Tag Archives: literature

Hungry Times – a review of Hive by April Doyle

Hive by April Doyle – a review

April Doyle’s debut novel imagines a near future Britain ravaged by the impact of Colony Collapse Disorder, and its knock-on effect on the pollination of crops. With the devastating decline of bee populations – a keystone species in the ecosystem – the consequences on food production are catastrophic. Doyle’s Britain is not that dissimilar to the one we already live in – with food banks in more demand than ever, and parents having to make hard choices about how to feed their children – but taken to the extreme. With the rationing system and the constant background gnawing hunger of the characters it feels reminiscent of WW2 and the lean Post-War Years. Folk are forced to rely on their ingenuity, or willingness to transgress the narrow line between civilisation and barbarity. All of this could have been rather grim – Children of Men, Survivors, The Road … we’ve seen it all before: the cliché of dystopia; the tropes that have been done to death. But here, Doyle does something refreshingly different. Although the shadows are clearly present in this starving Britain (and sometimes devastatingly centre-stage) the author on the whole chooses to focus on her small cast – a farmer and his wife and their two young daughters, an old friend, a scientist and her assistant, a boyfriend and an ex-lover. Although they all endure hardship (or worse) their struggles have a life-affirming quality to them. Due to the nature of the scenario Doyle posits, food takes on an almost sacramental quality, as does the ‘miracle of nature’ itself – the wonder of bees, the cycle of life. The entomological aspects are well-researched and are intrinsic to the plot. Use of ‘found’ paratext from scientific journals, documentaries, and so forth deftly weave in exposition between the chapters, providing an interesting shift of register and scale. These could have come across as just a way for Doyle to show her research in an unleavened form (rather than working it into the fiction) but it becomes apparent the orthography of these infodumps have narrative relevance. The novel gains new energy with the addition of nanodrone technology (courtesy of an old flame), developed as replacement pollinators, and this conflation of nature and science is fascinating to read. In the hands of another author (e.g., Michael Crichton) this would have been a tech-thriller, but although this element catalyses things Doyle pulls back from punchy, full-throttle prose. Indeed, it is least convincing when she is forced to describe violence (although the death of one of the main characters is very moving). The chapters sometimes feel too brief, and the final reveal lacks foreshadowing (it is set up, but then strangely forgotten by the characters). Nevertheless, it is a well-told tale, one that was an engaging, enjoyable read. With ‘soft force’ it nudges the reader to think about food and where it comes from. By focusing on a single aspect of the ecosystem – bees – Doyle’s book has greater resonance and authority than those that adopt a wider approach. It is a welcome addition to the growing canon of ecofiction.

Kevan Manwaring, 12 April 2022

Seeing Double

Faerie Tale & The Stolen Child

A Double Review

I read these books in quick succession and they are interesting looking at in tandem for their affinities and differences. The first (in order of reading, and also in publication date) was Raymond E. Feist’s Faerie Tale (1988) which I’d known about for a few years but only got round to reading recently. I sort of expected it to be a bit of a guilty pleasure kind of a book rather than anything too high-brow, and I wasn’t mistaken. It was like watching something on Netflix – with the usual contemporary quota of sex, violence and special FX. Feist transposed fairy folklore motifs to New York State in a similar way to De Lint’s fictionalised Canadian town. A ‘perfect’ family – a successful writer father, beautiful and intelligent mother, young scampish twin brothers, and a step-daughter from a former marriage – move into a ‘characterful’ old place once belonging to an eccentric German emigrant. You just know things are going to go weird. The fun here is seeing what an American author does with European fairy and folk motifs. It’s an uneven mix – in some instances, Feist gives them a darker edge, for examples, a shape-changing Puck-type who rapes the daughter; in other ways, the cutesy corny iconography of little beings with wings remains. There is the Wild Hunt, vividly imagined, especially by Geoff Taylor’s masterful cover (fans of Robert Holdstock will recognise the cover artist’s style – and I suspect Taylor was chosen to win over fans of the recently published Mythago Wood (1984) and Lavondyss (1986), with this coming out in 1988 originally), given an almost Terminator 2-ish makeover, glistening with silver fire. But then Feist unconvincingly adopts a pseudo-Shakespearean register in some of the later scenes, a slippage of tone which threatens to undermine the narrative – gripping in other ways as it reaches it denouement. As a page-turner, and a pot-boiler, it is fit-for-purpose, a schlocky bit of comfort reading. The boys are resilient and their intimate sibling world is well-evoked, as is that of the annoying teenage ‘princess’, heiress to a fabulous fortune. Old Barney, an Irish-American living close by, is the stuff of stereotype but has a certain charm about him – an Old World evocation of the Fairy Faith. The occult author, Blackman, is in many ways less likeable and convincing – he seems little more than an expositional device for info-dump research into the narrative. The whole artifice of the novels feels a bit flimsy, as though Feist is playing dressing up with these tropes – a bit of a literary tourism – rather than writing about them in an embodied, felt and authentic way. It is a curiousity more than a work of any lasting literary values – but it probably paid the bills. And for any creative following their bliss that’s an achievement not to be sniffed at.

In contrast, Keith Donohue’s debut novel, The Stolen Child (2006), is literary fantasy of real quality. You can tell from the exquisitely crafted prose that this was a labour of love about a subject the author clearly had an obsession with – indeed it feels at times as though it is semi-autobiographical in part. It relates the story of a Henry Day, a malcontent pianist languishing in small-town mid-America, who turns out to be not Henry Day at all but a changeling, that is a fairy who has stolen the identity of the original Henry, while the human child has been lured away to the ‘waters and the wild’, as in WB Yeats’ classic poem. The drama is primarily created by the tribulations of this ‘cuckoo’ and his attempt to fit in to the Day ‘nest’. His father intuits something is awry and suffers as a consequence, haunted by the gnawing uncertainty that the child is not his own for years. Donohue deftly alternates this life in the ‘daylight’ with the demi-monde world of the changelings, which the author as imagined as a kind of tribe of ‘lost boys’ (and girls), living an anarchic, feral existence on the fringes of the human world. These fairies are charmingly human – albeit with the odd supernatural ability (e.g. shape-changing). They are also doomed to remain the same age they were when abducted – on the outside, at least, resulting in an uneasy collision of adult foibles and desires in a child’s body. Many of them look on with envy at the human world – its range of cuisine, clothing and literature. It drives some of them to make a den beneath the public library – and indeed the changelings seem bound the human world, rather than dwelling in another world, which doesn’t seem to exist. None of the usual pantheon from the Fairy Tradition seems to exist beyond these rather sad strays. It’s a lonely, impoverished life which makes the changelings adult-children pitiful, more than fearful. The human imposter, ‘Henry Day’, is far more sinister, yet even this unlikable anti-hero becomes redeemed somewhat by a girlfriend, and by his music. Through the latter he attempts to make amends, by creating a symphony which gives voice to the dis-enfranchised stolen children. In some ways, the novel’s dramatic arc is one depicting the creative process. From the creative tension and cross-fertilisation of worlds, art is born. But not without cost. Donohue’s ecosystem is closed one of ruthless reciprocity. Everything comes at a price. The tighter focus of The Stolen Child makes it claustrophobic, but more effective and convincing. The writing is more finely-crafted than Feist’s – sentences not just being utilitarian, relentlessly driving the plot forward like script slug-lines, but actually an aesthetic pleasure to read. This is an author with an eye for detail – the minutiae of both worlds. The uncanny is framed within a sharply rendered American setting. The tone is one of realism, not fey whimsy. And there is successful inter-textuality. Here, Donohue delightfully has the changelings glutting on Shakespeare and other poets, revelling in any writing that references them, that makes it feel as though they exist. Art gives them voice, even agency. They can have an existence beyond the narrow confines of their world. Donohue has clearly done his research, but here weaves it in with elfish skill. The only slip is in the strangely clunky beginning – when he info-dumps unnecessary etymologies on us. There is a sense of a fledgling author finding his feet, or voice – but when he does, the prose takes flight. I look forward to more from this promising and clearly highly-accomplished author.

 

Kevan Manwaring 23 July 2016

Walking with Laurie

John Lee reads out an extract of 'Cider with Rosie' by Rose Cottage, Slad, 22 June 2014

Anthea Lee reads out an extract of ‘Cider with Rosie’ by Rose Cottage, Slad, 22 June 2014

I rounded off a glorious solstice weekend (which began with watching the sunrise over Stonehenge with 37,000 people!) by taking a group of 17 walking in the footsteps of Laurie Lee – one of the series of ‘Walking with Words’ literary rambles I’ve organised for Hawkwood College.

The weather was glorious as we wended our way up the Slad valley to the start point, overlooking Rose Cottage (which Laurie Lee purchased with royalties from ‘Cider with Rosie’). We had a lovely group – including 3 cousins of the great man himself, which was very special. I encouraged them to chip in with any info, and to take turns (alongside the rest of the group) reading out extracts of the book.

Along the way we bumped into some of then newly-installed poetry posts, which we also recited from  – they’re beautifully-designed and a great initiative from the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, who have created a Wildlife Way around the poet’s beloved Slad Valley. You see the landscape through his words (literally, as they are printed on perspex) – and thus you gain an insight into his world and a deeper appreciation of the natural environment. Writing can change our perception of places – and it certainly does here, enriching it enormously. Psychogeography seems a fancy, urbanish word for such a bucolic idyll as we experienced that day – but there is an element of that in the way we interfaced with the many facets: ecology, local history, literature, social history, etc.

We paid our respects at the lovely gravestone ( the man himself said: ‘I want to be buried between the pub and the church, so that I can balance the secular and the spiritual’, from Valerie Grove’s biography, p510) and then I showed the group the memorial window inside. There is an art exhibition on – and invigilating it was James Witchall, who designed the windows, another moment of serendipity! He happily told us about the commission and design. The church was beautifully decorated with flowers – it was lovely to see it brimming with art and nature, and visitors. I finished the walk outside the Woolpack, with the final section of the book, and then some of us went back to Hawkwood for a delicious lunch.

A Slad Century - performed by Adam Horovitz and Becky Dellow outside Rosebank Cottage, Slad, 22 June 2014

A Slad Century – performed by Adam Horovitz and Becky Dellow outside Rosebank Cottage, Slad, 22 June 2014

That would have made a perfect day by itself, but then I went back to Slad to explore the exhibition a bit more, and then make my way to Rosebank Cottage (Laurie Lee’s childhood home) for a poetry and music perform – A Slad Century with Adam Horovitz and Becky Dallow. It was very special to be in the well-tended garden of this famous domicile, sitting on the lawn sipping Pimms in ‘poets corner’ along with other Stroud bards: Denis Gould, Rick Vick and Richard Austin. Listening to Adam and Becky I slipped into a blissful reverie. I felt I oozed into the soil and became one with the Slad Valley, curled up in its arms like an ammonite. After an epic weekend (overnight Stonehenge tour; one hour storytelling performance in Rockingham Village Hall; over 300 miles of travel – many on the motorbike) I was exhausted but content. Laurie Lee’s writing does (largely) evoke a nostalgic, bucolic idyll – but sitting in the sun in Rosebank Cottage, enjoying poetry, fiddle, a drink and good company, I do not think that is a bad thing. Such experiences feed the soul and make life on this beautiful, blighted world a lot more bearable.

Afterwards, we decamped to The Woolpack where we ensconced ourselves in Laurie Lee’s ‘corner’. Amongst the company of fellow poets, (who all carry the torch past on by Lee and other great Gloucestershire writers) I felt a warm sense of belonging to this precious corner of the Cotswolds.

To finish with the words of Cotswold Ballads poet, Frank Mansell, who was helped into print by his friend Laurie Lee. In thanking his fellow poet, Frank wrote:

‘What we are really doing is creating a legend, leaving a landmark, a sarsen stone to show we passed this way’.

 

The summer solstice sun rises over the Heel Stone, Stonehenge, 21 June 2014, by Kevan Manwaring

The summer solstice sun rises over the Heel Stone, Stonehenge, 21 June 2014, by Kevan Manwaring

(***on 22 July, I am running a 1-day writing workshop at Hawkwood College on Landscape, Memory and the Imagination***)

Many more events celebrating the Laurie Lee Centenary can be found here.

Wetting the Baby’s Head

A Feast of Words - Josie Felce

A Feast of Words – Josie Felce

Last night we officially wetted the baby’s head with the launch of the Cotswold Word Centre  at Hawkwood College on World Book Day.

Cotswold Word Centre launch

Cotswold Word Centre launch

We gathered in the Studios to schmooze and toast with Bucks Fizz, vino and biodynamic cordial before things got under way in earnest. I introduced the evening, then we had a word from Alicia Carey, the Principal of Hawkwood, followed by Katie Lloyd-Nunn who read out the lovely message from Jamila Gavin, our sponsor (see below).

Anthony Nanson performs 'The Painswick Elders'

Anthony Nanson performs ‘The Painswick Elders’

20140306_202303

Jehanne and Rob Mehta round the evening off

We then had a scintillating line-up of local poets, storytellers, and singers: Jo Bousfield’s group, Playing with Words; Robin Collins; Angie Spencer; Josie Felce; Jo Woolley; Gabriel Millar; Anthony Nanson; and finishing off the proceedings with Jehanne and Rob Mehta. The atmosphere was lovely and warm-hearted, and there were lots of positive comments afterwards. Everybody seemed to have a good time, and many said how well-organised and held the event was. The performers were very professional, keeping it tight and on theme – with some pieces written especially for the event. We have such a wealth of talent in this area – we’re so blessed! It was satisfying to launch my ‘Writers of Gloucestershire’ map, after slaving away on it all winter – a signed limited edition of 100 was produced, and each contributor got to take one home. My hope is the Cotswold Word Centre will put Hawkwood and Stroud even more on the map – as the hub of wonderful word-based activity in the area. We have started a journey- and we hope you join us… A CWC ‘brain shower’ is planned for a month’s time – watch this space!

(from left) Alicia Carey, Principal of Hawkwood College; Kevan Manwaring (co-ordinator of the Cotswold Word Centre); Katie Lloyd-Nunn (education co-ordinator of Hawkwood College)

(from left) Alicia Carey, Principal of Hawkwood College; Kevan Manwaring (co-ordinator of the Cotswold Word Centre); Katie Lloyd-Nunn (education co-ordinator of Hawkwood College)

Message from Jamila Gavin

Jamila Gavin, author, patron of the Cotswold Word Centre

Jamila Gavin, author,
patron of the Cotswold Word Centre

As a somewhat hybrid creature: born in India, worked in London but having settled in Stroud in 1970, I feel very proud to have been asked by the Cotswold Word Centre to be a patron. It makes me feel I belong in a place where I want to belong. I think the first time I heard of the Cotswolds, was as a four year old, hearing my English mother’s somewhat dreamy hope, expressed in a Punjab village, that one day she would have a cottage in the Cotswolds – and indeed she did, albeit about thirty years later. And it’s what brought me to the Cotswolds.

It’s not just the beauty of the area, but something else which makes it such a hive of creativity. There are artists, poets, musicians, film-makers, craftspeople and writers up and down the valleys – and this is not recent. We know so much of the artistic expression that has come from the Cotswolds has embodied a very particular spirit: English, yet British, yet international. It strikes a chord of recognition with people who have never been here, and creates a kind of longing to experience a little bit of that spirit which expresses some kind of universal need.

So it is extremely appropriate that there should be a Cotswold Word Centre which, judging by what has already been achieved, will be, not just a haven, but also a hub, for vibrant creativity, exchange of ideas, safe criticism, and loads and loads of inspiration.  

I look forward to my association with you all.

Jamila Gavin, patron of the Cotswold Word Centre

Walking with Words

Sign for Laurie Lee Wood, opened this June by his widow, Kathy.

Sign for Laurie Lee Wood, opened this June by his widow, Kathy.

I have a series of literary rambles coming up – Walking with Words – as part of the Cotswold Word Centre programme which I’ve devised in conjunction with Hawkwood College. WWW combines two of my favourite things – literature and walking. Last week I walked each of the routes, and had an enjoyable time reading out poems in situ on Crickley Hill with my friend Anthony.

Anthony Nanson reads out some Ivor Gurney on Crickley Hill, KM

Anthony Nanson reads out some Ivor Gurney on Crickley Hill, KM

Here’s a poem I penned on Swift’s Hill in Slad Valley – made famous by Gloucestershire’s most famous writer, Laurie Lee.

ON SWIFT’S HILL

On Swift’s Hill I learn to be still.

A walk in silence

fills my head with murmorous voices.

I venture down the meandering backlines

and bywords of Laurie’s valley,

where a walk is a sentence as long as the day.

This strange familiar land

steeped in his words

like a rat in cider.

Long lost ghosts come alive

at the touch of his pen,

at the turn of a page.

The shadows lengthen,

the bramble bushes ripen,

black handgrenades of juice

waiting to ambush your tongue.

The trees are heavy with summer,

like cows slowly coming home,

In this wild heaven

the day takes as long

as it wants.

The busy world

is elsewhere.

The Severn is a silver slither

on the horizon.

Dark Wales, a frowning brow.

The golden Cotswold massif,

a broken off slab of toffee.

The barrowed hills of peace

where the dead keep mum.

Somewhere below,

my worries await,

but for now they can cool their heels.

I’m walking with Laurie

and there’s always time for a slow half

in the Woolpack’s hallowed snug.

 

Kevan Manwaring

2nd September 2013

On Swift's Hill, Slad Valley, KM

On Swift’s Hill, Slad Valley, KM

Check out this lovely programme about Laurie Lee’s Slad Valley – Laurie Lee Land on Radio 4’s Open Country –

featuring Stroud’s very own poetical son, Adam Horovitz, of the famous dynasty of verse (Michael & Frances Horovitz).

 

 

WALKING WITH WORDS

Kevan Sapperton walk with Jay 17 Feb '13
Throughout Autumn/Winter 2013-14 Kevan will be leading a series of literary rambles around Gloucestershire – in the footsteps of some of the great writers who have lived here: Laurie Lee, Edward Thomas, Ivor Gurney, WH Davies and John Drinkwater. Each walk will be 2-3 hours long, moderate, approx. 5 miles, and will include plenty of time to ‘stand and stare’, (or sit and write). A lovely Sunday roast lunch will be provided by Hawkwood College. Transport can arranged.

Sunday 22nd September

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF LAURIE LEE (part of ‘Walking With Words’)

On the eve of Laurie Lee’s centenary year, walk in the footsteps of the great Gloucestershire writer through his beloved Slad Valley – finding inspiration en route for your own writing. There will be plenty of opportunities to ‘stand and stare’ on this gentle bardic amble. We’ll visit the orchard Laurie Lee saved, donated by his family to the Wildlife Trust. After paying our respects at his grave, a drink in his local, The Woolpack, (be it Rosie cider or a cup of coffee) will slake your thirst before returning to Hawkwood College for lunch. Led by local writer and keen walker Kevan Manwaring.

email: info@hawkwoodcollege.co.uk

or telephone: 01453 759034

Sunday 29th September

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF WH DAVIES (part of ‘Walking With Words’@ Hawkwood College)

WH Davies (Author of ‘Autobiography of a Supertramp’) died in Nailsworth on 26th September, 1940. He is best remembered for his much-loved poem, ‘Leisure’. In this walk we visit the cottage Davies resided in, and explore his old stomping ground, finding inspiration along the way. Lifts to be arranged from Hawkwood College, where we’ll return for a delicious lunch.
Booking: info@hawkwoodcollege.co.uk

or telephone: 01453 759034

 

Sunday 6th October

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF EDWARD THOMAS & ROBERT FROST (part of ‘Walking With Words’)

On the 100th Anniversary of the first meeting between poets Edward Thomas and Robert Frost we follow in the footsteps of one of their famous ‘walks-talking’ bardic rambles, up May Hill where Thomas wrote ‘Words’. Lifts to be arranged from Hawkwood College, where we’ll return for a delicious lunch.

email: info@hawkwoodcollege.co.uk

or telephone: 01453 759034


Sunday 3rd November

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF IVOR GURNEY (part of ‘Walking With Words’)

On Remembrance Sunday we remember the First World War Poet, Ivor Gurney, who loved Gloucestershire. We’ll visit the Beak at Birdlip and read his work as we go, finding inspiration for our own writing along the way. Lifts to be arranged from Hawkwood College, where we’ll return for a delicious lunch. (‘Strange the large difference of up-Cotswold ways;/Birdlip climbs bold and treeless to a bend,
Portway to dim wood-lengths without end,/And Crickley goes to cliffs that are the crown of days.’ Cotswold Ways, Ivor Gurney)

email: info@hawkwoodcollege.co.uk

or telephone: 01453 759034
Sunday 6th April

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF JOHN DRINKWATER (part of ‘Walking With Words’)

On this walk we follow in the footsteps of Dymock Poet, John Drinkwater, who memorably wrote of ‘Cotswold Love’ in April (‘When April comes to Amberley/With skies of April blue/And Cotswold girls are briding/With slyly tilted shoe.). We’ll travel up to Rodborough Common and walk to the Black Horse in Amberley – writing and reciting as we go. Lifts to be arranged from Hawkwood College, where we’ll return for a delicious lunch.

email: info@hawkwoodcollege.co.uk

or telephone: 01453 759034

Mist Over Pendle

Men with Hats!

Men with Hats!

16 November

 

Clitheroe & Pendle

(written in Gloucester Station)

 

Boots still damp from bog-trotting on Pendle Hill today – walked up there with Anthony Nanson, fellow writer and storyteller. He had arranged a joint reading in his old home town of Clitheroe, Lancashire, where he went to Grammar School (‘Like The History Boys, but without the homosexuality!’). We stayed with his parents, Simon (ex-headmaster) and Cynthia (ceramicist and mean cook), who were most hospitable. I even got to sleep in Anthony’s old room. It was really special to let into his past like this.

 

The next morning we dropped some books off at the shop, looking perhaps a little bohemian for a small Northern town with Anthony’s Aslan-ish mane and my devilish hat. Afterwards, as we had a few hours to kill before the gig, Anthony took me up to ‘the Cut’, a notch in Pendle Hill frequented by revellers on Halloween (not a place to hang about, according to Anthony’s schooldays reminiscences, but very much part of the mythic landscape of his childhood). Here, with a dramatic vista either side we rehearsed our stories, slightly apart from one another.

 

Failing to raise Old Nick with our ‘incantations’, (our mythic mumblings would have probably had us burnt two or three centuries earlier) we drove into ‘witch country’ – now clearly sign-posted (as the Pendle Witches have been marketed as local heritage) although we still managed to have a moment of ‘navigational uncertainty’, at a suitably bleak crossroads, where the signs seemed to point all the wrong way (which, as it turned out, they did – having been bent round! It was all getting a bit ‘Blair Witch’…) We found the village, which seemed rather pleasant and harmless, as no doubt the ‘witches’ were – persecuted for political ends or local grudges. With the temperature dropping, we wended our way back to the town. Time to get to work.

 

The ‘reading’  (more a performance, as we didn’t use the texts) took place in Kaydee Bookshop – where Anthony worked for a year. We were co-promoting Anthony’s short story collection Exotic Excursion and my non-fiction tome, Lost Islands – a good combination. We told thirty minutes of material each, alternating ten minute slots. After Anthony’s introduction I started my set with the opening of Oisín and Niamh, including the poem, ‘Delightful is the land beyond all dreams’. In the middle I did The Spirit Bride, an Algonquin tale (which I last performed in Malta last November at Metageum). I ended with two modern stories – a Climate Change one about the ‘discovery’ of a found island, Nymark, in the Arctic, due to melting ice; the other was about how the Onge tribe of Little Andaman survived the Indian Ocean Tsunami thanks to the thirty to fifty thousand years of folklore. Anthony was thoroughly professional and engaging as usual. He hesitated doing his last ‘spoken fiction’ story from Exotic Excursions – because of an incursion by mainly teenage girls halfway through the event, but after apparently listening to Spirit Bride they up sticks and left, so luckily we got to hear Anthony’s movingly subtle rendition of his lakeside epiphany – an experience perhaps you appreciate far more, the older you get. It would be nice to have someone to share such a moment with. Indirectly, I supposed we had…a small but committed audience listened attentively (mostly Anthony’s family and friends, including an old Primary school teacher). We sold three books each, and they took six more of Anthony’s title on sale or return. The long trip certainly wasn’t reciprocated financially – most of it went on petrol and trains – but in other ways it felt worth the effort. It was great to have a break away from Bath after a heavy fortnight of teaching and marking. I hadn’t really been away from Bath properly since late September (OOTO/Long Man). Also, I have had a hard time lately – separating from my partner and, earlier in the week, having a motorcycle crash. I survived (a bruised knee and bank balance) but my beloved Zuki is in the garage awaiting repairs – the last thing I needed in these difficult times. 

          I was appreciative that Anthony was allowing me into his past – as we walked streets ghosted with memory. Later that evening, after the gig, we went into town with Andrew, an old Grammar School friend of his. We holed up in the Castle, by a merry fire. The old friends got caught up in a discussion about economics, while I yearned for some more feminine company. Anthony said I go to a pub to drink, but actually I want to connect with my emotions – not my intellect – after a tiring week’s teaching. I find a political debate not that relaxing, whileas some love to argue the toss (they had both been members of the school’s debating society and you could tell). I wished I’d gone into the other room to watch the musician, but by the time I decided to do this, he had finished. When we got back, I just hit the sack. It had been a tiring day.

 

          Sunday, the weather miraculously cleared up after an overcast start. Togged up, we set off with some basic supplies – from Anthony’s ‘iron rations’. We parked in the pretty village of Barley and followed the line of reservoirs up – the effort warming us up, as it was chilly. We stopped to savour the black lines of bare trees against the silver water, the steep flanks of green hills beyond, the reddish bracken in the foreground. It was cold, clear – with a Celtic clarity about it, like one of those Medieval vignettes, perhaps the Gawain poem – one could have easily imagined the Green Knight dwelling up one of the cloughs, the sound of him sharpening his axe ringing in the brassy air. We carried on up passed the Boar of Wembory Clough, a jagged gulley down which iron knots of water gurgled. We were meant to follow the V of the main beck (?) all the way up but the path seemed to vanish into muddy, rocky slopes – so we struck out across country, hoping to intersect the lost track, but found ourselves bogtrotting over spongy ground riddled with treacherous ‘holes’ of brackish water. It was tiring slog, but at least it was sunny. It would have been grim going in wind and raining. This wasn’t a place to linger in such conditions. It had a wildness about it, an abode of trolls. After a determined yomp we hit the stone slab pathways – what bliss – which led to the top, the ‘Big End’. After ritualistically touching the trig point we went to the brow of the steep side to enjoy the spectacular view over the Ribble Valley. It had been certainly worth the effort. We enjoyed the prospect despite the noisy group of ramblers nearby, stopping for their summit snack like us, before the temperature made them move on. It was a clear day, and the Big End afforded fine views. We scoffed some crisps and chocolate and got moving again, making a small diversion at my request to Robin Hood’s Well, from which we both sipped. It was a romantic place, one could imagine the wolfshead slaking his thirst here as he looked back to his possibly native Yorkshire. I asked for cunning and agility, for it was also known as Fox’s well, but this was probably after George Fox, the founder of the Quakers, who had a vision on Pendle which inspired him to found his new religion. It was easy to see why – this place lent itself easily to noble thoughts, to vision. We now stood on Mount Epiphany, in the footsteps of prophets, and drank from those same waters…Having supped from the source, we gladly descended, body temperature plummeting. Down the steep rock steps passed the hordes of visitors flocking up, some ill-attired for the heights or a sudden turn in the weather. It was good to descend to milder climes now, although the land retained its wonderful rugged quality. We followed a merry beck lined with tangled hawthorns back down to the carpark, and, after purchasing some placatory jam (a token gesture to my kindly hospitable hosts) we wended our way home to Anthony’s parents for a lovely lunch, before hitting the road in earnest – South, a long but agreeable ride down the Welsh Marches. Anthony dropped me off at Gloucester station, where a dull long train ride home awaited (3 hours!). I wearily made it back to the Cauldron, ready to collapse – but first I finished off the stew I’d made earlier in the week, and hit the sack with toddy and bottle. A tiring jaunt, but I was certainly better for it than if I’d stewed at home all weekend. Nature is most certainly the best medicine. I agree with GM Trevelyan, who said: ‘I have two doctors, my left leg and my right.’ I am grateful to have both.