Tag Archives: Dorset

Rogue Males

20-21 July

Rogue Male alert - me at St Adhelm's Head

Rogue Male alert –
me at St Adhelm’s Head

Last weekend I set off on a ‘ride-about’, having had enough of all work and no play (‘red rum’ running round my head as I hammered away at the keyboard). I loaded up the bike and set off for the Somerset Levels, visiting some old friends who live above Wookey Hole. I hadn’t seen them since they’d had their child – a lovely brown-eyed girl who was now 2 and a half, and bright as button (like her parents, one a university lecturer, the other a website designer). But it was like old times, catching up with them over a fantastic B-B-Q, Spanish style, in their garden high above the Levels. The mundane and its demands are always there, preventing us from sustaining such special connections – unless we make a real effort. In the summer it’s a lot easier and pleasanter, blatting about – so I’m determined to make the most of it to catch up with old friends.

Capn K, ready for the road - riding pillion on my Legend

Capn K, ready for the road – riding pillion on my Legend

The next day I rendezvoused with my friend K at Castle Cary, and I took him pillion on a jaunt down to the Dorset coast – the object of our quest was the legendary ‘Stone Age’ pub, the Square and Compass, Worth Matravers, near Swanage, but sixty five million years distant in many ways, secreted in its remote nook of the Dorset ‘Jurassic Coast’. But before we sampled its fine wares, we made a bee-line for Chapmans Pool – essential on a summer’s day, especially after a hot ride.

Chapmans Pool

Chapmans Pool

We parked up the bike and hoofed it down the 400ft to the shingle, the waters awaited. We were soon floating in the cooling brine. There was not a cloud in the sky. It felt good to be away from it all – literally drifting, cut loose from our commitments.

open roads await

open roads await

Afterwards, we beat over to the pub, where a long afternoon of ensozzlement awaited – slowly sinking the local ale as the shadows lengthened. Sitting in the ‘Stone Age’ beer garden, tables and benches made of monumental slabs of stone from the nearby quarry like a set from the Flintstones, enjoying the grog, pasties and view over the blue, there is no better watering hole in the south-west. Complete with its own Museum of Fossils (and I don’t mean the sun-weathered regulars) it feels lost in its own time-warp.

Stone Age grog - at the Square and Compass

Stone Age grog – at the Square and Compass

Later Elephant Talk performed a hot set in a ridiculously small and stuffy room. The atmosphere was ‘frisky’, although my companion didn’t need much egging on (this whole jaunt could be misread as a ‘bromantic weekend break’ but K was chatting up everything that didn’t have a penis – no waitress or random German cyclist was safe). However, I was flagging and in need of some peace and Dorset starlight. We staggered down to a field and rolled out our mats, and were soon fast asleep – somewhere in the fold of a lynchet, hidden among the gently swaying grasses. We were in the East Man meadow below the pub, but we could have easily have been in a hollow-way somewhere above North Chiddeock – the obscure location of Geoffrey Household’s cult novel, Rogue Male, about a Englishman who fails to assassinate an unnamed European dictator, and has to go on the run – ending up going to ground, quite literally, in the deep ferny clefts of the Dorset countryside. There he survives in a primal fashion, living off his wits, and befriending a feral cat he calls Asmodeus. Household’s novel vividly evokes the landscape – specifically the wild in the liminal; and expresses something instinctual in the male psyche, which loves caves, roughing it, and being ‘outlaw’ and off-the-radar. Men like to feel wild, at least now and then. A subsequent conversation with a male friend confirmed this. Once when hitching with a mate, he was picked up by a solitary woman, finding himself a little disappointed when she commented that she had felt safe in offering him and his friend a lift, ‘because they didn’t look dangerous’. As men, we like to feel a little dangerous sometimes – even if this fantasy rarely breaks the surface. It remains underground – dormant – like a hunted assassin in deep cover. Hence, I suspect, the appeal of Household’s book, which has spawned a sub-cult, with the ‘Wild Places’ author Robert Macfarlane as its high priest.

Rogue Male - the classic Penguin edition

Rogue Male – the classic Penguin edition

A bit of wild-camping and Stone Age bingeing is sufficient to scratch that itch for now. The hollow-way, feral cats, and deadly end-games with enemy agents will have to await.

The 2 Ks by Cerne Abbas - trying not to feel an inferiority complex!

Size is everything. The 2 Ks by Cerne Abbas – trying not to feel an inferiority complex!

The next morning, we returned to civilisation – well, Swanage, and succumbed to the beach, along with half the population. The soft sand, fish’n’chips, bikinis and surf worked its magic, but eventually we wended our way north, via Dorchester and the Cerne valley – paying our respects to the Cerne Abbas giant. This mysterious sixty foot ithyphallic figure seemed like an apt way to round off our ‘Rogue Male’ weekend – but it was too hot to linger long. We washed our sandy feet in the Mill leat – blissfully cool and cleansing on my poor blistered paws. A cut had grown worryingly deep, but such ‘war wounds’ are all part of a rogue male’s ‘badge of honour’. Unless you have acquired a few cuts and bruises, you haven’t really had a good time, according to its macho code. This is ‘Fight Club’, Dorset-style, with Cerne Abbas as the ultimate logo. A coffee at the Giant’s Inn, then it was on the high road back to Somerset. Dropping my friend off, I made a spontaneous detour to Glastonbury Tor, from the heights of which I savoured the beautiful evening light over the Levels – the Tor, the hub of a great wheel, around which I had come full circle.

The ancient chapel at St Aldhelm's Head, Dorset

The ancient chapel at St Aldhelm’s Head, Dorset

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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…

Wessex Gathering

Kevan about to perform Dragon Dance at the Wessex Gathering, Purbeck 2009

Burnbake Campsite

Friday 30th May

Arrived at the Wessex Gathering (my 7th) after a good ride down in the sun. Sitting outside my tent now relaxing, after pitching by the woods in almost exactly the same place I camped in my first time. Was it seven years ago? Feels like longer – so much has happened. It’s good to stop and take stock. As always, it’s a bit hectic before coming down – putting my house in order, tying up loose ends, attending to business. Yet I still managed to do a bit of writing this morning on my novel (inspired by a fantastic play I saw last night the Theatre Royal, a version of Brief Encounter by Kneehigh; and a beautiful morning). The sun has his hat on!

Riding on the bike makes you focus on the now – you have to be fully present. You daydream at your peril! It wipes your mind of the white noise – the stuff that can keep you awake at night, the things that wear your down, wear you out. There’s so much waiting for me when I get back – a mountain of marking, projects, deadlines…The build up to the solstice begins! Yet here I’ll try to step outside of time for a couple of days in this magical place – the breath before the plunge! Here I’ll reconnect with the ‘tribe’ and synchronise with the turning of the wheel. I hope to raise and share the awen, create a story walk, even kickstart a new book. But the main thing is to relax – connect with this place, the people and myself.

Sunday 1st June

The sun beats down like a gong on Burnbake. It’s a another glorious morning at Wessex (they always seem to have good weather: ‘words with the management’). Yesterday I ran my workshop on creating a local creation myth, which seemed to go well (see below). To my surprise, people turned up at 10am after Phil announced with a blast of his horn and a shout-out. I had about a dozen to begin with. Within a couple of hours we had the legend of Burnbake! We arranged to meet 2.30pm today to have a brief chat before performing it ‘publically’ at 3. After the workshop, I took off since there was nothing on in the afternoon that caught my interest. I went for a pie and a pint of Copper at the best pub in the world, the Square and Compass in Worth Matravers (a true ‘hard core’ pub – its beer garden is decorated with monumental masonry and stone carvings. At one point this used to be the local of the nearby Purbeck Quarry. Now it is the watering hole of well-heeled Purbeckians and in-the-know tourists). It comes complete with its own fossil museum and has an annual ‘rock festival’ of stone-carving. Sitting in the sun, supping my pint, overlooking the sea, I was starting to feel relaxed. Went for a dip in Chapman’s Pool – another tradition for me when at Wessex. This was my ‘beating of the bounds’. The water was freezing but I soon warmed up again, lying in the sun. I ran through Dragon Dance. Then I went on to Swanage – in full knotted hanky British seaside mode – for icecream on the beach, followed by chips (impossible to resist the smell). Wended my way back to prepare for the ceremony and the bardic cabaret. I performed Dragon Dance – my fourteen page praise song to Ablion – from memory to the two or three hundred people gathered. Held their attention and my nerve. It seemed to go down well – afterwards several people came up to say how much they enjoyed it. One guy had been reduced to tears. Even Damh the Bard had been choked up, he told me afterwards. Others were clearly fired up by it and asked for copies, which unfortunately I didn’t have.

After the fire labyrinth – created by the Hearth of Arianrhod – I started off the Bardic Cabaret (another fixture of Wessex) with a new story, for me anyway, The Physicians of Myddvai – and then opened it up to contributions from the floor. We managed an hour’s worth before the Dagda clomped in to do their fire leaping. The curfew curtailed the drumming which accompanied it, but not the singing which went on late into the night. Folk were in fine voice (or at least that’s how it sounded to those around the fire, if not those trying to get to sleep). But it was a beautiful summer’s night – the stars were out, the moon half full or half empty depending on your point of view. Someone saw a shooting star. It was hard not to be enchanted by the ambience. I performed my green man poem as my ‘swan song’ for the night, then hit the sack.

The final morning was relaxed. An even hotter day, it was hard to do anything much. I slowly packed up after lunch and then read my book in the shade of my bike, shawl over my head, like a Bedouin next to his camel, until it was time to lead the story walk – the Legend of Burnbake with the ‘Burnbake Players’. Unfortunately, out of the nine we had the previous day (who were each going to perform a part of the story) only one turned up, Jim. Never rely on anyone! Jim and I muddled through, but it was not the same. Amazingly, some ‘gatherers’ managed to rouse themselves enough to come on the walk, which circumnavigated the campsite, incorporating local features and characters into the narrative. My duties over, I bid farewell to the organisers and hit the road.

Before the long ride back, I paused on Studland Heath to enjoy the view over Poole Harbour with an ice-cream. Wanting one last view of the sea, I popped along to Studland Beach, where I sat incongruously in my bike leathers, sipping a can of Red Bull, then I was off! Back through the winding roads of Dorset to dear old Somerset and home.

The Legend of Burnbake

It was All Wights’ Eve in the land of Purbeck and in the village of the Sifters – the folk who for generations had been the bakers of the area – things were in turmoil. Every year at All Wights’, the Sifters would bake a special cake for the Lord and Lady of the Silent Ones, Lord Stag and Lady Salmon who lived in the Hall of Many Colours – but some had grown tired or sceptical of the Old Ways and that year they had not put so much TLC into the making of the cake. They had failed to collect the nine sacred woods for the fire – and so the cake had burnt. But there was no time to make another one and so it was presented to the Lord and Lady. The rulers of the Silent Ones were furious – and they split the land of Purbeck away from the mainland to teach the Sifters a lesson. They would not return it until they had placated them – proved they still respected the Old Ways and honoured the Silent Ones.

The villagers realised they had to do something to make up for their slackness. And so a group of the Sifters set off to make a new cake. First they had to gather the nine sacred woods from Dapple Wood, the enchanted wood that bordered their village. They crossed over Salmon Brook into the perilous forest, said to be the domain of a hideous beast – to protect themselves they called out its magical name: Obezag! Into the wood they went, searching for the nine sacred woods. They gathered branches of oak, holly and beech, of birch, hazel and pine, of gorse, chestnut and vine. Each time they asked the dryad nicely: ‘old tree, old tree, may we have some wood from thee?’ If the tree obliged, they thanked it properly. ‘Thank you, thank you, old tree, for the wood you’ve given free.’ One by one they gathered the woods – but they needed something else. They needed special water from the Salmon Brook to make the cake with – the banks of the stream were treacherous and were the home of a gnome called Norman. Up he popped. They had to answer his riddle and, guessing it correctly, Norman reluctantly agreed to help. He dived into the water, creating an e-Norman-ous splash, which sent all the water in the stream into the Royal Cake tin awaiting back at the village of the Sifters. But this left no water in the stream, and this was not good. The life of Lady Salmon was tied to the stream – and she began to sicken and wane. That naughty gnome! He was always tricking unwary folk! Fortunately, there was a remedy – and the villagers collected the magic pine cones which would heal the Lady. Then, with the nine branches and pockets bulging with cones, they returned to the village. As they left Dapple Wood they said the magic word that would return them to the real world – the monster’s secret name backwards – Gazebo!

The intrepid bakers made their offering of cones to heal the Lady, and then they set to work – making their fire from nine sacred woods. When this was ready they prepared the cake mix – stirring in some special ingredients: love, beauty, joy, hope, moonlight and magic. The giant cake tin was placed in the oven pit. As time was precious they accelerated the baking by running around it, creating a vortex called a ‘micro-wave’. The cake rose and, topped with special icing from the Arctic, hundreds and thousands from the Milky Way, glow-worms for candles and so forth, was ready!

The sacred cake for the Lord and Lady was processed through the village to cries of: ‘Here comes the cake!’ All was going well, until they realised they couldn’t find the Hall! It was lost in a strange mist. Norman the Gnome popped up and offered to show them the way. They didn’t really trust him but had little choice. Purbeck was drifting further and further from the mainland – any longer and it might not ever be connected again. And so they followed him. That naughty gnome led them into a claggy quagmire called the Dagda’s Porridge. Fortunately, one amongst them remembered the way to counter the tricks of such a trickster – by turning an item of clothing inside out. This was done, Norman got vexed, the mist vanished and the Hall re-appeared. The Sifters made it! They presented their new cake to the Lord and Lady. The rulers could see the villagers had put their hearts into it this time, and so agreed to return Purbeck to the mainland – the Sifters were saved! The Silent Ones were appeased for another year. The fertility festival of We-Sex could begin when many buns in oven would be baked! Ever afterwards, that land was known as the Isle of Purbeck and that village was called as Burnbake.

The End

Created by participants of the ‘Creating a Local Creation Myth’ workshop led by Kevan Manwaring, Wessex Gathering 2009

Riding the Awen

Badbury Rings

Badbury Rings

15-16 March

Late last night returned from a talk I gave on my book Lost Islands to Sue Stone’s Positive Living group. The most enjoyable part of it was the ride down in the sunshine yesterday afternoon – I stopped off at Badbury Rings, a fairy fort near Wimborne Minister, just off an incredible avenue of beeches. Its centre, contained within an impressive triple ring of ramparts, is filled with majestic trees. Whenever I go there I always end up feeling sleepy and wanting to nod off against one – but I feel I would wake up in three hundred years time, like a West Country Rip Van Winkle. It made a pleasant pitstop, to say the least – green tranquility after the roar of the road. I used the time to get some headspace before my talk. It’s been full on lately, what with getting two books ready for publication – one for print (Places of Truth by Jay Ramsay, coming out this Friday, touchwood) and one for the publisher’s deadline (The Way of Awen – my follow up to The Bardic Handbook). What with a stack of marking as well, things could get too breaking point – but I’m staying on top of them, just! It seems I am destined to lead my life this way, by the seat of my pants, no matter how much I plan – riding the awen, trusting in it to give me the inspiration and energy to achieve whatever I need to.

Feeling relaxed, if soporific (Badbury had slowed my metabolism – my brainwaves from alpha to theta – a little longer there and I would have started scribbling, but interestingly I didn’t have my notebook, or even camera on me when I went up to the hill. They had been left behind on my tank-bag. I was just meant to ‘stand and stare’ for once) I drank some coffee from my flask, checked the map and set off.

I arrived in Bournemouth, at West Cliff as the sun was setting. I got myself some chips and sat and watched it and the beautiful soothing vista of cool blue water against the dying gold.

Bournemouth from West Cliff

Bournemouth from West Cliff

I read through my notes and hunted down the venue – St Ambrose Church Hall (who was St Ambrose – Merlin Ambrosius perhaps?). I said hi to the host, Sue Stone, who seemed excited to see me in my leathers (it turns out she used to ride a bike herself). I got ready for my talk. The place filled up. There was a good turn out – a full house pretty much. I started with raising the awen, then went straight into my Oisin story – finishing with Niamh’s song calling him to Tir nan Og. Then I lead them in a ‘lost island’ visualisation, using John Lennon’s haunting ‘Imagine’ song as a prompt for ‘imagining your utopia’. Then I plunged into the main body of my talking, following the awen. I read out an extract from the book, answered some questions and ended with an extract from my next Windsmith novel, The Well Under the Sea, in which I describe my created lost island, Ashalante (an island at the crossroads of time where lost souls find each other). Afterwards I chatted to some of the group members, who shared their enthusiasm for islands. Then I guzzled some caffeine, scoffed some chocolate biscuits for the sugar and hit the road. There was a freezing fog on the way home – not much fun along windy roads, however romantic Dorset mist might seem. It was like being on Niamh’s fairy steed, returning to Erin, trying to find the home I knew – would it still be there? Would I make it back, or would my ‘saddle strap’ snap (I discovered my tank bag’s strap had come loose) and I be overwhelmed with mortality? It certainly felt possible in the freezing pitch black night. But the roads were clear and I felt awake enough. I stopped in Salisbury for refueling (myself and the bike) and made it back for midnight. I needed a dram of whisky when I got in, and a hot water bottle – but even that didn’t stop me feeling cold. I really needed a long soak. Wrapping myself in my duvet just kept the cold – which had numbed my extremities – in. Due to the high levels of caffeine I needed to get home, I wasn’t able to get to sleep, despite being exhausted. Blearily, I ‘awoke’ up at 5am, made myself a tea and snack and read until I finally fell into blissful sleep…but not for long enough. Could have slept the rest of that morning but had loads of marking to do. Had it all been worth it? The New Age entrepeneur certainly made more out of it than I did (if I had been paid a pound for every mile travelled there and back I would have felt  my effort more fairly remunerated – I got basic expenses, and a basic fee but nothing to warrant my exertion). Nevertheless, things can be reciprocated in ways we don’t realise. You never know if someone had been touched by what I had said. Inspired. Certainly the people that came up seem to be. One Scottish lady enthused about the book on islands she was going to write. If I had sparked something, then it had been worthwhile…but at the moment, with my aching bones and bleary head, it doesn’t feel so!

Deer's Leap, Mendips, overlooking the Somerset Levels

Deer's Leap, Mendips, overlooking the Somerset Levels

The previous day had been, in comparison, a joyous breeze. A beautiful Spring day, I took the bike out for a spin on the Mendips, taking my route to Chew Valley along lanes lined with golden daffodils (so different in the daytime!) and stopping off at Stanton Drew – having a coffee in the beer garden of the Druid’s Arms next to the Cove (remains of an ancient burial chamber). Then I took the back roads to Priddy, and to Deer’s Leap – a picnic site with stunning views over the Somerset Levels, which looked spectacular on such a clear day. Glastonbury Tor rose mythically from the haze, like a dream of Camelot. A good place to get a perspective on things. Then I called in on my friends Amy and Jose who had just moved into a lovely cottage near Wookey, on the side of the Mendips. It was good to catch up with them, and see their place – which made me green with envy! I took Jose a bottle of rum to thank him for helping me out with my bike, and some chocolate and wine as a house-warming. Yet a cup of tea and a good old chat can’t be beaten. I returned in the fading light, carrying the sun inside me.