About Me

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Bristol , United Kingdom
I am co-director of the Leaping Word Poetry Consultancy, which provides advice for poets on writing, editing and publishing, as well as qualified counselling support for those exploring personal issues in their work - https://theleapingword.com. My fifth poetry collection, Learning Finity, is now available from Indigo Dreams or directly from me.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

To Cameley with Pameli

After an enjoyable evening's poetry at Bradford on Avon the night before, courtsy of Dawn Gorman's Words and Ears, Pameli and I were on the road relatively early for a morning jaunt to the Church of St James of Compostela in Cameley, North Somerset. 

As soon as we entered the churchyard we were met by its resident robin, who seemed quite unbothered by our presence.  

Maybe s/he was trying to draw our attention to various headstones, like this one to Charles Sage, who died in 1808. It has a coal wagon carved on it - a reminder of the North Somerset coalfield. 

Or this to a Quarman, who died on November 17thHis age - 67 - was left out and added with an omission mark. Damage to one side means key details are missing, though t'internet names him as James and gives his year of death as 1783.  

St James is one of those churches that got left behind when its congregation shifted, in this case to Temple Cloud, which developed in Victorian times around what is now the A37, just under a mile to the east. Its gradual decline meant  it escaped the attention of Victorian 'restorers'.  

No worries about getting into it as it is cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust and open daily in the summer. First, though, we admired some remnants of paint on the Norman doorway in the porch. 

Inside, a hotchpotch of ancient and not-so-ancient fixtures and fittings, murals and carvings 

John Betjeman called St James 'Rip Van Winkle's Church', and it's true, a history of the Church can be traced in its fabric and fittings.  Pre-Reformation wall paintings, discovered behind layers of whitewash in the 1960s, line up alongside seats of royal arms and the Puritan-approved Ten Commandments; the vestiges of mediaeval side chapels and the mediaeval door to the rood screen partly obscured by 17th and 18th century box pews and the 18th century and 19th century galleries. 

18th century hat pegs, far left

The last surviving pieces of the Church's mediaeval glass

The pulpit with its magnificent sounding board is dated 1637. This is where the sermon would have been delivered; the rest of the service being conducted from the reading desk. 

The 12th century font with its cover, which was made in 1634 at a cost of £1 12s 4d

An iron peg which could have been designed by C F A Voysey, though I suspect it's a fair bit earlier.  
And then there are the wall paintings: here, all that remains of what would have been a huge early 14th century St Christopher carrying the infant Christ, namely, a foot surrounded by little fishes and a fearsome crab.

The lower part of the royal arms of King James I (1603-25), most of which has been obscured by the gallery above.

A contemporaneous set of the Ten Commandments; above, the traces of a yellow sun or 'Glory'.

A damask pattern of what Pameli and I mistook for candles at first, but are 15th century acorns and oak leaves.

Red dash and scroll patterns from the 1200s on the chancel arch, and early 15th century black and yellow damask patterns in the former side chapel.  

My favourite - a mid-14th century jester with a forked tongue, holding a scroll. Apparently there's a possible St George in armour and on horseback behind him, but I couldn't really make that out. 

At the back of the church, carved into the seat of one of the narrow mediaeval pews, there's a design that looks very like the daisy wheels or hexafoils that protect the tithe barn at Bradford on Avon from the evil eye. While I snapped things in dim corners, Pameli and I swapped hex stories, mine being about the outlines of shoes  I've come across in various churches and churchyards.  

It was only when I uploaded my photos to my laptop that I realised St James has its own sole outlines.  

The guide to the Church describes these as 'three pieces of lead from the roof, where presumably those who laid or repaired it autographed it with their footprints and the dates 1733, 1757 and 1795.'  But like the lead outlines on the roof at Muchelney, and the other examples I've come across, I think they might well be examples of apotropaios

Outside, we came across a door that was the perfect size for Pameli ... 
... complete with miniature handle.

The robin was still knocking about too, and gave me quite a shock when I went to sit on the bench for a moment. 
There was just time to admire the poultry belonging to nearby Cameley Lodge (is that cockerel a Buff Orpington?) ... 
... and views so bucolic we seemed to have stumbled into an Eclogue.  All this a bare 11 miles from the centre of Bristol, our final destination. 

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

On the Sweet Track

A day very long in the planning came to pass: a walk along the Sweet Track with fellow-poet, Rachael Clyne.

What is the Sweet Track?  Well, it's an ancient timber causeway which was built in 3806 or 3807 BC, when the Somerset Levels looked like this every winter, rather than fields bordered by rhynes. 

Consisting of oak planks laid end to end on crossed wooden poles driven into the waterlogged peat, it linked the settlement of Westhay, then an island, with Shapwick, situated on a ridge of high land close to the River Brue.  

This is a stretch of replica track ... 

... and this is me walking along it, trying to balance by clutching at reeds. 'Deb doing neolithic walking,' Rachael observed. 'More like Bridge on the River Kwai,' reckoned the Northerner when he saw the photo. 

It's believed that the track was only used for about 10 years before it was abandoned, probably due to rising water levels. It was uncovered around 5766 years later, in 1970, during peat excavations led by a man named Ray Sweet. The acidic and anaerobic conditions in the bog had prevented the wood from rotting. 

We followed the approximate route of the original track through the woods. Although the land on both sides was swampy, the path itself was dry, being built of wood and chippings. It was cool beneath the trees on what was a hot and humid day.   

We eventually emerged by a lake, one of several caused by the flooding of peatworks.
From the nearby hide, there was a perfect view of Glastonbury Tor. 

Rachael says we stayed in the hide for an hour, watching birds and contemplating the weight of history in this tranquil spot. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it didn't seem that long. 

She also says these mesmerising birds shadowing each other are marsh harriers, and I bow to her identification skills.

We walked back to the car around the lake, passing this magnificent oak in its absolute prime.  I was making a mental note to come back on a frosty winter's aternoon to watch the starling murmurations.

Back at Rachael's home in Glastonbury, there was time for tea in her back garden with its wonderful view over to Wells and the Mendip Hills before I thrashed my way along the causeways to Watchfield, dashing into Rich's Cider five minutes before it closed to get a few litres of scrumpy. The perfect end to an excellent jaunt. 

Monday, 15 August 2016

Clevedon Sojourn

The trouble with living within a relatively short drive of so many beautiful places is that everyone wants to travel there, particularly on weekends, particularly during the summer holidays. So yesterday we went to Clevedon instead.

The trouble with Clevedon is that it would very much like to be Eastbourne, but despite its best efforts, it just can't counteract the Channel's huge tidal rise and fall ... 

... the rockiness of the beach - at least until it gives way to quickmud ... 

... and a prevailing wind, the effects of which that no bandstand or flower beds can disguise.

I think it should revel in its bleakness. 

We walked up to the pier but decided not to go on as it was a bit too crowded for our Accompanying Border Collie.  Then we realised that the people thronging its decking were going on a boat trip. 

Not just any old boat either - it was the MV Balmoral stopping off on its way from Penarth to Bristol. 

After a drink at the Salthouse we walked around the cliff path to the churchyard of St Andrew's Church, passing the Look Out on the way. This is thought to have belonged to a local family, the Finzels, who were sugar-importers. It's said that they used the Look Out to spot their incoming trade ships.  Though I don't suppose they'd have been looking upriver too much. 

This path forms part of Poets Walk, so named for the town's connections with Coleridge, who stayed in a cottage in the town in 1795 while writing The Aeolian Harp, and some 40 years later Tennyson, whose friend Arthur Hallam, the subject of In Memoriam, is commemorated in the church, along with other members of his family.   
Still no guide books in the Church, despite a sign saying they cost £2. Maybe I just happen to go on the few occasions they've sold out of them.  You'd have thought they'd have made more out of such an illustrious literary connection, however.

Although St Andrew's clifftop churchyard is rather less atmospheric than St Mary's in Whitby or St Materiana's in Tintagel, it still has great views ...

... even if a woodpigeon perched on headstones is a bit less fitting than a corvid ... 

... no, wait, there's a magpie there on that cross, that'll do. 

There's some good 18th century skull and cherub action in the oldest part of the churchyard ...

Come hither mortal cast a eye
Then go thy way prepare to di
Read here thy doom for know thou muft
One day like me be turnd to dust

... including this one her- hang on a minute ... 

Well, I'm blowed - a Tutton. Which is ironic because when I was last in Clevedon and out of sorts, I drove all the way to Othery churchyard, looking (in vain) for the graves of my ancestral Tuttons. But just over the cliff there was one here all the time. I see you, John Tutton. 

I don't know if he is a relative, of course. He was born the same year as my great-great-great-great-great grandfather, George Tutton, although much shorter lived.  And there's evidence to suggest that my ancestors stayed in Othery for a generation or two after George, as his grandson, another George, seems to have been baptised in St Michael's in 1803. Yet by the end of that century, in 1895, my great grandmother, Fanny (nee Tutton) marries yeoman Tom Hill in Clevedon (although they are shortly to decamp to Bristol). Another of her many sisters is married to Joe Rich, landlord of the Royal Oak as well as running a number of pleasure boats for holiday-makers. At some point our Tuttons made the move from Othery to Clevedon. Was it to join relatives already living there?  

Back over Church Hill to Salthouse Park and it was sunny and Clevedon was suddenly beautiful after all.  

In fact, I loved it.