Thursday, 30 May 2013

Through Heaven's Gate

My walking companion wanted to go to Becky Falls. He'd seen it in his brand new Dartmoor guide book and was quite insistent.  

I, however, am the inheritor of a long-established prejudice against Becky Falls, born of the fact that you have to pay to go there. 'Plenty of other waterfalls on Dartmoor you can see for free,' my father would say whenever my sister and I asked to go. 'Anyway, it's nothing special.' And his ruling stuck, so much so that as an adult I'd never been either - I'd just caught an illicit glimpse through the trees of the rushing Beckabrook from the public footpath.  

'Ah, you have to pay to see it,' I told my companion. 'Shouldn't be in private ownership. I'm not encouraging them.'

'Says in my book that access is free these days in return for the National Park maintaining the paths,' said my companion smugly.  So off we went.

I decided to wreak a small revenge by starting our walk in Lustleigh Cleave, an area which is always included in the short and easy section of walk books but which is actually steep and arduous.  And he was well and truly lulled into a false sense of security as we passed through Heaven's Gate.

This section of the walk is well-named ...  

... even the cowshit is starred with beetles ...

... though Death is there also.  (Poor Mr Mole, his big spade-like hands forever stilled.)

The hard climb began once we'd crossed the River Bovey via the spanking new footbridge which is probably very very safe but nowhere near as exciting as the old and slippery clam bridge, now blocked off.  

After the scramble up the opposite side of the Cleave, we walked round to Becky Falls.  This is the picture in the guide book, looking down over the bottom half.

And here's the top part.  It probably looks more spectacular when the Beckabrook's higher, but it was still quite impressive, and I was glad to see it at last.  

In the cafe we shared our cream tea with a chaffinch with a bad leg. 

Back in Houndtor Wood the mayflies were making the most of their one day in the sun ... 

We crossed the roughly cobbled and ridiculously picturesque Hisley Bridge and climbed back up through the woods towards Lustleigh.

The views over to Trendlebere Down were coloured a thousand shades of green, and to Ted's great excitement, a huge red doe sprang out of the bushes in front of us and up the track.  Luckily he was on the lead because of it being lambing and nesting season, otherwise I doubt I should have seen him again. 

 Then it was back to the biscuit tin by the sea, tired but ready for another walk the following day.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

A Magickal Tail of Inexplicable Mystery

This is my border collie, Ted. He is four years old and fully grown.

This is one of Ted's balls.  He has a boxful on top of the fridge.  Balls, Bonios and going for walks are his favourite things but if he had to choose between the three, he would definitely opt for chasing a ball. While out on a walk.

This is the hedge close to which I threw his ball this morning - so close, in fact, that it bounced over the top and into someone's garden.  

'Never mind,' I said to Ted, 'look, I brought another one with me,' and continued to walk around the park with my neighbour, Cher, and her chocolate brown labrador, Buster, who sadly has to stay on his lead because he slipped a disc in his back a couple of years ago.

'Ted? Ted?!  TED?!!!'  This is me realising that Ted has suddenly disappeared. 'Oh, look, Cher, there's his bum sticking out of the hedge, you can see his tail waving.  Talk about persistent.  Ted!  Come here!'

This is the hole in the hawthorn hedge through which Ted is disappearing.

'Bugger, he's got through!' I say, breaking into a lumbering run, but Ted is already letting himself back into the park, his tennis ball in his mouth.

This is the gate through which Ted let himself back into the park.

But hold it just one moment. Let's take a closer look at the hole in the hedge through which Ted squeezed to get his ball.

It's a hedge all right, but there's also a sturdy wall and well-maintained, municipal railings, the uprights of which are no further apart than the width of my hand across the knuckles - about three and a half inches.  The gap between the wall and the bottom of the railings is about one and a half inches.  And Ted doesn't know he can jump.  Even if he did, Cher and I would have seen him.  But he didn't and neither did we.  

So how did Ted retrieve his ball? The only explanation I can think of is that his wagging white-tipped tail is really a magic wand ...


Saturday, 18 May 2013

Alice Oswald at the Watershed, Bristol, Saturday 11th May 2013

Photo by Antonio Olmos

I can't really tell you how excited I was at the prospect to seeing/hearing Alice Oswald read at the Watershed last Saturday ... nor how livid I was when, ten minutes before I was due to leave the house, my border collie, Ted, made a run for it up the park.

Now, when Ted's had a good hurtle after the ball, he's fairly biddable and easy to catch, but I could see from the expression in his eyes exactly what he thought as he barked peremptorily at me - Well, we're here now, so let's have a bit of fun for half an hour. Let's face it, you could do with the exercise.  
In the end I hung the ball - which happened to be on a handy piece of elastic - on the branch of a bush and as he leapt for it, rugby-tackled him to the ground and hauled him home, thus getting to the poetry reading by the skin of my teeth, albeit flustered and earringless.  

I'm sure if I thought hard enough I could find a way of seguing from this image into a description of the reading, but I'm a busy blogger today so I'm just going to post the review I've written for the local rag.  

The last time I had a ticket for an Alice Oswald reading, ten years ago in Bath, she fell ill and was unable to attend, so I was delighted finally to catch her sell-out performance of a selection of her work at the Watershed, put on by the Bristol Festival of Ideas in association with the Bristol Spring Poetry Festival.

I use the word 'performance' advisedly, as Alice Oswald, one of our most intelligent and imaginative poets, learns her poems by heart and is thus able to summon an intense and dramatic delivery that grabs the attention of the audience from beginning to end.

I first encountered Alice Oswald's work when her long dream-like poem Dart was published in 2002.  At the Watershed, the focus was on her most recent collection, 2011's Memorial. Subtitled An Excavation of the Iliad, Memorial departs from the usual telling of the stories of Achilles, Paris, Helen and the rest to focus on the individual, named heroes whose fates are mentioned on in passing.  By providing the reader with sufficient telling detail, she brings them to life only to confront us with the pathos of their deaths.  The resulting work is a haunting exposition of the insanity of war, the enormity of its cost in human lives.  

Apart from Memorial, Alice also read from A Sleepwalk on the Severn, a long poem for several voices which was published in 2009, and earlier poems including Hymn for Iris, a prayer for bridges and connections.  Perhaps the most riveting of all was a poem about her village in Devon which described in the present inhabitants from generations ago, and which, despite its repeated exhortations to the reader not to be alarmed, was decidedly eerie.  

The reading was followed by a fascinating question and answer session chaired by the Director of Poetry Can, Colin Brown. 

The Bristol Festival of Ideas continues until the end of August; Bristol Poetry Festival will be back in the first week of October with an exciting line-up of poets and performances.  

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Return to Scorhill, Shovel Down and North Tawton

The person I took with me to Dartmoor on Sunday loved our whistle-stop tour so much that he wanted to go back again the following day.  'Show me one of your favourite spots,' he said. So, after lunch in the Northmore Arms at Wonson, I did. 

Ascending the drift lane to Scorhill Down
Looking over to Watern Tor from Scorhill stone circle
The Tolmen Stone on the bank of the North Teign
My favourite clapper of all, over the Wallabrook

View up the North Teign from the Teign-e-ver clapper

Looking down one of the stone rows on Shovel Down to Batworthy  
Kestor Rock from Three Boys standing stone
 Beeches at Batworthy Corner
 A tiny adder, newly emerged from hibernation
 We then had to contemplate joining the serpent and headaching the car homeward back up the M5, but not before we had a quick visit to North Tawton, whose church with its witch's hat for a steeple always makes me smile.

The hedge of conifers that shielded Court Farm, former home of Ted Hughes and, for a time, Sylvia Plath, has gone since my last visit, leaving the old house rather exposed.  It was thrilling but also rather uncomfortable spotting the shrivelling remains of the daffodils that feature in both Plath's and Hughes' poems about their last spring together.

At a more respectful distance, however, you can see Plath's inspiration for the last two lines of the first verse of The Moon and Yew Tree.  

Separated from my house by a row of headstones.
I simply cannot see where there is to get to.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Rook With A View

Bennett's Cross and the sweep to the sea


Windy Post Cross 

Windy Post Cross and the Grimstone and Sortridge Leat

Rook with a View

Looking north from Whiteworks  

Nun's (or Sywardes) Cross

Looking over to the Cross and  Nun's Cross Farm

The Dart Gorge from Combestone Tor 

Combestone Tor

Dartmoor bonsai

Saturday, 4 May 2013

You Say You Want A Revolushun

Exhibition, Tithe Barn, Bradford-on-Avon

If you are within 300 miles of the beautiful small town of Bradford-on-Avon this Saturday and/or Sunday, get thee to ye magnificent Tithe Barn, next to which is the West Barn where there is an exhibition of art, pottery, sculpture and glass by eleven artists, and in particular peruse ye fynne werke of my friend, Jan Lane, and availeth thee of her wares which she will give you in return for modest amounts of money.


Ye birdies cost from £28 to £85 (that's for one with two birds perched on a beautiful piece of spalted beech - see, I learnt a new word at the exhibition too) but don't buy the starling  because I have belatedly realised that I need it.  

Although you will want to, you will not be able to buy all of these artful brooches costing a mere £7.50 each because I got there first.  There is still plenty of gorgeosity available, however.  

Alas, my camera has been a bit rubbish ever since I tipped a cup of tea over my dressing gown whilst it was in my dressing gown pocket, so I am desisting from posting my substandard photos of Jan's lovely prints of hearts and apples and pears and trees - not to mention her daughter Tabitha's toadstools - but they are there to be loved and purchased and loved again also, so treat yourself while you can.