Tag Archives: Summer

Wild Hearts and Wellingtons

4-7 May

Merlin didn't wear wellingtons

Over the May Day Bank Holiday weekend I took part in two seasonally-themed events. The first was the Wildheart Gathering, over in West Sussex – this small festival, run by the Spirit Horse Foundation, is the ‘first of the season’ and we hoped it would be a chance to ‘raise the May’. It turned out to be a be a complete mud-fest, as the rain did not let up, but still there was a warmth there – in the instant community created around the ‘village green’, a kind of ‘fellowship of the mud’. The taking off and putting on of wellies became a ritual practice over the weekend (the sound of one leg hopping), as we boldly went on our yurt-trek. The daytimes were dominated by the many interesting workshops (we were offering our own respective ones – mine on ‘Writing the Land’); the evenings, by lovely music from a range of talented people. On Sunday a big Beltane Ceremony took place – celebrating the ‘start of the summer’ (which begins on the 1st of May, in theory…). The Jack was crowned alongside his May Queen and together they blessed everyone there – a great finale to the weekend, for us at least – for we set off straight after, keen to get back to hot baths and soft beds!

The second was on Monday – the annual Hawkwood Open Day – where Jenni and I were also running workshops. After a quick turnaround we ‘rebooted’ ourselves back out of the door and up the hill, to the lovely grounds of Hawkwood College (originally a Jacobean House called the Grove until renamed after the English military hero Sir John Hawkwood in the 30s). Various talks and workshops were in full swing, as well as an assortment of stalls to peruse. I set up for my storytelling workshop in the ‘sitting room’ – and this co-created tale (in embryonic form) was the quirky, spontaneous result:

The Legend of Hawkwood

A long time ago, so long ago it seems unlikely to have happened at all – but the land remembers and there you are – there was a big pile of fresh hills, waiting to be named and told what to do. These were divided into two by Sabrina, goddess of the river – who liked things to be tidy. One side became England, the other Wales. The edge of the hills on the English side were garlanded with springs. Ten of these bubbled up in a wood frequented by hawks. One in particular stood out from her sisters – protected by a grove of old, old trees. This was the Spring of Summer and the nymph who lived in it was particularly lovely. Her hair was like sunshine on a summer’s day, her eyes as blue as cornflowers, her skin as smooth and pale as cream – you get the general idea. All the animals of the forest loved to drink at her spring – for the water had a special magic to it, making you feel good inside. Not wanting the animals to have all the fun, the two-legged ones cottoned in on the act and were soon making pilgrimage to it from far and wide.

Following it so far? Good.

Well, there was a Lord, scarred by wars, who decided he wanted to keep it for himself – so he caught the nymph and locked her up in a stone tower next to the spring. Here, he made his home and his name was Lord Hawkwood. He invited his sister to move in – she was to winter what the nymph was to summer. The place became chilly and gloomy – which suited Lord Hawkwood’s mood. They were happy in their misery – keeping summer under lock and key.

You can boo at this point.

Well, everything has a knock on a effect. Around these parts they say when Lord Hawkwood sneezes, the rest of the West Country catches cold. The villagers of Warmley were in the frontline of this blast. It became very chilly there. Nobody could get warm and everyone wondered where summer had gone – for the year was taking too long to warm up, and poor Old Grannie – well, it wasn’t doing her chillblains any good. There was a meeting – in the draughty village hall – and everyone added their coughs and sneezes to the proceedings. Mutters and grumbles rubbed shoulders with one another. No one seemed to know what to do but everyone enjoyed a cathartic moan.

Then Willow – Grannie’s grand-daughter – piped up. She had an idea. ‘Sshhh!’ they said. This was serious adult business. But Willow was wilful and wouldn’t pipe down. ‘Why don’t we just go to the Spring of Summer and bring some of its water back here?’ Silence descended and everyone stared. Why had no one thought of that? Well, who was going to go? Everyone found an excuse – it’s my knees; it’s the cat; it’s the this, it’s the that. ‘I’ll go,’ said Willow, much to their relief. They showered her with advice and sandwiches and blankets, flasks and kisses.

And off she set – on a motorcycle fuelled by lemonade: pop – pop – pop, it went… all the way up the Severn Valley, along Sabrina’s flanks, who was pretending to sleep but was secretly enjoying the whole thing. Willow started at dawn and rode through the whole day and night. At noon she stopped and let the sun warm her bones – it was not so chilly once she left Warmley. The meadow she lay in was covered in yellow flowers which looked like a cloth of gold. She decided it was and picked it up, wrapping it around her shoulders. ‘That’s nice,’ she thought. ‘I’ll keep hold of it – just in case.’ And she carried on her way, until dusk – when the sun set and the moon rose, lacing the trees with silver thread. Willow stopped again and gathered some of this up – ‘That’s nice too – and it might come in handy.’ And she carried on her way, cheered by the sight of the moon. But the moon leapt over the sky and slipped down the edge of the land, like a coin down a drain, leaving only starlight to light her way. The stars glittered like buttons in the sky and so Willow stopped and reached up – picking some – for everything she took a shine to was in risk of ending up in her pockets. The stars glittered in her palm. ‘Pretty – and who knows, they might come in useful.’

And so laden with her useful things she carried on her way.

But by now it was very dark – no moon or stars shone her path. She was a bit lost, and then a lot. She pulled up and chewed her lip. What was she going to do?

Suddenly, there was a shuffling and a snuffling and a badger shambled into view. ‘Hello,’ he grunted, ‘I’m Bertie, how do you do?’ The badger, as you can gather, was friendly and offered to show her the way through the wood. He seemed a kindly sort and so Willow leapt back on her motorbike and followed him – which took some doing, as Bertie scurried off pretty sharpish.

Soon, they had arrived at another bunch of trees. ‘Here we are,’ said Bertie.

‘Where are we?’

‘The wood of the three hawks. You can ask them for help – if you can find them. Good Luck!’

Hawkwood! Willow thanked the badger with a kiss on his wet nose, who went on his way rather pleased with himself at receiving this fine treasure.

Now all she needed was find the hawks… Willow peered up into the dark branches – black against a blacker sky.

She was in the dark.

Suddenly, a figure appeared in a cagoule, wielding binoculars. ‘Hello, little girl,’ she twitched. Blinking through her field glasses she added: ‘Are you lost?’

‘Yes, who are you?’

‘I’m an orni …’ Twitch. ‘An orni…’ Twitch. ‘A bird-watcher. Can I help?’

Indeed she could – with the watcher’s help they soon spotted the three hawks. Willow thanked her new friend, giving her a sandwich and a flask of tea.

‘Be polite to them. They are old and wise. Support the RSPB! Goodbye!’

Willow paused for effect and then stepped up to the first. ‘Hello. I am looking for the Spring of Summer. Can you help?’

‘The Lord of Winter wants to feel the sun,’ said the first mysteriously.

‘The Lord of Winter wants to dream the moon,’ said the second with equal clarity.

‘The Lord of Winter wants to hear the stars,’ added the third, just to confuse matters further.

Willow pondered these odd statements for a moment – they didn’t seem to be directions … or perhaps they were! All three birds were staring in one direction … Willow followed their keen gaze … to a tower on the brow of the hill, it’s windows glowing like … well, hawk eyes.

Thanking the three hawks, she set to work – she took the cloth of gold and sewed on the bright buttons with the silver thread. By the time she had finished she was rather impressed with her handiwork. With this splendid cloak she walked up to the Manor of Lord Hawkwood and knocked on the door.

Heavy footsteps came down the echoing corridor; there was the sliding of bolts and the rattling of chains, and finally the door opened. ‘What is it?’ Before her stood Lord Hawkwood – tall, pale and wintry, a sour look in his dark eyes.

‘Please, your Lordship – my village is feeling the cold and missing the sun. Could you spare some water from your magic spring?’

Lord Hawkwood curled a lip in contempt. ‘My child, why on Earth would I want to do that?’

‘Because I have made you this nice cloak – why don’t you try it on?’

And so he did. He didn’t get many presents. And, you know what? It suited him fine – in fact, he was rather taken by it. ‘How do I look?’

‘Dazzling,’ said Willow, and he was. It brightened him up no end. Death, with a makeover.

Lord Hawkwood’s gaunt face broke into a smile. ‘My child, you are a wonder. I feel … lighter some how. Here, let me open the spring.’

Lord Hawkwood took the cold iron key from around his neck and led the girl down to the big tree which grew by the spring. He bent down and unlocked the strong wooden lid that covered the spring – to stop anyone just coming up and helping themselves.

Up burst the nymph – delighted to be released. She showered her blessing on them both and the world seemed brighter. Indeed it was a new day and warmth returned to the land.

‘Take as much as you like,’ said the Lord, and so Willow did, filling up several five litre containers with the special spring water. These were lashed to her bike and, waving her thanks, off she set back to Warmley – bringing the summer home.

To celebrate there was a big party – May Pole dancing (for it was the start of summer), stalls, music, fine food and revelry. The people wore their brightest clothes and light returned to their eyes. Neighbours practised their smiles on one another. Beaming became a popular past-time.

Willow was praised by everyone for her courageous act – and was given a year’s supply of lemonade, enabling her to go on further adventures.

Lord Hawkwood continued to live at the spring – letting any who needed it take the waters, for healing and inspiration. His wintry sister thawed out and kept him company. When he finally passed on, she looked after the place by herself – it got a bit much, and so she asked for the help of the nymph and together they created a holistic college, which stands there to this day.

The End

Created with participants of ‘The Legend of Hawkwood’ workshop, Hawkwood Open Day.

Kevan Manwaring 7 May 2012

This workshop proved to be a pleasant taster of the full-day one I’m running there on Sunday 20th May: Climbing the Beanstalk – storytelling in easy stages; and the longer course I’m scheduled to run in the Autumn – the Storyteller’s Journey.

A bit of nonsense? Perhaps the honouring of place is worthwhile, as is creating a space for creativity and imagination to flourish – honouring our own personal genius loci. Thomas Moore, in his classic Care of the Soul said: ‘Storytelling is an excellent way of caring for the soul. It helps us see the themes that circle in our lives, the deep themes that tell the myths we live.’

 

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

20-21 June

Bard and Stone, Avebury, Summer Solstice 2010

The summer solstice is one of those deadlines of the year – it is for me anyway. Everything seems to build up to it and there’s a millions things to get done before it, as though … time will stop after. Of course, it will carry on just as before but, like the millennium or 2012, significant dates – lines in the egg-timer sands – turn normally sensible people into headless chickens, and the ‘doom’ that we expect becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy (our mounting panic causing accidents, hysteria, conflict, suicide, down-sizing to a remote Scottish islands, etc). On a microcosmic scale, summer is the ‘silly season’, when lazy journalists, recovering from long liquid lunches, dig deep into the odd box. But it’s not hard to find stuff – druids at Stonehenge being a favourite ‘isn’t life a bit weird sometimes/don’t worry about the economy’ piece. Images of ragged revellers at the World Heritage Site – usually with some wally raving on a trilithon – marks the turning the of wheel as iconically as a groundhog in the States or bluebells over here.

I have attended the Stonehenge celebration at the summer solstice (when they first re-opened it to the public after 10 years exclusion) but found it complete chaos and as far from sacred as you can imagine – with many people off their heads and so much conflicting energy/attitudes it defeated the point. It seemed to me the ‘mob’ where desecrating that which had drawn them to a jumble of stones on Salisbury Plain very early on a June morning – a sacred site at a sacred time. Any attempt at ceremony became a circus show spectacle – tolerated in the libertarian atmosphere, or laughed at. Priests were mocked. Anarchy ruled. It might as well have been a dodgy football crowd: ‘Innggerrrlunnddd’. Couples got handfasted in the hurly burly. Others snogged, skinned up, threw up, danced naked, chanted, shouted or blew horns. A feral lad tossed somebody’s ashes into the crowd and they blew into our faces. A group of Maoris looked on aghast – was this how we treated the dead? I felt ashamed for my country. Stonehenge is amazing – and at other times of the year (winter solstice can be more civilised and atmospheric) or via private access, you can feel the awe and majesty of the place – and connect with something sacred. But unless you love the mob experience, avoid summer solstice.

But what of my own revelries?

After an intense couple of weeks meeting all my (mainly marking) deadlines I was looking forward to a couple of days of downing tools and just enjoying the sun – and he certainly had his hat on for us, which makes the world of difference. Nature smiled – filling everything with a benign quality.

Solstice Picnic on Solsbury Hill

I went to a picnic on Solsbury Hil, organised by my friends Peter Please and Kirsten Bolwig. Rocked up there on the Triumph and found them to one side, underneath a rocky ledge. There ended up being about twenty of us – a splendid picnic with splendid people. Poems and songs were shared. We ‘broke bread’ together and relaxed in the sun.

Alas, we had to shoot off – I had a previous commitment to run the Independent Creatives Forum at the Gaynor Flynn’s Being Human weekend, Frome. The venue – a warehouse tucked away in the obscure outskirts of the town was difficult to find. A couple of small easy-to-miss arrows pointed in vague directions. Finally found it – after a few dead ends – and it felt like a lazy Sunday afternoon chill-out with a small group of friends (in publicity it looked like it was going to be some amazing ground-breaking happening, not a house-party). My forum was meant to take place in a yurt – which had been taken over by children. I managed to claim the space and set up; the event was announced and … I had one person come in. I can’t blame folk for wanting to sit in the sun and drink beer (I wouldn’t have minded doing that myself). Sunday 2-5pm is the wrong time to have an intellectual forum. Nevertheless, we had a nice chat about creativity (there were four of us in the end). One woman who had come all the way from East Grinstead for the event said she was so glad I had come along – all weekend she had been hearing discussions about technology and I was the first speaker to talk about people, about … being human. If you connect with one person, or make one person’s day – sowed the seed of something, an idea, a thought, inspired in some way – then it’s all been worthwhile. It was nice to bump into my fellow Bard of Bath, Helen Moore and her partner, Niall from London. There’s a healthy creative scene in Frome and Gaynor’s outfit is one aspect of it – showing that provincial life doesn’t have to be parochial. Later Banco de Gaia played and a little backstreet of a sleepy Wiltshire town became plugged into the global groove.

My solstice Bard-B-Q starts

Returned at speed to finish setting up for my annual solstice Bard-B-Q, with the help of my friends Sally and Ola. It was a lovely gathering, blessed by a perfect summer’s evening, with friends sharing poems, songs and stories.

Saravian - wild, free and beautiful - entertains us at my Bard-B-Q

I got my mead-horn out – as I am wont to do as such occasions – and we offered heart-felt toasts as it was passed around. This jump-started an excellent discussion on the BP oil disaster, and I found myself having successfully facilitated a creative forum after all, albeit in my own home. So many lovely talented friends turned out – old and new. Particularly resonant was the appearance of a Dutchwoman called Eva, whom I met on Glastonbury Tor exactly 19 years ago – on solstice eve, 1991. We had been in the tower, dancing along to the drums, trying to keep warm. I had lent her my waistcoat. Later we caught up in the campsite over a cuppa. A couple of years ago we bumped into each other at a Druid Camp – and then I met her at the OBOD bash a week ago. And now, here she was, on my doorstep!

Solstice friends - me and Eva, 19 years on

It was special to connect with her again after so long. When you celebrate such times, the ghosts of all the other solstices jostle side-by-side. This was my fortieth, but only the twentieth I had consciously celebrated. Not many, and each one stands out – especially the people you celebrate them with. I thought of ‘absent friends’ and I raised a meadhorn in their honour. It was special night – one of my best gatherings.

Afterwards, a guest Verona, said: ‘You have the gift of getting people together and to make their  talents shine!’

After a lazy breakfast – getting up at sunrise would’ve been a bridge too far – I have learnt to be gentle with myself lately (the solstice doesn’t have to be a triathlon, although it can feel like that, racing from event to event) – I headed over to Avebury for midday with my friend Sally on the back. It was a lovely run in the sun and we got there just in time to catch the noon ceremonies (solstice was 12:28).

Revellers worshipping a stone egg at Avebury, Summer Solstice 2010

gong show - Avebury summer solstice

A wonderfully raggle-taggle mixture of sun worshippers hung out between the stones – the atmosphere was relaxed. No doubt the all-night/or early morning revelries had worn out most. Avebury is big enough to accommodate for everyone’s ‘thing’ – the energy is far more feminine and less antagonistic than Stonehenge, which I feel have been tainted over the years by all the conflict that has focused around them: stones of contention. One group was having a dual gong shower. Another, sat in worship around a giant stone egg. Druids in full regalia chanted hand in hand. People meditated, picnicked, slept – it was hard to tell. Everyone was in a kind of placid state, like a load of … cows in a field, contentedly chewing cud. Stoned bovines. If anyone was on grass, they were keeping it discreet as the token bobby strolled around. There was no crowd control trouble here – many had come from Stonehenge that dawn, but something about Avebury chills people out. We did a ceremonial ambulation – with frequents stops in the scorching heat – before culminating in the ritual pint at the Red Lion, where the party continued on the benches outside. We sat in the leafy shade of the ‘fertile triangle’ nearby and ate our sandwiches. Bumped into an old bardic friend, Jim, who updated me on all the ins and outs of the druid scene.

Bards of Avebury and Bath - Jim and Kevan, Summer Solstice

He’d played 4 gigs that morning (!) and was involved in getting the ancestral sculpture to Stonehenge. He was excited about the media coverage they had gained – Jim is sincere and committed about his cause, but druids can be complete media tarts, preening and pontificating in front of the cameras. Certainly, it can be used as a platform to discuss real issues, but often the media treat such people like a novelty news item (‘And finally…’) Jim’s band, Druidicca, feature in a new movie partly filmed at Avebury called The Stone. He talked at length about his big scheme to bring all druids together. Good luck to him. We stopped off at Silbury Hill to hail the ‘Mighty Mother’, then hit the road back home.

Visiting Silbury Hill

Rounding off the solstice revelries nicely was the Bath Storytelling Circle, which happened to be on at the Raven that night. I went along and contributed a story and a poem, and enjoyed the ambience, helped by a couple of ales.

Satisfied, I returned home. Finally I was able to be still – which after all is what the solstice signifies. The sun puts its feet up for three days and has a well-earned rest!

Bards on a bike - me and pal Sally about to set off when an English Heritage volunteer took our snap