Category Archives: walking

Diary of a Viva Ninja: Day 4

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Staying the distance. Me on High Cup Nick, on the Pennine Way. July 2018

Undertaking a PhD is a long-haul and to complete the 3-4 years of research one of the key qualities you need is stamina: staying power; tenacity – call it what you like. As long as it gets the job done. I’ve honed my stamina through by running and long-distance walking – because both of these requires tremendous mental (as well as physical) stamina. Each summer I’ve walked a long distance path, starting in 2014 with Hadrian’s Wall (84 miles) and increasing the distance each year: 2015: West Highland Way (96 miles); 2016: Offa’s Dyke (177 ml); 2017: Southern Upland Way (212 ml); and this year, the Pennine Way (255 miles). Even those these are my vacations (designed for R&R!) and, coming at the end of term, a form of ‘academic detox’ (post-exam marking period etc), each time I’ve tried to push myself a little bit further. This last one in particular, falling as it did straight after I submitted my 80,000 word Thesis (plus 75,000 word Appendices) ended up being not just ‘the Great Escape’ (by that point, after months of intense effort I really needed to cut loose) but also a kind of extended metaphor of the PhD journey. This was not something I thought about a lot until the final day, but the trek did seem to neatly break down into my four year experience, with each fifty miles representing a year and its landmarks: Year 1 – research, 1st draft; Year 2 – more research, 2nd draft; Year 3 – consolidation of research, 3rd draft; Year 4 – commentary and editing. But the ‘crunch’ time came, appropriately on the last day of my walk when I had to walk 26 miles, over 7 peaks straddling the English-Scottish border, with a full forty pound pack. I worked towards this – (extending the daily distance, resting, planning, etc), and by that point, I was ready to really push myself, as I didn’t have to hold anything back. There were about a dozen of us roughly walking the whole route over the same 2-3 week period, but everyone else broke the last day, by either having the guest house pick them up and drop them back the next morning, or by staying over in one of the two mountain huts. But I decided to go for it. It is interesting to push oneself now and then, to see what you can accomplish, and to see how you can cope. What was really resonant about this last day was – I saw it as a micro-metaphor for the Viva. By Byrness, the penultimate stop on the way, it really feels liked you’ve pretty much nailed the walk – a bit like the feeling of submission – but oh no, the big push is yet to come. I awoke at 4am in my tiny bivvy-shelter and was on my way by 5am. I saw the sunrise as I breached the brow of Byrness Knowe; and by 9am I had reached Ravens Knowe – which had spectacular views over the Scottish Borders. Riding on adrenalin I pushed myself to reach the summit (highest point of the walk) by 11am – 13 miles I had broken the back of the walk, and uncannily at the very moment I reached Windy Ridge I received an email notification telling me my thesis had been sent to the examiners (the Doctoral College take a while to process things, and it was huge relief to know it had been sent off). Reaching that summit felt like the day of the viva itself – a massive effort to prepare, to reach it; and then the almost vertiginous feeling of achieving it. I savoured the well-earned view as I ate my sandwiches and sipped some precious water. But then, critically, there was still an exhausting 12.5 miles to go, over several more peaks, with blistered feet and aching limbs – and this I saw as a sobering metaphor for: revisions (minor or major). It was a visceral, embodied way of preparing myself mentally for that extra effort. It is incautious to assume the Viva will be the end: it may just be the ‘beginning of the end’. That is the key thing to bear in mind. The Viva is ‘Windy Ridge’ (13 miles in); not Kirk Yetholm (the end of the 250+ miles of the Pennine Way). That’s the critical difference. Basically, don’t peak too soon. Save something in reserve for that final effort, if it is required (to undertake major or minor revisions, etc). Those last 12.5 miles were a real challenge as fatigue kicked in (cumulative, from 17 days of serious hiking), the temperature increased, water ran low, and blisters go worse. But I did it. Walking into Kirk Yetholm, to be greeted (unexpectedly) by the cheers of my fellow walkers sitting outside the Borders Hotel, was one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done. I had accomplished what I had set out to do – by sheer determination and grit. Thousands of people finish the Pennine Way every year (although only a fraction do it all in one go), and many achieve their doctorates too – but this was my accomplishment, my day. And it had taught me a valuable lesson about ‘keeping something in reserve’ for that post-Viva final push, just in case it is needed. By succeeding in completing that last epic day I felt encouraged that, if it came down to it, I would be mentally prepared for whatever the examiners decide. They may say: ‘Congratulations! You have reached the finishing line!’ or they may say: ‘You have passed! But … you have another three or six months of effort still to do!’ Of course there could be other outcomes too. But walking a long-distance route in extreme conditions (a heatwave in my case, with fires on the moors, etc) inculcates resilience, and I will be ready.

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Songwalker

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Going for a song. Hadrian’s Wall, K. Manwaring July 2018

SINGING THE WAY

Recently I walked the Pennine Way national trail – a 253* mile footpath that runs from Edale Derbyshire to Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders. It follows, roughly, the spine of England – the Pennine Hills – into the Cheviots, and crosses three national parks: the Peak District, the  Yorkshire Moors, and the Northumberland national park, as well as the North Pennine Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. I walked it solo (except for a couple of days when a dear friend joined me) over 18 days, with a couple of half-day rest-stops in Haworth and on Hadrian’s Wall. I wasn’t attempting to break any records or myself – it was my summer vacation ‘wind-down’, a detox from all things digital and academic, and I wanted to allow myself time to stand and stare, or sit and sketch, wild swim or wander lonely as a cloud, as the mood took me. To keep myself going over wild stretches of moorland, dusty tracks, or hot hillsides, I sang. This is the fourth long-distance path in which I’ve found singing has really helped me to ‘keep on keeping on’ – putting one foot in front of the other for mile after mile, hour after hour, day after day, and, more, it really enriches the experience. Each day I chose a song – either learning it on the hoof, or drawing it from my repertoire. If it was a new song, I would sing each verse until I had committed it to memory, then moved on to the next, and so on, until ‘the form [had] patterned in my head’ (as the memorable poem, ‘Real Property’ by Harold Monro goes). Then I would sing it over a few times, finding my way into the song, finding the right voice for it. Often the song’s content, its mood, its message, would chime with the morning, with the landscape I was moving through, in synchronous and profound ways. It sometimes felt like a way of ‘giving thanks’ for the day, for reciprocating what I was experiencing – a praise song and a focalisation of my phenomenological interface with place and its ontological layers, or, to put it more simply: grooving on the genius loci.

Here are the songs I sang, in order (they represent the main ‘song of the day’ although others came and went organically). I selected songs that were thematically-apt or simply ‘jaunty’, amusing and morale-lifting.

Day 1, Edale to Torside: Mist-covered Mountains adapted from the Gaelic by Malcolm MacFarlane, version by Chantelle Smith.

Day 2, Torside to Standedge: Ramblin’ Man by Hank Williams.

Day 3, Standedge to Mankinholes: John Ball by Sydney Carter.

Day 4, Mankinholes to Haworth: The Skye Boat Song by Sir Harold Boulton.

Day 5, Haworth to Ickornshaw: The Boatman by The Levellers.

Day 6, Ickornshaw to Malham: Above (plus ‘Pendle Song’ shared by Anthony Nanson).

Day 7, Malham to Horton-in-Ribblesdale: The Manchester Rambler by Ewan MacColl (plus ‘Scout Song’ by Anthony Nanson).

Day 8, Horton to Hawes: Green Grow the Rushes by Robert Burns.

Day 9: Hawes to Keld: Crooked Jack by Dominic Behan.

Day 10, Keld to Baldersdale: Blowin’ in the Wind by Bob Dylan.

Day 11, Baldersdale to Langdon Beck: A Place called England by Maggie Holland.

Day 12, Langdon Beck to Dufton: Wayfaring Stranger (Norma Waterson version)

Day 13, Dufton to Alston: Pilgrim on the Pennine Way by Pete Coe.

Day 14, Alston to Greenhead: This Land is Our Land by Woody Guthrie.

Day 15, Greenhead to The Sill: King of the Road by Roger Miller.

Day 16, The Sill to Bellingham: Carrick Fergus (Marko Gallaidhe version)

Day 17, Bellingham to Byrness: Man of Constant Sorrow (based upon a song by Dick Burnett)  John Allen / Victor Carrera / Scott Mills.

Day 18, Byrness to Kirk Yetholm: Caledonia by Dougie Maclean; Both Sides o’ Tweed by Dick Gaughan.

I would highly recommend this way of experiencing the landscape**. To start the day with a song in your heart lends wings to your feet. It is also is very liberating for the voice. In the middle of nature you can sing your heart out, without fear of criticism or ridicule. It hyper-sensitised my hearing whenever I fell silent (which was often for long stretches of time). And time and time again I found it created interesting encounters with animals. Song changes our relationship to nature – it plugs us into the grid of Creation. Many traditions talk of ‘divine utterance’ and the way the world was sung into being. In some small way, by songwalking, one feels part of this choir – both singing praise to the world and singing the world into being as each step reveals new wonders to our reawakened senses.

Copyright © Kevan Manwaring 2 August 2018

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Cairn above Byrness, dawn of final day. Only 26 miles to go: songs don’t fail me now! K. Manwaring, July 2018

*The route can vary between 253 and 268 miles depending on optional routes, and distances of accommodation at the end of each day!

**If you are interested in songwalking get in touch. I would be fascinated to hear of your experiences, and would love to share a walk with you. Wayfarers of all abilities (poets, storytellers, artists, musicians, sound artists, etc) welcome!

Walking with a Friend

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Anthony on Mynydd Du by K. Manwaring 2018

 

Going for a stroll with a friend – an amicable amble, as it were – is one of life’s great pleasures. With a good friend the logistics of the day (if it is a long hike) do not become an effort: there is an organic, spontaneous feel to things. Even if a general itinerary has been agreed upon (a rough loop around a valley, a hope to reach a certain interesting landmark) in-the-moment diversions may be taken, arborescent pathways, roads-less-taken, echoing the digressional quality of the conversation, which has a free-ranging spirit. Anything may be discussed –the profane to the profound, the intimate to the trivial, heretical thoughts and transgressive reflections. Nothing is beyond the pale of conversation’s wilderness garden. Nothing is judged weedish and inappropriate. There is no harsh judgement, cultural approbation, twitter-storm, or trigger-happy ‘outraged’ waiting to descend upon you if you say something that is not in line with the popularity morality (or perceived performance thereof).  You can enjoy a hashtag free dialogue for once, nuanced by non-verbal communication – embodied and ensouled in the actuality of the moment, not in some virtual sphere of imagined connection. Beyond the reductive dualism of the binary there is a prismatic spectrum. Bumbling along in our ‘meat-suits’ (as those who spend too long on line call them), at home in our bodies in the true eco-system of things, we ‘arrive in time’ (as Laurie Lee put it). Immersed in the world of the  senses, colours, shapes, textures, smells, sounds explode around you. You struggle up a slippery, muddy path – little more than stream bed – to emerge breathless above the tree-line, onto hoar-frosted heathland, blinding in its brilliance beneath the sharp winter sun in the naked sky. Talking clouds in the frozen air, you pause for a cuppa at a stile. Enjoy the Ice Age view and the burn in the limbs. Share tunnocks and jelly-beans. Ideas and feelings. Stand and stare in an animal state of beingness, like a wild horse on a hillside. And this is enough. With a good friend there are comfortable lacuna in the colloquy, companionable silences. These interstices, when you may walk ‘apart together’ are just as important as the moments of intersection. Critically, they allow us to expand our awareness beyond the anthropocentric, the human bubble, to our surroundings. In silent communion with a landscape, in time, we experience ‘heath-mind’ or ‘wood-mind’, ‘stream-mind’ or ‘rock-mind’. In an encounter with another form of life – a bird on a gate-post, a cow in a field, a butterfly on the breeze, a seal in the surf – our consciousness may flip for a moment. In a flash of fith-fath we may find ourselves experiencing the world from a non-human paradigm. As we walk along, alone, by ourselves, together, we may feel something start to stir, the presentiment of an idea, preparing to be born, given sufficient time and space. We may not be able to articulate it yet, but we know it is there. We incubate it deep inside, beneath layers of woolly hats, waterproofs, thermals, thick socks. Our winter plumage. The Spring in us, waiting in the wings. Too much talk, too much company, can cast these fledgling thoughts out of the nest too soon.  Inspiration needs space to grow. A good friend knows this, notices when you need a moment by yourself. In the same way that they don’t just talk about them self but allow you to respond, and show genuine curiousity and emotional engagement about your own life, so they know when you don’t wish to respond, when you would prefer to be peaceful for a while. Walking with a friend there is a leaning-out as well as a leaning-in. This mutuality, and ease of decision that goes with it, are the destressors of the day alongside the physical and mental health benefits of being outdoors, having a bit of exercise and getting away from it all. The Japanese notion of ‘forest therapy’ (“shinrin yoku,” literally “forest bathing”) walks hand-in-hand with ‘friend therapy’. A friend allows you to be yourself. With a good friend you can drop down into the deep well of your own being – without trying to be anything or prove anything, you are more fully yourself. They invite us to shake hands with our soul. We are reminded of who we truly are, of slumbering potentials and forgotten promises to ourselves. The voices and wishes we thought we’d honour – which once rang out but have been drowned by the clamour of the world, until, in a forest clearing, or by a glittering brook, we hear them again. And they were always there, patiently waiting for us.

Copyright © Kevan Manwaring 2018

With many thanks to Anthony Nanson (& to Kirsty Hartsiotis, for the lovely meal upon our return and further scintillating conversation).

Hitting the Wall

 

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Sometimes you need a little help to make it through …

Anyone who has ever undertaken something difficult will know that there often comes a time when you really feel like you can’t go on. You’ve given it your best. You’ve done all the right things.

And you’ve got nothing left.

You hope you’ve reached the brow of the hill (one that has been one hell of a slog to get up), and can coast for a while – perhaps even race down to the finish line, euphoric at your accomplishment. But then, looming before you, is another summit, another hurdle, another bloody hoop to jump through. Obstacles bar your way, obstructing your line of desire – that wished-for completion — or maybe it’s just the realization of the sheer distance left to go, the gulf between your vision and the reality.

These reality checks, if they’ve been brought to your attention by allies (those with critical, constructive perspective, but ultimately rooting for you — rather than envious threshold guardians acting out their own issues) can be an essential part of the process.

Yet they’re still a pain in the arse.

Sometimes these critical slam-downs can even be devastating – completely knocking the wind from your sails, your confidence; your belief in your vision or craft; even your whole identity. If you’re feeling low anyway then the effect can be irredeemably crushing with sometimes catastrophic consequences. As this scenario is all too common in academe, there is major student support in place at universities these days – Wellbeing Services offering counselling and advice. Safety nets, tea and sympathy. I can sympathise as this week I experienced just this level of ‘knockback’ – I don’t want to go into the gory details, but suffice to say it was gutting. I was down and seriously considering some extreme options (in terms of my current PhD project). Things looked pretty bleak at the beginning of the week.

But a couple of things really helped me.

The first was running. Any physical exercise would be good – especially the cardio-vascular kind, as raising a sweat releases endorphins and blasts out any negativity. I found this to be exactly the case when I did a long training run – afterwards I felt in a far better place. More resilient, more able to cope with the ‘bad news’. Able to roll with the punch and come out fighting. Time and time again I’ve experienced the well-being effects of running, cycling or a good hike. And within these, if you’re undertaking a physical challenge like a half-marathon – then sooner or later you encounter ‘the wall’, as it’s referred to, familiar with marathon-runners all over the world. This is the moment when your body starts to shut down – you’re exhausted – and you really have to dig deep to keep going, sometimes running, cycling, hiking, etc, through the pain. I had to do just this mid-week, on my 13.5 mile training run. Those last 5 miles were tough, but I paused, refuelled, and girded my loins. It really all comes down to attitude, to mental stamina. Getting your head around what it is you’re facing, and soldiering on.

At the beginning of the week I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task ahead of me and I was pretty much ready to throw in the towel. Then I stepped back from it – went for the run – and looked at it all again.

What really helped me to ‘reframe’ the seemingly insurmountable challenge was talking about it – with my partner and with my supervisor.

After a thorough session at the end of the week with my supervisor I was willing to accept that I just have to knuckle down and get it finished. That the project wasn’t dead in the water – in fact, it is on track, and this ‘big push’ is merely the expected final stage, one that makes the difference between something being good and being excellent. I could accept the way my craft is now, or, keep going, and attempt to raise it to the next level.

To work through ‘the wall’. This is where the long-distance running has really helped me in facing this test of stamina and will. I will dig deep and I will keep going, and I will finish this thing.

Anything worth achieving is down to the difficulty involved. If it was easy, then accomplishing it would mean little (although of course we all have our own mountains to climb, and what is a minor hurdle for one person is a massive achievement for someone else). I have set myself a tough challenge – a creative and intellectual one – and I only have myself to blame! But while my heart and mind is set on this quest, then I shall endeavour to see it through properly to the end.

Whether I succeed or fail I shall at least I know that I gave it my very best shot, and didn’t give up at this critical stage.

Adjust your mental furniture and it’s amazing what you can achieve: you can even walk through walls.

 

 

 

 

Walking the Southern Upland Way – Days 4-6

 

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The wild hills await… K. Manwaring, 2017

 

And now for the section of the walk that looked the most intimidating – in my guidebook it broke it down into too insanely long sections: Bargrennan to St John’s of Dalry (24.3 miles) and St John’s to Sanquhar (26.7), but not being a complete masochist, I opted for the ‘more manageable to walk’ itinerary, which breaks the 50 plus miles of challenging walking (ranges of hills, bogs, no facilities) into three days. They were still tough, but not always for reasons expected.

Day 4 – Bargrennan to Clatteringshaw Loch (16.3 + 5)

This should have been a pleasant stroll from our fabulous campsite (so much nicer when I was able to set off in the morning without any driving involved) along the shores of the picturesque Glen Trool, but it turned into something of a nightmare. It didn’t help that it rained all day, sapping my spirits, tiring me out, and soaking everything (my back-up phone still hasn’t recovered).  It was very tempting to walk straight from ‘Expedition Base-Camp’ (an utterly lovely campsite despite the midges and stencilled military-style signage) to the Glen Trool visitor centre – intersecting the walk at the Twin Bridges – and skip the first section of the walk which made me go back on myself, and added a few winding miles – but I was feeling diligent. What’s  the point of doing a long-distance walk if you skip bits? Sometimes however the wendings are annoying diversions (a reroute caused by a bolshy landowner, or by a civic authority keen for the tourist dollar) and common sense should prevail. The quicker route from Glentrool was listed as an alternative in ‘wetter winter months’ and the only ‘safe and viable route’ when the River Cree and Waters of Minnoch (great names) overflow, and it was raining heavily when I set off. But … I dutifully trekked back to the bridge at Bargrennan and rejoined the route from yesterday’s end-point.

There followed some lovely riverside woodland walking – it was wet, but the trees gave me some shelter. By the time I got to Twin Bridges of Trool, it was late morning and I had a coffee and a snack at an SUW shelter. Then feeling in fine fettle I carried on.

But that’s where I went wrong — and resulted in a 3 hour detour which I won’t bore you with here! Glen Trool was pretty though…

Day 5 – Clatt. Loch to Stroanpatrick (15.8)

 

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The lonely way. One of the several fallen signposts I re-erected. K. Manwaring, 5 July 2017

 

Fortunately, the next two days were far more enjoyable. It didn’t rain for a start  and despite the ‘path’ being poorly signed and little more than a slight indentation in the grass across wild moor-land I didn’t get lost. My compass-fu was fully functioning. I could see why so few people do the SUW – but it’s Catch 22: better signage and better maintained paths would surely result in more walkers; this would result in more tourist income for the region, warranting more investment.  Perhaps it is the length and difficulty that puts people off, for other LDPs seem popular.  Apparently 50,000 walkers do the West Highland Way every year – although when I did it, I only saw a half a dozen walkers a day. There were long stretches when I didn’t see anyone. The campsites weren’t that busy. On these trails you can also find solitude – it’s easy to adjust your pace to overtake some walkers if you don’t fancy chatting, although sometimes it’s nice to have a brief exchange. Today’s highlight was the lunch stop at St John’s of Dalry – a charming village with a very steep High Street and a churchyard featuring Covenanter graves. Named by the Templars (Dail Righ: ‘meadow of the king’), it was an important way-station for pilgrims en route to the Isle of Whithorn (apparently even the King would undertake this annually, as an act of atonement – which made me wonder, did walking the SUW shrive me of my ‘sins’? It certainly felt cathartic and good for the mind, body and soul). Like a pilgrim filled with enthusiasm (en theos: the god within) I sang as I went – today choosing ‘Crooked Jack’, and ‘Fathom the Bowl’ in addition to my usual walking repertoire which I dipped in and out of (‘Caledonia’; ‘Jerusalem’, etc).  The headspace of today I described in my journal as ‘a wildlife corridor for the imagination’. And I saw plenty of actual wildlife too – a barn owl in broad daylight, swooping amongst the trees and a red kite, on top of the usual curious or twitchy livestock .

Day 6 – Stroanpatrick to Sanquhar (18.9)

 

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Ben Brack (1902 ft), K. Manwaring, 6 July 2017

 

Today was the longest and toughest so far – officially anyway – crossing over 7 hills, all over a 1000 ft (including the 2nd highest on the SUW). It meant for any early start and an unnecessarily stressful car journey, which threatened to mar the whole morning, but I tried to put that behind me and focus on the ‘here and now’ of the walking, the most stunning and enjoyable so far. I found my walking legs today, striding across the miles with a spring in my step. Dividing the day into quarters helped – having a break every 5 miles or so; and rewarding myself with snacks and slurps of water or coffee now and then. Long distance walking, as with an ‘endurance’ activity, is  alot about the psychology, about mental as much as physical stamina.  You really have to draw upon inner reserves – so one’s frame of mind at the beginning of the day is critical. It is nice to start the day in quietude. Over the SUW I found myself waking early and enjoy the simple morning ritual of making the first brew, a bowl of porridge, and preparing my flask and sandwiches for the day (and increasingly, bandaging my feet). Having a decent breakfast inside you is also essential – otherwise you soon find yourself flagging.  And I needed the energy today – having to climb the following Galloway Hills: Manquhill (1381 ft); Benbrack (1902 ft); Cairn Hill & Black Hill (1863 ft); High Countam (1640 ft); Allan’s Cairn (1630 ft); Cloud Hill (1479 ft). It was good to get Benbrack out of the way in the morning – the 2nd highest summit on the SUW, it was a beast to climb, and harder than the highest (Lowther Hill, awaiting me tomorrow), as it was one continuous ‘full frontal’ slog. Once I had reached its summit, the rest became physically and psychologically easier, as I worked my way along the high country connecting them.  It was fine walking . Being high up is edifying – one enjoys the efforts of one’s toil. It’s as though you are a giant, striding over the land – wearing nine mile boots.

 

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Striding Arch, Ben Brack, Galloway Hills, K. Manwaring, 6 July 2017

At one point I came across a stone archway, unannounced, unsigned, on the summit of Ben Brack. This was quite a surreal thing to encounter unexpectedly – emerging from the mizzle that mantled the bleak hillside. It turned out to be one of Andy Goldsworthy’s ‘Striding Arches’ – another distantly visible on a sister summit. The sculptor lives nearby, in the creative community of Moniaive, so his artworks adorn several of the summits along the SUW – these striking, bold statements stand in quiet power, holding subtle conversations with the surrounding landscape, one that has been in ‘dialogue’ with man for millennia.  The solitary walker joins this conversation for a while. Walking in silence one is able to discern the whispers of time that haunt it still.

 

 

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Allan’s Cairn – Covenanter Memorial to Margaret Gracie and George Allan – eerily situated in the middle of a forestry plantation

 

Walking with Thomas

The sun used to shine while we two walked
Slowly together, paused and started
Again, and sometimes mused, sometimes talked
As either pleased, and cheerfully parted

                                                                                  The Sun Used to Shine, Edward Thomas

 

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Near Dymock, K. Manwaring, 2017

On the 100th anniversary of the death of Edward Thomas, poet, who died at the Battle of Arras, Easter Monday, 9th April 1917, after only two months in France, my friend Anthony Nanson (writer, editor and cousin of  the Edwardian editor and critic Edward Garnett) and I undertook a memorial walk around Dymock, Gloucestershire, where he lived for a brief while with his family at Oldfields, just over the field from his fellow adventurer in verse, Robert Frost.

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Setting off on the Poets Path, K. Manwaring 2017

It was a glorious Spring morning when we set off from opposite the Beauchamp Arms (where Frost and Thomas liked to sink a pint or two), the sun was shining as it did upon their famous ‘walks-talking’ (‘The Sun Used to Shine’), the sky was a freshly-scrubbed blue, and the fields were brimming with wild daffodils, daisies, anemones and bluebells.

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Reading by the Old Nail Shop, A. Nanson, 2017

We walked an indulgent ten hours, from 10am-8pm, at an ambling pace – stopping intermittently to read poems in situ – on a 13.5 mile route that took us around the old stomping ground of the Dymock Poets, as they became known (close to Frost and Thomas lived Wilfrid Gibson and Lascelles Abercrombie, who along with John Drinkwater and Rupert Brooke, formed the loose band of bardic brothers). We followed some of the Poets Paths (2 routes which take in the key sites, although in a poorly-signposted and badly-maintained way), but quickly struck out on our own way, a road less travelled, taking us via the Greenway crossroads, site of the Old Nail Shop (Gibson’s former residence) through Brooms Green and Bromesberrow, before striking out on the ridge up to southern tip of the Malvern Hills and our destination for the day, Ragged Stone Hill, another Dymock ‘hot spot’ (as marked by Gibson’s eponymous poem).

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The view from Ragged Stone Hill, looking backward towards Dymock, May Hill in the distance, K. Manwaring 2017

It turned out to be a hot day, so we took it easy, finding frequent excuses to stop, stand and stare (as advocated in ‘Leisure’ by WH Davies, a visitor to the Dymocks). Supertramp Davies was not only an epic walker (even with a wooden leg, having lost one while freight-car hopping in America) but also an animal lover (see his poem, ‘The Dumb World’), and he would have enjoyed the many encounters we had today – splendid pedigree horses; a whole colony of pigs, the sows feeding their litters of lively piglets; proud ewes with their sprightly lambs; frisky young bulls (a herd seeking to harangue us from one end of the field to the next until I waved them off). There must have been something in the air, because the livestock seemed to get increasingly frisky towards evening. At one point I had to fend off the challenge of a feisty black bullock with my walking stick.

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One Man and his Stick, Kevan on Chase End Hill, A. Nanson, 2017

Along the way we talked about many things – the writer’s life, lecturing (we both teach in universities), cabbages and kings and everything under the sun. We read out poems by Thomas and the Dymocks along the way – I choosing mine at random, Anthony selecting his from the contents page. Here’s what we shared:

Early one morning – ET (KM)

The Lane – ET (AN)

The Old Nail Shop – WG (KM)

May 23 – ET (KM)

The Bridge – ET (AN)

The Ragged Stone  – WG (KM)

Iris by Night – RF (KM)

Celandines – ET (AN)

But These Things Also ET (KM)

The Poets: ET – Edward Thomas; RF – Robert Frost; WG – Wilfrid Gibson
Readers: AN – Anthony Nanson; KM – Kevan Manwaring

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Anthony reads The Bridge, K. Manwaring, 2017

The views from the ridge were magnificent, looking back across the Dymock vale – May Hill in the hazy distance (another favourite jaunt of Frost and Thomas) – the vibrant shades of green upon the trees, the meadows festooned with flowers, every detail picked out by the golden afternoon sun. This part of England, where Gloucestershire meets Herefordshire, is so quintessential it is positively Arcadian (at one point we strolled through a handsome country estate where lambs hopped, skipped and raced about by the shores of a royal blue lake, a pastoral idyll that just needed a shepherdess to complete the picture). To connect the flat fields of Dymock with the dramatic peaks (or rather ‘Marilyns’) of the Malverns was satisfying – a transition that Frost and Thomas would have enjoyed, heading for the hills to get a perspective on their lives, away, for a day’s meandering, from families, bills, deadlines and looming war.

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Light and shadow co-exist in Thomas’ poetry. K. Manwaring 2017

The flanks of Ragged Stone hill have a Faerie quality to them – alive with Earth energy. Perhaps this is not surprising as it is said to be a nexus of ley-lines, as initially discovered the original ley-hunter, Alfred Watkins (who described his theories in The Old Straight Track). Next to it is the Whiteleaved Oak, said to be the site of one of the Three Perpetual Choirs (as cited in the Welsh Triads), along with Glastonbury and Ely. The harmony of the land was maintained by the choirs there, and to this day the Three Choirs Festival takes place in the area. In a way, perhaps the Dymock Poets, with their songs of verse, were also maintaining the land’s equilibrium. I really do believe that for a brief while they created, with their inspiring creative fellowship, a Little Eden in a quiet corner of England. And whenever kindred spirits gather together to share their stories, songs, verse, laughter and love, it can happen again.

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A well-earned rest on Ragged Stone Hill, only 4 hours back to the car! K. Manwaring 2017

As the sun set, the trees silhouetted by its evanescent golden after-glow, the ink of shadows oozing from the earth, we made it, foot-weary but happy, to the Beauchamp Arms, were we raised a pint in memory of Edward Thomas.  In Steep and Aldestrop there had been memorial events also on that day, but here in Dymock, Anthony and I, in our modest little way, had perpetuated the choir of the Dymock Poets with our walks-talking, in the spirit of Frost and Thomas.

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Elected Friends, Edward Thomas (left) & Robert Frost.

 

The Road Not Taken

 

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”Two roads diverged in a wood, And I – I took the one less travelled by…’ Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken, Photograph by Kevan Manwaring 2017

On the anniversary of the death of the poet Edward Thomas on Easter Monday, 9th April 1917, at the Battle of Arras,  I wanted to share a screenplay I co-wrote with a fellow Dymock Poets enthusiast, Terence James back in 2010-2011, ‘Little Edens’ (or The Road Not Taken). It hasn’t been produced, but it has been performed in a script-in-hand read-thru the ‘Spaniel in the Works’ theatre company in Stroud. I share it memory of Edward Thomas and Robert Frost and the special friendship they enjoyed. I am an avid believer in  creative community and in celebrating the ‘little edens’ of the everyday – the golden moments shared with friends, loved ones, animals, nature, and the spirit of place.

‘Little Edens’ – A Writer’s Statement

I want to develop this project because I am a poet and a lover of the British countryside, and this story celebrates both. I am interested in the period (Edwardian-Georgian-Twenties) having set my first novel, The Long Woman, in it (in its celebration of the English landscape and the Lost Generation, my book echoes some of the concerns of the screenplay). I am haunted by the artistic response in times of conflict – how can we ‘justify’ such rarefied activities as writing poetry in the face of conflict? – and I think the story of the Dymock Poets mirrors our own times and predicament, a hundred years on. Against the shadow of war, there is a brief, bright flowering of creativity in a small corner of the Gloucestershire countryside. This would be precious enough in its own right (one of the ‘little Edens’ of the film) but the fact that this convergence of poets and their muses produced some of the most memorable poetry in the English language shows that ‘something special’ occurred. Thomas might not have been able to ‘write a poem to save his life’, as he so poignantly said to his devoted friend, Eleanor Farjeon, but his poems have given him a kind of immortality – through them he lives on.

I am also fascinated by the influential friendship between the two poets, Robert Frost and Edward Thomas. When they first met, in October 1913, the former was yet to establish his literary reputation and the latter had yet to turn to poetry. Through their friendship, they inspired and encouraged each other. Thomas wrote favourable reviews of Frost’s early work, helping to launch his career, and Frost encouraged Thomas to try his hand at poetry, which he did from the end of 1914 – the year the film is set – up until his death in April 1917, in the battle of Arras. During this time he wrote the 150 poems that made his career. Frost returned to America with a burgeoning literary reputation – he went on to become a four-time Pulitzer Prize winning ‘grand old man of American poetry’. This trans-Atlantic friendship is the heart of the film – in microcosm, it mirrors the wider circle of the Dymock Poets and their wives. I find their fellowship heartening, especially in the face of war – and the community they share, the coterie at Dymock, a model for creative living. For a brief while they created and shared something golden.
The Dymock Poets (and the wider clique of the Georgian Poets, to whom they mostly
belonged) have fallen in and out of fashion over the years, but the astonishing convergence of talent (Frost, Thomas and the ‘Adonis’ of the Bloomsbury Set, Rupert Brooke) at such a poignant time deserves to be more widely-known. I picture ‘Little Edens’ as being a deeply beautiful and moving film – with many of the scenes filled with wide shots of lush English landscape; sleepy hamlets; faces a-glow around the hearth; evenings of poetry, cider and fellowship; the embryonic lines of classic poems; the colloquy of poets out on their rambles; contrasting with the harsher scenes of war and its consequences. Imagine elements of ‘Bright Star’; ‘Regeneration’; ‘A Month in the Country’; ‘Hedd Wyn’; and ‘The Edge of Love’.

A logline might be something like: ‘For one brief summer they found paradise — until the world found them.’

Kevan Manwaring Copyright © 27 August 2010

Here it is:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B65FARK-P4_HeXlYSmMwTEtHU0k/view?usp=sharing

Let me know what you think. Film producers and directors especially welcome!