Monday, 29 August 2011

A Clifton Whodunnit

The Scene of the Crime: leafy Clifton, home of gracious living and many a BBC costume drama ... 














The Evidence ...

















The culprit ...


















... skulking up a tree ...



The Story ... 

Sunday, 28 August 2011

The Gatekeeper


An anthology of prize-winning poetry from the first five years of the Welsh Poetry Competition dropped on my door mat the other day.  It contains my poem 'The Gatekeeper', and as it's been feeling quite autumnal these last few days, I've decided to post it.




                                The Gatekeeper

                                There’s no one left to mourn them.
                                Only stony-faced angels keep watch
                                over the names of forgotten children,
                                written in lichen,
                                blotted with moss.

                                Flowers must bring themselves:
                                dandelions for Mary Kate;
                                stately cuckoo-pints for Diana,
                                the siren shine of malevolent berries
                                no longer a worry. 

                                From the tower
                                the clock strikes four quarters and one.
                                A gatekeeper settles on a stone.
                                Its wings wear the colours of autumn fallen,
                                umber and rust.

                               A clatter of jackdaws comes bustling back,
                               tatters the death pall with tender talk. 
                               Playground voices shoulder through oak trees,
                               boisterously singing
                               the Hokey-Cokey.



                                         Deborah Harvey ©2011








A selection of poems from my poetry collection, 'Communion', is available to read on the Indigo Dreams website.  Copies can be bought from them, or from Amazon or W H Smith.  Signed copies are available from me. Please email deborah.harvey@ymail.com for details.








Saturday, 20 August 2011

A Literary Trip around West Yorkshire

Offspring number 1 having just graduated from Leeds University with a degree in English, it was high time she visited the local literary landscape, so I took her on a repeat of a jaunt I really enjoyed a few years ago. 




Here we are outside the house in Mytholmroyd where Ted Hughes lived till the age of seven.  The good news is that it's now owned by the Elmet Trust and can be rented as a writer's retreat.  The bad news is that the nice black embossed plaque has been replaced with a tinny (and already defaced) blue one.


And here is Offspring number 3 at the canal where lurked the famous literary 'Pike'.  I remember being excited at an impressionable age by Hughes' use of a noun as a verb - 'green tigering the gold'.  Those four words made me want to study English at University and become a poet, but my teacher told me I wasn't good enough - pffft!
Next stop the steep, cobbledy village of Heptonstall, high above Hebden Bridge (where we would have stopped had we been able to find a space in a car park).  We had a scrummy lunch in the Cross Inn, served by the very friendly landlady, along with her two equally friendly dogs.  


















It was a lot less bleak than the last time I visited in February 2008.  This is Heptonstall Old Church seen from just outside the newer one.  



















It's impossible to negotiate the site without treading on graves. (Though they were like this when we got there, I hasten to add!)




These fine examples are from the mid 18th century, and 1601 respectively.


Of course, this was the grave we'd really come to see.



It's the custom to leave votive offerings here for Sylvia Plath, and I found a small silver and gold mosaic mirror in my bag which seemed an appropriate gift for the woman who wrote a poem from the point of view of one.  Liz left her a Citalopram, carefully buried so that it wouldn't fall into the wrong hands.  











I liked the way the mirror became a portal by reflecting the sky.  




Then it was on to Haworth, another quaint, steep location much visited by literary pilgrims.  The Black Boar pub is reputedly haunted by Branwell Brontë.






After visiting the Parsonage, which houses much Brontë memorabilia, we wandered around the churchyard.  Again, it was less dispiriting than the last time I was there, in part, possibly, because the exhibition about the appallingly unsanitary conditions in which the townspeople lived in the mid 19th century was no longer on display (which is a shame).  It is estimated that 40,000 people are buried there, with records dating back to 1645, and the graves still seemed to crowd in on the idle bystander - just in much leafier surroundings this time of year.  




This grave seems pretty typical of a town where, in 1850, 41.6% of children died before they were six years old and the average life expectancy was 24.

The Brontë family would have enjoyed more sanitary  conditions than most, although it is speculated that their water supply, like much of the village, was contaminated by poor sanitation and surface runoff from the vast cemetery, and that this would have made them more susceptible to the illnesses which killed them.  Mrs Maria Brontë, the children's mother, died of cancer in 1821, the year after her husband took up the post of Perpetual curate in Haworth.  She was followed by Maria and Elizabeth, the two eldest offspring, who died of TB in 1825.   


Of the four children who survived to adulthood, Branwell famously died an alcoholic and laudanum addict at the age of 31; Emily died aged 30, reputedly on the couch in the room where 'Jane Eyre', 'Wuthering Heights' and 'The Tenant of Wildfell Hall' were all written; and Anne at the age of 29 in Scarborough.  They all perished within a year of each other, reportedly of TB.

Charlotte lived until 1855, when she died aged 39 of TB, possibly complicated by typhus and her pregnancy.  Patrick, their father, outlived them all, dying in 1861, aged 84.









Wednesday, 17 August 2011

White Wood and the story of William Baron




Along with a small green bowl I own, the moss-covered rocks and trees of White Wood on Dartmoor, where I walked last week, were the inspiration for my poem 'The Potter'.
  
It tells the story of William Baron, a potter from Sidmouth, who worked for Royal Doulton and Brannams of Barnstaple before setting up his own pottery, also in Barnstaple.  His business flourished from 1893 to 1935, when, on a family day-trip to Morwenstow in Cornwall, his son, daughter and son-in-law were caught in a riptide and drowned.  The broken-hearted potter subsequently sold his precious pottery to his former employer and bitter rival, C H Brannam, and died two years later.

Their pots rub shoulders on my shelves.




The Potter


Was it his dream landscape too,
that wooded combe
cut deep in moorland
under bleak, sheep-cobbled hills,
where every tree trunk, stump and rock
is wrapped and wound around with velvet,
like the inside of a casket
or a sumptuous padded cell
submerged in silence,
save the river
claiming innocents by name,
and all glazed green
bar bruise of bluebells
and amongst the starry mosses
something floating whitely up
through all the layers of sunken light,
the lustred air so atmospherically reflected
in this pot that just one touch
transports me there?

Or through some hairline crack in time
had he foreseen his drowning son, his daughter
spiralling through water,
while above them rolling combers
break … dissolve … obliterate?



Deborah Harvey  © 1999, 2011






If you enjoyed this poem, you might be interested to know that there are more available to read online at Indigo Dreams. It is also in my collection, 'Communion', which can be ordered from Indigo Dreams, or from W H Smith or Amazon.



Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Horn's Cross, White Wood and Bench Tor

On Friday it was the 20th anniversary of my grandmother's death so I decided to mark the day by walking in my favourite landscape.  

I know the Dart Valley reasonably well, as it is where I set the action of my novel, imaginatively entitled 'Dart'(!), and I walked and walked there over many years to get the geography right and to imagine how it might have looked there 660 plus years ago. (The story is set during the first outbreak of the Black Death, 1348-1349. Oh, and it will be published next year by Indigo Dreams!)



It was as well that I am familiar with it, as when I alighted from the car at Venford Reservoir, visibility was extremely poor and even the nearest landmarks were obscured by unseasonal mist and low cloud.  I was glad that I always keep an emergency kit to hand, comprising torch, whistle, tin foil blanket and, most important of all, a compass.





The wind was blowing from the West, off the Atlantic, and just as one scad of rain  dispersed, another hove over the skyline.  So Ted and I did get a bit wet, but it wasn't a problem because it was just so beautiful.  






During one clearish spell, Horn's Cross appeared on the brow of the hill, just where it should have been, and looking magnificently craggy.  
Our route then took us over to Combestone Tor, which is eminently climbable although I decided to give it a miss in the teeming rain.   
From the tor, we dropped down to follow Holne Moor Leat back to the reservoir.













Every now and then there were mini clapper bridges to facilitate crossing the leat.




I'm really pleased with this picture of Hangman's Pit. The raindrops on the lens give it a wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey feel which fits well with the sad and supernatural story of the couple who lived there. I always feel despair, from outside of me, when I pass.

(The other bit of the story that isn't related in the link is that at about the time the man hanged himself, the wife heard his footsteps coming up the path to the cottage and him letting himself in through the door. It was only in the morning that she realised he couldn't have done this because he was dead before he got home.  It is one of those instances of a fetch or doppelgä
nger doing what person would have done, had they taken a different course of action.) 


Another way of crossing the leat can be seen here - it's a sheep leap consisting of two granite slabs jutting out over the water, one acting as a launch pad, the other a landing ramp (as opposed to a sheep creep, which is a small gap constructed in the base of a drystone wall to allow sheep to pass from field to field, but prevent cattle or ponies from doing likewise). 

By now it had cleared enough for Beardown Tors, Longaford Tor and Higher White Tor above the West Dart valley to be visible ...












... and Sharp Tor with Rippon Tor behind it in the distance.



 By now we were getting dizzying views down into the Dart gorge, with the occasional glimpse of rapids.
Having regained the reservoir, the second loop of our figure-of-eight walk took us along the stone-edged track above Venford Brook and through White Wood, another place with its own eerie atmosphere.  It's reputed to be the haunt of pixies, and what with the moss-draped stones and trees sprouting ferns, it's easy to see why.


The cobwebs were spangled with ten carat raindrops.













Having climbed steeply up out of the wood, we reached the scattered but never less than impressive Bench Tor ... 




 ... from some outcrops of which there were more precipitous views into the gorge far below.
Then it was back to the reservoir for a second time, and home to the coast ...  
... with a last glimpse of Dartmoor in the form of these wild ponies: two pregnant mares and one of this season's foals loitering in the car park.



Sunday, 14 August 2011

Out in the Wilds

It was hot so I decided to get hotter by going for a 9½-mile walk on Dartmoor, from Shipley Bridge to Red Lake spoil heap and back via the long disused Zeal Tramway, built in 1847 to take peat down off the moor.  It was all right for Ted - as soon as we got going, we passed a deep pool on the River Avon (Aune) which was perfect for a dip.  Not that he was too keen, it has to be said.  Next time I'm passing I'll make sure I have a swimming costume and towel with me.
 After a very early picnic we tramped past the Avon Dam Reservoir, looking startlingly blue, and on up the river to Huntingdon Cross, with our ultimate destination, Red Lake spoil heap, on the skyline.



At this point my walk book said to ford the River Avon, which, although it's summer, was pretty full. I nearly made it too, until I stepped on a particularly rocky rock and fell off into the water. Luckily I only got my feet wet.
I was miffed when I reached the opposite bank to see a clapper bridge about 300 yards upstream!  
We climbed alongside an old mining gert up onto the ridge.  It really felt as if we were in the wilds now, with North Hessary Tor and Great Mis Tor on the horizon.  
Our route became easier as it joined the larger Red Lake Tramway, also long disused. This led us all the way to the spoil heap, where Ted and I had a rest and a drink and I ate an orange.
This is Red Lake China Clay Quarry Pit - a nice place to sit and ruminate.












Then it was time to retrace our steps to Zeal Tramway, and the return journey to the car park.
                                                                             



We made a minor detour to Petre's Cross on Western White Barrow, an ancient burial cairn.

From here there was a good view over to its twin, Eastern White Barrow ...












... and from this nearby marker stone I glimpsed Plymouth Sound.

I didn't expect to run into the Devil at the end of the walk - or old Dewer as he's known in these parts - but he was definitely visible in this dead tree.








Still, we arrived back at the caravan unscathed, if dog tired...