Tag Archives: bardic picnic

Riding the Wall to Wester Ross

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

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

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

Hadrians Wall copyright Kevan Manwaring 2014

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

Croft life -  with Chantelle. Copyright Kevan Manwaring 2014

Croft life –
with Chantelle.
Copyright Kevan Manwaring 2014

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

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

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

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

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

climbing Schiehallion - the fairy mountain

climbing Schiehallion – the fairy mountain

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

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

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

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

Further south - Isle of Whithorn

Further south – Isle of Whithorn

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

Holy Island copyright Kevan Manwaring 2014

Holy Island
copyright Kevan Manwaring 2014

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

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

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

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

Bardic Picnic

Bardic Picnic
24-27 July

Bardic Picnic, Delapre Abbey, Northampton July 24 2011

Went up to the annual Bardic Picnic, in my old stomping ground of Northampton. The 3rd ‘official’ Bardic Picnic (actually the fifth) was held in the beautiful grounds of Delapre Abbey – the green heart of the town. This is a very special place for me – I grew up just over the road and would walk my dog here everyday. It was the ‘nursery of my imagination’ as I say in my poetic tribute to this personal soul place, ‘The Green Abbey’.
I rode up on Saturday evening, catching the last rays of the sun as I blatted up the Fosseway, over the Cotswolds. This is one of my favourite runs. I arrived in the dark, just in time to share a few beers with my old buddies, Justin and Jimtom, the co-organisers, along with the crew – who had been working hard all day, putting up the marquees. The boozing and buffoonery carried on into the night, but I needed to crash. I wanted to be fresh for my performances the next day – but since I was camped right next to the fire, it wasn’t easy to go to bed!
Nevertheless, I awoke the next morning feeling refreshed – it was a beautiful sunny morning. One of the highlights of this event is being able to stay over in Delapre Abbey. What a place to wake up! The place is looked after by the Friends of Delapre Abbey and is an important community asset. Its great to see stuff happening here – long may it be run by the people, for the people!
After breakfast I went to rehearse amongst the ‘oaks of my Arcadia’. I was on early – scheduled for 12.30pm – but I ended up being the first act on after Justin introduced things. I performed a set of nine poems from memory on the main stage – it was nice having my sister’s family in the crowds who had gathered on the lawn, picnicking in the sunshine. There was time for a quick sandwich and a drink, then I was back on – to do my storytelling set in the ‘secret grove’, a new and welcome addition to the stages (storytelling always works better acoustically). This seem to be well-received, and I encouraged others to have a go afterwards. Bill, from the Flying Donkeys, a storytelling group in Derbyshire, rose to the challenge admirably.
My bardic duties complete I could finally ‘let my hair down’ – (not so much these days!) and enjoyed a pint while listening to some of the excellent acts on the main stage included Donna Noble (former Bard of Northampton); Ian Freemantle, the Bard of Stony Stratford; Jimtom Say!; & Enki. It was also a chance to catch up with old friends and hang out with my sister and her brood – my great-niece adopted me and clung on ferociously.
The atmosphere was very chilled and family friendly. The weather could not have been better – it was an idyllic summer’s afternoon. The gods smiled down yet again on the Bardic Picnic, and it really feels like the town has got something special going on – there’s a creative buzz and strong community spirit. Everyone pitched in – notably the Umbrella Fayre – and made it happen.

The New Bard of Northampton, 2011

The Bardic Finals took place throughout the day – culminating in the ‘Bardic Statements’ and the Judges’ Decision. The winner was a popular choice – and feels the Bardic Chair has been accepted by the community – and is truly representative of the town and its diversity, as it should be. As the poster says: Spoken Word, Northampton style!
As the sun set we danced to the ever popular Celtic Rasta – a storming end to the best Bardic Picnic yet. Well done, guys!

Making Bread

21-28 Feb

Another busy week… Busy is good, I suppose, but …

A storytelling friend of mine from Chagford (a creative little community on the edge of Dartmoor) Austin, a fabulous puppet-maker and keen baker, once said to me: ‘If you’re too busy to bake bread, you’re too busy.’ It’s true. Boy, how I wish I had time to bake bread – alas, I’ve too busy making dough – but at least this week I managed to do a couple of things to just nurture myself (my Shiatsu masseuse said I should treat myself – so I did, with a shiatsu massage). I also went for a much-needed haircut – my annual crop – my barber was a friendly young guy with an Elvis tattoo called Joe. We talked enthusiastically about films and books. He’s very fond of the Gangster genre (The Godfather series; Scarface, etc). Eastern Promises, (Kronenberg’s London Russian gangster movie starring Viggo Mortensen) we both agreed, was unjustifiably neglected (Viggo has recently done another star turn in The Road – which has incredibly lost out on the gongs so far). At one point he was singing the praises of American Psycho while wielding a cut-throat razor behind me… Anyone with a nervous disposition might have felt justified in worrying at that point, but all I left with was a great barnet, my head considerably lighter!

Apart from the ubiquitous OU marking quota, there was the following to keep me out of mischief…

Monday was my last session with the Saltford Older Learners (a six week stage two course entitled ‘Keep Going in Creative Writing’).

Tuesday it was my novel writers. It’s going well, but there’s the inevitable tailing off of numbers – a fact of life in the Adult Education sector. It always baffles me why people who sign up for these courses – parting with good money – often drop out. It shows a real lack of staying power. Their writing dreams are hardly likely to manifest with such poor self-motivation. How many hours of practise did our local Gold-winner Amy Williams put in? An inspiration to young and old alike. If you want your dreams to come true you have to work at them – hard.

On Wednesday Susan Mears, literary agent (and, as it happens, mine), was the guest speaker at Bath Writers’ Workshop, which I co-run with David Lassman. Susan gave fantastic, informative, practical and inspirational talk about the Business of Writing.

I gave a one-to-one consultation with a woman working on a screenplay. Her comments were positive afterwards:

I felt your feedback was constructive and has helped me sort out the starting issues. I came away thinking the project’s achievable, worthwhile and could work very well as a 90 min feature.

I was sent a link to the short film Rob Farmer made of the Bardic Picnic at Delapre Abbey – my old haunt – last Summer in Northampton. I was one of the judges and performed the opening set. It was a creative, successful day – made especially poignant being in the place I spent much of my childhood, where my fledgling bardic self was born. It shows what can be achieved when folk work together – a testimony of the vision and effort of the 3 J’s – Justin, Jimtom and John – well done guys!

Thursday, it was my evening class in Trowbridge – riding home in the lovely lashing rain!

Saturday I ran a creative writing dayschool for Wiltshire College in Devizes. It was a lovely run and back again in the Spring sunshine and it was nice to browse in the local bookshop during my lunchbreak.

The week ended with another great night at Chapel Arts Centre – the new programme is out and looks very impressive. Looking forward to the next Garden of Awen there, in a week’s time. Here’s to the green fuse!

Bardic Picnic

Bardic Picnic, Northampton 2nd August

Justin, John & Jimtom kickstart the Bardic Picnic, Delapre, 09



This was the third year I was invited up for the Bardic Picnic at Delapre Abbey (a very special place for me) and the first year it was a real success. After the groundwork of previous years (John Morrisey declaring the Chair in ’07; last year’s slightly bigger, but not very well-attended event) my old home town finally ‘got’ the notion of the Bardic Picnic and it was a great day, thanks to the hard work of the 3 J’s: Justin, Jimtom and John – and all the crew behind the scenes. I was asked to judge the contest again – last year I came up but no entrants came forward on the day (shoe town got cold feet)! This year half a dozen had put their names forward. I rode up on the Saturday afternoon – waiting for the rain to pass – but it stayed with me most of the way there, so the usual run over the Cotswolds wasn’t as much fun. I was told crew were gathering there around 4pm – I got there about 7pm and things were still very ‘in utero’. I ended up helping putting the marquee up with a good crew of about 20 volunteers. It was great seeing people working together in Northampton. Justin and Jimtom had been running a monthly event called Raising the Awen, and this has built up a groundswell of support and performers. Finally, the marquee up, the promised BBQ got going (when the forgotten grill had been collected), beers were bought and we could start to relax. It was nice to hang out with my old friends and new there on the eve of the event, and to be able to stay over at the ‘Green Abbey’, as I called it in a poem of mine, which was a real highlight. The next morning, after waking up in a sunny glade to the strains of a harp (Justin in Alan a Dale mode) I popped over to my Mum’s to freshen up and have some breakfast (hooray for mums!), before returning to rehearse in the glade. I was ready to start at midday (I had arranged an early slot) but unfortunately the festival wasn’t. The scene before was looking pretty desperate. Stages and stalls were half-up. A broken white gazebo (the backstage) blew across the site, rolling towards my friends car until I stopped it and it was all looking like it was going to be disaster – but finally it came together and people started to arrive. Two hours later then announced, the Bardic Picnic commenced and I went on after the 3 J’s announced the start.

Performing Dragon Dance

Performing Dragon Dance

I started my set with my old green man poem, ‘One with the Land’, connecting it to the theme of the festival: ‘Northampton, my home in the heart of England.’ Then, warmed up, I recited ‘Dragon Dance’. I finished with my version of the Taliesin story, which seemed apt for a bardic contest. After this I was able to relax – I grabbed my complimentary veggie burger and beer from the bar tent and hooked up with my fellow judges, Caroline Saunders and Jimtom, both old friends. The contest was in three parts: a general performance; statement of intent; Northampton piece. Between these were some great bands and other performers including the psychaedelic prophet, the ‘Shaman of the North’. On the open mic stage, hosted by Rippin Pages, other spoken word performers got a chance to do their thing. The day was blessed with glorious sunshine and there was a lovely atmosphere as family and friends picniced and enjoyed the bardic entertainment – this is what bardism is, for my money: the arts accessible for all. Everybody there could see the Bardic Tradition in action – celebrating the cultural biodiversity of the community in an engaging way. We had to go and deliberate, then make the announcement. I was asked to speak on behalf of the judges and comment on each participants’ performance, before finally declaring the winner: a ‘blow in’ from Wolverhampton, Donna, who won the final heat with her great praise song to Northampton, ‘Finding my feet in Shoe-town’.

Donna Scott, the new Bard of Northampton, by KM

Donna Scott, the new Bard of Northampton, by KM

Afterwards, there was a great band, which got everyone dancing. Then … it was over, officially. People helped tidy up the site. The core crew stayed on site, looking after the marquee and PA. Folk stayed around chatting, glowing in the buzz of a good event. Finally, some veggie chilli was warmed up and we chilled out, enjoying the dusk at Delapre with a glass of wine. An Asian doctor called Azam strayed upon the event by accident and stayed behind, sharing our supper. It turned out he was a singer and I encouraged him to sing for us – and so we ended up having a comic version of X Factor, with folk impersonating the different judges. I ended up being Piers Morgan! Azam said he had been waiting for this for twenty years and had a truly great day. This sums up the bardic way – it’s for everyone. We all should be able to express ourselves and be heard. Three cheers to the Three Jays, the new bard and to next year’s Bardic Picnic.

Northampton has talent!

The 3 Judges, Kevan, Jimtom and Carrie

The 3 Judges, Kevan, Jimtom and Carrie