Category Archives: Way of Awen

Bard of Hawkwood 2016

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The winner of the Bard of Hawkwood contest 2016, Anthony Hentschel, sits on the Bardic Chair. Behind stand fellow contestants & judges (from left to right): Katie Lloyd-Nunn, Anthony Nanson, Chantelle Smith, Dominic James, Steve Wheeler, Richard Maisey.

Founded by Kevan Manwaring in 2014, the Bardic Chair of Hawkwood is part of a modern bardic tradition stretching across Britain and beyond. The Bardic Chair belongs to its community, the winner is its steward, and the gorsedd (i.e. the bardic circle which supports it) its guardians. It is a celebration of local distinctiveness, and a platform for creative expression. 

The 2nd Bard of Hawkwood contest took place on May Day bank holiday Monday at Hawkwood College’s lovely annual Open Day. The dark clouds gathered but didn’t dampen our enthusiasm. However, we wisely chose to hold the contest inside, as opposed to the front lawn where it has been held (and in 2014, announced) in previous years. This was a smart move as we had a full house in the Sitting Room as everyone piled in out of the rain! The judges this year were outgoing bard, Dominic James, folksinger Chantelle Smith, and our ‘chairman’ Richard Maisey (who kindly lent his original Eisteddfod chair from 1882 for the contest, kickstarting the whole thing off). They each took a turn, showing they know their stuff – with Chantelle getting everyone to singalong – then the contestants were introduced and took turns to perform, according to lots. I conjured up some awen with an excerpt from my poem ‘Dragondance’, then the bardic gloves were off. First up was storyteller, Anthony Nanson (author of Gloucestershire Folk Tales and co-author of Gloucestershire Ghost Tales with Kirsty Hartsiotis), who performed a gripping tale from New Caledonia with great gusto, voices, and gestures. The expressions of the younger members of the audience were priceless! Next up was creative powerhouse Katie Lloyd-Nunn, who shared a lovely song with a heartfelt introduction and accompanying statement. Katie was followed with dignity by Peter Adams, well-known local homeopath, activist and poet, who shared his wise owl poem complete with night-sounds! The penultimate performer was wordsmith Steve Wheeler, with a very engaging and amusing story about his childhood home and that yearning is shared through the generations. Finally, we had Ruskin Mill’s own Anthony Hentschel, who performed a barnstormer poem on the theme (The Way Home). From toddlers to senior citizens, the audience were mesmerized throughout. The judges left to deliberate and I MCed some impromptu floor spots. We had an impressive green man praise song from our resident jack-of-the-woods, Paul; a punchy poem from Jehanne Mehta; a bold contribution from Gill; and I shared my ‘Robin Hood’ poem, Heartwood. Then the judges summed up, praising each of the contestants in turn, before announcing the winner with a drum roll from me: Anthony Hentschel, who had impressed them all with his tour-de-force. The awen had been clearly with him, and the choice seemed to be popular.

Bardic Chair of Hawkwood 1882The new bard was robed, and holding the silver branch of office, sat in the Bardic Chair while everyone blessed him with three awens – and so we ended on a note of harmony. Anthony Hentschel offered a Shakespearean sonnet as his winning piece, and the spirit of The Bard was very much with us (along with the shade of Blake). Anthony will now serve as the Bard of Hawkwood for a year and a day, honouring his bardic statement, and choosing the theme for next year, when the contest will be once more held at Hawkwood’s Open Day. Anyone who lives in the Five Valleys around Stroud can enter an original poem, song or story on the theme. Details will be announced by October 31st. The Hawkwood College website will post information. An anthology will be produced of the contest. All contestants and judges from this contest and previous years are invited to be part of an ongoing bardic circle. Anybody else who wishes to be involved are asked to get in touch.

Finally, the winner of the Bard of Hawkwood 2016, Anthony Hentschel, gave the following statement:

I believe, as John Cowper Powys put it, that “Man should be capable of believing Everything and Nothing.” Thus the rational insights of Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchens and the mystical insights of Rumi or Llewelyn Powys are to be equally applauded. The title Bard of Hawkwood will hopefully furnish me with the confidence to carry the living Word of Poetry into local schools, prisons and Retirement Homes. If anyone out there would like to invite me, and perhaps some of my friends, to such institutions, please get in touch via my email: anthonyhentschel@hotmail.com.

Awen for All

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Founder & Grand Bard of Hawkwood, Kevan Manwaring 2nd May 2016

http://www.hawkwoodcollege.co.uk/

The Bardic Handbook: complete manual for the 21st Century bard 

by Kevan Manwaring, Gothic Image, 2006

http://www.kevanmanwaring.co.uk/the-bardic-handbook.html

 

The Heart of Poetry

0009_009Poetry by Heart is a national recitation competition for 14-18 year olds, held across Britain in early Spring each year. It was started by Sir Andrew Motion, former poet laureate and now involves 100s of schools and students around the country. School heats produce winners and runners up who go onto to compete for the county finals. Then the winners of the county round go onto the regional and national finals held in the hallowed halls of Homerton College, Cambridge, in March. The event is recorded and broadcast by BBC Radio 4, and the footage of previous years is available to view on the Poetry by Heart website. The contestants have to commit two poems to memory to perform on the day: one from pre-1914 and one post, or from the First World War. The fecund competition anthology has a wide selection from Beowulf to 21st Century poets, reflecting the diversity of voices within the British Isles and beyond. To hear these young voices reciting such material is inspiring.0001_001

On Wednesday 10th February I co-ordinated and MCed the Gloucestershire Finals at Hawkwood College. The result of a lot of organizing, the day itself ran smoothly, thanks to a team of professionals which I selected: the 3 judges (Jay Ramsay; Gabriel Bradford Millar; and Dominic James, the current Bard of Hawkwood); the accuracy judge and prompt, Anthony Nanson; sound tech support from Chantelle Smith; photography from Fred Chance; and guest poetry from Adam Horovitz; and not forgetting the warm-hearted support of Katie Lloyd-Nunn and her team at Hawkwood. It was a prime example of creative collaboration.

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I love providing platforms for people to shine in – and that’s precisely what this afternoon was. We were all there to support the young bards and provide the most conducive space possible for them to perform in. Adam Horovitz gave them some top tips to help them use the mike and the space to the best of their ability. To step up to the mike and perform from memory two poems in front of a crowd of people takes a lot of guts – something I couldn’t have done as a young schoolkid (without serious coaching). But it is enormously empowering – it builds confidence and self-esteem, and such public speaking skills will serve you in good stead for the rest of your life, as will a poem or two up your sleeve: life wisdom at the drop of a hat. I can vouch for this having won the Bard of Bath competition back in 1998 with a feat of memory and creativity (my epic poem, Spring Fall: the story of Sulis and Bladud of Bath). That was for me, a defining moment, and one that launched my creative career. Perhaps for some of the young contestants of Poetry by Heart, their participation will be the start of a life-time association with the spoken word – it will certainly be a significant experience that will stay with them. Poetry becomes not just something to study, and then forget, after school, but a life-long companion.

Learning a poem by heart embodies its rhythms and wisdom – internalizing it in a way that no intellectualizing could by itself. It becomes a visceral experience that can set your heart pacing. In the same way that performing an exciting myth, legend or folk tale can be a thrilling experience, so too with poetry. You are living the words. The electric current of the initial inspiration is restored to the text and you get a frisson of what inspired the writer in the first place. The poem is resuscitated with meaning, coming alive off the page. It is a phoenix-like act as a poem decades, or even centuries old, becomes a living, breathing thing again – having resonance and vitality to modern ears and minds. The young poet learns the power of the conscious utterance – the magical power of language. They learn to listen, to speak wise and beautiful words, and they learn the power of memory. To make the effort to learn a poem, reciting it again and again until it becomes fixed within the long-term cortex (downloaded to our internal hard-drive, as it were) is to be given the keys to the palace of memory. That vast temple reveals itself and a lifetime of discovery awaits. Away from the ubiquitous devices that dominate modern life we rediscover the breath-taking potential of the human mind.

And surely this is something that all teachers and schools should be supporting – with the funding from government to make it viable. The training of memory is a significant by-product, but more than this it is to return heart and soul to education.

Poetry is good for the soul’s growth. It ennobles us and deepens our humanity. 0012_012

 

Initiatives such as Poetry by Heart enable all to tap into and experience the living Bardic Tradition. To discover more about the Bardic Tradition, check out:

Tea with the Bard: http://www.hawkwoodcollege.co.uk/courses-and-events/arts/tea-with-the-bard

Day of the Bard: http://www.hawkwoodcollege.co.uk/courses-and-events/arts/day-of-the-bard

Bard of Hawkwood Contest: http://www.hawkwoodcollege.co.uk/courses-and-events/arts/bard-of-hawkwood-competition

The Bardic Handbook by Kevan Manwaring (Gothic Image, 2006): http://www.kevanmanwaring.co.uk/the-bardic-handbook.html

Copyright Kevan Manwaring 14 February 2016

Gadzooks!

Thirsty knights refreshing themselves at Tewkesbury Medieval Festival

Gadzooks!

11th July

Early on Sunday I made my way northwards along the Cotswold Edge to the Tewkesbury Medieval Festival, now in its 27th year. I had been meaning to go for a number of years, hearing good things about it – what, I couldn’t quite say, but there was a general consensus it was ‘a good one’. It had started, in the words of the introduction to this year’s programme:’an idea thought up over a pint by some of the ‘Companions of the Black Bear’…’

at the sign of the glove...

I raced through the sunshine to be there in time for the opening ceremony performed by druid friends, including Elaine and Greywolf. Apparently, they had a countdown for me to arrive. I might have made it if not for the army maidens demanding a parking fee at the entrance – and me clumsily dropping my gloves several times. I parked up by a mobile home and raced in, over the tilting field and over the little wooden bridge that provides a threshold into the festival’s medieval timewarp. They said to meet my by the beer tent – typical druids. I saw a suspicious looking circle in the distance and headed towards them. Sure enough, the druids were in a circle outside the Drunken Monk Inn. I arrived and joined them just as they chanted ‘And may peace prevail throughout the whole world!’ They finished casting the circle with air – in the form of Greywolf’s flute; fire – with incense; and water – scattered before us. I pulled on my bardic cloak. Phew – I had made it! Elaine asked people to speak on behalf of whomever they wished to. Immediately, the PA kicked in, which made everyone laugh. The ceremony was good-humoured, especially with Greywolf’s light touch, and such disturbances didn’t derail things (indeed the success of any good ceremony is about being full present in the moment and opening to all). Heartfelt words were said about those fallen at the Battle of Tewkesbury – one of the decisive battles of the War of the Roses – that took place on the site, on 4th May, 1471.

Death waits in the wings - at Bloody Meadow, Tewkesbury

Around two thousand five hundred souls met their end that day – on what became known as the Bloody Meadow – more than the two thousand re-enactors that would recreate the battle later in the main arena. Fortunately, the festival was a far more peaceful affair, even though many of the stalls sold armour and weaponry. Strange how so much creativity and culture has thrived off the back of a slaughter. Warfare seems a peculiar thing to celebrate – but for many I imagine it just a chance to escape from the mundanity of their daily lives with a bit of dressing up and role-playing. Yet some take it very seriously – the cost of the costumes and equipment isn’t cheap. I wonder what draws people to certain periods – why do people re-enact? Is it a past life thing? a way of connecting with and honouring ancestors? or a form of OCD (as my friend Jay suggested later when we discussed it over a pint in the Woolpack in Slad, Laurie Lee’s local in the Five Valleys near Stroud)? It is easy to mock the likes of the ‘Sealed Knutters’ (members of the Sealed Knot Civil War re-enactment society, The Sealed Knot). I used to know one in Northampton who was a bona fide eccentric clearly born in the wrong century – a complete obsessive, with tankards and armour cluttering up his bedsit in a tower block – his great-great… grandfather had fought in the battle of Naseby and he still took it personally. But I can see how it gives those who participate a sense of tribe, of community.

Simple life - Tewkesbury Medieval Festival

A reassuring idyll where everyone has a clearly defined role, and life is simplified to a village green arcadia – with all your needs met by individuals like the blacksmith, the baker, the brewer, etc. It is healthily low-tech but highly skilled – craftsmanship is highly prized. Things aren’t mass-produced by hand-made, often bespoke. When I had a chance to wander around the market – rows of stalls (offering a wonderful assortment of medieval wares and skills including alchemy; leech-craft; clayware for daily use; beautiful things in leather, velvet, ring mail; shiny feudal bling; wimples and snoods, doublet and hoseries, and the like) I was impressed by the sheer creativity and craft. It also occurred to me that alot of this is Peak Oil proof – and might be a glimpse of how society could be in the future (as imagined by Richard Jefferies in his post-apocalyptic novel, ‘After London’). However, I can imagine it not being so picturesque and bucolic.

bucolic charm - minstrels at Tewkesbury Medieval Festival

Folk lolled about in the sweltering sun (one of the hottest days of the year), enjoying a flagon of cider while watching ‘knight combat’ or listening to a band of prancing loons in the beer tent. There were a couple of guys were ‘pet dragons’ on their arms – but these were trumped by a man with a python wrapped around his neck, which he was letting small children stroke. I had to have a go as well. ‘Some pythons can be mean, but he likes people’, the owner reassured. There were lots of panting dogs around, tongues lolling (imagine sweating through your tongue – and then giving someone a sloppy kiss – eeeuww) including several large, shaggy wolf-like varieties. One husky pulled a small boy along in a cart – ‘it’ll all end in tears’, I said, seeing it running along. Next thing, it jack-knifed on a tussock, throwing the boy out. Fortunately he wasn’t hurt – indeed, seemed to enjoy the experience. Health and Safety seemed marvellously absent from the whole affair – although St John’s paramedics were there in force, especially for the final battle – where there services were required after one particularly rough skirmish resulted in an ambulance arriving. I watched an archery demonstration – just for a chance to lie back on a grassy bank in the sun. Far more impressive was the archery-on-horseback demo later, where Korean-style horsemanship/archery was shown in dramatic fashion by three folk dressed up like Mongols.

Battle of Tewkesbury

The grand finale was spectacular – two thousands re-enactors marching onto the field of battle in all their armour and colours, waving their banners, shouting insults at the opposition. The crowds were encouraged to join in with this good-humoured ribbing. I ended up on the Yorkist side – not by choice, by chance – so I suddenly found myself a Royalist for the first time in my life. When the King and the Young Pretender finally met for parlez in the middle of the field, there was a certain frisson about the whole thing – enhanced by the commentary from the PA tower. It reminded me, visually, of Arthur and Mordred at the  fatal Battle of Camlan – it seems this ‘script’ has been played out through time. The young will always try to overthrow the old and perhaps that’s healthy, as one generation must make way for the next.

a brutal battle for survival - medieval warfare

Yet there is something Darwinian and brutal about how the upstart, eager to prove himself, will try his luck against the established pro with his reputation (like an old stag – the alpha male – with his hinds, having to defend himself against a young rival). The battle slowly got under way – large armies don’t move fast: an unwieldly behemoth, once it gets lumbering in one direction, it’s almost impossible to stop. The chain of consequences led to the inevitable endgame, the slaughter of Bloody Meadow – men bashing the crap out of each other, rather than talking it out (a display of relentless stupidity – all violence is an insult to evolution, to the sacredness of life – I witnessed in microcosm with my friend later, as we sat on a bench in the churchyard where Laurie Lee is buried, opposite his favourite local, The Woolpack in Slad. A booze-fuelled altercation broke out, complete with screaming girlfriends, shattering the peace of a quiet Cotswold village on a Sunday afternoon). After watching about an hour of the ‘carnage’ – albeit with the Tewkesbury miracle of battlefield resurrection – swathes of arrows darkening the skies, the report of cannon and rifle fire, the shouts of men – I grew weary of it all. It’s sad that so much energy and talent is put into recreating death and destruction rather than the arts of peace. I’d had enough – it had been a full on weekend and I needed to rest, but there was still the ride home, via Stroud, where I met up with my dear friend Jay, for a heart-to-heart over a pint. We do not need to use our fists. We can be better than that. Jay shouted over to the brawling boozers ‘Stupid! Stupid!’ and there is something Neantherdal about such behaviour. Yet, despite such reflections, it had been a worthwhile endeavour – the medieval festival in Tewkesbury is worth seeing. It makes for a colourful and interesting day out. It certainly brings history alive, which has got to be a good thing (for if we learn from the past there’s a chance we don’t make the same mistakes). We can take the best of it – the value of craftsmanship, of ‘human scale’ social structure and interaction, of etiquette, of community-belonging – and leave the rest.

Moot and Aboot

Moot and Aboot

28 June-4 July

4 Guys called Oss at the Banbury Hobby Horse Fair

It’s been a busy week, bardically, with lots of talks and travelling…

Crysse and I perform at the Arts House Cafe, Melksham

Tuesday I performed with my friend, fellow poet Crysse Morrison of Frome, in the Arts House Cafe, Melksham, as part of their food and drink

festival. We were billed as a ‘Poetry Fest’ and were given the theme ‘Feast and Famine’ which we both responded to in typically atypical ways. I read out poems from Egypt. Our hostess was Sue, who looked after us extremely well and made things flow beautifully.

Wednesday I travelled to London to give at talk to the Moot with No Name in the Devereux Arms – a charming olde worlde pub usually frequented by City types (its opposite the Royal Court of Justice on the corner of Fleet Street and the Strand – tucked away in its own ‘Dagon Alley’). My friends Geraldine and Bali from Atlantis Bookshop were there to greet me and sell books on my behalf (The Way of Awen was stacked up – the focus on the night’s talk). Steve Wilson was hosting and introduced me. I raised the awen and this seemed to break down barriers. I ended the talk with a story, as requested by G&B – one of my desert ones. I managed to catch the last train home (just) and got back late.

The next morning I was on the train again – to Bristol – to give a poetry reading to Can Openers, at the Bristol Central Library, a monthly open mic event hosted by Claire Williamson. I declaimed through the mike in the middle of the library – I don’t normally like using mikes but with building work going off in the background it was essential. I joked that it was like some kind of industrial art happening: Beatniks meet Bob the Builder. ‘Howl, we can!’

Camerton Bath Green Fair

Saturday I performed at the Camerton Batch Green Fair – my second gig on its slagheap, (remnant from a working of the Somerset Coalfield) albeit a very pretty one now it’s been reclaimed by nature and made accessible with a lovely nature trail. Various fluffy crafty folk did their thing – bodging, making stuff from felt, willow, clay, dreamcatchers. A lovely old steam engine powered a scary-looking saw mill. A mighty shire horse helped extract timber. The ladies of Polka Dot Pantry tempted passersby with their cakes. I performed a couple of thirty minutes sets of stories in a bell tent that was furnished comfortably with fleeces. My audience ended up being very young – something to do with it being incorrectly billed as ‘children’s storytelling!’ (‘I am not a children’s entertainer!’ he declares in Sideshow Bob fashion) – but it seemed to go down okay, although, by the end, the adults were laughing more than the kids. My set of short rustic tales tickled them. Saravian provided moral support. The sun shone and it was a pleasant affair.

Hobby Horse Fair, Banbury 4 July 2010

Sunday, I needed a day off and so I went for a spin on the bike – up to the charming and wonderfully eccentric Banbury Hobby Horse Fair and back – over the Cotswolds on my own ‘cock horse’.

'a fine Lady upon a white horse...' Banbury

Midsummer Magic

Pipers at the Gates of Dawn

`O Mole! the beauty of it! The merry bubble and joy, the thin, clear, happy call of the distant piping! Such music I never dreamed of, and the call in it is stronger even than the music is sweet! Row on, Mole, row! For the music and the call must be for us.’  The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame

24-27 June

The Gates of Dawn by Herbert Draper


 

 

We have been blessed with magnificent weather the last few days – the sun has well and truly had his hat on. When the sun doth shine, the English summer is a glorious thing and I would not want to be anywhere else on Earth. Shaman-poet of The Doors, Jim Morrison once said ‘No eternal reward shall forgive us now for wasting the dawn,’ and having missed the solstice sunrise I thought I’d better make an effort to see it while it was at the same place (over the solstice period the sunrise & sunset stays at the same time for 3-4 days: 4.44am & 9.22pm in England), so on Midsummer morning I awoke before dawn and, after listening to the exquisite pre-dawn chorus over a cuppa in my back garden, I headed up the hill to Bathampton Down (home of an Iron Age tribe – who sculpted it into earthworks and field systems; an effigy of the triple-aspect goddess was discovered dating from that period in the road above mine). I made a bee-line for Sham Castle, a local folly which I thought would be the perfect place to greet the midsummer sun. While I waited in the brightening light I made some notes and had a flash of inspiration for a story, which I wrote up later that day (‘The King of the Sun and the Queen of the Moon’). Although the sun decided not to make a dramatic debut that morning you could still feel the quickening of nature – the surge of energy rippling across the land like a tidal bore. On this wave of solar power – the ‘high tide’ of the year – I launched my latest book the next day…

Launching The Way of Awen - Chapel Arts Centre, Bath, June 25th

The 25th June was the official launch date of The Way of Awen: journey of a bard, and I planned to do something to ‘wet the baby’s head’ in Bath – when I discovered that penbeirdd Robin Williamson was playing at Chapel Arts Centre on the same night (an event I did not want to miss) I decided to find a way of bringing the events together, so I booked the Live Arts Cafe downstairs for 6-8pm (with the help of my friend, Svanur, centre manager) leaving time to see Robin’s show after – and it all worked beautifully. Robin had generously contributed to The Bardic Handbook – which came out four years ago – and so it seemed apt to combine the events. He was most accommodating about it, and popped down at the start, after I had given him a hand bringing in his instruments. To have him there was such an honour, as he’s been such an inspiration – so to Greywolf, aka Philip Shallcrass (late of the British Druid Order), who was one of the key people to introduce me to the concept of Awen in the mid-Nineties. I was delighted when he turned up with his friend Eva and his son Joe.  I thanked both these awesome bard-druids at the start of my talk – presenting them each with a copy – before reading extracts from the book. There was a good crowd – including Franklin, the Bard of Basswood all the way from Buffalo, USA – who seemed to respond well to what I shared. The mead flowed and the atmosphere was pleasant – helped enormously by the graceful solutions of Saravian, who kindly created a lovely ambience at the start, with candles, incense and her beautiful music. I couldn’t have done it without her.

Saravian gets the awen flowing at my book launch

In many ways it felt like a very successful launch – it’s important to honour achievement of any kind, to mark the completion of a project, the manifestation of vision, craft, co-operation and sheer hard work. Afterwards, we decamped upstairs to enjoy a fabulous concert from Robin Williamson – probably the best I’ve seen him do. He did some amazing Celtic tunes on his harp, weaving stories, jokes, anecdotes and songs seamlessly together. He did a fantastic cover of Dylan’s ‘No Direction Home’; some of The Beatles ‘Within, Without You’; a slow, beautiful version of ‘The Irish Rover’; and even a blues number – on the harp! It was a pleasure to hear a couple of his new songs, and some from his back catalogue (eg the ever poignant ‘Political Lies’), a deeply touching one about his son, Gavin, as well as one from his time in California in the Sixties. He did a couple of classic British ballads, ‘The Death of Robin Hood’ and ‘Lord Barnard’ – overall, an impressive set showing his incredible range. One could really appreciate the fact this was a man who has been performing as long as I’ve been alive – his technical virtuosity and repertoire is awesome. He truly is Britain’s greatest living bard. To enjoy such a concert after my book launch really was the icing on the cake – when one works on such a big project like my book (really 20 years in the making, as it draws upon journals and notebooks from that period), organise the launch, entertain everyone, play the host, give a reading, etc, one can feel depleted – but a concert like Robin’s really replenishes the well.

chatting with Robin Williamson after my launch/his concert - Chapel Arts Centre, Bath, June 25th

The next day I had to get up early and get my act together for a creative writing dayschool in the lovely Wiltshire town of Devizes, followed by a camping trip with friends. The plan was to rendezvous at the Barge, Honeystreet, but when I rolled up there on the Triumph Legend I found it to be completely jammed with revellers, there for the bicenternary bash – a mini music festival. You couldn’t swing a cat, let along pitch three tents and park three vehicles. I looked around for my friends amid the merry but mellow crowds, to no avail. I procured a pint of Croppie – brewed by the Barge – in my pewter tankard and supped it on the canal bank, cooling off after a hot day’s work and riding. After trying to contact my friends I discovered a text explaining the change of plans – they had found a campsite in Bishop Cannings – and so I togged up again, into my sweaty leathers, and set off down the backlanes.

Daw, Helen and Daryl at Bishop Cannings camp

To my relief I found my friends, pitched up in a quiet campsite. I was offered a cold beer – things were looking up. I finally managed to pitch my tent, somewhat hampered by the ale. The campsite – little more than a lawn – could hardly have been more different than the chaos at the Barge. Yet later, after a meal, my poet friend Jay arrived and drove us over to soak up some of the Bacchanlian vibes. A band called The Hub was on – young, loud and belting out various covers with the same three chords and hoarse vocals – but the crowd was dancing and Jay and I joined in. There was a certain hick chic to the whole thing. You really feel you’re in the Wild West Country, at the Barge, with its eccentric demographic of boaties, croppies, bikers, yokels, druids, bards, boozers and glampers (glamorous campers – the word of the weekend). We didn’t stay long enough to incur brain damage – from the cider or the music – shooting off into the tranquil night with a little relief (and great relief at not camping there). Jay insisted we visited Avebury in the light of the midsummer full moon, which was truly enchanting and worth the effort.

'...like sleeping in a Samuel Palmer painting'

We three poets – Jay, Dawn and I – wandered around in the silvery light, savouring the spell-binding beauty of the place. There wasn’t a soul in sight – and the place regained its ancient glory in the glow of the moon, the enchantment not challenged by the traffic and crowds of the daytime. We processed along the chalky ridge – as hard and bright as compacted snow – our shadows proud on the opposite bank like an ogham. Dawn and I spotted a shooting star exploding like a firework over the hill towards Silbury. I made a wish for a loved one. At the beech grove, contained within its matrix of roots, we lent against the smooth grey trunks and nearly descended into Rip Van Winkle-like slumber, from which it was hard to extricate ourselves. With the honey moon lambent through the leaves, sheep huddled quietly nearby, a deep peace over the land, and a benign golden warmth pervading everything, it was like falling asleep in a Samuel Palmer painting. The next day, after resurrecting ourselves, we struck camp and headed up to the Wansdyke, parking up in the droveway by Milk Hill and heading up to Adam’s Grave to enjoy the 360 degree view. The cool breeze was a relief – it was scorching – and the light and space helped to clear my head. You can really get a perspective on things at such a place. Starting to feel weak – having only had a handful of strawberries for breakfast – we wended our way over to Avebury, where we grabbed some lunch at the Red Lion. I bumped into my biker buddy Nigel, who had been up for the whole week. He had played the Oak King in the ceremony at Stonehenge the day before – duelling with, and ultimately being defeated by, his rival/brother the Holly King, who takes his place as consort to the Goddess for the second half of the year. This was my third visit to Avebury in a week, (it’s the hub of things at this time of year, as it probably was thousands of years ago) but I wished to be there for my friend Michael Dames’ launch – who was celebrating the publication of his new (and apparently last) titles, Silbury: resolving the enigma, by The History Press.

Michael Dames launching his latest Silbury book, Avebury, June 27

He was standing outside the National Trust shop with a kind of ‘art altar’ illustrating his theory of the hill, the largest man-made mound in Europe, aligned with the phases of the moon at certain times of the year. He gave a colourful demonstration, placing his model of Silbury on his head at one point. He seemed prepared to act the clown, but like many clowns, he was prone to fits of grumpy despondency. Yet, he would ‘revive’, like John Barleycorn, regaining his sunny persona and merry twinkle and pass round glasses of wine. I chatted with the publisher of my Lost Islands, Bob Trubshaw, (Heart of Albion Press) who videoed the whole thing for posterity.

sitting with Michael outside the National Trust shop, Avebury

I was wilting by this point – after alot of sun, beer and little sleep – and so I headed home for a much needed ‘quiet night in’ (watching Christopher Eccleston on superb form in ‘Lennon Naked’). I felt I had truly made the most of this exceptional weekend – apparently a time of great cosmic events (full moon; lunar eclipse; Grand Cross; the sun and moon in alignment with the centre of the galaxy…!). Exhilarating and exhausting and utterly memorable.

This extract sums up the last few magical days perfectly…

‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn’ – from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

The line of the horizon was clear and hard against the sky, and in one particular quarter it showed black against a silvery climbing phosphorescence that grew and grew. At last, over the rim of the waiting earth the moon lifted with slow majesty till it swung clear of the horizon and rode off, free of moorings; and once more they began to see surfaces–meadows wide-spread, and quiet gardens, and the river itself from bank to bank, all softly disclosed, all washed clean of mystery and terror, all radiant again as by day, but with a difference that was tremendous. Their old haunts greeted them again in other raiment, as if they had slipped away and put on this pure new apparel and come quietly back, smiling as they shyly waited to see if they would be recognised again under it.

Fastening their boat to a willow, the friends landed in this silent, silver kingdom, and patiently explored the hedges, the hollow trees, the runnels and their little culverts, the ditches and dry water-ways. Embarking again and crossing over, they worked their way up the stream in this manner, while the moon, serene and detached in a cloudless sky, did what she could, though so far off, to help them in their quest; till her hour came and she sank earthwards reluctantly, and left them, and mystery once more held field and river.

Then a change began slowly to declare itself. The horizon became clearer, field and tree came more into sight, and somehow with a different look; the mystery began to drop away from them. A bird piped suddenly, and was still; and a light breeze sprang up and set the reeds and bulrushes rustling. Rat, who was in the stern of the boat, while Mole sculled, sat up suddenly and listened with a passionate intentness. Mole, who with gentle strokes was just keeping the boat moving while he scanned the banks with care, looked at him with curiosity.

`It’s gone!’ sighed the Rat, sinking back in his seat again. `So beautiful and strange and new. Since it was to end so soon, I almost wish I had never heard it. For it has roused a longing in me that is pain, and nothing seems worth while but just to hear that sound once more and go on listening to it for ever. No! There it is again!’ he cried, alert once more. Entranced, he was silent for a long space, spellbound.

`Now it passes on and I begin to lose it,’ he said presently. `O Mole! the beauty of it! The merry bubble and joy, the thin, clear, happy call of the distant piping! Such music I never dreamed of, and the call in it is stronger even than the music is sweet! Row on, Mole, row! For the music and the call must be for us.’

The Mole, greatly wondering, obeyed. `I hear nothing myself,’ he said, `but the wind playing in the reeds and rushes and osiers.’

Awen in the Mountains

Way of Awen weekend

Cae Mabon 22-25 April

View from the main hall at Cae Mabon - a place of inspiration and beauty

Way back in 2004 I ran a series of ‘bardic development weekends’ at picturesque settings around the country – these led to The Bardic Handbook. Now, as its follow-up, The Way of Awen, is due to come out (in June from O Books) I decided to run a new event, partly based upon its contents. And so I organised a weekend up in North Wales in an inspiring location, Cae Mabon, an eco-retreat centre, which I first visited last Spring (though I had known about it for a number of years).

I have enjoyed visiting Wales around this time of year for a while – a chance to reconnect with ‘the Source’, which although is I believe ‘all around us’, it seems closer to the surface in the mountains. Blake as ever, put it best: ‘Great things are done when Men & Mountains meet/ This is not Done by Jostling in the Street.’

After 10 days of storytelling workshops in NE Italy I knew my cauldron would need replenishing – but I hadn’t counted on the difficulty of getting back! The volcano in Iceland erupted, closing all UK and many Continental airports – this made getting home a feat of Odyssian proportions (many are still struggling). I did not want to accept the consensus that it might not be feasible getting back until the weekend – for it would have meant my long-planned weekend in the mountains would have been cancelled. I managed, with the priceless help of my native-speaking hostess Silvana, to secure what seemed like the last train ticket out of Italy – all the trains from Milan had been booked until mid-week at least. I had to go via Austria and Switzerland, but would at least make it to Paris by Tuesday teatime, then I reckoned the train to Calais, and crossing over on the ferry as a foot passenger would be my best bet. Finding out anything was impossible – as websites had crashed, phonelines were jammed. Fortunately, I had a friend in Paris who was able to get me the ticket to Calais, so at least I knew I could reach the coast. I had been stuck in Paris he had a friend who could’ve put me up for 10 Euros a night (the cheapest bed in Paris!) which was nice to know. Thank goodness for friends. But I kept going, despite being in sore need of a bed after an 18hr train journey across Europe. I figured it would be better to queue up at Calais, even if it meant a dreary night at the terminal, then get there late the following day and risk not getting home until Wed evening. I was meant to leave for N Wales the next day and desperately needed a day to recover – a day of stillness! The gods of travel were with me and I got on a ferry at 00:25hrs Wed am (GMT+1), back in Blighty 01:00am, losing an hour on the way. Caught a bus to London – arriving, bleary-eyed, at 3.30am. No coaches or trains… shared a taxi to London Paddington and caught the first train out, though it was over-priced. It got me back to Bath by 7am – which was beautiful to behold in the early morning Sunday. Finally I stepped through my front door and collapsed – 33 hrs constant travelling, but it had been worth it. A day to recover – the weekend had been salvaged.

The next morning I prepared my handouts and finished packing, then set off at 1pm – arriving just after 6pm (couple of stops for petrol). It had been a lovely run up in the sun on my Triumph Legend. It felt good to be travelling under my own steam again – master of my destiny once more! Nothing worse than hanging around – feeling trapped. It had been, nevertheless, a powerful lesson – that I am still processing, not having had much chance to ‘catch up with my self’, for now I had a weekend of workshops to run. No rest for the bardic!

As I passed the dramatic threshold of Pen-y-Pass, at the apex of Llanberis Pass – the awesome glacial scar through the flanks of Snowdon – I felt a certain elation. Against all odds I had made it. I snaked carefully down the mountain road into Llanberis, taking care to take the right turning to Fachwen (last time I was here I took the wrong one, and ended up half-way up Snowdon, passing bemused walkers!). Llyn Padarn was on my right and I followed it around, crossing a small stone bridge and then the narrow lane that wound up into the foothills through massive Symplegades of granite. It feels like one long wrong-turning, but eventually the entrance to Cae Mabon is found – down steep hairpin bends, along a pot-holed track. I pulled into the ‘car park’, glad to see the smiling face of Mabon, beaming over the wooden gateway. Made it!

I amused myself with the theory that the place had been given its name, because that’s what you feel like saying when you finally find it: ‘Fachwen!’ It actually means ‘little, white’, after the stream that runs along the side of it – cascading down from a series of waterfalls.

I unloaded the bike and lugged my kit down to the ‘hobbit village’. In the hall four of the participants had arrived – five, with our special guest, baby Lily, who was to charm us all weekend with her cheekiness and amazing ability to pick up new words. Someone made me a mug of tea and I slumped into a chair. That night we took it easy – a couple of women from Glastonbury didn’t make it until late. They had the groceries. Fortunately, there was some stuff left over from the last group, complemented by some of Eric’s veggies, so we got a curry on the go and settled in. It was getting close to 9pm (arrival was 4-6pm) and we were getting worried. I managed to find the mobile number of one of them on an old email and we called them – they were just coming down the track. They were grateful for a plate of hot food when they arrived. By now it was about ten and I was certainly flagging. Eric asked me about the nature of Awen and I explained it as best I could in my semi-comatose state. After clearing up, some of us jumped in the hot tub, which Julia had fired up earlier, with the help of Ken – a Kiwi resident. It was wonderfully soothing – apart from gashing my finger as I leapt into the icy mountain stream, shouting ‘Fachwen!’ Eric joined us, soaking like some Celtic king in a cauldron. The stars glittered and the waxing moon shone through the tangled trees. The heated water and sound of the stream helped smooth away the rigours of the journey. It was time for bed and a good night’s sleep.

My home for the weekend - the lovely cob house.

In the morning, after breakfast, I outlined the day and asked for any suggestions/contributions. I left some space in the programme for either free time or extra workshops offered by members of the group. Ola kicked things off with an African dance workshop. This got us warmed up for my Poetry in Motion workshop – working through the animals of the Taliesin story, which I told – we used movement to inspire poetry. Before each ‘dance’ I got someone to read out one of the animal poems from The Taliesin Soliloquies I wrote as part of The Way of Awen book. This triggered individual responses – as each participant imagined themselves inhabiting respective animal’s consciousness. They moved around the site, between the standing stones and trees, or around the stream – communing with different elements. The exercise seemed to work very well and produced some excellent poetry – fresh and sinuous, visceral and full of vitality.

After lunch I took people on a walk up to the waterfall and viewpoint. It was a lovely sunny afternoon. We napped in site of Snowdon, overlooking Llanberis and Llyn Padarn. Alas, on the way back Wayland felt weak and had to be helped every step of the way. I had to carry Lily for Liz – she fell asleep on my shoulders, her snoring becoming ‘bubbling’, as she dripped snot on me! Together, we eventually got back – Liz coming to pick us up in the car after we had to do a large detour to avoid the stone steps Wayland struggled with. It was a relief to get back and have a cup of tea! I finished off my poetry workshop with a session on remembering and performing poetry, which seemed to go down well. Folk spent some time learning poems while dinner was being prepared. I ran through Dragon Dance – my epic Praise Song to Albion – but I was so tired I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it justice. Even though I hadn’t done it for many months – since last summer? – most of the 14 pages came back to me. I was going to have another go after dinner, but decided to do a classic poem closer to where I was ‘at’: CP Cavafy’s ‘Ithaka’.

I got the fire going in the roundhouse and we gathered there around nine. I started things with the awen, then my poem Ithaka. We took turns to share a poem, song or story. It went well, but I was very tired – and despite being able to do WB Yeats’ ‘The Celtic Twilight’ off the top of my head, I suffered bardic droop when it came to doing my flower maiden poem, which is linguistically tricky. By then the wine and fatigue had taken its toll and I retired.

Saturday we were blessed with even better weather. Today I ran my ‘Climbing the Beanstalk’ workshop in the morning – it culminated in some excellent performances. My participants managing to learn and perform (well) a Greek Myth in 2 hrs. After lunch there was a faerie card talk/workshop from Amanda; a fascinating talk on Iron Age archaeology from Julia, a phD student; then I led a brief brainstorming discussion on what kind of celebration/ceremony we wanted to end the weekend with. After dinner, we had another session in the roundhouse, ending early so we could enjoy the hot-tub again.

Way of Awen weekend participants in front of round-house - with face paint!

Sunday we prepared for the ceremony after breakfast – practising chants, movements, songs, getting face-painted – it was a great team effort. I suggested a structure based on the 3 Cauldrons we had been working with over the weekend – connected to the body, heart and spirit. We would process between the three circles of the roundhouse, labyrinth and fire circle with percussion and singing, honouring the divine masculine, the divine feminine and the divine child on the way. It flowed beautifully and ‘felt right’ – in the moment, responding to the spirit of place and the awen. Everyone had a chance to contribute something, to shine, and we did – as Eric pointed out – in our lovely facepaint from Amanda, seeming ‘more’ ourselves somehow. We ended in good spirits, sharing a final lunch – a much-welcome carrot and coriander soup thawing us out and bringing us back into our bodies. We had self-catered over the weekend – everyone had pitched in – and we enjoyed some lovely meals. This was part of the spirit of the weekend – a team effort. Everybody contributing ‘ingredients’ to the cauldron… Everyone had a talent, a gift, knowledge and skills to share. We all contributed to the bigger pattern.

The aim of the weekend was for participants to untap their creativity – to express the awen in whatever way it manifested – and through dance, poetry, storytelling, singing, cookery, face-painting, friendship, ceremony and speaking from the heart – it certainly did that.

After, we tidied up and had a few team photos before folk scattered to the wind. The atmosphere was positive. It seems the weekend was a success – phew! – although it took its toll on me… Coming after ten days’ of storytelling workshops in Italy, followed by five days getting home, then a long ride here, I was not going to be at my best (if the volcano hadn’t shut down the airports I would have had a week between the two to recover). I spent most of the weekend trying to keep up my energy levels and positivity, but inevitably the exhaustion manifested in a certain crabbiness and eventually, a short fuse. The intention of the weekend was (for me) to ‘replenish the cauldron’ but it felt like it had ‘depleted the cauldron’, in my case, anyway. This is the price, I guess, for running events – I had to hold the space and carry the group for the weekend, attending to their needs, personalities and peccadilloes (and they mine). It’s hard to fully relax in such circumstances, even though the place is beautiful and I did have ‘moments’ (like sitting by the lake, simply watching the glittering water) but I wasn’t able to relax sufficiently to get into the creative space I was helping people to all weekend. Ironically, I was the only one for whom the awen didn’t flow over the weekend – but, I am only human. I had burnt out, perhaps unsurprisingly, after my intense few days (3 weeks – I left for Italy on 6th April). I needed to stop, to be still, to be silent – for several days (after many days of talking and teaching I was ‘worded’ out). I was glad to hit the road and its solitude for a while.  As a left Cae Mabon I paused by Llyn Padarn, reading the poem plaque by Gillian Clarke about Snowdon (‘But for how long?’) and taking in the view. It is an awe-inspiring place. I hoped to take a little bit of its awen back with me. ‘Holding the dream’ I set off. The ride home wasn’t as pleasant – dodgy dense fog crossing the hairy roads of Snowdonia, then driving rain along the Welsh Marches – but it was good to be finally going home.

By Llyn Padarn – on my way home

Time Flies

BardonaBike Small Web view

The elusive time-traveller - a rare photograph from the chrono-archives

Sunday 25th/Monday 26th October

I went time-travelling on two wheels yesterday – six thousand years into the past – and early this morning we were all time-travellers, briefly, as the clocks went back (as a nation, the UK travelled one hour into the past – a country-sized time-machine).

Imagine the Good Ship Great Britain slipping through the Vortex, in a kind of update of The Philadelphia Experiment (in which a US Navy vessel travels through time, with disasterous consequences).

Sounds like a plot for Dr Who

Apart from the Gallifreyan time-lord’s stubbornly retro police box, there have been steam trains & De Loreans, (both Back to the Future), battleships, starships (in Star Trek IV: The Journey Home, and many of the TV series episodes) and countless other plot devices, including some which do away with hardware or even rationale (The Time Traveller’s Wife). The pioneer of time-travel, HG Wells (author of The Time Machine, originally called The Chronic Argonauts, until he wisely changed it) who stayed briefly in Wookey which I visited today on a rideout, had a more modest chrono-conveyance, a bicycle. He once said: ‘When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair of the human race’. Wells clearly did despair, going by his gloomy prognostications, which he saw come true with dread inevitability – tanks, war in the air, genetic engineering, atomic bombs… On his grave he wished to have the epitaph: ‘I told you so, you damned fools!’ Wells spent an autumn at Wookey (he attended the National School there as a pupil-tutor in 1897, at the impressionable age of 13). In the long and winding road to his becoming a novelist, he endured various jobs including that of a draper in London – the experience of which fed into his cycling idyll, The Wheels of Chance, in which he wrote: ‘you ride through Dreamland on wonderful dream bicycles that change and grow.’ It tickles me to think of the young Wells cycling about Somerset, dreaming of time machines… I speculate that his time at Wookey, however brief, fired his imagination – the underworld of the Morlocks seems to have been inspired by the famous caves at Wookey Hole and Cheddar, where Neolithic remains had been found – to the Victorian mind, sub-human cavemen living below ground…

Hart Leap Point

(from field journal)

awens of light breakthrough the cloud, spotlights cast upon the Levels – I watch the drama of light and darkness unfold. A kestrel hovers, poised in the hollow of the wind – he’s come up here, to this high place, for his lunch, like I. In the car park a cluster of vehicles – people having their lunch inside. [I eat my sandwiches on a bench in a bracing wind] A pair of frilly knickers by my bike – cast off in the throes of passion – a quicky in a layby – and left, a tawdry memento. Orange peel scattered by the bench I sit on – spelling whose initial? A glider arcs high overhead, beyond the wheeling birds. A black bird [a raven?] flips itself as it flies along, marking an odd cry. A swathe of rain rakes the dark line of the Quantocks on the opposing side of the Levels – gloominess passes. The sun breaches the cloud and the Levels are flooded with light.

Wind dances around me, light and shadow. Peace and stillness. Blue skies after the gloom. Rising above it all. Finding the centre amidst the maelstrom. Heights from the depths. Warm sun on my face, balancing the chill in the air. Memorial trees and benches – the phantom of other lives linger, here, on these Hills of Peace.


After, I descended, passed Ebbor Gorge, taking some notes from the interpretation board [Pre-10,000BC: remains of Ice Age animals – cave bear, cave lion, hyena, reindeer, wild ox, steppe pika: 3000 BC: Neolithic people sheltered in caves and under rocky ledges] down into Wookey itself, and then through the traffic lights of Wells to Glastonbury. I took the back lanes to the Tor – up through Wick Hollow – parked up and climbed, making heavy weather of it in my leathers, feeling ancient in my bones! On top I let the wind scour away any remaining cobwebs as I surveyed the vista. Here is supposedly another great circle of time, the wheel of the stars of the Glastonbury Zodaic, the local field patterns providing a Rorschach Test for Katherine Maltwood in the Twenties. We see what we wish to. Maltwood is not unique in inventing secret or ‘lost’ knowledge to make her self feel special. Glastonbury is full of such types. I’m sure some would accuse me of being of the same ilk! But what ‘mystery’ do I offer, except ‘stand and stare’, be fully present, cherish each moment and find your creative self?

Finally, I rode on to Shapwick, after a friend had mentioned the starlings which gather in stunning swirling clusters at this time of year. They seemed camera shy when I was there, although I did see countless flocks on the telegraph wires on the way there, as though waiting in the wings for the cue of dusk. I still enjoyed visiting the site of the Sweet Track and the Post Track – the earliest known trackways in the UK. Raised wooden walkways, they provided passage across the reedswamp between Polden Ridge and the ‘island’ of Westhay, a distance of 2km (1.3 miles). I love the fact that the Sweet Track was named after Ray Sweet, who discovered it while ditch cleaning in 1970. The timbers had been preserved in peat and hidden from humanity for nearly six thousand years. Radio-carbon dating has enabled the creation of the trackways to be pinpointed precisely, the Sweet Track 3806BC, and the Post Track 3838 BC. Various offerings (to the ‘Gods of the Wetlands’ as the interpretation board speculates) or lost items have been found alongside the tracks – flint arrowheads, a jadeite axe from the Alps, yew pins, a child’s toy wooden axe – giving us a tantalising window into the people of the Levels. In that quiet place, sitting on a bench dedicated to a Gladys Hill (1903-1996), on that dark autumn day near dusk, it was easy to imagine

the ancestors passing by…

(from field journal)

Ancient Whispers

Wind through the reeds

sighing with time

ancient sound

timeless sound.

Susurration of grasses,

whispers of ancestors,

here in this place

where they laboured

six thousand years ago

to build a crossing place

between two islands,

two communities –

one for the living,

one for the dead?

A Neolithic Avalon.

Dry hiss of leaves,

sucked dry of summer’s juice,

heavy with age,

ready to fall,

giving up the green ghost

in a pyre of colour,

ablaze with memory.

The same sound they heard,

so long ago.

The same sound heard

six thousand years

hence?