – which can often turn out to be deep mud; and for stabilizing on uneven ground) and set off. I didn’t see a soul for the first two hours of my walk, which made it all the more enjoyable. Perhaps I was the only one mad enough to be out on the moors in the weather, but it actually brightened up as the walk progress. I first stopped by a handsome waterfall with three streams of white water cascading down – like a living symbol of Awen.

WP_20160915_08_41_24_Pro.jpg I paused here to invite in some inspiration, which wasn’t hard in such an inspiring place. Yet I had to watch my stepping too – it was very muddy and slippy near the edges. Not a good idea to be ‘away with the fairies’ completely! One had to keep one’s mind in one’s feet – a good meditative practice. I pushed up to the ‘Hill of the Gentle Pass’, sweating profusely beneath my many layers. I paused at a cairn to take a sip of water and catch my breath. The view back down the Glen was sublime – in a muted kind of way. None of the glory of the previous evening when the golden sun caught the peaks in a breathtaking way. It was a kind of private day – the glen doing its own thing, not showing off for the tourists. The mountain was washing its hair. Reaching a lochan, I then traversed  the scree which spilled down the mountainside. It was a place of pan-ic – and I imagined an uirisg hopping from boulder to boulder, doing a merry caper, befritting unwary walkers. But maybe my warbling put him off, because I was inclined to sing in the day, doing a medley of the Skye Boat Song, John Ball, and Jerusalem. The latter felt a bit cheeky – singing about ‘England’s mountains green’ seemed rather amusing amid such dramatic peaks. And hoping that the Second Coming would happen in our little land seemed not only hubristic but unlikely. Surely any self-respecting avatar would choose to manifest somewhere more … magnificent, rather than, say, on a roundabout outside Swindon (although the latter would prove interesting).

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The striking red rocks of the Cuillins. K Manwaring Sept. 2016

I came to the head of the glen and turned right, following the frollicking burn downwards as it gambolled with increasing gaiety towards the hordes of tourists marching up to it. It felt right to come to them this way – earning their wonder, rather than going straight to it. It also meant that the falls got bigger as I descended, rather than ‘peaking too soon’ with the whoppers at the bottom. In some ways are nothing special – I’ve come across far more dramatic waterfalls on my perambulations here in the Highlands, unsigned, unannounced, unheralded. Any waterfall is special – and, if it is unpolluted, I believe it would have its attendant ‘fairy’ or elemental. Certainly the Celtic or Pictish ancestors of these isles saw any body of water as being a portal place, a place to commune with the gods and undying ones. I spent time sitting at a particularly picturesque convergence of two streams – which had gouged out a deep trough, over which rowan trees defiantly grew from the rock face. I felt this was certainly the kind of place any hedonistic fairy would choose to come for a dip – and so I left a wee offering … of a fairy cake (taken out of its wrapper, and broken up – offerings were always ‘broken’ to release their spirit).  I felt bathed in a sense of bliss. This was a special moment in a special place. I am glad I stopped and spent a few moments imbibing the genius loci – rather than just traipse, snap and depart. I decided to improvise a poem in response to the place, and found the awen flowed (maybe that waterfall had done the trick). The awenyddion were the inspired ones who could create poetry extempore. Something I’ll definitely being trying again. I then carried on downwards, literally, as I fell over in the mud at one point. There I was, away with the fairies! I washed away the murk further downstream – I didn’t feel inclined to strip off, dive in the freezing water, and pass through the natural rock arch three times as you’re supposed to do (if you are bonkers). I felt I had connected with this special place and it was time to go. I recited WB Yeats as I left…

Come away, O human child,
to the water,
with a fairy hand-in-hand,
for the world’s more full of weeping
than you can understand.

 

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What happens if you don’t leave an offering to the Sith… K. Manwaring, Sept 2016

I was in fact being called back to the mainland, and to loved ones in the south, after three weeks away in Scotland. I am glad I had a taste of Skye, and hope to be back at some point – for there is a lot more to discover. I hope the Good Folk will still be there when I return. The Fairy Pools, and similar places – be they epic or tiny, private places of elemental connection – are good for our well-being and imaginative nutrition. I took heart in the fact that so many people make an effort to visit, even if they can’t always articulate why they are drawn there. We can all bathe in the waters of such fonts, whatever our beliefs. Some of us leave only with photographs, with selfies, but some are touched by the magic – and some pass it on as well.

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The sublime glen of the Fairy Pools.  The real magic is there to be found . K. Manwaring Sept 2016

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Riding the Wall to Wester Ross

Pit-stop on Rest and Be Thankful Pass - a windy spot!

Pit-stop on Rest and Be Thankful Pass – a windy spot!

I’ve just come back from an epic three-week trip around the north of Britain – some of it was R&R and some of it was field research for my new novel…

Hadrians Wall copyright Kevan Manwaring 2014

In week 1 I walked Hadrian’s Wall (112AD) with my partner Chantelle, an archaeologist (and folk-singer) who works for English Heritage. It was on her ‘bucket list’ to do before her birthday – and so, all kitted up, off we set. I rode up to Newcastle on my Triumph Legend motorbike and met her off the train. We stored the bike at a storyteller’s garage and began our walk – 84 miles over 6 days from coast to coast, going east to west from Wallsend (east of Newcastle) to Bowness-on-Solway (west of Carlisle). We stopped at hostels and used a courier service to get our larger luggage from place to place – carrying just a daysac with essentials in (ie waterproofs!). It was the butt end of Hurricane Bertha and we had to walk into driving wind and rain for the first two or three days, but the weather mercifully improved towards the end of the week. The middle section from Chesters to Birdoswald was stunning. Although the wall wasn’t always visible (turned into roads, railways or cannibalised for building) the way was clearly-marked with white acorns (this being a National Trail). Every roman mile (just short of a mile) there was a mile-castle, inbetween, two turrets, and now and then a substantial fort (eg Housesteads being the most impressive) or garrison town (eg Vindolanda, famous for its amazingly preserved ‘tablets’ recording the minutiae of the daily lives of the inhabitants). The trail passes through the Northumberland National Park – bleak and beautiful. It was very poignant walking this remarkable piece of Roman ingenuity – the Roman Empire on my left, the untamed wilds of the Picts on my right – aware of how it was the first division of this country into north and south. This ‘divide and rule’ policy is worth being in mind in the light of the looming Referendum.

Croft life -  with Chantelle. Copyright Kevan Manwaring 2014

Croft life –
with Chantelle.
Copyright Kevan Manwaring 2014

In week 2 we rode up (Chantelle pillion) to a friend’s croft on the coast of Wester Ross, right up near Ullapool, overlooking the Minch towards Skye and the Outer Hebrides. It was an epic 375 mile ride through the most spectacular scenery – Rannoch Moor, Glen Coe, Glen Shiels…but the storm made it hard going, even dangerous as I battled against high winds and poor visibility. We stopped a night at Glen Coe – soggy as drowned rats but still smiling – before making the final push to the croft where we holed up for a week with provisions, reading and writing material and a bottle of good malt. After a week of motion it was blissful to have a week of stillness, giving our blisters a chance to heal. It was here I celebrated my 45th birthday. My partner treated me to a lovely meal in a local inn – a kind of ‘Valhalla of vinyl’ where we played pool and listened to old classics.

Not the Castle of the Muses, but Eilean Donan, the 'Highlander' castle. Copyright Kevan Manwaring 2014

Not the Castle of the Muses, but Eilean Donan, the ‘Highlander’ castle. Copyright Kevan Manwaring 2014

At the end of this week we rode south 225 miles to the Castle of the Muses in Argyl and Bute – an extraordinary edifice inhabited by Peace Druid Dr Thomas Daffern, 9 muses, and his library of 20,000 volumes. It was here we celebrated our first anniversary with a performance of our show ‘The Snake and the Rose’ in the main hall. Although the audience was small it was still a special way to mark the day. My friend Paul Francis was also present – he’s known by many names including Dr Space Toad, the Troubadour from the 4th Dimension, Jean Paul Dionysus… He’s a great singer-songwriter. After our show we gathered around the hearth and shared poems and songs. The next day Chantelle had to catch a train back home (work etc) but I stayed on for a meeting about forming a ‘circle of Bardic Chairs’. Although it was a small affair we took minutes and a seed was sown. The plan is to have a larger meeting (open to all bards, bardic chair holders, gorseddau, etc) in Stratford-upon-Avon, home of The Bard (William Shakespeare) on his birth/death-day, 23rd April, next year. Watch this space!

In the 3rd week I explored the Lowlands and Borders on my bike – riding solo. On Monday I went to Aberfoyle, home of the Reverend Robert Kirk (author of The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies). It was thrilling to visit the grove on Doon Hill where he was said to have disappeared. A Scots Pine grows on the spot, surrounded by oak trees – all are festooned with clouties, rags, and sparkly offerings of every kind. A magical place. That night I stayed with a musician, Tom, whose croft we’d been staying in. He kindly put me up and we shared a poem or song over a dram.

climbing Schiehallion - the fairy mountain

climbing Schiehallion – the fairy mountain

On Tuesday I decided to climb Schiehallion – the mountain of the Sidhe, right up in the Highlands, so I blatted north past Gleneagles and made an ascent, ‘bagging’ myself a Munro (over 3000ft) though that wasn’t my reason for doing it. Afterwards I visited the Fortingall Yew – the oldest living tree in Britain, possibly 5000 years old. It’s decrepit but still impressive.

Bardmobile in the Rhymer's Glen - Eildon Hills in the background

Bardmobile in the Rhymer’s Glen – Eildon Hills in the background

On Wednesday I visited the Eildon Hills and the Rhymer’s Stone, before going onto Abbotsford, the impressive home of Sir Walter Scott (author of Minstelsy of the Scottish Borders among many others). I ended up at New Lanark, a World Heritage Site – a well-preserved mill-town created by social reformer, Robert Owen, to house, feed, educate and uplift his workers, near the Falls of the Clyde, made famous by Turner, Coleridge, Wordsworth and co. On Thursday I headed Southwest to Ayrshire and the home of Rabbie Burns, Scotlands’ ‘national poet’. The visitor’s centre had an excellent exhibition bringing alive his poems, but I was most thrilled to visit the Brig o’ Doon and the Auld Kirk – immortalised in his classic poem, ‘Tam o’ Shanter’. Then I headed down the west coast to the Machars and the Isle of Whithorn, where St Ninian made landfall and founded the first church north of the Wall. This seemed like a fitting terminus of my Scottish meanderings – from here you are said to see five kingdoms (England, Isle of Man, Ireland, Scotland and the kingdom of Heaven) yet there was one day left.

Further south - Isle of Whithorn

Further south – Isle of Whithorn

On Friday I explored the Yarrow and Ettrick valleys and found Carterhaugh near their confluence – the site of Tam Lin. The meeting of their respective rivers was more impressive – a swirling pool called ‘The Meetings’ near a gigantic salmon weir. It was a very wet day though and my energy was starting to wane. I gratefully made it to a fellow storyteller’s place who had just moved over the Border, not far from Coldstream. Despite having literally just moved in (that day!) her and her husband kindly put me up in the spare room amid the boxes. We didn’t spend long catching up– a quick cuppa – before whizzing north to Edinburgh for the Guid Crack Club. This meets in the upstairs of the Waverley Inn, just off the Royal Mile. I was very tired but happy to watch the high calibre of performance. I wasn’t planning to do anything but in the need I did offer my Northamptonshire Folk Tale, Dionysia the Female Knight, which seemed to go down well. We ate out at a new Greek place and got back late, sharing a glass of wine by the fire. Dog-tired I slept in til 10.30 the next day – then had to ride 250 miles south to Rockingham, near Corby in the Midlands.

Holy Island copyright Kevan Manwaring 2014

Holy Island
copyright Kevan Manwaring 2014

I stopped at Holy Island (Lindisfarne) as I crossed the Border – worth visiting for the ride across the tidal causeway if nothing else, although it felt a ‘thin place’ and calming, despite the tourist hordes. Then it was time to hit the road – and I roared down the A1 (and A19) back south to my old home county. Here I was warmly welcomed by Jim and Janet. I had performed at their solstice bash earlier in the summer and now they were treating me like an old friend. We had a good catchup over dinner and around the fire.

In the morning I made my final pit-stop, at the Bardic Picnic in Delapre Abbey, Northampton – my old neck of the woods. Here I would walk my dog every day. Here 7 years ago a small group of us (6!) held hands and did an awen to announce the beginning of this event which has blossomed, thanks to my friends hard work into a small festival. The sun put his hat on and the crowds came out. Although I was road-weary and unable to take in much of the bardism, I did stick around for the Chairing of the Bard before hitting the road – and the final push across the Cotswolds to home in Stroud.

After 2500 miles and 23 days I finally made it home and I was glad to be back. If only I could have stayed…(the next morning I had to get to Bath for 9am to run an 11-hour tour to Glastonbury, Salisbury and Avebury with 4 Americans – it’s a Bard’s life!).

Watch out for poetry inspired by my trip on the poetry page…

Raising Things Up in a Dumbed Down World

AWEN FORUM 8 SEPTEMBER

Sunday saw the third of a triptych of Awen Forums, the bimonthly evenings for the ‘elevation of the word’, held at the Subscription Rooms, Stroud. The idea me and my co-organiser had was to combine an inspiring guest speaker with equally amazing performances of poetry, storytelling and music (from mostly Awen artistes), and round things off with discussion on the night’s themes. This final one of our run was to be the biggie – we were getting Andrew Harvey over from America (radical mystical author of The Hope and others), and some amazing talent from London and elsewhere – gathering together in the Ball Room, so we had a large space to fill (it seats up to 300). For the month leading up to it we were flat out with the publicity – mail outs, press releases, posters, banner, flyers, Facebook, etc – with the help of our friends (notably Tom and Bryn Brown, who, with their son James, handed out flyers with me in Stroud Farmers Market – Tom’s steampunk jacket of spoons, and James canine charm offensive worked wonders, and Bryn’s social networking skills helped afterwards too). Despite the pitiful lack of local press and media coverage (debates over the colour of bollards, etc, being obviously more important) whatever we did seemed to do the trick – and the hall filled on the night, Stroudies typically turning up at the last minute, just to keep us sweating. Everyone acted professionally and the awen flowed. The Sub Rooms staff supported us with stewarding and sound engineering. Having the backing of Paul Mclaughlin, the general manager, meant a great difference – thank you for believing in us! In the absence of core funding it is a life-saver to have some kind of support. We also had the good will of friends who pitched in – making this a real community event.

And so – let the ceremony begin! Jay asked me to introduce the evening, and I ended up MC-ing most of it, something I’m experienced at but wasn’t necessarily planning on doing, so I had to make a lot of stuff up on the spot. On stage, I’m a born waffler – so was able to fill in while the acts set up. I did my best to ‘big them’ up – a bardic fluffer. Afterwards, folk said I did well – pitching it just right, so phew! My main concern throughout the evening was the timings, and I was constantly aware of the clock. Nevertheless, everyone managed to stick to their slot – the delays crept in due to late arrivals and the logistics of getting over a hundred people to settle down. But finally we were ready to start. The lights dimmed and I introduced James Hollingsworth, guitar wizard and fellow member of the Steampunk Theatre Company, who topped and tailed the show with three stunning songs which blew people away. I know he’s great – I booked him because I believe in him – so it’s satisfying to see others appreciate him too. The next act, our main guest speaker, Andrew Harvey, was very impressed by him; as I was by Andrew. I had heard a lot about him, but still wasn’t sure what to expect. But, sitting in the front row I was blown away by his impassioned inspired outpourings. I got the full blast of his cri-de-coeur, imploring us to ‘follow our heartbreak’ and act with complete conviction and commitment. In this time of planetary crisis he insisted we need to take action now and form ‘networks of grace’, to counter the dark forces out to destroy the planet, or paradigms they oppose – not in conflict, but by positive social change, creativity and innovative ways of living lightly upon the Earth.

A brief discussion followed, a ‘conversation cafe’, facilitated by Trish Dickinson. Then, we had a much-needed break – not because the first half was long or dreary (the opposite) but because Andrew’s talk was so intense, so challenging. I found it rivetting – Andrew’s style was electrifying, and I felt I received a download direct from the Source, calling me to ‘arms’, in a spiritual sense – for the Higher Good. It was refreshing, to the say the least, to see someone who didn’t hold back in his performance (being at times on the verge of tears or hysterics); someone who really believed in what he said – delivering it with absolutely conviction, and conveying the charge direct to the audience. With self-deprecating humour he admitted he was a flawed conduit, and struggled with the challenges of sacred activism, but this made his message all the more accessible and endearing. In his talk he performed three Rumi poems, and these, along with all his anecdotes and erudite allusions (which were never pretensious) made for a scintillating experience. It was a bardic tour-de-force.

After the break we had a trio of fine poets – starting with Jay Ramsay, accompanied by Herewood Gabriel on various instruments (djembe; ballophon; flute), performing poems from his new collection and old classics. Then followed ‘the zero temperature dude of modern bardism’, as I called him, Aidan Andrew Dun, the Poet of King’s X, and his lovely pianist partner Lucie Rechrtoja from Prague, who performed hip poems set to ambient electronica – I was most impressed by Aidan’s ‘Son of Erin’ poem; and ‘Her Feet like Two White Swans’ was a lovely swansong to finish with. I imagined they could have performed all night, as could have the other bards, but we had other riches to share – and it is more effective and pleasurable for the audience to have a tight set than a sprawling indulgent programme. These talented people left their egos at the door, and pitched in – for the greater whole. Philip Wells, the Fire Poet, had to wait a long time to perform, but he was a true pro – delivering two stonking poems which lifted the energy, seemed to sum up the themes of Andrew’s talk, and act as a Greek Chorus for the evening.

We finished with a final song from James – ‘Mothership’, the final song from ‘Song of the Windsmith’ which I requested. After some deliberation, James agreed to play this – and it ended the evening perfectly. Afterwards, he was kept busy with CD sales and new fans.

Wiped out, we finally left around eleven – too late for the pub, alas (my two house-guests went back to mine for a drink and a snack, to wind down) but we all met up the next morning for a coffee in Star Anise Cafe. It was nice to see folk before they hit the road, although I didn’t catch Andrew, who was off to London, to catch a plane to Australia!

Bardic Breakfast at Star Anise Cafe, Stroud

Bardic Breakfast at Star Anise Cafe, Stroud

All in all, I think this was the most successful Awen ‘showcase’ event we have put on by far – everyone said we got the mix right, and the contributions were par excellence. This was the night when the Awen Forum really showed what it could offer – soul food and the elevation of the word – raising things up in a dumbed down world. Rather than playing it safe, playing it for laughs, going for the easy buck – we took a risk, bringing in ‘exotic’ talent and creating a formula that did not insult the audience’s intelligence, but invited them to step up to the mark of their own greatness. Stroud responded, which shows the quality of the audience here. They are there in the woodwork, but sometimes take a lot of teasing out – because there is so much good stuff going on here.

My latest brainwave is to create a way of shouting about all spoken and written activity in the area – storytelling, poetry, drama, publishing, creative writing groups, singing, literary walks, book launches, etc – with the support of Hawkwood College. As the first event to fall under the Cotswold Word Centre umbrella, this bodes very well indeed.

 

 

Feedback…

What can I say? It was a magnificently inspiring, life-affirming evening…’ Delny

 

Dear Jay and Kevan

‘A huge thank you from me personally and wearing my Hawkwood hat.  Thank you for bringing Andrew Harvey to Stroud and for supporting my initiative to invite him to Hawkwood for a weekend.

His talk at the Awen Forum was electrifying.   I enjoyed the rest of the evening, too, especially the new-to-me poet whose name escapes me. I hope you were pleased with the turn-out and that Paul McL was happy, too.

The weekend at Hawkwood was awesome – I feel re-calibrated, blessed and deeply encouraged in my path and my part in the arising consciousness/activism.  It was a blessing for all concerned, including the place.

Warm wishes to you both

Katie, Hawkwood College

 

Angie wrote: “Wow – last night’s Awen Forum here at the Sub Rooms in Stroud was astonishing! the truly amazing Andrew Harvey was talking about his book ‘The Hope—a guide to Sacred Activism ‘ … I am so glad I didn’t miss it. Thanks Jay Ramsay and Kevan for organising that… and lovely to have the company of two really intelligent women, Lindsay Hamilton and Sue Austin .. I real feast for the soul. Now back to work!”

 

Just wanted to say what a fantastic evening, I was blown away by all of it.  What an inspiring man Andrew is.

Thanks again for pointing him out to me, helps me on my path.

Many thanks and lots of love and blessings

Sue

 

 

What synchronicity Jay to have your evening  a week before World Cafe with Polly!what an opportunity for Stroudies  to create and build together and reach wider” networks of grace ” i want to thank you and Kevan for opening this avenue .

For offering such a rich experience last night -i feel shaken and stirred and more awake than i have felt the whole summer .i am not surprised Andrew has had such a profound impact on you [and many many others  ]over the years .i would love to meet him again and he wishes to meet Polly [so maybe you and i can cook this  up!]

The second half of the evening also has a huge impact for me –where yourself and others demonstrated for me the power of artists as central to peace building and hearing what was “breaking your hearts” was an honour-a perfect balance to Andrews “divine passion”  Trish Dickinson, Conversation Cafe

 

 

 

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

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.

Oxford Folk Weekend

Kevan, Wayland and Dave perform at the Eagle and Child - drawing by Merlin Porter

Kevan, Wayland and Dave perform at the Eagle and Child – drawing by Merlin Porter

This weekend I rode across the Cotswolds to Oxford to perform some of my Oxfordshire Folk Tales with my old bardic buddy, Wayland. We teamed up with a talented young harpist and singer called Dave Tomlison on Friday night for a very special evening in the Snug Bar of the Eagle and Child – the Rabbit Room where the Inklings used to meet for 23 years, on a Tuesday lunchtime, to share the words of wonder. To perform in the very same room as those legends of literature, JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, and others, was a lifetime’s dream come true. Kerry the landlady was most obliging – making us feel welcome and plying us with pints. Dave wove his magic with his harp, which helped to win over the noisy Friday night clientele. He did a couple of lovely ballads – and then I introduced the evening. We started our set with a shared version of the Rollright Stones – then alternated material. By the beginning of the second half we had a good sized audience who listened in enthralled. The awen truly flowed and it felt like we conjured up something special with tales of doomed love, white horses, vengeful smiths and rabbit holes. We left on a high, talking about possibly setting up a regular night there. The chemistry worked between our three voices and styles – a good mix. Afterwards, we had a well-earned pint in the Fir Tree on Iffley Road. We clinked glasses to a successful night!

Wayland and Dave in the Rabbit Room

Wayland and Dave in the Rabbit Room

The next day, a little bit groggy, we ventured into town – making the most of the glorious sun – along Iffley Road, passing scores of runners, following in the footsteps of Roger Bannister, who broke the four minute barrier there. It took us slightly longer to wend our way to the centre, we came upon Border Morris clacking sticks on Broad Street by a craft market. The Oxford Folk Weekend had begun and the colourful Morris sides were out. We made our way to the Old Fire Station – the centre of the folk fest, where we performed later that day. It felt great to be part of such a lively weekend of bardic excellence. With our artist’s wristbands we enjoyed some great music – including Jackie Oates’ fabulous  concert that evening. By then I was ready to nod off – it had been a full weekend, and a worthwhile one. Here’s to next year!

A Bard Day's Night at the Rabbit Room

A Bard Day’s Night at the Rabbit Room

Song of the Windsmith

‘I am the windsmith … I summon the air…’

Song of the Windsmith Premiere, Castle of the Muses, Scotland, Autumn Equinox 2012

Song of the Windsmith Premiere, Castle of the Muses, Scotland, Autumn Equinox 2012

A year ago, sitting on a cliff overlooking the Severn Bridge with my friend James Hollingsworth, we sketched out a show based upon my series of novels, The Windsmith Elegy. By a bonfire, we watched the sun set over the Welsh hills – it was the Spring Equinox. The awen flowed and ideas fell into place – using nine bones (boiled down from a five volume, half a million word novel series) we blocked out an outline, a story arc, around which songs (from James’ repertoire) would be woven. A year on and we have just come back from the sixth performance of Song of the Windsmith – the multi-media show which resulted in that initial equinoctial brainstorm. As the project developed other artists came on board – Jonathan Hayter, a shadow-puppeteer from Cornwall; Miriam Schafer, a belly-dancer from Munich; and Rob Goodman, actor and director from London. Each artist brought their own talent, experience and ideas; it was exciting seeing how they re-interpreted the Windsmith story in their own way. They took the initial inspiration and danced with it – in from these component parts we fashioned an ‘insane machine’ of Edwardian fantasy. Thus was born The Steampunk Theatre Company – our DIY, Heath Robinsonesque approach mutating my sometimes fey ‘visionary epic’ intp the trendy subgenre of Science Fiction, Steampunk (in brief, the past’s vision of the future). Suddenly we were as cool as Dr Who! Adopting a slightly whimsical approach, our motto became:

‘Backwards into the Future!’

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The Lit’n’Roll show based upon The Windsmith Elegy – Song of the Windsmith – was launched at the Castle of the Muse, Argyle, Scotland, on 22nd September. James Hollingsworth & Kevan Manwaring, co-founders of The Steampunk Theatre Company, took the high road to the wilds of Scotland to perform a special preview of the show to a select audience of international guests. The response was overwhelmingly favourable. Here’s a review by Lilian Helen Brzoska

These guys are BRILLIANT Bardic Performers. James Hollingsworth is on the guitar, a wizard of flying fingers and glorious tones. He also sings spectacularly well. Kevan Manwaring’s ” Song of the Windsmith” is a perfect winged chariot for them both to fly, lifting through many spheres and dropping to the Earth’s Core with adept aplomb and engaged Heart energy. Kevan is a beautiful Being with great acting talent and a wisdom far deeper and wider than his youthful surface might predict, should you be hooked on looks. They are both beautiful to behold and deeply moving as they perform this mythic treat and mystical performance power-sharing to awaken the soul of each listener, each seer, each brother and sister Bard. If you get a chance to experience a performance of ” The Windsmith ” grab the tickets with both hands and take along your whole family. Your will all hear a very fine story told with Light, Love and Honesty. Teenage sons and daughters, will find older brothers with whom to explore the inner reaches of the Human Condition with warmth, political awareness and Eco-Centric Wisdom.

Visit http://www.educationaid.net for information about ongoing events at the International Institute of Peace Studies and Global Philosophy.

Watch some of the actual performance on Youtube here

After the premiere, we soared in our steam airship to the southern ‘hemisphere’ of the United Kingdoms. Anchoring our zeppelin off St Michael’s Mount, we performed at the Acorn, Penzance – this time joined by  ‘Ze Baron’, aka Jonathan Hayter, shadow-puppeteer extraordinaire – who VJed his lightbox puppetry with digital animation. Wunderbar!

Ze Baron joins us at the Acorn gig, Penzance.

Ze Baron joins us at the Acorn gig, Penzance.

A show in my home town of Stroud was essential – at Open House Hall. In the audience was Kim Kenny, from Theatre Gloucestershire, who said afterwards:

‘Surprising and refreshing – something I would like to see more of… I loved the music and how it underscored your powerful storytelling. The visual images too added another dimension.’ (Kim Kenny, Theatre Gloucestershire)

As a result, we took part in a Made in Gloucestershire showcase at the Cheltenham Everyman in early Feb. It was perhaps too much for the nice folk of Cheltenham HQ. We realised it was for a niche audience, ie one with imagination!

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We ended the year with a performance for the Wessex Research Group in Totnes, organised (I use the term loosely) by our friend Jeffrey Gale. We hibernated over the winter, to rejuvernate our bardic batteries, before hitting the road last week for a very special homecoming gig on the Spring Equinox in Northampton – Kevan’s old home town – at a fab monthly bardic night hosted by my old partners in rhyme Justin Thyme and Jimtom. It was most touching to have some old friends in the crowd – folk I hadn’t seen for years. Out of all the audiences we’ve had so far, this lot really got it.

Windsmiths of Equinoxes Past

Windsmiths of Equinoxes Past

Feedback from Raising the Awen, Northampton Labour Club, 20th March

‘music was superb, brilliant voice … was really moved by 2 sections, the love/bit/section made my eyes fill’

‘Brilliant, fantastic storytelling and music, very animated and original’

‘fabulous meandering monologue and mystical marvellous music, more more more!!!’

‘Interesting, and the music was great … when the music started I was happily surprised, so thank you.’

‘I liked the songs reminded me of The Who. Can see the whole thing being made into a bigger production with lots of visual. A very professional performance.’

‘Top quality. Excellent music and storyline.’

‘They can come again pleeeeaaaassse!!!???’ twice!

‘Swept away by the the words, music and song.

‘A magical story so perfectly musicated.’

‘Guitar Genius’

Waterstones goes Steampunk!

Waterstones goes Steampunk!

On the Saturday after (23rd March) I did a book-signing in Waterstones, Northampton. This was part of a fabulous Steampunk Season, which involves a month of related author events. The nice in-house events team did do some brilliant posters. Despite the lovely signage, footfall was low – kaiboshed by unexpected cold-snap. Wintry easterlies brought snow and ice – which made the ride home extremely challenging. Nearly got frostbite (I couldn’t move my hands at one point – not good on a bike!). It’s hard being a bard…

The Windsmith Elegy launch, Waterstones Northampton, 23 March 2013

The Windsmith Elegy launch, Waterstones Northampton, 23 March 2013

The Signs are out there...

The Signs are out there…

We have one more show scheduled (so far) in the Bath Fringe, June 9th – at a masonic hall! (Old Theatre Royal, Bath). After this, who knows where the windsmiths will blow next…? There is a plan to record the show for posterity – and create a CD or DVD of it. The O2 Arena gig will have to wait until we have finished making holograms of ourselves. Oo-lllaaaa!!!!

I’ll leave you with the words of our elusive Steampunk propheteer, Bartholomew Copperpipe:

‘Yesterday’s future is ours!’