Tag Archives: Delapre Abbey

Midsummer Glory


Kevan at Avebury stone circle, Solstice Eve, by Chantelle Smith

Kevan at Avebury stone circle, Solstice Eve, by Chantelle Smith

It was an epic solstice weekend which began with me riding on my Triumph Legend motorbike down to Avebury, picking up my partner on the way for a solstice eve picnic on the banks of the mighty henge. Avebury is the largest stone circle in Britain and for my money the most magnificent. Many folk gathered here for the solstice sunrise (but nowhere near the insane numbers of Stonehenge) but it was peaceful enough to enjoy a pleasant picnic in the early evening sunlight. In the distance the obligatory drumming circle had started; and behind us a cricket match was just finishing. You could almost hear the land hold its breath in anticipation of the longest day of the year. For once, it truly felt like summer, and what a glorious place England is to be at such times – the golden green of the rolling hills and trees, the white of the chalk downs and the cricketers, the trilithons of Stonehenge and the cricket stumps, the strawberries and cream, cheese and cider, summer frocks and druid robes.

After I bid farewell to my companion I jumped on a train to London where I was scheduled to pick up a coach-load of sun-worshippers – to take to Stonehenge for the summer solstice sunrise. This meant a 12.30am departure, arriving in the carpark at 3am. It was surreal experience – with me having to articulate about neolithic archaeology in the middle of the night. Still, we got ’em there and we all witnessed the most spectacular sunrise I’ve seen at a stone circle for many years – the full orb rising over the Heel Stone. Truly awesome. A moment that is bigger than all of us (even the 37,000 at Stonehenge) putting everything in perspective. Whatever our faith, or lack of it, we can all worship the sun.

The sun rises over the Heel Stone, Stonehenge, 21 June 2014

The sun rises over the Heel Stone, Stonehenge, 21 June 2014

Bumping into friends at Stonehenge, by the Heel Stone just before sunrise, 21 June 2014

Bumping into friends at Stonehenge, by the Heel Stone just before sunrise, 21 June 2014

The crowds at Stonehenge Summer Solstice sunrise 21 June 2014

The crowds at Stonehenge Summer Solstice sunrise 21 June 2014

After I had dropped off my neolithic pilgrims back in London I jumped on a train to Swindon, where I met my partner for a solstice coffee (the actual solstice was at 10.51am), before heading north to Northampton (my birth town), some 70 miles up the road. There, in the grounds of my beloved Delapre Abbey (where I used to walk my dog as a kid) I snoozed on the lawn until my sister and wee bairn turned up. We enjoyed a cuppa and a cake, while we caught up. I ran through my stories in the glade, fighting off the fatigue. I felt a 1000 years old and could have turned into a tree myself at that point! I reminded myself that the solstice means the ‘sun’s stillness’ and savoured this all too brief hiatus from the heat and dust of the road.

Glade to be alive. Kevan in Delapre Abbey, 21 June 2014

Chillin before the gig. Kevan in Delapre Abbey, 21 June 2014

Then it was off to Rockingham Village Hall, near Corby, for a one-hour storytelling gig. This was a fundraiser for the lovely village hall, and was organised by big-hearted Jim. I was made most welcome by him and his wife in their very picturesque thatched cottage. Jim is an old-school biker himself and showed me the awesome chopper he had built in his garden shed. It was a serious mean machine. I freshened up – somewhat flagging considering I hadn’t had any sleep for 36 hours! This seemed to do the trick as I performed my set without any gaffs. It seemed to go down well, going by the feedback (‘once again many thx for the great stories ,  you have made an impression up  here !!’).

Sadly I wasn’t able to stick around afterwards to enjoy the beer and ceilidh band – I had to get back, even though it meant a 3 hr slog late at night – for my final booking the next morning… And so I said a fond farewell to Jim and his Scottish crew – until next time!

Bard on a Bike and meinhost, Jim of Rockingham, 21 June 2014

Bard on a Bike and meinhost, Jim of Rockingham, 21 June 2014

Although I was exhausted and chilled by the time I made it back at 1am I was glad to be able to flop out in my own bed (41 hrs without proper sleep!). I had 7 blissful hours before I had to get up and get ready to lead a 3 hr literary ramble with 17 people from Hawkwood College – no rest for the bardic!  The weather was glorious as we set off for Slad – and the rest is related in my previous post (‘Walking with Laurie’). By the time I was able to slump down in the garden at Rosebank Cottage with a Pimms, to listen to the poetry and fiddle, I felt as old as the hills, but at one with the land.

The summer solstice is the most expansive, joyous time of year – the time of maximum daylight (and sunlight if we’re lucky) and energy in the northern hemisphere. It feels possible to have such (relatively) epic adventures – because the engine of the year is behind us, the vast CCs of the sun, the ultimate hot-rod, cruising through the cosmos – the Lord of Light in his leathers and shades, long -hair flowing and Hendrix on the headphones, blasting across our skies.

Stone Temple Biker - Kevan at Avebury, by Saravian

Stone Temple Biker – Kevan at Avebury, by Saravian

Feet on the Ground

We are never more than an extension of the ground on which we live’, Iain Sinclair, Edge of the Orison

Northampton, 24-26th February 2012

Last Saturday I went back up to my old home town to do a book-signing at Waterstones on Abington Street. This was for my book Turning the Wheel: seasonal Britain on two wheels (published by O Books) – part of a sixteen date tour that started last November.

Returning to my old stomping ground is always an emotive experience – even more so now that I have lost both my parents – but it felt good to be returning for something other than a funeral or morbid anniversary. To be returning as a visiting author giving a signing at a major High Street book store was quite special, to say the least. The only other time I had done something similar was when I returned to my old school Mereway Upper (as it was called then) to run a creative writing workshop with the pupils inspired by my children’s fantasy novel, The Sun Miners (written for my nephew Kane, when he was 12 years old). That was the first time I had come back on a motorbike, and the last time I saw my Dad – so the whole experience was charged with emotion for me.
Helping to support me in this was my dear friend Justin Porter, who arranged somewhere for me to crash the night before. We caught up, laughing about old times in a fabulous new pub, ‘Olde England’, done out like a medieval mead hall (complete with mead – which we had to try…).

Saturday morning the sun was blazing as I rode to the bookstore. I was told to bring the bike right into the front, and so I took it up Abington Street (now pedestrianised) and rolled it straight into the store, much to the astonishment of shoppers! The staff had made a nice display and I placed the bike in front of it, gleaming after a thorough polishing. Having the bike there proved a stroke (or two-stroke) of marketing genius, as it proved a good talking point, drawing all sort of folk over for a chat.

The very first person who came over was a lovely guy from the West of Ireland – a fellow biker, who, as it happened, knew my Dad’s best man, who lives in Gort! Small world! They hold a ‘bike church’ on a Sunday – going for ride-outs in the Galway area and beyond – and he said if I ever make it over to give him a shout. A call of adventure if ever there was one! I see a tour of Ireland coming on (he thought it would make a good follow-up to Turning the Wheel – publishers take note…). He bought a copy and gave me his contact details. A good start to the day!

Throughout the day family and friends dropped by – it was very special to see my old school -friend (and master illustrator) Steve Hambidge; as well as Justin; Julie, Roxi, Kane – the whole Manwaring clan! For a while we seemed to take over the store until (probably to the Manageress’ relief) they left. It was a busy day (best trading for over a year apparently) – I think the glorious sunshine must have helped to put everyone in a good mood.
The staff looked after me – and really made an effort to promote the talk (which makes all the difference). A photographer from the Chronicle and Echo came and I did some gurning at the camera. Who knows who might see it – and be surprised (or maybe not) to see my mug in the local rag?

Afterwards, I sat in Northampton’s lovely cobbled market square and savoured the last drops of sunlight over a well-earned cuppa. The town feels ‘on the up’ these days – certainly compared to
how it felt growing up there in the grim Eighties. It is great to see lots of creative activity especially – it seems Northampton has finally found its soul and celebrates its own ‘local distinctiveness’. Rather than seeming like ‘it all happens somewhere else’ folk like my friends Justin and Jimtom make things happen in the town – such as the monthly Raising the Awen open mic, and the annual Bardic Picnic. I had visited Delapre Abbey earlier in the day, and its looking well-maintained (last time I was up I helped with some volunteer conservation work).
Saturday night I caught up with my old partner in rhyme, Jimtom – the unsung Bard of Northampton (along with Justin). He told me about his exciting vision – it was great to see my friends following their dreams.

After seeing my sister for lunch I set off back across the Cotswolds in the afternoon sun – stopping off at a couple of scenic spots to do some sketching for my current project: Oxfordshire Folk Tales (a commission for The History Press). Next year I have another similar collection due in – about Northamptonshire – so I’ll be visiting the county a lot more this summer as I undertake field research. The elastic has certainly snapped (I feel no pull to return to live there) but I am learning to re-appreciated the Rose of the Shires.

There is something very grounding about connecting with one’s roots. It’s important to remember where you’ve come from however high you fly or far from the nest. And if anywhere could keep you down-to-earth it is the old shoe town, Northampton (home of the Cobblers football team – who often live up to their name; the local rugby team the Saints are far better, but perhaps misnamed!). So, I wear my DMs with pride – made in Northampton – they keep me in touch with my Sole Town.

Riding with Gerry

Gerald Manwaring, aka 'Gerry' (1938-2008)

‘We won’t be here forever…’ This was one of my Dad’s favourite sayings. Although I knew this – and found it a little irritating – it came uncannily true sooner than anyone had expected.

Gerald George Manwaring (known as ‘Gerry’ to his mates) died suddenly in early January 2008, aged 69. The family pulled together through this difficult time – my sister and I supporting Mum. I spoke at the funeral service about his life. We planted a tree for him and scattered his ashes over Delapre Abbey, where he loved to walk the dogs. In the summer we held a celebration of his life on what would have been his 70th birthday. When a small payment finally came through from his pension fund, I decided I wanted to buy something large and solid to remember Dad by, for that is how he came across. I wanted something physical to show he had existed. And so I purchased Triumph Legend motorbike – I’d had my eye on a Triumph for sometime, thinking I might get a Bonneville, but this 2001 model seemed apt, since Dad was something of a legend. Whenever I went for a ride on it, it would be a way of remembering him – in a way, going with him on trips to places I wished we had gone while he was alive. He loved his ‘walkabouts’ as he called them – going on random excursions to, say, Scotland, just to check out a few whiskey distilleries. As a child he had travelled wildly with his father, naval-base hopping around the Southern Hemisphere. If Mum was the ‘fixed point’ of my childhood universe – always at home, her ‘realm’ – Dad was the heavenly body, orbiting – always out and about. Mum symbolised the hearth; Dad, the world. Of exotic heritage, (born in Hong Kong, his mother was from Lima, Peru) he was a worldly bloke – and you could sometimes get him to chat about his travels over a pint or two.

And so, with this in mind, I planned a year-long trip around Britain. The best way we can honour the dead is … to live. When a parent dies, it gives one an intense sense of mortality. There’s almost a sense of duty – to savour each sacred moment. To live life ‘for them’ (…well, almost – ultimately, it’s for oneself) and enjoy the years they should have enjoyed, that were stolen from them. You are their DNA, after all – projected into the future. Living beyond their mortal coil. Thus, we continue, in a way (the only way?). How often does an obituary say: ‘he is survived by his wife and two children’? Saying that, I feel more than the sum of my parents… ‘They come through you but not from you’ (Khalil Gibran, The Prophet). Still, I feel obliged to honour their memory. They did give me life after all. Raised me, as best they can. Set me on my way.

And so I rode the roads of Britain in my father’s memory – exploring how we make and mark the ‘turning of the wheel’: seasonal festivals and customs. My Dad loved Christmas, Pancake Day, his birthday – anything that involved food and drink! I didn’t quite feast my way around Britain (though that would be nice!) but wherever I went I partook of a kind of communion – imbibing the atmosphere, the genius loci, for Dad. I opened my senses and relished it all – experiencing fully this thing called being alive. It made the numerous trips more poignant, to say the least. It was as though my father rode pillion. I wish I could have taken him out for a spin – and, in a way, I was.

Sight-seeing with a ghost.

Yet, it wasn’t as macabre as it sounds. Whenever something went wrong – I got lost, broke down, misplaced something – I could imagine my Dad laughing. He was there, reminding me not to take it all too seriously, to lighten up, to enjoy the ‘craic’, this precious gift called life.

And so I did.

I hope you do as well.

The author hits the road with Gerry

Turning the Wheel: seasonal Britain on two wheels by Kevan Manwaring, is published by O Books, 25th November 2011. ISBN: 978-1-84694-766-7

Available from all good bookstores or order direct from: www.o-books.com

Join me on the Turning the Wheel Tour – for dates, visit: www.kevanmanwaring.co.uk

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!

From Dorset to Delapre

From Dorset to Delapre

3-5 June

Ola and I about to perform 'Tales of the Desert, Desire and the Red Thread' at the Wessex Gathering 2011

Over the weekend I rode down to take part in the Wessex Gathering – a lovely little camp held in the idyllic setting of Burnbake, a woodland campsite near Corfe Castle on the ‘Isle of Purbeck’ in deepest Dorset. This is the ninth year the event has been held, and the eighth I’ve attended (I took a year off last year after a seven year run – attending since it’s inception in 2003). I became their unofficial ‘resident bard’, traditionally performing on the Friday night, running a workshop Saturday, and hosting the Bardic Cabaret on the Sunday evening, which I instigated. It only takes a couple of times for something to become enshrined as a tradition – you have to be careful what you start!

I packed my ‘saddle bags’ and rode my metal horse down to Dorset through the hot afternoon heat. It looked like many people had the same idea, heading for the coast – but fortunately I was able to filter through alot of the jams (one advantage of being a biker!). By the time I arrived I was in need of a beer. I cracked open a can and setting about putting up my new tent, before finally chilling. It was good to be still – enjoying the green wall of trees surrounding the site, making it feel cut-off from the ‘real world’. A temporary village of tents dotted the field – with the marquee and Phil and Nina’s teepee marking the centre. The organisers welcomed me back (‘We’ve missed you!’).

A horn called us to the opening ceremony, when we gathered in a circle as the ‘wild man of the woods’ (Phil in his Herne the Hunter get-up, impressively clad in skins and antlers) called in the quarters and welcomed us all to the camp, laying down some very loose ground rules. Contributions to the programme were invited and was devised on the spot. Ola and I were down to perform later that evening after Damh the Bard, who traditionally kicks things off with a popular set in the marquee. By the time he had finished and folk trickled over to the main fire it was gone ten, but we had a fair sized, and very attentive crowd for our set of ‘Tales of the Desert, Desire and the Red Thread’. Ola and I ‘drummed up’ business, creating a sacred space by circling the fire and inviting the audience to gaze into the flames and imagine their desires and fears, using it transformative energy, which both destroys and creates. I started the set with a quote from Rumi’s great poem, ‘Story Water’, before telling the tale of the ‘Garden of Irem’. Ola followed with her self-penned tale, ‘The Firekeeper’s Dance’, from her new collection of short stories (The Firekeeper’s Daughter’). I accompanied her on the drum at times, as she inhabited the story and brought it alive with her body. It was great seeing her stand up and shine. Afterwards, I performed one of my favourite stories, ‘The Pilgrim of Love’. By the time we finished our set it was gone eleven – later than I would have liked, but it was magical, telling these tales around the campfire. As I relaxed with a well-earned pint in my pewter ‘wolf’ tankard, Cliff the Talesman, shared a funny story about a dragon. Others were invited to contribute but it was a hard act to follow – and it was pushing midnight by then. We retired – it had been a long day.

Saturday morning I gave a talk on the Way of Awen. I didn’t think 10am was early to start, but it clearly was for some – at first it looked like no one was going to show, but slowly people wandered over and in the end I had a nice group. I raised the awen with them and it seemed to flow in the discussion. Afterwards a participant came up to me with a poem she had written, inspired by the talk. A couple of people bought copies of my book, The Way of Awen, and it seemed to go down well.

In the afternoon, Ola, Paul and I went to Chapman’s Pool for a dip (all I could manage – it was freezing!) and a pint and pasty in the Square and Compass (one of my favourite pubs). We sat in the ‘Stone Age’ beer garden, amid the sculptures and Flintstones furniture, and enjoyed the ‘spirit of place’.

Later that evening, folk got ‘blinged’ up for the main ceremony – which centres on the fire labyrinth. The focus this year was the children, our future – who were invited to walk the ‘burning path’ first, watched on by their parents. Dressed as fairies and mini-knights, they looked very cute as they processed around, accompanied by the drums. Then the adults followed – though by this time, the fire labyrinth was more a ‘smoke maze’. Being held earlier (for the little ones) it wasn’t as dramatic as previous years – it’s certainly better in the dark, as the later fire show proved. We gathered round the main campfire for pyrotechnics and fire juggling. There was some leaping of the flames and more tales from Cliff. I had a lovely chat with fellow bard, Damh, and enjoyed listening to him play his songs in a ‘quietly raucous’ manner around a campfire later. I hit the sack, aware of my long ride the next day.

I awoke at the crack of dawn and struck camp – keen to get on the road. Although it was a shame to leave the Wessex Gathering early, I could not miss this important anniversary: my Mother’s birthday. We were to hold a memorial picnic for her at Delapre Abbey, and so I rode the 153 miles there in time to rendezvous with my sister and her kids. It was worth the effort, as we sat in the grove where we had scattered her ashes earlier that Spring and celebrated her life with champagne and memories. I read out the eulogy I had written for her for this occasion – a four page poem entitled ‘Mother Home’. Afterwards we decamped to the Golden Horse for a pint at the bar where a plaque has been put in memory of Dad. It felt like we had honoured both our parents – and connected as a family: for better or worse, the first ‘tribe’ one has.

The next morning I set off back to Stroud, via Milton Keynes – and a day of EMA marking. Down to Earth with a bump! By the time I reached home I had clocked up 350 miles. Stiff and saddle sore, I greatly enjoyed the long soak – Bard in a bath…

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!

O Brother, where art thou?

O Brother Where Art Thou?

18th-19th April

The Manwaring Bros - together again!

The Manwaring Bros - together again!

One of my favourite runs is up to my old home town of Northampton over the Cotswolds – I take the scenic route along the old Fosse Way (a thrilling roller-coaster of a ride – straight but hilly) through Tetbury, Cirencester, then onto Chipping Norton via Stow and Banbury. Stunning. A handy pitstop and half-way point is the Rollright Stones – my ‘first stone circle’ and still one of my favourite, situated high over the Wolds. I wanted to stop there this time as I had been working on my latest and last Windsmith book – now I finally have some head-space for it after handing in Way of Awen – and one of the scenes is set there, involving a dragon (my nod and wink to Devereux’s Dragon Project there in the 70s)! It’s always pleasant to stop somewhere green and peaceful after a couple of hours on the road – when one takes the old lid off, the senses suck in the surroundings like a man dying of thirst. Alas, my idyll this time was shattered by a clay pigeon shoot in the field next to the King’s Stone – a load of wannabe Hoorays practising their ‘peasant-shooting’. I managed to escape the worst of this by walking down to the relative peace of the Whispering Knights, where I sat and ate a sarny in the sun. I thought about the interesting folk tale associated with the place:

Once, two hundred years ago, or was it two thousand, there was a king and his army determined to conquer Britain. They had defeated the resistance in battle after battle as far as Little Rollrights when disaster struck. They met a witch who pointed at the conquering king and prophesised: ‘Seven long strides thou shalt take! If Long Compton thou canst see, King of England thou shalt be!’ His scouts had confirmed that the village of Long Compton was just over the brow of the hill. Optimist in his imminent glory, the king took seven strides forward. Unfortunately, his victory was thwarted by a mound – stubbornly obscuring his view. The witch shrieked: ‘As Long Compton thou canst not see, thou and thy men hoar stones shalt be!’ And the king and his army were all turned to stone…

These petrification tales are common – typically, drunken revellers dancing on into the Sabbath and getting turned to stone for their disrespect, eg the Wedding Stones of Stanton Drew. Christian propaganda, perhaps, but good yarns! Feeling like I had imbibed a little of the cromlech’s ‘dragon energy’, I headed on – to the dirty old town. Northampton!

Here, I visited my mum – checked out the progress on the garden and lent a hand, laying some lawn and planting a cherry tree. My sister turned up and we went for a couple down Dad’s old local, where they had put a plaque up at his corner of the bar. A nice gesture, despite spelling his name wrong! It was quite moving to see it and to raise a jar of his favourite tipple in his memory. That night I caught up with some old friends at the noisy dive that is the Racehorse. It had been a lovely sunny afternoon (if a little fresh over the Wolds) and J, me old mate, had it in his head it would be good to sit out in the garden. Unfortunately, by the time we got there (picking up his mum on route!) it was dark and … freezing. There was an impressive brick chimenea roaring like Dante’s inferno – which made me comment: ‘I always thought Northampton was a gateway to Hell and now I know!’ The various goblin-like denizens – pierced, tattooed, spiked, shaven, studded – hunched over their various poisons, polishing their cynicism, did not dispel the illusion. The Racehorse hasn’t changed since I used to go their as an art student in the late 80s. It’s where old Goths go to die. The freezing night forced us inside, where our eardrums were bombarded by deafening drum ‘n’ bass, making conversation in a group impossible (which renders the whole point of being in a pub, well, pointless in my humble opinion). To find respite from bleeding eardrums, one had to stand outside and freeze – only to risk passive cancer from the smokers. So much for ‘fresh air’. I realised I wasn’t enjoying myself by this point and decided to leave…I must be getting old.

The next day more than made up for a disappointing evening. A walk over Delapre Abbey always straightens me out – it did as a kid growing up there, and it still does. It is my oldest sanctuary. I checked on the progress of the Dad’s tree – and new leaves were growing on it. And the gardens were in their Springtime glory. I ‘stood and stared’ in my grove, letting it work its quiet magic.

Here’s the poem I wrote about the place a few years back:

The Green Abbey

By salmon wisdom I am ever returning

along that avenue of gothic oaks,

towards the white clock tower, still,

above the bolted coach-house.

Perambulating about this accumulation of architecture:

the sandstone hourglass

of my memory mansion.

The crackle of gravel

my favourite track

of the old record office –

the familiar groove spiralling inward.

Into the dog-eared garden,

past the gravestones of pets:

the ghost of my hound leading me on –

playing with me still in his paradise.

So many times he brought me here,

teaching me to follow my instincts,

to listen to nature,

nurturing my fledgling wild-self –

the boypuppy who became a wolf.

Here in a personal wilderness I found solace

from the pain of passion,

first and lost loves,

alienation and aloneness.

Discovering solitude

but unable to share its bliss.

In make-believe I found my beloved;

playmates in hide-and-seek with passers-by:

a Jack-in-the-Green, without knowing why.

In this nursery of my imagination

I learnt the alphabet of trees, an Adam

naming them octopus heart monkey.

By a foetid pond with broken maw

I cast a witch in shadowy hut;

and gypsy lights winked

in the gloaming;

and grey ladies drifted

in the undead night –

the phantom nuns

who left a legacy of peace

as they paced their sanctuary:

every step a prayer.

And here I repair when I grow weary of the world

for their healing grace –

a taste of the grail

that restores my wasteland

with the memory of summer,

of sunfat days of timeless youth,

of picnics for virgin palates,

of blind kisses beneath staring stars,

and shadowdancing

under champagne moons.

Where goddesses of fish and cat

enticed from their fastnesses

I gleaned an inkling of the Muse.

And in the grove of my Lord and Lady

I silently communed, vertebrae to bark.

Above, tall and strong,

how they watched me grow –

their heartwood my Axis Mundi:

spine of my history.

Each ring witnessing my full circle –

as past and future pilgrims

rendezvoused with déjà vu

beneath the trysting tree.

O, the oaks of my Arcadia,

archive of my life,

endure always –

keep the world at bay.

As in amber be the bowers

of blessed Delapre.

Kevan Manwaring 1999-2004

After doing some work on the garden, I bid farewell to mum, and headed south – deciding to risk a visit to my ‘long-lost’ brother, now residing in Buckinghamshire just down the A43. I hadn’t seen Gary for about seven years – and even birthday and Christmas cards had dried up. I don’t know why – because we always got on okay. It saddened me to think I had a brother in the world who didn’t acknowledge me and I decided to do something about it. I had tried to ring that morning but got no reply and so, somewhat nervously, I decided to risk just dropping by. As it was still early and I hadn’t eaten lunch I made a beeline for Jack’s Hill Café first, just outside Towcester on the A5, a famous biker greasy spoon, where they were having a ‘Ton-up Day’. The carpark was looking healthily full of mean machines as I turned up on my humble Zuki. A Stones-sounding and looking rock band (The Rocketeers) was playing in front of the café and there was a nice vibe. I got me a ‘biker’s breakfast’ (albeit a veggie variety) and sat down to soak up the oil and grease. Luvverly! Slurping down my cuppa, I wandered around, checking out the big bikes and the couple of stalls – one about the charity, Riders for Health, and the other, promoting Riders’ Digest (which I thought might be interested in a page from Bard on the Bike). A raffle ticket and a promo copy later, I sat on my bike and listened to the second set of the band – bluesy Americana – before heading off to find my brother’s place.

Jack's Hill Cafe, Ton-up Day, 19th April '09

Jack's Hill Cafe, Ton-up Day, 19th April '09

Amazingly, I found it – a tiny hamlet in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately my mum had shown me some photos of the place the previous day so I recognised the house as I rode past it. I pulled up in the layby in front of their house, just as my brother was coming out of the house. I thought he had seen me, but when I flipped my helmet up and called out ‘Hello!’ he politely responded and carried on pottering in the garden. I found out later he thought I was just another walker – they’re used to ramblers parking there. Like Odysseus, returning after twenty years I was not recognised by my own relative. And so I got off the bike, pulled her up onto the centre stand and lock the front wheel, before approaching the garden. Gary was just out of sight, putting some bread out for the birds – and I poked my head around the corner and said: ‘Would you be my brother?’ He finally recognised me and held out a hand – but I gave him a fraternal hug. This was a big moment for me. Here, in front of me, was my brother, looking so … solid, with his black beard and mature Clooney-esque looks. Seeing a sibling, especially one of the same gender, makes you feel more real somehow. You are not alone in the world. Another shares your genes. It’s a powerful feeling. A little awkward at first, but not unwelcoming, he showed me his impressive vegetable patch. It turns out he has green fingers. Clearly he has ‘put down roots here’, and I can see why – a lovely place far from the madding crowd. He invited me in and we slowly, hesitantly caught up. His partner, Lisa, finally arrived – she had wondered why Gary had invited a ‘stranger’ into the house! I wasn’t a stranger, I was his brother … but it had been too long – we were practically strangers – and we had a lot of catching up to do. More than was possible in my brief visit – the kick-off of the big game was within the hour, which somewhat curtailed it – but the main thing was the ice had been broken. Lisa’s son was introduced, a nice lad called Jay. I think I won him over with one of my muffins. Lisa made us a much welcome coffee. Gary and I swapped emails – a good sign. Before I left we had a couple of photos – evidence! Look, I have a brother! And hopefully Gary won’t forget he has one now. I am happy for him – he has a nice house, partner, step-son, is doing well in his job (lucky to have one in this current climate). He’s just got on with his life and I can’t blame him for that … but the old call or card wouldn’t have gone amiss! Don’t be a stranger, bruv! I’ve missed ya!

Still I left glowing with happiness – and had to stop at the next village just to assimilate the experience. Composed, I carried on my way – taking a short-cut along a B road to cut out Banbury, passing thru the picture postcard Deddington. I stopped off at Ma Larkin’s, another café popular with bikers (several were parked up, also out enjoying the rays) for a galvanising cuppa for the road and then headed back down the Fosseway into the setting sun. When the weather’s with you, there aint nothin’ better than riding on two wheels.

I was enjoying myself so much, blatting along, I decided to take an impromptu ‘alternative route’ back, turning right at Cirencester – taking the lovely Minchinhampton Valley into Stroud and calling in on my friend who has a stunning place on the edge of the Cotswolds … but that’s another story.