About Me

My photo
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.

Sunday, 25 October 2020

Leigh Woods and Stokeleigh Camp

It was raining. Hard. As I drove past the playing fields, I wondered whether to pull into a side road and ring Son the Younger to see if he still wanted to meet up for a walk at Leigh Woods. Then I looked at the glorious colour of the trees even in the downpour, against charcoal clouds, and decided to press on. He'd be there waiting. 

And he was, though the rain forced a change of route, away from the exposed path along the side of the Avon and over to Stokeleigh camp instead, which we could reach under cover of the trees. We're not completely mad. 

On the way to the camp we passed some fabulous trees. I love this beech, which is still leafing despite the fact it fell long enough ago to grow ivy over its exposed root ball. 

And this ancient yew is magnificent still. 

Fungi on a beech

It's been a long, slow, glorious autumn burn this year. I suspect it's a knock-on effect from the hot, dry period we had at the end of spring, that caused the seasons to concertina and autumn to come earlier than usual.

Two sentinel oaks ... 

... and a hollow one.

Stokeleigh Camp is an iron age promontory fort, one of three that stood on top of the cliffs, overlooking the Avon Gorge. This vast chasm offered Stokeleigh protection to the north, and to the east, the steep slopes of Nightingale valley. The remainder was bordered by three ramparts which increase in size the nearer you get to the middle. 

It's thought that Stokeleigh Camp was occupied from the late pre-Roman Iron Age. Archaeological investigations have suggested that the Dobunni might have ceded it to the Belgae tribes in the 1st century. There may then have been a break in occupation before reuse in the middle to late 2nd century. It's unclear whether this was for a formal garrison or just as a place of refuge in times of crisis. It might also have been occupied in the Middle Ages. 

There is evidence of dry stone walling along most of its length, but it's not known whether this is an original feature or a later addition. 

By now we were high above Nightingale valley and the Clifton Suspension Bridge was coming into view. No need for protection against marauding invaders in Victorian times - unless you were on the receiving end of British imperialism. 

On the opposite bank, another hill fort is visible, that of Clifton Down camp with the observatory built in the middle of it. (The third camp was Burwalls, the other side of Nightingale Valley, the only trace of which survives in the area's name - burgh walls.)

Far below is the River Avon.

As we left the camp, a family approached. 

*cough cough cough* said the father.

'I thought we'd be going up this path!' pouted the elder child. 'What's the point of coming if we aren't going to explore the ruined castle!' 

*cough cough cough* explained the father, who wasn't wearing a mask. 

'Ooh là là!' exclaimed the four-year-old, splashing in a puddle. 

*cough cough cough* answered the father. 

At least cattle don't catch Covid-19. 

Spalted wood

Saturday, 17 October 2020



My sons and I had planned to visit our old haunt of South Devon a while before our dog, Ted, died, and his loss coloured the trip quite differently. We were lucky enough to have a bright day, though, with a stiff breeze on a nearly new moon and a high tide to make it memorable, and to take us a little bit further along the lane of grieving. 

My childhood holidays were spent in this place, as were my children’s; it also has ancestral connections, though these weren’t uncovered before we’d already made a home from home of it in Holcombe. Important to be here then. Hard to be here without Ted chasing sea gulls and trains. 

In Teignmouth we had lunch in the Ship Inn, my first pub visit in months, though it was far removed from any normal pub experience. The food was good, though, and I felt as safe as it’s possible to feel these days. 

After lunch we waited on the back beach to catch the ferry to Shaldon.

A helpful sign advised that the last return trip would be at 3pm because of the tide, which was already full and rising rapidly, so that limited our time there, but to be honest I’m grateful just to get a glimpse of my best places these days. 

We scavenged our way along the beach for sea glass, most of which is in Son the Younger’s pocket rather than this photo. 

The boys then walked back to Teignmouth over the bridge, but my back was bad and I needed that boat. 

It was so hard without Ted who absolutely loved sitting up on the bench and watching everything going on. I was glad I had a face mask and sunglasses on so no one could see me weeping. 

Away from the shelter of the estuary, the Channel was beating hard against the promenade. Can’t count how many times I’ve dodged its spray over the years. 

I sat by the pier for a bit to wait for my sons, and, as has happened so often lately, the local dogs smelt my sorrow and came over to say a gentle hello. 

All along the sea wall back to Holcombe the waves were unrelenting. It was glorious. 

We found a bit of my father’s graffiti still hanging on, though with Network Rail’s plans for this  stretch of the track, it won’t be for much longer. 

Likewise, doubtless, these steps, which we took our chances on. Hard to avoid waves on the slippery, twisting descent, and I’m not much good at scampering these days.

Back in Bristol there was a stormy sunset to round off our day. Another milestone. 

Thursday, 15 October 2020

Learning Finity and the persistence of stories

I'm very pleased to be able to post that my publishers, Ronnie Goodyer and Dawn Bauling of Indigo Dreams, are going to publish my fifth collection of poems next year. It's called Learning Finity, and it's about mythic time and how a place might change beyond recognition but still retain an imprint of the past. It's also about getting old and the mutability of everything, except, maybe, stories.

I like to think that something of the past and its people, their lives, loves and disasters, remains in a landscape. That the trees that colonnade the nave of St Mary Le Port Church, now a bombed ruin tucked behind a curtain wall of 1960s brutalist office blocks, themselves empty, are engaged in rebuilding it. And that the valerian that bursts through cracks in walls on the hillside above where the ice rink and the Locarno used to be remembers when it was patch of woodland called Fockynggrove, and was a very well frequented spot indeed.

If you've read other posts here, you'll probably guess I'm talking about Bristol, the city I was born in and which I've never managed to leave. Here I am, hanging out with local poet and bad boy, Thomas Chatterton, quite a few years ago now. 

I mostly love my native city, though there are times I've been deeply ashamed of it, such as when Points West asks whether it should apologise for its slaving past and then does a vox pop stuffed with belligerent locals, who haven't fully grasped the implications of how our forefathers made its wealth. And the fact that if it weren't for Black Lives Matters protestors tearing down his statue, this city would still be commemorating Edward Colston right in its heart is excruciating. 

I often wonder what my great-great grandparents, who lived and worked on Christmas Steps, right in the centre of the city, would make of it all, if they had the chance to wander around their city now, which is so different from how they remember it and which will be unrecognisable to future citizens. Everything is mutable, but stories persist. 

'Fockynggrove' was first published in Atrium, May 2020

Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Talking about Love, Loss and Dogs on Soundart Radio

This blog - more specifically, the post about the death of my dog, Ted, a month ago - recently came to the attention of Julie Mullen, who hosts a show on Soundart Radio, based in Totnes, Devon. She asked me to record myself reading from it for the Monday edition, and so that's what I did. It's by far the hardest thing I've ever had to do in the name of poetry, but that's love for you. You can listen to it here.  

My contribution starts about 12 minutes in and runs intermittently right to the end of the podcast, but I strongly suggest you start at the very beginning. Apart from it being a very good place to start, the playlist features John Lennon, the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Gilbert O'Sullivan, and Julie herself, so it's really not a hardship. 

Thursday, 1 October 2020

A Poem for National Poetry Day 2020

It's National Poetry Day today and the theme this year is Vision. It reminds me of the time I was laid up with a broken leg back in 2015; in addition to the break itself, it also took me a while to get over the shock of such an unlikely accident (falling off the front door step) and the effects of the anaesthetic following the operation to pin my bone back together. I didn't suffer hallucinations but I did spend a lot of time asleep, and also in that strange place between wakefulness and dreaming, where I think this poem comes from. It's a sort of vision come inherited memory, I think.

After the Fall

comes the break 

with all that's normal

the dislocation of lying flat

watching the ceiling's every move

hairline cracks a cryptic

map of its intent

Hour by hour 

I shape my wait with sound

rain and hailstones blinding skylights,

the sullen mutter of the fire,

the twitching dog who dreams of grass 

beneath his paws

the soft-shoe stealth of creeping days

their velvet glances as they leave me

to the wolves

In fractured sleep, half-waking haze

I hear the click of nails

across the kitchen floor

©Deborah Harvey, 2016

from Breadcrumbs, published by Indigo Dreams Publishing

Plus a lympathetic Ted