Tag Archives: Dragon

Exit Strategies

The great modern fantasy novelist Terry Pratchett (author of the much-loved Discworld novels and many others) died this week (Thursday, 12th March) after a long struggle with a rare form of Alzheimer’s. He campaigned for euthanasia, most memorably in an eloquent and moving 2010 Richard Dimbleby lecture delivered on his behalf by Tony Robinson. (Shaking Hands with Death)

In his final tweet, he departed this Earth with typical wit and nod to the modern (the ‘final tweet’: a very modern phenomenon):

Terry Pratchett's tweet

In typical Pratchettian fashion, his fans started a petition soon after – asking Death to let their idol come back. (https://www.change.org/p/death-bring-back-terry-pratchett).

What impressed me about Pratchett’s parthian shot – however sad his premature death at the age of 66 – was the spine-tingling way he seemed to enter his own narrative with those final words (as when the protagonist of Tolkien’s ‘Leaf by Niggle’ entered into his own painting after his death).  It is the ultimate meta-fictional valediction.

As artists, the hope is that we can ‘live on’ through our art – in Terry’s case, he seems to be suggesting he will live on in his art.

The way we depart – the manner, the timing – is something we can rarely control. People, loved ones, die suddenly all the time. We seldom get a chance to control our exit from this world – though Pratchett and others campaign(ed) for the right to – and yet in Pratchett’s case he was an artist to the end.

Sir Terry Pratchett RIP

While contemplating mortal thoughts, here is a famous literary example of a ‘beautiful death’ from which it is possible to glean wisdom – plucked from the dragon-scorched hoard.

GRAVE GOODS

Beowulf goes into battle alone. All but one of his company have fled – but young Wiglaf rallies to his lord’s aid. Together they overcome their adversary, but the price of victory is high. Beowulf is mortally wounded. Dying, he asks Wiglaf to show him the hoard he has won with his life. The champion of the Geats casts his fading gaze upon its gold. He offers loyal Wiglaf reward and dies.

You have completed your major project – there it sits: a pile of manuscript pages, perhaps a couple of inches high; or a modest shelf of books. Not much to look at for a life’s work. Yet you should be proud. It is an achievement. Look upon it for a while, and reflect upon all the experience, all the hard work, that has gone into it. Beowulf, mortally wounded, wants to gaze upon the treasure he has paid for with his life’s blood. He says to his loyal retainer, Wiglaf:

‘Make haste that my eyes may behold the treasure,

The gleaming jewels, the goodly store,

And, glad of the gold, more peacefully leave

The life and the realm I have ruled so long.’283

Wiglaf quickly obeyed his dying lord’s wish and entered the barrow, where he beheld: ‘glittering jewels and gold on the ground’284. It had remained hidden for centuries – although much of it remained glorious, glittering in the gloaming, there were also ‘many a helmet ancient and rusted.’ The poet observes dolefully: ‘Many an arm-ring cunningly wrought,/Treasure and gold, though hid in the ground,/Override a man’s wishes, hide them who will!’285 There are many creative endeavours that sadly remain undiscovered, unappreciated. Unread manuscripts, gathering dust in drawers. Unseen canvases, rolled up. Unheard poems. Unsung songs. Unperformed plays, and unbuilt buildings of exquisite design. Many others, destroyed (as the MSS of Beowulf nearly was) or lost, a museum of What Ifs…? This is the cruel reality of the creative mainstream – for every book published, untold thousands will never get that book deal. With digital publishing it is possible to self-publish these days, but the chances of many people reading it are slim – with the odd exception that ‘goes viral’. So many people are self-publishing that it almost makes it meaningless – and the true gems get lost in the crowd, like the real Grail hiding amongst many other chalices, goblets and false cups. Nevertheless, we should always honour our muse and write it ‘because we have to’, until the fire in the head peters out, the midnight disease is extinguished – like the dragon slain by Beowulf:

‘The ancient sword with its edge of iron

Had slain the worm who watched o’er the wealth,

In the midnight flaming, with menace of fire

Protecting the treasure for many a year

Till he died a death.’286

Wiglaf carries out what treasure he could – into the cold light of day, bitter with the sea air – and showed it to his stricken lord. The sight of it brings a strange satisfaction to his face:

‘aged and sad,

Beowulf spoke, as he gazed on the gold.’287

This is what he had fought for, struggled for, journeyed towards – for so long. It was his wer-gild, his blood-price – his death, waiting for him, in a cold barrow, underground:

‘I gave my life for this golden hoard’288Was it truly worth it? Well, Beowulf – locked into his warrior culture and his character – had little choice it seemed. It had his name ‘written on it’. Strangely poignant then, that his wish is to be buried with it – it had only just seen the light of day – and a ‘stately barrow’ raised over him on the headland, visible to all:

‘It shall be for remembrance among my people

As it towers high on the Cape of the Whale,

And sailors shall know it was Beowulf’s barrow.’ 289

Is there a sense in which this is a hidden desire of all writers – to create a lasting legacy, something that will survive of them into posterity – a kind of immortality? And as such, is every such project a rehearsal of death – a preparation for ‘going away’, an extended suicide note, or ‘letter to be read in the event of my death’? With his magnum opus complete, the artist/author may well feel like ‘breaking his brushes’ like Steinbeck. His ‘antagonist’ – that which had defined him – lay defeated:

‘The monster that slew him, the dreadful dragon,

Likewise lay broken and brought to his death.’ 290

Their respective fates – the warrior and the monster – are intertwined. The Higher and Lower Self, the Avatarian and Atavistic Impulses, have been reconciled and have cancelled each other out – the creative charge has been neutralised, or perhaps consummated in this fierce coupling – the ultimate sex magic – and now both lay, mortally wounded by this post-coital majeure morte:

‘Beowulf bartered his life for the treasure;

Both foes had finished this fleeting life.’ 291

Wiglaf, after reprimanding the ten ‘battle-dodgers’, foresees strife and ruin befalling his nation. He arranges for the funeral pyre of Beowulf to be made and piled high with grave goods:

‘The Geat folk fashioned a peerless pyre

Hung round with helmets and battle-boards,

With gleaming byrnies as Beowulf bade.’ 292

Once the pyre cooled sufficiently, a barrow is raised over it. No one will wear Beowulf’s treasure – no son or wife will continue his line. The warrior-king, in obsessive pursuit of his quest, has left this world alone – but not unloved, for his people hold him in high regard, as the magnificence of his barrow attests. The dragon is pitched over the cliff-top into the waves; and the treasures are once more consigned to the soil:

‘They bore to the barrow the rings and the gems,

The wealth of the hoard the heroes had plundered.

The olden treasures they gave to the earth.’ 293

So, all must be let go of. We offer up our treasures. The final creative act is often the hardest – one of letting go. A project which has possessed us for perhaps years, has become such a huge part of our life – must now be forsaken. It can trigger significant grief – and leave us feeling empty: a hollow victory. Sometimes, authors do not want to finish their project, do not want to let go. It seemed Tolkien experienced something of the sort – with his Middle-Earth becoming his ‘precious’. But eventually, we have to drop the One Ring of our magnum opus into Mount Doom – it is only healthy. The gold forged in the fires of Mordor, must be melted:

‘The precious hoard

Shall burn with the hero. There lies the heap

Of untold treasures so grimly gained,

Jewels and gems he bought with his blood

At the end of his life. All these at the last

The flames shall veil and the brands devour.’ 294This is the hard truth of the creative process. The final phase seems like one of destruction. We must be prepared to cut our ties to it – snip that umbilical cord – for it to live on, to have a ‘life’ of its own. It is in other hands now – for them to make of it what they will. Our words are our offering to the ‘void’ – a message in a bottle. We cast it out into the great unknown – wish it well – and walk away, perhaps heeding William Blake’s wisdom:

He who binds to himself a joy

Does the wingèd life destroy;

But he who kisses the joy as it flies

Lives in eternity’s sunrise.’

The crucial question here is – to paraphrase the father and son dialogue from Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel The Road (2006): ‘are you a carrier of the fire?’ Are you prepared to keep it alight and pass it on? That is all we can do:

We’re going to be okay, aren’t we Papa?
Yes. We are.
And nothing bad is going to happen to us.
That’s right.
Because we’re carrying the fire.
Yes. Because we’re carrying the fire.
295

Extract from Desiring Dragons: creativity, imagination and the writer’s quest by Kevan Manwaring (Compass Books, 2014)

A Praise Song for Albion

In 2004 I was commissioned to write a choreo-poem by the artist Beth Townley. The actual performance didn’t take place, but the poem ‘Dragon Dance’ was completed. Here is a youtube clip of me performing it from memory. It is in five main sections – each section honouring one of the corners of the British Isles and Ireland: Logres (England); Kernow (Cornwall); Erin (Ireland); Alba (Scotland); Cambria (Wales). This is not to see them as political units, and nothing of that sort is implied by their association here. I see them as geological facts – ‘a small clusters rocks brought together by fate’, and by celebrating their differences, I hope to encourage a holistic vision of their shared journey. In short, Unity. I have attempted to honour the genius loci – the spirit of place – as she manifests in each part of these remarkable islands. Over the last few years I have started to perform it in each part of the land – in the Fens, in Cornwall, in Wales, in Scotland…(Erin next!) I have found it very powerful to recite in situ. It is my way of giving something back, of saying thank you to that place for its inspiration, ancient monuments, stored ancestral wisdom and legacy. It has been performed en masse at the World Heritage Site of Stonehenge as a liturgy by the Cotswold Pagan Society during a private access ceremony – a proud moment! If the poem inspires you to visit the locations mentioned, do let me know. I’ll be delighted.

Dragon Lines

6-13 April

Over the Easter break Jenni and I spent a week staying in a yurt on an organic smallholding on the Roseland Peninsula, South Cornwall. Cotna, just down from the sleepy village of Gorran Churchtown, is nestled in an L-shaped valley which gave it its original name ‘Crookcorner’. Dave and Sara, the owners, moved in five years ago and have transformed the 14 acres – which now boast a wind-turbine, polytunnels full of leafy veg, free-range chickens, woodland, solar panels, compost loos and a rather lovely straw-bale house. We were first visitors to stay in their yurt, sitting in its own field – separated by its twin by a stream and a line of recently planted willow. With a log burner and lots of homely touches, it was cosy in the evenings. We ate outside alot and enjoyed sunsets, a vast field of stars, a full moon, dawn choruses, and deep peace. At night, the only disturbance was the conversation of owls and the odd visit from Ziggy – the dribbling long-haired cat.

In the daytime we enjoyed some excellent coastal walks (the coastal path could be reached along a charming winding path – 2 miles to Porthmellon). Amid the pasties, pints and piskies, one of the highlights was a walk around the headlands of St Antony and Dodman Point – the latter possibly deriving its name from an old word for dowser or geomancer (a ‘dodman’ was a country name for a snail – it’s horns like the siting poles of the surveyor – perhaps glimpsed in the staves of the Long Man of Wilmington).  In the late Eighties, local ‘dodmen’ Paul Broadhurst and Hamish Miller discover the Michael and Mary Line – a substantial energy ‘pathway’ running up the southwest peninsula diagonally across England – the two alternating streams weaving in and out like a vast landscape caduceus… or the Rainbow Serpent of Albion. They recorded their findings in their New Age classic, The Sun and the Serpent – which even spawned a TV show, so media-trendy all that stuff was at the time. The fickle gaze of fashion moves on – and last year’s ‘cat’s pyjamas’ are sloughed like snake skin.

Yet the old leys and ways remain – just below the surface – waiting for the curious seeker to stumble upon them, like an ancient sword half-buried in a peat-bog. In Cornwall, this ancient magic feels close to the surface still. I’ve felt it every time I’ve visited – and books like The Little Country, an enchanting novel by the bardically-inclined Canadian author Charles de Lint – conjure it up for me from afar.

I dowse these ‘dragon lines’ in my own way, with the dowsing rod of my pen and my imagination – tuning into the genius loci wherever I visit and letting the awen come through me. In 2004 I was commissioned to write a poem for a dance piece by artist Beth Townley – this became my epic praise-song to Albion, Dragon Dance. I have been performing this in situ at locations around the country – north, south, east and west – as my way of giving thanks back to the land that has born and nurtured me. On the last day of our trip (an auspicious Friday 13th) we stopped off at the Hurlers stone circle on a suitably mist-erious Bodmin Moor – here I recited the Cornwall section of the poem: quite a challenge in lashing, freezing rain! We endured this in good humour, before returning gratefully to the shelter of the car.

Here it is…

Kernow

In the heat of the day,
in the eye of light,
in the land of noon,
where the sea is night.

A land of glittering granite,
sun beat-beating down,
a blacksmith’s hammer on anvil,
melting us with furnace heat.

The silent longevity of fogou and quoit
marking time. Neolithic sundials –
follow their shadow over moor and shore…
Tintagel to Men-an-Tol,
rag-tree temple, Madron’s well.
St Michael’s Mount to St Nectan’s Glen
Zennor to Lamorna, this narrow peninsula –

Twrch Trwyth’s road,
where legend disappeared beneath the waves,
comb and scissors gleaming between bristles,
like church pew mermaid with comb and mirror.
Ageless Mabon snatching success
from the ears of defeat,
before vanishing too … like Arthur …  into the mist.

The dying sun journeying beyond, to the sunken land.
Lyonesse of the endless waves, the Fortunate Isles,
of beacon towers,  inkdust sand, the semaphor of sails.
Deadly Sillina, adorned with the riches of shipwrecks,
the prayers of fishermen, the tears of fishwives.

Passion fire, soul flame yearning,
in the cauldron love is burning.
The spark on the kindling,
the flint and the tinder,
fire friend, stolen power,
seize the spear of the sun,
Long as the day, shadowbright,
give us your light,
give us your light.
give us your light,
so we may do what is right.

Between the earth and the air,
between the fire and the water,
the spirit waits at the centre,
the spirit waits at the centre.

Dance the dragon,
let the dragon dance me.
Biting the tail of infinity.

from Dragon Dance – Kevan Manwaring, Awen 2004

On Monday, 23rd April – which is of course St George’s Day (as well as The Bard’s birth-and-death day) – I’ll be performing in a show with my fellow members of Fire Springs entitled ‘Spirits of Place’ at the enchanting Hawkwood College (which has its own share of genius loci) on the outskirts of Stroud. We’ll be sharing a selection of stories from Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Oxfordshire – taken from our new collections published by The History Press. Mine isn’t due out until the end of the year, but while in Cornwall I was editing the manuscript and rehearsing the tales – so it felt like I had a little bit of the county with me. It has it’s fair share of dragon tales…

Whatever you think of St George (England’s patron saint – all the way from Cappadocia, Turkey…) why not raise a glass to the dragons of Albion on Monday – may they continue to live on, in legend at least.

Riding the Dragon

Riding the Dragon  part 3

20th-21st June

pistyll rhaeadr

Pistyll Rhaeadr - one of the seven wonders of Wales, photo by K. Manwaring

Pistyll Rhaeadr and Wrexham Steeple

Snowdon Mountains without its people

Overton yew trees, Gresford bells,

Llangollen bridge, St Winifred’s Wells.

The Seven Wonders of Wales

After three week’s of slog finally … freedom! A long ride to Snowdonia to blow away the cobwebs. I think you can really feel the dragon in the land in Wales, especially if you ride through it on a motorbike!

On solstice eve I was invited to the wedding of Keith and Annie, two old friends from N’pton, on their farm cottage in North Wales – based on the theme of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with the bride as Titania, the bridegroom as Oberon, and the guests providing the rest of the Seelie Court.

Annie the bride as Titania

Annie the bride as Titania

Keith as Oberon

Keith as Oberon

I packed my pointy ears, tent and essentials and set off Saturday morning. I decided to take the route across the middle of Wales, aiming for Aberystwyth (the scenic route, and the longer one). I was hoping to see the sea and stop for a spot of lunch there, but by the time I was in the area, time was running out, and so I grabbed some much needed hot grub at the Red Kite Café (thrilled to spot some of the famous birds with their distinctive tails soon after) and blatted up the fast north road past Machynlleth, Harlech, Portmeirion…(fortunately not chased by white ‘rover’ balloons from the Village, where the cult Sixties’ TV series The Prisoner was filmed). At one point the road plunged precipitously down into the valley overshadowed by the dark dramatic flanks of Cader Idris, the giant’s chair – where those foolhardy enough to spend a night end up ‘dead, mad or a poet’. Further up the road, the sinister bulwark of Magnox North could be seen, blighting the beautiful coast. Crossing the cob into Porthmadog – the causeway linking it across the alluvial flats to the rest of Wales – I was treated to a stunning view of Snowdonia. After a long ride I had nearly made it! Unfortunately, fatigue (after a 5-6 hr ride) meant I made a wrong turning and precious minutes were squandered as I frantically tried to remember the way to Keith and Annie’s place – not the easiest place to find. It really is in the middle of nowhere, along unsigned roads, back of beyond. I pulled onto their land about 15 minutes late. I could hear the ceremony going on so I just rushed down the field where the guests had gathered – an impressive colourful circle of about a hundred ‘fairies’! It looked lovely, set against the backdrop of the mountains.

setting for Keith and Annie's wedding, N Wales

setting for Keith and Annie's wedding, N Wales

The couple were magnificent in their finery. I was worried I’d missed the tying of knot, but this was still to come. No vows were exchanged because this, it turns out, was a renewal of commitment – they had actually tied the knot eleven years ago, but this was a celebration of their love, a beautiful thing to see in this day and age. Afterwards there was a hearty buffet, followed by a puppet show version of Shakespeare’s fairy play

midsummer night's dream puppet show

midsummer night's dream puppet show

and a Welsh ceilidh (which didn’t sound that different from a Scottish one, apart from the odd song in Cymraeg): the dances were identical. Alas, my heart wasn’t into dancing (it felt like the last couple of weeks finally hit me at that point) but it was nice to see everyone enjoying themselves. There was some fire-twirling by Keith and Annie’s son, Rubin and his mate. Then there was more drinking, and much late night hilarity…until, tired from my journey, I had to go to bed. I collapsed in my tent and slept like an Ent.

beer - a reason to be cheerful

beer - a reason to be cheerful

It was strange just being a guest – a sharp contrast to the previous Saturday, where at Stanton Drew I was running the handfasting and performing. The feedback I received from Nigel and Sophie suggested it went down very well: ‘Thanks for a magical time – it was truly amazing. We’ve had loads of great feedback from folk praising your conduct of the ceremony and entertainment in the garden.’  This time, my services were not required and I felt somewhat at a loss. I would’ve happily chipped in a wee poem around the fire, but … there wasn’t one. Instead, there was just boozing and ribaldry in the marquee.

merriment in the marquee - Keith & Annie's wedding feast

merriment in the marquee - Keith & Annie's wedding feast

It was a beautiful occasion, everything had been done with such love – it was just a shame I wasn’t in a better mood to enjoy it. After funerals of two friends in two weeks I guess it was going to take longer than an evening, however enchanting,to shake my gloom.

Next morning, feeling ‘delicate’ I grabbed a cuppa and some makeshift breakfast (a slice of the wonderful waterfall wedding cake) and packed up the old steed and set off. It was noon, summer solstice, not that you would know it – the weather deciding to be grey and overcast. I stopped off at the beach to clear my head – feeling as flat as the sands.

I fuelled up in Porthmadog – thank god for coffee! ‘people petrol’– and hit the road. The rain hammered down to begin with – not very pleasant – but fortunately my waterproofs kept me dry. I had to keep my eye on the ball on those twisty roads in the wet, so I took it easy along the road to Bala, a biker’s paradise … when it’s dry!

Bala gorsedd circle by Kevan Manwaring

Bala gorsedd circle by Kevan Manwaring

When I reached Bala, I stopped to savour the glittering waters of Llyn Tegid, where I camped the previous summer. Then I parked up to visit the Gorsedd circle, where last year I had witnessed the proclamation of the Welsh National Eisteddfod, which will take place there this year. I decided to experience what it would feel like to, to step up onto the main stone and receive the highest accolade. The circle isn’t in the most inspiring of settings – hemmed in by a carpark and a light industrial estate, but it was still a thrill to stand there and raise the awen.

Bala motte

Bala motte

From the carpark I spotted for the first time at mound – a Norman motte – with a tree growing symbolically from its summit. I decided to check it out and ascended in my leathers. When I got to the top I savoured the view over the surrounding valleys, sitting my back against the trunk, letting its strength support me. Apparently, a popular place for local knitters – imagine the gossip shared – and later on, visitors would be charged a penny to visit it. With interest, I noted on the interpretation board that on the opposite side of the lake a castle said to belong to Gronw Pebr once stood: the man who assassinated Llew Llaw Gyffes, according to the legend in The Mabinogion. The bright solar hero who is shot down in his glory by his shadowy rival… on one level this seemed to represent the fact that the summer solstice is the longest day of the year, but also the point from when the days start getting shorter, as the dark half of the year reclaims its losses and eventually ‘defeats’ its rival (until he is reborn at midwinter and the cycle begins again). On a transpersonal level, it speaks of an unfortunate trait I’ve noticed in people: it is easy to take potshots at those who stand up and shine. It is easier to criticise than create – cynicism is the way of the coward. That is not to say one should be naively optimistic about everything – but to be positive, think positive, act positive, requires more effort and courage than the opposite. We can all wallow, and seek to keep others down if they aspire too high – for their excellence emphasises insecurities in some – whileas, I think by shining it gives others permission to do the same. I believe in empowering people, not putting them down.

From Bala, I followed a stunning B-road to Pistyll Rhaeadr – a joy to ride along. The sheer beauty of the landscape made me feel so much better. Nature really is the best medicine.

Tan-y-Pistyll tearooms by the waterfall by KM

And then, finally, when it seemed like the higgedly-piggedly road would never run out, there it was, a white horse-tail of water cascading over the cliffs. I was last here 19 years ago, working on a film called The Runner (a dogdy student flick, a substandard John McTiernan effort ‘starring’ Harrison Ford’s brother). Then I was the gaffer’s assistant, helping to set up the lighting and tracks. First to arrive, last to leave. A freezing night shoot I seem to remember. And now I returned – a bard on a bike!

The place is sympathetically managed. There’s a marvellous note on their website:

‘The falls have not been ‘tamed’ with concrete, safety railings and warning signs, It is a natural in its beauty as God intended it to be!’

The guest house, Tan-y-Pistyll is used for retreats and I read with interest:

‘For generations this location has been held and revered in the hidden orders of druidic folklore as one of there most special and sacred locations. Called the Druids Bowl a place of inner inquiry of the sacred’

I climbed down to the waterfall, and beheld the majestic natural phenomenon. Unfortunately it was hard to get into a reverie when one is being bitten to death by midges, and so I retreated to the café for some warming soup. Afterwards, I found a little summer house, where I was a little safer from attack. Here I could gaze out across to the waterfall, at Lady Pistyll, as she’s called, and ‘channel’ this:

Voice of the Waterfall

From the source I descend,

cascading into your world,

breaking through all barriers

with grace, with joy.

White seam of inspiration,

let it pour through you

do not contain it, restrain it.

Be the flow, the portal of light.

There is so much love,

more than one alone can bear.

it must be shared.

My natural urge is to become

one with the ocean.

Life cannot be separate from life,

and yet it must be allowed

to stand in its own power,

to be fully itself,

shining, magnificent,

a song singing to itself,

expressing its isness,

its soul note.

Kevan Manwaring, Pistyll Rhaeadr, Summer Solstice 2009

There’s a fantastic local legend, which I share below in full:

Dragon Falls – The Gwybr of Llanrhaeadr

Above the waterfall is a lake called Llyn Luncaws. The story goes that in this lake lived a serpent with wings who, once every few days, would fly down the valley to the village and there seize children, women or animals, taking them back to the lake to devour them.

The people of the village got together and, as nobody knew how to kill the gwybr, a number of them set off and walked over the mountains for many days to reach the wise woman of the hills. They told her the frightening story and she listened in silence. When they were finished, she bade them sleep whilst she thought on the problem.

Next morning, when the villagers awoke, they gathered round her and she explained to them in detail what they had to do when they got home. As soon as they arrived back the men got together and went to the blacksmith’s shop, where they worked all day and all night creating three enormous spiked collars of different sizes. The women worked together and gathered in all the linen in the village, sewed it together to make a huge sheet and dyed it blood-red.

In the afternoon of the second day, when all was ready, the whole village set off to the tumuli and great standing stone in the field at the foot of Rhos Brithin. Here the men dropped the three spiked collars over the pillar and the women wrapped the whole lot in the red linen. Then they set about building a circle of fire round the pillar.

The warning was given; the gwybr had been sighted on its way down the river. Quickly they lit the fire and hid amongst the bushes and hedges to watch. As it approached the village, the ring of fire attracted the great serpent and, as it flew closer, it thought it saw another dragon illuminated by the flickering flames. It roared with anger and threw itself to the attack, spearing its breast on the hidden spikes.

Again and again it attacked and each time the spikes drove deeper into its body until it dripped with blood and grew weaker. Eventually it could fight no more and collapsed bleeding and dying at the foot of the pillar.

The villagers, with the help of the wise woman of the hills, had outwitted the gwybr and once more the village was safe.

(from the official site website)

***

I reluctantly left the falls, feeling soothed by its energies and inspired to return. For now, I had to ride the dragon … south … back to my home, where a hot bath and a soft bed awaited.

Running the Dragon

Running the Dragon

1st March, 2009

Worms' Head - half way point - looking towards the Devil's Bridge

Worms' Head - half way point - looking towards the Devil's Bridge

Midday at Worm’s Head, Penrhyn-Gwr, on St David’s Day. A good place to be, in the Spring sunshine. The gulls and gannets shriek, the withdrawing waves roar in indignation (‘you may have won the battle, but not the war…’). The sea is turquoise – sky, a chalk-blue. A few wisps of cloud on the horizon – more over Devon and Somerset, south to England. Visitors seem to be queuing up to ‘run the dragon’, waiting for the tide to retreat sufficiently for the causeway to be safely exposed. Serendipity is with me today as I arrive at the right time to cross. Low tide is 14:40 and there’s a two and half hour window either side of this, so at 12.10 I will cross. For now, a moment to catch my thoughts.

Here at the dragon’s head I honour the spirit of Wales and its finest son of song, Taliesin – Penrhyn-Gwr to Penbeirdd…Hail!

A good place to reflect on my journey of a bard, as I reach the completion of the Way of Awen – may the dragon give me a final burst of awen!
The very end of the Worm’s Head – a dramatic stack – is approximately a mile out. Reaching it requires a tricky scramble over jagged rocks and running the gauntlet of the tide. Time it wrong and you can get cut off! It takes me fifty minutes of energetic effort to reach the end – carrying a twenty pound backpack as well, which nearly made me lose my balance and fall into a gulley at one scary point. Good job I’m wearing my tough motorbike gloves to stop my hands getting shredded. With enormous relief and satisfaction, I reach my goal…

Sitting in the sun on the head of Worm’s Head on a grassy ledge, eating my sandwiches, restoring my energy levels, and watching mighty waves rolling in. Standing on the endstack was literally a peak experience. I realised my nine month journey had come full circle – from Orme’s Head to Worm’s Head, from the far North of Wales to the far South – a satisfying symmetry. Which one is the head, which the tail? Or does the dragon have two heads? Then it dawned on me – it is Ourobouros, the dragon eating itself. The story does not end. One ‘tale’ begats another – each ending, another beginning. We have to join the story somewhere, but there is always a before-story and after-story, and many other paths along the way.

My story started back in the East Midlands – which seems like another universe compared to here, to my current life. The landlady of the B&B said, rather presumptuously, ‘you’re as Welsh as me’ – meaning what exactly who knows – but a little know fact is my middle name is Gerald, as in Giraldus Cambrensis: Gerald of Wales. Although I have no Welsh blood (as far as I know) this is a reassuring foreshadowing of what has become something of an obsession for me – what could be called Cambria-philia, a love of Wales.

So, I hail Wales, Cambria and the Cymru on St David’s Day and, of course, Taliesin Penbeirdd. May his name endure forever. I felt complete. A good place to ‘end’ my book, but not my journey along the Way of Awen. Like the dragon encircling the world – it has no end or beginning. A circle with no edges, whose centre is everywhere.

Reaching the end of the Worm’s head is like crossing the Bridge of Leaps to Scathach’s Isle of Shadows – one has to traverse razor-sharp rocks, perilous pathways and the Devil’s Bridge. It has a mythic initiatory quality to it. I imagine Caer Sidi on the end-stack and set off. All the time the clock of the tide is ticking, making the blood pump with excitement. There’s an element of Kêr-Ys here, or Cantre’r Gwaelod – the sea is always present, threatening to inundate the land at any moment, jealousy seizing back what it had given. One feels humbly in the lap of the goddess.