Tag Archives: Malverns

Walking with Thomas

The sun used to shine while we two walked
Slowly together, paused and started
Again, and sometimes mused, sometimes talked
As either pleased, and cheerfully parted

                                                                                  The Sun Used to Shine, Edward Thomas

 

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Near Dymock, K. Manwaring, 2017

On the 100th anniversary of the death of Edward Thomas, poet, who died at the Battle of Arras, Easter Monday, 9th April 1917, after only two months in France, my friend Anthony Nanson (writer, editor and cousin of  the Edwardian editor and critic Edward Garnett) and I undertook a memorial walk around Dymock, Gloucestershire, where he lived for a brief while with his family at Oldfields, just over the field from his fellow adventurer in verse, Robert Frost.

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Setting off on the Poets Path, K. Manwaring 2017

It was a glorious Spring morning when we set off from opposite the Beauchamp Arms (where Frost and Thomas liked to sink a pint or two), the sun was shining as it did upon their famous ‘walks-talking’ (‘The Sun Used to Shine’), the sky was a freshly-scrubbed blue, and the fields were brimming with wild daffodils, daisies, anemones and bluebells.

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Reading by the Old Nail Shop, A. Nanson, 2017

We walked an indulgent ten hours, from 10am-8pm, at an ambling pace – stopping intermittently to read poems in situ – on a 13.5 mile route that took us around the old stomping ground of the Dymock Poets, as they became known (close to Frost and Thomas lived Wilfrid Gibson and Lascelles Abercrombie, who along with John Drinkwater and Rupert Brooke, formed the loose band of bardic brothers). We followed some of the Poets Paths (2 routes which take in the key sites, although in a poorly-signposted and badly-maintained way), but quickly struck out on our own way, a road less travelled, taking us via the Greenway crossroads, site of the Old Nail Shop (Gibson’s former residence) through Brooms Green and Bromesberrow, before striking out on the ridge up to southern tip of the Malvern Hills and our destination for the day, Ragged Stone Hill, another Dymock ‘hot spot’ (as marked by Gibson’s eponymous poem).

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The view from Ragged Stone Hill, looking backward towards Dymock, May Hill in the distance, K. Manwaring 2017

It turned out to be a hot day, so we took it easy, finding frequent excuses to stop, stand and stare (as advocated in ‘Leisure’ by WH Davies, a visitor to the Dymocks). Supertramp Davies was not only an epic walker (even with a wooden leg, having lost one while freight-car hopping in America) but also an animal lover (see his poem, ‘The Dumb World’), and he would have enjoyed the many encounters we had today – splendid pedigree horses; a whole colony of pigs, the sows feeding their litters of lively piglets; proud ewes with their sprightly lambs; frisky young bulls (a herd seeking to harangue us from one end of the field to the next until I waved them off). There must have been something in the air, because the livestock seemed to get increasingly frisky towards evening. At one point I had to fend off the challenge of a feisty black bullock with my walking stick.

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One Man and his Stick, Kevan on Chase End Hill, A. Nanson, 2017

Along the way we talked about many things – the writer’s life, lecturing (we both teach in universities), cabbages and kings and everything under the sun. We read out poems by Thomas and the Dymocks along the way – I choosing mine at random, Anthony selecting his from the contents page. Here’s what we shared:

Early one morning – ET (KM)

The Lane – ET (AN)

The Old Nail Shop – WG (KM)

May 23 – ET (KM)

The Bridge – ET (AN)

The Ragged Stone  – WG (KM)

Iris by Night – RF (KM)

Celandines – ET (AN)

But These Things Also ET (KM)

The Poets: ET – Edward Thomas; RF – Robert Frost; WG – Wilfrid Gibson
Readers: AN – Anthony Nanson; KM – Kevan Manwaring

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Anthony reads The Bridge, K. Manwaring, 2017

The views from the ridge were magnificent, looking back across the Dymock vale – May Hill in the hazy distance (another favourite jaunt of Frost and Thomas) – the vibrant shades of green upon the trees, the meadows festooned with flowers, every detail picked out by the golden afternoon sun. This part of England, where Gloucestershire meets Herefordshire, is so quintessential it is positively Arcadian (at one point we strolled through a handsome country estate where lambs hopped, skipped and raced about by the shores of a royal blue lake, a pastoral idyll that just needed a shepherdess to complete the picture). To connect the flat fields of Dymock with the dramatic peaks (or rather ‘Marilyns’) of the Malverns was satisfying – a transition that Frost and Thomas would have enjoyed, heading for the hills to get a perspective on their lives, away, for a day’s meandering, from families, bills, deadlines and looming war.

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Light and shadow co-exist in Thomas’ poetry. K. Manwaring 2017

The flanks of Ragged Stone hill have a Faerie quality to them – alive with Earth energy. Perhaps this is not surprising as it is said to be a nexus of ley-lines, as initially discovered the original ley-hunter, Alfred Watkins (who described his theories in The Old Straight Track). Next to it is the Whiteleaved Oak, said to be the site of one of the Three Perpetual Choirs (as cited in the Welsh Triads), along with Glastonbury and Ely. The harmony of the land was maintained by the choirs there, and to this day the Three Choirs Festival takes place in the area. In a way, perhaps the Dymock Poets, with their songs of verse, were also maintaining the land’s equilibrium. I really do believe that for a brief while they created, with their inspiring creative fellowship, a Little Eden in a quiet corner of England. And whenever kindred spirits gather together to share their stories, songs, verse, laughter and love, it can happen again.

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A well-earned rest on Ragged Stone Hill, only 4 hours back to the car! K. Manwaring 2017

As the sun set, the trees silhouetted by its evanescent golden after-glow, the ink of shadows oozing from the earth, we made it, foot-weary but happy, to the Beauchamp Arms, were we raised a pint in memory of Edward Thomas.  In Steep and Aldestrop there had been memorial events also on that day, but here in Dymock, Anthony and I, in our modest little way, had perpetuated the choir of the Dymock Poets with our walks-talking, in the spirit of Frost and Thomas.

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Elected Friends, Edward Thomas (left) & Robert Frost.

 

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The Fecund Earth

Resurgence Camp 25-26 July

Resurgence Camp

Green & Away, Bransford

Just returned from an inspiring time at the Resurgence Readers Camp, the annual gathering for readers of the fabulous magazine ‘at the heart of Earth, art and spirit’. This was held at Green & Away, an eco-conference centre near the Malverns. Both organisations are inspiring, taking positive steps to live in harmony with the planet and each other – seek them out!

I was booked to give a talk on Awen Publications and its ecobardic ethos (as summed up in An Ecobardic Manifesto by Fire Springs) Sunday morning, thanks to my friend, poet Jay Ramsay – who was down to run a poetry workshop there. Fellow Bard of Bath Helen Moore was due to perform but had to drop out, so I stepped in: Number 3, rather than 8!

I rode up on Saturday afternoon in the sun, after dealing with ‘bikefright’ (a flattish battery). After a productive, but full-on week (getting to the end of Book II of The Wounded Kingdom; preparing The Well Under the Sea for publication; writing the introduction to Mary’s posthumous collection, Tidal Shift…gathering in the harvest) perhaps my batteries were low too, but it was worth the effort. The site is beautifully managed, in a permaculture way – lots of green things growing amongst the tents – used throughout the summer and run by a core team of G&A volunteers who have clearly put love into the place. Food was laid on, which was a pleasant surprise – and a relief – as after I’d loaded the bike with Awen stock and my tat there wasn’t room for any cooking stuff!

Saturday night’s main entertainment was with Ashly Ramsden, who performed an impressive solo show that last over 2 hours! It was a narrative woven around the wise stories of Sufi folk hero, Nasruddin, stories Ashley has made his own. There was some musical accompaniment from Jay, his friend artist Hereward Gabriel and others, which helped to break things up a little. It was a testimony of Ashley’s skill (& stamina) that the audience stayed the distance until the end, gone 10. We had been well and truly ‘hodja’d’!

Afterwards, I enjoyed the campfire and the ‘village pub’ before deciding on a whim to experience the sauna/sweat lodge. I stripped off, my poncho serving as a towel/robe. It was an intimate session – just five of us. We sat in the steaming darkness, ommed, sang daft songs and gave thanks. I get folk to do an awen, which really resonated there – so I repeated the activity the next day at my talk. Afterwards, emerging naked into the night, felt wonderfully alive, gazing up at the stars whilst enjoying a shower!

The next day, I penned this poem in Jay’s ‘edges’ poetry workshop:

A Green Way

The fecund earth

breathes

damp green goodness.

Plums ripe on the tongue

release their slow sunlight.

Naked in the dark, glistening,

reborn from the hot, wet womb

wearing a skin of stars.

Fireworks explode,

fruit of light.

I met a man looking

for a mirror in the dark.

Songs in the silence,

prayers swirl in steam,

skirls of smoke.

Swimming in sleep

we plunge into the river’s dream.

***

After a final plenary, when feedback and ideas were shared, we all struck camp – barrowing our tat back to the carpark like post Peak Oil hoboes. Bid fond farewell to Jay & Hereward and hit the road – a long ride home in the rain, (any ride in a downpour is too long) but it certainly worth it.

A magical place – a lovely group of people. Recommended!

***

A sad coda – I got home from this inspiring event to discover the Big Green Gathering had been cancelled. It sounds like the Blue Meanies did their very best to make it impossible for the organisers to continue, and so they were forced to pull the plug. This is a damning indictment of the kind of skew-whiff society we live in, when such a positive, creative event gets squished. The Big Green Gathering has been running since 1994, emerging out of the Green Field at Glastonbury Festival, and is the best, big festival around for my money. When so many festivals have huge environmental impact and implode on themselves after three days, bloated beasts of mainstream consumer culture, the Big Green pioneered a low-impact sustainable approach, with many wind, solar and pedalled powered stages, recycling, permaculture, compost loos, organic and fair-trade fare … long before such concepts became trendy. At BGG it wasn’t about big name bands who are deemed successful by how much money they make for the corporate coffers, but grass-roots creativity. You could spend five days doing fabulous green craft workshops; getting ‘genned’ up in the Campaigns Field or Green Forum; hanging out in lovely cafes, or the beautiful magical spaces made with love; hearing mind-expanding talks in the Earth Energies field; receiving healing vibes in the Healing Field; dancing to some up-and-coming band or festival favourite; meeting old friends and making new ones… The BGG is an inspiring expo of green solutions. It is more about lifestyle, than superficial fashion. Attitude than income. You get the feeling that the majority of BGG contributors walk their talk – they live it, year round, not just for one weekend a year. If the authorities stop something as positive as this, then that shows how morally and intellectually bankrupt they are. We can see all around us signs that the ‘System’ is not working – indeed it is collapsing before our eyes, as banks and big businesses go into tail-spin – the BGG, in its colourful way offers alternatives. Which, do you think, is more valid? Which ark would you rather be on? Long live BGG! May it rise from the ashes of small-mindedness.

Read The Guardian article by John Vidal here

Big Green Gathering - a beautiful festival

Big Green Gathering - a beautiful festival

Rider on the Storm

Births, Deaths and Marriages

5-16 June

Sometimes life seems to challenge us – events come along to test what we’re made of, what we believe. It’s been one of those fortnights … but with positives that give me hope.

Within the last two weeks I’ve had to attend the funerals of an old friend from Northampton who committed suicide and a dear friend from Bath, who died of cancer last Tuesday: fellow poet, Mary Palmer, whose funeral is today – making two in a fortnight. This one will be a different affair from the one I attended in Northamptonshire for Sarah B, mother of two, who tragically took her own life on the 1st of May. Her ceremony took place at Olney Woodland Burial site. About twenty years ago I went to the first woodland burial in the county, for a lady called Jackie. Whether it was at this site or not, I cannot recall, but it is now a small forest. Many gathered in the carpark – and it was sad to think she took her life, when she had so many people who cared about her. I had ridden over the Cotswolds to be there for 2pm. I had ten minutes to spare, but Sarah’s partner and their daughter kept everyone waiting – turning up 50 minutes later (it must have been a huge ordeal for him and the kids). Many old faces were there. While we waited my bardic chum, Jimtom brewed me up a welcome cuppa in his van, which helped me to thaw out from the ride. I chatted to friends I hadn’t seen in ages, making surreal small-talk. Then, finally, we were ready to start. A guy with a flute led us in procession to the graveside. The haunting sound carried across the groves of remembrance and was deeply moving. A simple ceremony took place at the graveside, by the whicker casket. A poem of Sarah’s was read out. The casket was lowered into the ground. As everyone scattered in some flowers, we chanted ‘the river is flowing…’ led by the daughter and a friend. It was heart-breaking seeing the family, clearly decimated by their loss. Afterwards, we decamped to the United Reform Church in Yardley Hastings, just up the road, where no less than three religious ceremonies took place: Pagan, Christian and Buddhist (showing Sarah’s interests and tolerance), plus a moving presentation of her life – with photoes and music. There was a meal sometime in the evening – but not having had any lunch, I was spaced out and flagging, so I left to visit my Mum, whose 65th birthday it was that day – and the initial reason I was visiting Northampton then. It was a shame it was all on the same day, but it some ways it balanced it out: birthdays, deathdays… And the next morning I visited my sister and her wee bairn, Kerry, now a year and half old – eyes full of shining wonder. The cycle of life continues.

I rode home – wiped out from the draining experience, the funeral and a night around the fire in the rain with my ‘frenemies’, trying to rekindle some of the old Earth Rhythm magic and failing. God bless ’em – but I probably won’t be seeing them until the next one. Once we were close, but now we just get on each other’s nerves. It’s telling it took Sarah’s death to bring us together. A shame, but … people move on.

In extreme contrast to my grim time back in the old town, in Bath I went to a talk by Marina Warner on fairy tales (part of the International Music Festival) at St Michaels church, then onto a private view – my friend, William Balthazar Rose’s new show ‘Horses, Hats, Cooks and Cleavers’. Ah, it’s good to be back in Bath!

The next day I took part in King Bladud’s Pageant, despite not feeling particularly keen to read long complicated texts in large public spaces!

Looking every bit the Bath old fogey I read in John Wood's The Circus

Looking every bit the Bath old fogey I read in John Wood's The Circus, from The Bath Chronicle

Life continued, demanding attention, effort!

I had a heavy week, workwise, with a stack of marking to do – but on Tuesday, a bombshell hit. I received a call saying Mary Palmer had passed away early that morning at Dorothy House Hospice. Her sister was present. Having seen her (fortunately) last Thursday I knew she was on death’s door, but it was still a huge blow. Three months ago she had been performing at Waterstones. The cancer had come back and claimed her very quickly. I read to her in the hospice, and she seemed to be soothed by this, and took solace in the fact her words would live on – we’re publishing her selected poems. In the last few weeks she was able to edit her old work and write new material, up until the last week. It will be a poignant legacy to a brilliant poet. The way her friends have rallied around to help is so heartening.  We are all working hard to ensure her work will survive.

Tuesday night, despite receiving this awful news, I still had to teach somehow, as I was due to do my evening class at Chew Valley School. The session seems blighted – for it was on Tuesday a month ago I heard of Sarah’s suicide. I somehow dragged myself out of the house to go to the lesson, only to find my batteries were flat – and maybe just as well, as I wasn’t really in a psychologically fit state to ride. And today is Mary’s funeral – followed by the class. Not easy, being in the public eye!

Thursday morning I had been booked to run a private dawn ceremony at Stonehenge, through Gothic Image tours. I got up before sunrise and rode there – it was beautiful, seeing the sun rise over the misty, ancient landscape of Salisbury Plain. It was a stunning morning at the stones (for once). Introductions over, I led the small group from the States, Australia and Singapore into the stones, using my wolf-drum to lead the procession. We gathered in the circle and I started, casting the quarters with the help of volunteers (almost one from each corner of the world). In the gorsedd I performed Dragon Drance, which was a thrill to do in the stones, although at 6.30am I wasn’t at my best!  Still, it seemed to move people. A lovely bloke from Kansas wrote to me afterwards saying: ‘I thoroughly enjoyed and was moved by your poem at Stonehenge.  I’m not easily moved, but your words and your voice resonated deeply with me.’ He sent a photo too.

Bard on a Bike at Stonehenge, dawn 11.06.09

Bard on a Bike at Stonehenge, dawn 11.06.09, thanks to Larry Philips of Kansas

After the ceremony, we went back to the hotel they had been staying in, in Marlborough, for a very welcome cooked breakfast. It was nice to chat further with Jamie’s tour group. I don’t normally run ceremonies, but this was a pleasure. The sunshine makes all the difference!

Bon voyages over, then it was back home and down to earth with a bump for more marking!

The slog must go on!

Saturday, I, unusually, ran another ceremony – a handfasting at Stanton Drew, aka ‘the Wedding Stones’. This was only the second one I had done – the first, on my birthday a couple of years ago at Swallowhead Spring, near Silbury Hill, was for John and Colette. They recommended me to their friends, Nigel and Sophie. It was very special, to conduct the ceremony in the stones. Once more, I found myself leading a procession of people (this time much bigger – about 100) across the fields – negotiating an electric fence, cow pats and stampeding cattle (the cows, hearing our bells and seeing the line of movment may have thought it was feeding time – or was just overly curious. After a couple of attempts to join us or cut us off, they opted for circling a 4WD parked nearby, watching the gathering with frisky intent)! The sun broke through as we began. It was a beautiful ceremony – the couple clearly loved it, going by their beaming faces and comments afterwards. Many there hadn’t experienced anything like it before, and the responsive was overwhelmingly positive. Back at the lovely home of Nigel and Sophie (after a further trepidatious trapse through the cowfield) in the capacious garden, where marquees, dance floor, bar, buffet, chill-out yurt and fire had been set up, I led the toast to the newly weds with my poem, ‘The Wheel of the Rose’, and then entertained the guests with a wedding set, which seemed to go down well. My work done, it was time to hit the road – back to Bath, to say farewell to my friend Svanur, who was going back to Iceland, with a much welcome meal at Anna’s place.

Sunday, I needed a day off! I went on a great walk with fellow Fire Springer, Anthony, on the Malverns – managing to do a full circuit, from Swinyard Hill to Worcestershire Beacon and back again in the glorious sunshine, walking in the footsteps of Tolkien and Lewis, conversation flowing. It was ice-cream weather and a pint of a local ale in the Wyche Inn went down a treat too!

Last night, we held a Bath Storytelling Circle at the Raven especially dedicated to Mary, who was a regular attendee over its ten years’ of existence. Many moving tributes were shared, songs and poems performed in her name – and I can’t think of a better tribute than the way we gathered together in poetic fellowship, remembering her with beautiful words from the heart.

And today, the day of her funeral, I am sure many more moving words will be spoken. I’ve been asked to read out  a poem at the service and also speak in the celebration of her life afterwards at the Forum. It is hard being the bard sometimes – the one who remembers, the one who must stand up there and articulate what everyone is feeling (while being assailed with those feelings themselves), but that is my role and it seems destiny has made sure I fulfil it, by thrusting me into these situations. Bombarded by life (and death). It has been a maelstrom of emotion, these last couple of weeks, and at times it felt the only way I could survive was to ‘lash myself to the mast’, like Turner famously did. One has to ride with it, or be overwhelmed – back in Olney, poet William Cowper, captured this in one of his famous Olney Hymns of 1779, ‘Light Shining in the Darkness’:

God moves in a mysterious way,

His wonders to perform;

He plants his footsteps in the sea,

And rides upon the storm.