Tag Archives: motorbike

Riding the Wild part 5

Touring the Wild Atlantic Way and the Mythic Sites of Ireland

 

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Pitstop at Spiddal, County Galway, C. Smith, 2015

 

Before I turned to dust I wended my way further west, past Galway into Connemara’s epic landscape. My destination was picturesque Clifden, home of the Marconi towers, where aviation pioneers Alcock and Brown first made landfall after successfully crossing the Atlantic for the first time by powered flight. Here, I cooled my engine, enjoying a jar in a local bar where a merry session was taking place. My partner pitched in a couple of songs, and we felt part of the narrative.

 

At the grave of WB Yeats, Sligo, C. Smith 2015

At the grave of WB Yeats, Drumcliffe, Sligo. C. Smith 2015

 

            From Connemara we pushed on north – making pilgrimage to key Yeats’ sites in the year of his 150th anniversary. Sligo was making a big deal of it, the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann was just about to kick off and his face was everywhere (as Dylan Thomas’ was in Swansea last year for his centenary). Riding past the roadside banners it was moving to finally make it to his modest grave in Drumcliffe graveyard, where his father had delivered sermons from the pulpit. And then onto Glencar, the beautiful waterfall that inspired ‘The Stolen Child’ (and our own writing as we sat in earshot of its soft thunder). This ‘pink noise’ is most conducive to creativity – affecting the brainwaves from alpha to theta, making the synapses leap like Irish dancers.

 

Glencar Falls, K Manwaring 2015

Glencar Falls, Sligo, K. Manwaring 2015

 

Most thrilling of all for me was the visit to Lough Gill, the site of the ‘lake isle of Innisfree’. Here Yeats played as a child, but it was in London, on Fleet Street, that he was inspired to write the poem of longing, after the sound of a fountain reminded him of the  ‘lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore’.

 

Hazel Wood, Lough Gill, K Manwaring 2015

(The) Hazel Wood (of The Song of Wandering Aengus), Lough Gill, K. Manwaring, 2015

 

Also in the cauldron of his imagination at the time was Thoreau’s Walden, which describes the American’s attempt to live a ‘life in the woods’ for a year, building his own cabin. And when ‘Innisfree’ is read in this context, it echoes across the Atlantic, from Sligo to Massachusetts, where Thoreau built his small cabin and lived alone (except for visits from his mother who lived close by) in a ‘bee loud glade’. That dream of independence, however realistic, resonates with many of us who find ourselves like Rilke, ‘alone in the world, and yet not alone enough/to make every moment holy.’ The shore-line presents the possibility of escape from a world that places its demands upon us; and it can appear in unexpected places. Yeats stumbled upon the littoral in the middle of a busy London street. It can occur in any place, at any time, and is ultimately a state of mind, a moveable feast. Such routes as the Wild Atlantic Way provide a tangible visual analogue for this quality – but the littoral can be experienced wherever you are. All we have to do is, in the words of supertramp poet, WH Davies, ‘stand and stare’ and notice what novelist Colum McCann phrased: ‘the miracle of the actual’.

 

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Reaching the end of the Wild Atlantic Way, Kinsale Head, Ireland’s most northerly point. C. Smith, 2015

 

 

Kevan Manwaring ©2015

 

 References:

‘Leisure’, WH Davies http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/leisure/ [accessed 11/09/15]

Carr-Gom, Philip, Talk at Druid Camp, Glos., August 2015

Clements, Paul, Rough Guide to Ireland, Rough Guide: London, 2015

McCann, Colum, TransAtlantic, Bloomsbury: London, 2014

National Library of Ireland, Dublin, The Life and Works of WB Yeats: http://www.nli.ie/en/intro/exhibitions.aspx

Rilke, Rainer Maria, The Selected Poems of, Picador: London, 1987

The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats, Wordsworth Poetry Library: Ware, 1994/2000

The Tain, trans. Thomas Kinsella, Oxford Paperbacks, 2002

Thoreau, Henry David, Walden, or A Life in the Woods, 1845

Wild Atlantic Way http://www.wildatlanticway.com/

Yeats Society/WB Yeats Memorial Building, Hyde Bridge, Sligo, Ireland: http://www.yeatssociety.com/

 

 

See the show inspired by our trip!

‘The Hallows’ performed by Bríghíd’s Flame (Kevan Manwaring & Chantelle Smith).

When the world ends what stories will you tell around the fire?

The land is a wasteland – a kingdom of crows. B, a raggedy young survivor on the run, is tired, hungry and cold, and it is getting dark. Then she hears an eerie singing …

Irish mythology meets Post-Apocalyptic Myth-Punk!

Storytelling, Song, Poetry, & Music (Harp, Guitar, Shruti Box, Bodhran, Bones).

31 Jan: Glastonbury Assembly Rooms http://www.assemblyrooms.org.uk/event/brighids-flame/?instance_id=323

10 Feb: Enchanted Market http://theenchantedmarket.com/

1 Mar: Rondo Theatre, Bath http://rondotheatre.co.uk/whats-on/

http://brighidsflame.co.uk/

 

Riding the Wild part 4

Touring the Wild Atlantic Way and the Mythic Sites of Ireland

 

View from Croagh Patrick, K Manwaring 2015

Climbing Croagh-Patrick and the view over the isles of Galway Bay, K. Manwaring, 2015

 

Ireland is very much embroiled with my own ‘creation myth’ as a writer. In the early Nineties I had hitchhiked across it in my gap year. My primary goal was Croagh-Patrick, Ireland’s holy mountain, which I had glimpsed on Frank Delaney’s TV series, ‘The Celts’. Every year on the first Sunday in August (‘Reek Sunday’) thousands of Catholics climb it, some bare foot, in penance. Being not of that persuasion (or at least an unrepentant young man) I climbed it in my walking boots. For me it had significance because of its association with a chthonic deity, Crom Craugh, and the fact the annual pilgrimage seems to be a Christianisation of a Lughnasadh custom (Celtic fire festival falling on 1st August). Many of these sites straddle the worlds between the pagan and the Christian and that is often what makes them so numinous. In Celtic Christianity there seems to be a lack of conflict between such paradigms. In these thin places, the differences fall away – and we are just left with a sense of the sublime. The feeling of immanence increased the further west we went – the land thins out until one is left just staring at the vast horizon of the sea. This happens in other directions – each coast has its beauty and mystery – but so hard-wired into our cortex is the symbolism of the setting sun and its apparent death and rebirth, that the ‘west is the best’. Over its hazy horizon we fling our longing, project islands of immortality, lands of milk and honey, Americas of the imagination. And one can see why, standing on the top of Croagh-Patrick – on a rare clear day you can behold the plentiful Arran Isles, shoals of possibilities awaiting to be explored.

 

Chantelle on Crough Patrick, K Manwaring 2015

Chantelle on the Summit of Croagh-Patrick on a ‘soft day’! K Manwaring, 2015

 

            From this formative epiphany I had descended, and headed south to Gort – ostensibly to call in on my father’s best man. He hadn’t met me before but with typical Irish hospitality he welcomed me in and showed me around, taking me to Thoor Ballylee, where Yeats created a summer sheiling; and Coole Park, Lady Gregory’s bohemian demesne, a gathering place for poets, painters, and mystics. Here, in 1991, I contracted the poetry virus and haven’t stopped since. The themes that grabbed me then still haven’t let me go, a sentiment Yeats echoes: ‘I am persuaded that our intellects at twenty contain all the truths we shall ever find…’ (Four Years). I passed through on this trip, returning like Yeats himself, not 19 years later, but 24. I parked in Gort marketplace, remembering the young man who had rocked up there on a wing and a prayer. This time I had arrived from the southwest, from the dramatic Cliffs of Moher and the awe-inspiring moonscape of the Burren. I felt an astronaut returning to an Earth beyond recognition – a space-age Oisín on my silver steed.

 

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Parking up on the Burren, K. Manwaring 2015

 

Part 5 tomorrow!

See the show inspired by our trip!

‘The Hallows’ performed by Bríghíd’s Flame (Kevan Manwaring & Chantelle Smith).

When the world ends what stories will you tell around the fire?

The land is a wasteland – a kingdom of crows. B, a raggedy young survivor on the run, is tired, hungry and cold, and it is getting dark. Then she hears an eerie singing …

Irish mythology meets Post-Apocalyptic Myth-Punk!

Storytelling, Song, Poetry, & Music (Harp, Guitar, Shruti Box, Bodhran, Bones).

31 Jan: Glastonbury Assembly Rooms http://www.assemblyrooms.org.uk/event/brighids-flame/?instance_id=323

10 Feb: Enchanted Market http://theenchantedmarket.com/

1 Mar: Rondo Theatre, Bath http://rondotheatre.co.uk/whats-on/

 http://brighidsflame.co.uk/

 

 

Riding the Wild part 3

Touring the Wild Atlantic Way and the Mythic Sites of Ireland

 

After the first couple of epic days – when we averaged 200 miles of touring, arriving home about 10pm, exhausted and famished – we quickly learned to curtail our ambitions and faithfulness to every little nook and cranny. Following the coast north, we would pick and choose our itinerary according to our interest and energy levels. Nevertheless, we spent most of two weeks riding up the coast. Our days settled into a rhythm of stillness and motion, sea and land, sunshine and rain, night and day, camping, packing, moving, camping. On the long rides I would slip into a non-verbal space – one where thoughts would drift in and out of my head without trying to think about anything in particular. It became a meditation in serenity – in focus and surrender (Carr-Gomm, 2015). To stay alive on the motorbike requires absolute focus – you have to fully present. But, at the same time, because much of driving is about muscle memory and ‘motor functions’ one can slip into a rather Zen-like state of mind. One had to learn to trust in the Way – (I rarely use sat-nav on the bike, preferring to work it out on the atlas in advance). It’s a dream-like experience, not quite knowing where you are … between somewhere and … somewhere. That sense of being ‘meaningfully lost’ is delicious. There’s no rush to get anywhere in particular. No deadlines. So it doesn’t matter if one wanders a little, takes the long way round, improvising a route as one goes along. There is a sense of being self-created, like a character in a Creation Myth, forging the land before them. And it was to this mythic level we soon found ourselves becoming immersed in…

 

Clooty Tree at the Sacred Centre, K Manwaring 2015.jpg

Emain Macha, K. Manwaring, 2015

 

We visited a lot of prehistoric sites – all interesting in their own way, but the ones that really captivated me had mythic associations, chiefly connected to The Tain (Táin Bó Cúailnge). It was thrilling to visit sites connected with this early oral epic – an Irish Dreamtime sequence, mythologizing the landscape – Cruachan; Emain Macha; Tara; the Cooley Peninsula. The most jaw-dropping was Knocknarea, site of Medb’s Cairn (an impressive mound of stones situated on a hill overlooking Sligo’s coast and surrounded by equally stunning sites – the megalithic cemeteries of Carrowkeel and Carrowmore to name two). Even though it is unlikely Queen Medb is buried there, if she ever existed, it seems the fitting monument to such a mighty queen. WB Yeats, whose childhood family home was situated in county Sligo, waxed lyrical about her, perhaps projecting his own idealised warrior queen, Maud Gonne, into her shoes. In such places, where the mythic and historical overlap, literature and archaeology, the past and the present, I feel an electrifying frisson. They are charge-points for poets like me, where I feel plugged into the grid of creativity.

 

Medb's Tomb, 2015

Medb’s Cairn, Knocknarea, K. Manwaring, 2015

 

And it was visiting places like these that my pillion passenger and I vowed to create a ballad and tale show that would weave them together somehow. It would take us a couple of years but we did do just that: with our ‘MythPunk’ show, The Hallows, rebranding ourselves Bríghíd’s Flame in honour of the mighty Irish goddess of poetry, smithcraft and healing, and her saintly sister, St Brigid, whose holy site we visited at Kildare. There a sacred flame was kept perpetually burning by the nuns, and we vowed to do the same, symbolically, with our bardic craft.

 

St Brigids, Kildare, KManwaring 2015.jpg

St Brigid’s Chapel, Kildare, K. Manwaring 2015

 

Part 4 tomorrow!

See the show inspired by our trip!

‘The Hallows’ performed by Bríghíd’s Flame (Kevan Manwaring & Chantelle Smith).

When the world ends what stories will you tell around the fire?

The land is a wasteland – a kingdom of crows. B, a raggedy young survivor on the run, is tired, hungry and cold, and it is getting dark. Then she hears an eerie singing …

Irish mythology meets Post-Apocalyptic Myth-Punk!

Storytelling, Song, Poetry, & Music (Harp, Guitar, Shruti Box, Bodhran, Bones). 

31 Jan: Glastonbury Assembly Rooms http://www.assemblyrooms.org.uk/event/brighids-flame/?instance_id=323

10 Feb: Enchanted Market http://theenchantedmarket.com/

1 Mar: Rondo Theatre, Bath http://rondotheatre.co.uk/whats-on/

 http://brighidsflame.co.uk/

Riding the Wild part 2

Touring the Wild Atlantic Way and the Mythic Sites of Ireland

 

Blarney Castle by K Manwaring 2015

Blarney Castle. You have to hang over the top upside down to kiss the Blarney Stone. I ended up doing it 3 times before Chantelle managed to get a shot. I should now be blessed with especial eloquence! K. Manwaring. 2015

 

The castle and grounds proved to be far more attractive than I was expecting – the first of many pleasant surprises – this was no Hirstian Dismal-land. Even Ireland’s clichés are beautiful. They have just been so overly packaged and exported (almost literally in the case of the famous stone) that it is easy to be weary and wary of them, but in actuality they are often satisfyingly charming. The effort of reaching the source of the meme is often reciprocated, although beyond that phenomenological experience, there is often something deeper that draws us to these attractions – a yearning, a glimmer of beauty, a feeling … which slips through our fingers the more we grasp for it.

            Rainer Maria Rilke captured it perfectly when he advised: ‘go to the limits of your longing.’ He might have written his challenge while walking the cliffs above Duino Castle, near Trieste (where I have too walked), but he could have penned it about the west of Ireland. And this line of desire drove us farther on. The fact that the route was packaged and well signposted with distinctive blue wavy lines, (echoing the initials, waves, and the pictographic chevrons of burial tombs like Newgrange), made it no less beautiful and dramatic – indeed, without the signs pointing the way, I doubt we would have alighted upon so many obscure coves and dramatic, cliff-top roads. I use the term ‘roads’ euphemistically, for many were little more than gravel tracks, pot-holed and very bumpy. The contrast with the N-roads was dramatic – and the two became the twin-notes of our journey, the straight and the winding dancing in tandem up the westerly coast like a 1500 mile long caduceus. Off the main route there were many opportunities to take even longer detours to headlands, coves, beaches, and attractions – but we soon learnt to do attempt all would have been too exhausting, time-consuming and unnecessary. The WAW offers multiple possibilities. There is fixed route beyond the main one. As with the famously festooned signposts along the way, there are a myriad of possibilities. The route is a melody to riff around. One creates ones’ own version of it, depending on your whim, the weather, and mode of transport.

 

Wild Atlantic Way sign K Manwaring 2015

There are no shortage of signs on the Wild Atlantic Way! K. Manwaring, 2015

 

            Having recently performed our show, ‘The Bonnie Road’- tales and ballads of the Border (Scottish) we found ourselves feeling like Thomas the Rhymer and the Queen of Elfland confronted by three roads – the narrow, the broad and the bonnie – as we traversed hair-raising mountain passes again and again. Roads seemed to lead into the middle of nowhere, and it was often a leap of faith to keep going, and hope the road will rejoin the main route eventually.

 

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Catching our breath after crossing the ‘Bonnie Pass’. Worth the view! K. Manwaring, Summer 2015

 

See the show inspired by our trip!

‘The Hallows’ performed by Bríghíd’s Flame (Kevan Manwaring & Chantelle Smith).

When the world ends what stories will you tell around the fire?

The land is a wasteland – a kingdom of crows. B, a raggedy young survivor on the run, is tired, hungry and cold, and it is getting dark. Then she hears an eerie singing …

Irish mythology meets Post-Apocalyptic Myth-Punk!

Storytelling, Song, Poetry, & Music (Harp, Guitar, Shruti Box, Bodhran, Bones).

31 Jan: Glastonbury Assembly Rooms http://www.assemblyrooms.org.uk/event/brighids-flame/?instance_id=323

10 Feb: Enchanted Market http://theenchantedmarket.com/

1 Mar: Rondo Theatre, Bath http://rondotheatre.co.uk/whats-on/

Riding the Wild part 1

Touring the Wild Atlantic Way and the Mythic Sites of Ireland 

 

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On the Wild Atlantic Way (on my trusty Triumph Legend 900TT), Summer 2015. K. Manwaring

 

In a poem written by WB Yeats during his time running the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, he expressed his exasperation with life’s complexities, while simultaneously encapsulating what has defined him: ‘The fascination of what’s difficult/Has dried the sap out of my veins, and rent/Spontaneous joy and natural content/Out of my heart.’ He uses the pegasus as the symbol of creative inspiration, but ‘There’s something ails our colt’. The difficulties of creative (and nationalist) endeavour make it seem to: ‘Shiver under the lash, strain, sweat and jolt/As though it dragged road metal.’  Yeats vows to emancipate it in the final line: ‘I’ll find the stable and pull out the bolt’. And yet, despite this defiant affirmation Yeats spent much of his adult life in the thrall of the ‘difficult’, in obscure esoterica and the complex magical systems and rituals of the Golden Dawn and his own occult order, but chiefly in the form of Maud Gonne, the nationalist figurehead whose unrequited love possessed him for decades. Even her name suggests an alluring evanescence, an inattainability. She was his ‘glimmering girl’, which he searched for like wandering Aengus, in the eponymous poem:

‘Though I am old with wandering,
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone…’

In August 2015 I headed into the west, to Ireland to search for the littoral. I wanted to ride the Wild Atlantic Way (WAW), which stretches from Old Head, Kinsale, south of Cork, to Malin Head in Donegal. At 2500km/1553 miles it is the longest continuous coastal route in the world, so the marketing claims. I had been meaning to tour Ireland on my Triumph Legend 900cc motorbike for sometime, and this new route, created in 2013, was the thing that clinched it. I set off with my partner, Chantelle Smith, an archaeologist and folksinger. We were keen to visit prehistoric sites, as well as literary and musical hotspots. We booked off two weeks’ holiday and camped along the way. We were to experience the littoral in many ways over the next fortnight: physically, mentally, and metaphysically – the ‘shores’ of our comfort and consciousness.

Initially it was literally in the crossing from Wales to Ireland – from the prosaic ferry terminal of Pembroke Dock, waiting in the queue to board the ferry at 2 o’clock in the morning, rain glistening on the cold tarmac; to arriving at Rosslare at dawn in the clean sunlight.

Once on the N-4, roaring west, the mundane world of the entreport was soon left behind as we headed to our first destination – Blarney, where we had booked a campsite which would be our base for the next three days’ as we worked our way along the southern stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way. My partner insisted we did the tourist thing and kiss the blarney stone. Even this corniest of Irish clichés had an element of the ‘littoral’ – hanging upside down, 100 feet in the air. The moment proved elusive to capture on camera, so I ended up doing it three times. So, according to the folklore, I should be blessed with especial eloquence!

Part 2 tomorrow!

 

View from Cave of the Cat, K Manwaring 2015

View from the Cave of the Cat, which inspired the setting of our show, The Hallows, K Manwaring 2015

 

See the show inspired by our trip!

‘The Hallows’ performed by Bríghíd’s Flame (Kevan Manwaring & Chantelle Smith).

When the world ends what stories will you tell around the fire?

The land is a wasteland – a kingdom of crows. B, a raggedy young survivor on the run, is tired, hungry and cold, and it is getting dark. Then she hears an eerie singing …

Irish mythology meets Post-Apocalyptic Myth-Punk!

Storytelling, Song, Poetry, & Music (Harp, Guitar, Shruti Box, Bodhran, Bones).

31 Jan: Glastonbury Assembly Rooms http://www.assemblyrooms.org.uk/event/brighids-flame/?instance_id=323

10 Feb: Enchanted Market http://theenchantedmarket.com/

1 Mar: Rondo Theatre, Bath http://rondotheatre.co.uk/whats-on/

http://brighidsflame.co.uk/

Riding the Wall to Wester Ross

Pit-stop on Rest and Be Thankful Pass - a windy spot!

Pit-stop on Rest and Be Thankful Pass – a windy spot!

I’ve just come back from an epic three-week trip around the north of Britain – some of it was R&R and some of it was field research for my new novel…

Hadrians Wall copyright Kevan Manwaring 2014

In week 1 I walked Hadrian’s Wall (112AD) with my partner Chantelle, an archaeologist (and folk-singer) who works for English Heritage. It was on her ‘bucket list’ to do before her birthday – and so, all kitted up, off we set. I rode up to Newcastle on my Triumph Legend motorbike and met her off the train. We stored the bike at a storyteller’s garage and began our walk – 84 miles over 6 days from coast to coast, going east to west from Wallsend (east of Newcastle) to Bowness-on-Solway (west of Carlisle). We stopped at hostels and used a courier service to get our larger luggage from place to place – carrying just a daysac with essentials in (ie waterproofs!). It was the butt end of Hurricane Bertha and we had to walk into driving wind and rain for the first two or three days, but the weather mercifully improved towards the end of the week. The middle section from Chesters to Birdoswald was stunning. Although the wall wasn’t always visible (turned into roads, railways or cannibalised for building) the way was clearly-marked with white acorns (this being a National Trail). Every roman mile (just short of a mile) there was a mile-castle, inbetween, two turrets, and now and then a substantial fort (eg Housesteads being the most impressive) or garrison town (eg Vindolanda, famous for its amazingly preserved ‘tablets’ recording the minutiae of the daily lives of the inhabitants). The trail passes through the Northumberland National Park – bleak and beautiful. It was very poignant walking this remarkable piece of Roman ingenuity – the Roman Empire on my left, the untamed wilds of the Picts on my right – aware of how it was the first division of this country into north and south. This ‘divide and rule’ policy is worth being in mind in the light of the looming Referendum.

Croft life -  with Chantelle. Copyright Kevan Manwaring 2014

Croft life –
with Chantelle.
Copyright Kevan Manwaring 2014

In week 2 we rode up (Chantelle pillion) to a friend’s croft on the coast of Wester Ross, right up near Ullapool, overlooking the Minch towards Skye and the Outer Hebrides. It was an epic 375 mile ride through the most spectacular scenery – Rannoch Moor, Glen Coe, Glen Shiels…but the storm made it hard going, even dangerous as I battled against high winds and poor visibility. We stopped a night at Glen Coe – soggy as drowned rats but still smiling – before making the final push to the croft where we holed up for a week with provisions, reading and writing material and a bottle of good malt. After a week of motion it was blissful to have a week of stillness, giving our blisters a chance to heal. It was here I celebrated my 45th birthday. My partner treated me to a lovely meal in a local inn – a kind of ‘Valhalla of vinyl’ where we played pool and listened to old classics.

Not the Castle of the Muses, but Eilean Donan, the 'Highlander' castle. Copyright Kevan Manwaring 2014

Not the Castle of the Muses, but Eilean Donan, the ‘Highlander’ castle. Copyright Kevan Manwaring 2014

At the end of this week we rode south 225 miles to the Castle of the Muses in Argyl and Bute – an extraordinary edifice inhabited by Peace Druid Dr Thomas Daffern, 9 muses, and his library of 20,000 volumes. It was here we celebrated our first anniversary with a performance of our show ‘The Snake and the Rose’ in the main hall. Although the audience was small it was still a special way to mark the day. My friend Paul Francis was also present – he’s known by many names including Dr Space Toad, the Troubadour from the 4th Dimension, Jean Paul Dionysus… He’s a great singer-songwriter. After our show we gathered around the hearth and shared poems and songs. The next day Chantelle had to catch a train back home (work etc) but I stayed on for a meeting about forming a ‘circle of Bardic Chairs’. Although it was a small affair we took minutes and a seed was sown. The plan is to have a larger meeting (open to all bards, bardic chair holders, gorseddau, etc) in Stratford-upon-Avon, home of The Bard (William Shakespeare) on his birth/death-day, 23rd April, next year. Watch this space!

In the 3rd week I explored the Lowlands and Borders on my bike – riding solo. On Monday I went to Aberfoyle, home of the Reverend Robert Kirk (author of The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies). It was thrilling to visit the grove on Doon Hill where he was said to have disappeared. A Scots Pine grows on the spot, surrounded by oak trees – all are festooned with clouties, rags, and sparkly offerings of every kind. A magical place. That night I stayed with a musician, Tom, whose croft we’d been staying in. He kindly put me up and we shared a poem or song over a dram.

climbing Schiehallion - the fairy mountain

climbing Schiehallion – the fairy mountain

On Tuesday I decided to climb Schiehallion – the mountain of the Sidhe, right up in the Highlands, so I blatted north past Gleneagles and made an ascent, ‘bagging’ myself a Munro (over 3000ft) though that wasn’t my reason for doing it. Afterwards I visited the Fortingall Yew – the oldest living tree in Britain, possibly 5000 years old. It’s decrepit but still impressive.

Bardmobile in the Rhymer's Glen - Eildon Hills in the background

Bardmobile in the Rhymer’s Glen – Eildon Hills in the background

On Wednesday I visited the Eildon Hills and the Rhymer’s Stone, before going onto Abbotsford, the impressive home of Sir Walter Scott (author of Minstelsy of the Scottish Borders among many others). I ended up at New Lanark, a World Heritage Site – a well-preserved mill-town created by social reformer, Robert Owen, to house, feed, educate and uplift his workers, near the Falls of the Clyde, made famous by Turner, Coleridge, Wordsworth and co. On Thursday I headed Southwest to Ayrshire and the home of Rabbie Burns, Scotlands’ ‘national poet’. The visitor’s centre had an excellent exhibition bringing alive his poems, but I was most thrilled to visit the Brig o’ Doon and the Auld Kirk – immortalised in his classic poem, ‘Tam o’ Shanter’. Then I headed down the west coast to the Machars and the Isle of Whithorn, where St Ninian made landfall and founded the first church north of the Wall. This seemed like a fitting terminus of my Scottish meanderings – from here you are said to see five kingdoms (England, Isle of Man, Ireland, Scotland and the kingdom of Heaven) yet there was one day left.

Further south - Isle of Whithorn

Further south – Isle of Whithorn

On Friday I explored the Yarrow and Ettrick valleys and found Carterhaugh near their confluence – the site of Tam Lin. The meeting of their respective rivers was more impressive – a swirling pool called ‘The Meetings’ near a gigantic salmon weir. It was a very wet day though and my energy was starting to wane. I gratefully made it to a fellow storyteller’s place who had just moved over the Border, not far from Coldstream. Despite having literally just moved in (that day!) her and her husband kindly put me up in the spare room amid the boxes. We didn’t spend long catching up– a quick cuppa – before whizzing north to Edinburgh for the Guid Crack Club. This meets in the upstairs of the Waverley Inn, just off the Royal Mile. I was very tired but happy to watch the high calibre of performance. I wasn’t planning to do anything but in the need I did offer my Northamptonshire Folk Tale, Dionysia the Female Knight, which seemed to go down well. We ate out at a new Greek place and got back late, sharing a glass of wine by the fire. Dog-tired I slept in til 10.30 the next day – then had to ride 250 miles south to Rockingham, near Corby in the Midlands.

Holy Island copyright Kevan Manwaring 2014

Holy Island
copyright Kevan Manwaring 2014

I stopped at Holy Island (Lindisfarne) as I crossed the Border – worth visiting for the ride across the tidal causeway if nothing else, although it felt a ‘thin place’ and calming, despite the tourist hordes. Then it was time to hit the road – and I roared down the A1 (and A19) back south to my old home county. Here I was warmly welcomed by Jim and Janet. I had performed at their solstice bash earlier in the summer and now they were treating me like an old friend. We had a good catchup over dinner and around the fire.

In the morning I made my final pit-stop, at the Bardic Picnic in Delapre Abbey, Northampton – my old neck of the woods. Here I would walk my dog every day. Here 7 years ago a small group of us (6!) held hands and did an awen to announce the beginning of this event which has blossomed, thanks to my friends hard work into a small festival. The sun put his hat on and the crowds came out. Although I was road-weary and unable to take in much of the bardism, I did stick around for the Chairing of the Bard before hitting the road – and the final push across the Cotswolds to home in Stroud.

After 2500 miles and 23 days I finally made it home and I was glad to be back. If only I could have stayed…(the next morning I had to get to Bath for 9am to run an 11-hour tour to Glastonbury, Salisbury and Avebury with 4 Americans – it’s a Bard’s life!).

Watch out for poetry inspired by my trip on the poetry page…

Mad March Hare

Last week saw me jinking about like a Mad March Hare – clocking up around 900 miles on my Triumph Legend motorbike, as I whizzed from the end of the land to the Midlands.

After a pit-stop at my friends in Totnes to break the journey, on Saturday 8th I gave a paper on ‘Borderlands: fairy and liminality in the Scottish Borders’ at the Haunted Landcapes Symposium, Falmouth University. The paper relates to my current research project – I can say no more than that! The Symposium was very stimulating with some excellent papers – notably Prof. Ronald Hutton’s keynote speech on the ‘Greenwood’. After a late night, very early start and several hours of panels, my mind felt as though it had run the London Marathon, so it was a pleasant contrast to ride over to Plymouth afterwards and hang out with my old school buddy, Lee Auburn, who is now a manager of Waterstones and budding writer himself. The next morning we went for a greasy breakfast down at Cap’n Jaspers on the Hoe, before I hit the road. I caught some rays down at Wembury Point – the sun glinting off the bay – before heading over the lonely roads of Dartmoor, the wide open spaces reminding me of Scotland.

It was good to get back, but I had another big day to prepare for…

On Tuesday I set off early to get to Northampton – for I was booked to run a morning of storytelling workshops in my old Middle School, Delapre. I hadn’t been back since I left, in July 1982 – so it was incredibly special to return there as a visiting author and professional storyteller. The classrooms and corridors were as I remember them – there was even one of the teachers still there! My hostess was Yr 5 teacher Anna Letts, who is the daughter of Mr Letts, the Deputy Head during my time. Her pupils are working on a Robin Hood project at the moment, so she was keen for me to focus on relevant stories. It just so happened there was one in my Northamptonshire Folk Tales book (Robyne Hode of Rockingham). I performed a couple of tales in Assembly (held in my old art room – where my imagination was kindled) before the whole year group, before running my Climbing the Beanstalk workshop in the respective classes. I ran one of these in my actual old classroom – which was a poignant experience. The kids were attentive and enthusiastic – and it was so satisfying to see them stand up at the end of only one hour and perform the story back to me without a text.  The morning went all too quickly. I left on a high – what a precious opportunity. The next day I got this lovely message from Ms Letts:

Hi Kevan

Thanks so much for your visit last week, the children enjoyed it and I certainly learnt a lot, I”ll be using the beanstalking technique in future.

I’ve written a blog post, so have a few of the children:

http://year5l.delapreprimaryschool.org/

http://year5t.delapreprimaryschool.org/

 So, from doctorate research paper to a Primary School workshop (and teaching undergrads and evening classes inbetween) – I love the diversity of my life. Certainly keeps me on my toes!

On Thursday I was on the road again, riding through the morning mist up the Fosseway to Leicester, where I have been commissioned to write a piece of historical narrative non-fiction, having won an AHRC award. I met up with the core team – including Dr Corinne Fowler (Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester) and Gino at the Phoenix, who was co-ordinating the digital side of things (the 8 commissions will be turned into an App, website and projections). I spent the afternoon exploring the Cultural Quarter on foot, taking photographs and making notes. Then in the evening I caught up with my old friend Lesley, who kindly put me up. The next morning I met up with Simon, head of Special Collections, who took me to a ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ type warehouse where the Leicester Mercury archives were stored. We rifled through the stacks and found some relevant files, which I took back to look at in the David Wilson Library – a swish new resource on campus. Finally, I visited HQ on Charles St – a graffiti art store, to connect with the owner, making a useful contact. I left Leicester with plenty of material to kickstart my commission. The ride back down the Fosseway in the afternoon sun was a pleasure.

Yet – no rest for the bardic, I had to prepare for my creative writing dayschool in Devizes the following morning. I put together my workshop plan and handouts and tried to get some rest. The next morning I was up and off early – running my writing class from 10.30-4.30pm. By the end of the day I was running on empty, but fortunately I had a lovely meal waiting for me in Wroughton, and a great evening of entertainment – a charity benefit at the local working mens club (!) with Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull headlining, supported by my partner’s band, Talis Kimberley, and an R’n’B outfit. I kick-back and enjoyed a well-earned pint. What an amazing week! Spring is definitely springing!

Feet on the Ground

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

Northampton, 24-26th February 2012

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Riding with Gerry

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

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

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

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

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

Sight-seeing with a ghost.

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

And so I did.

I hope you do as well.

The author hits the road with Gerry

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

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

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

Pushing Ink

Stroud & Glastonbury

10-11 June

Awen on the High Street, Stroud

Last week I took Awen stock with the help of my friend Jay to the ‘Spoken Word Assembly Rooms’, top of Stroud High Street – as part of the SITE Festival 2011 local writers and text-based artists have taken over an empty unit (former ‘paint-a-pot’ shop; Chinese and tattoo parlour – so following on in a weirdly apt way, pushing ink). On Friday and Saturday I did a couple of stints, invigilating. Took stuff to read, even some marking, but didn’t get a chance, as folk popped in for a chat – it was nice to feel part of a community initiative, championed by local patron saint of poetry, Rick Vick. The Awen shelf (a bookcase made by my grandfather) sat in the hearth alcove and very nice it looked too. Our small press has a growing list of distinctive titles.

Friday night I went down to SVA (Stroud Valley Artspace) to check out a zany collective from Falmouth ‘The Fate of Neutral Norway’. It was heartening to see such bright young things get passionate about the spoken word – and to pull in such a youthful crowd. Local poetry impresario Charles and I decided to hold fort in the ‘Old Farts corner’ and were inspired to form an impromptu trad. poetry combo, entitled ‘The Oxfarts’, reciting ‘poetry-that’s-good-for-you’ in a tweedy (or stentorian) fashion. We await bookings. I performed a couple of my poems (Phone Tree; and Wolf in the City) which seemed to go down well, especially the group howling at the end!

The next day, a tad tender from bardic grog, I did my second stint in the shop – this time joined by local poet superstar Adam Horovitz. Earlier in the Spring, over a pint of Budding we devised the idea of a spoken word podcast – Stroud Out Loud! or SOL for short – recording and promoting local voices (poets, storytellers, singers). We test run the ‘instant archive’- with a couple of poems from myself, Adam and Rick, who happened to be passing with his partner, Gypsy.

Rick records a couple of his poems for SOL - come & have a go this weekend!

Next weekend folk are invited to come along and record an original poem, Fri 1-3pm & Sat 1-3pm.

Adam, Gypsy and Rick - contributors to the Spoken Word Assembly Rooms, Stroud

Afterwards I roared down to Glastonbury for the latest date on our ‘Words on Fire Tour’ – promoting my new novel, The Burning Path, (the 4th in The

Windsmith Elegy series) & Ola her first collection of short stories, The

Firekeeper’s Daughter. Once again, Trevor & Liz played the congenial hosts at their lovely shop, the Cat & Cauldron. Surrounded by witchy paraphenalia, Ola and I read out excerpts from our respective books after Phil Stretch, partner and Kali (new Bard of Ynys Witrin) created a charming atmosphere with their enchanting music. A nice little crowd gathered, enjoying the wine and the ambience. The response afterwards was positive. One lady had been following my

series since its inception in 2004 – and was ‘worried about Maud’ (the main protagonist from the first volume, The Long Woman).

Kevan reading from The Burning Path - Cat & Cauldron, Glastonbury

Later, after I had pitched my tent and grabbed some food I went along to the OBOD Summer Gathering, where Jay (running a poetry workshop at Chalice Well) and myself had been kindly invited by Philip Carr-Gomm. There was some splendid entertainment by the likes of Liv Torc, Paul Newman, & Damh the Bard – whose ‘supergroup’ rounded the evening off in lively style, with everyone dancing and singing along. I had a nice chat with Philip and the great historian Ronald Hutton (who I am equally honoured to know, from my days as Bard of Bath – he was one of the judges who awarded me the Chair of Caer Badon back in 1998). My friends Jay, Ola and Paul finally joined me – direct from the Carolyn Hillyer and Nigel Shaw concert at Chalice Well and we concluded our ‘baby-head-wetting’ with a wee bop together.

Reeling from the tunes (and the fabulous druid mead, especially fermented for this occasion) I made my way to my tent, under the stars on the side of the Tor – hoping Gwynn ap Nudd wouldn’t seize me while I slumbered (or rather the rain wash me away).

Damp, chilled & weary I made my way home the following morning (after a fortifying breakfast at Heaphy’s). Pushing ink can be hard work! Sometimes it’s hard to see the benefit – any reciprocation for one’s efforts can seem be difficult to fathom at times, but who knows what ripples one causes?

Touch one heart, and it’s always worthwhile.