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.

Monday, 19 September 2022

Funeral blues

And when it all got too much, we went to - actually, it all got too much about nine days ago, but everything came to a climax today and I just had to get away and sit on a beach for an hour or two, letting the sound of the waves empty my mind.

Our destination Ladye Bay, a tiny pebbled cove to the north of Clevedon ...

... with views upstream to the Skirrid near Abergavenny, directly across to Newport, and just to the left, Mynydd Machen, Mynydd Maen and Twmbarlwm, then downstream to Cardiff ... 

... and ultimately, on this side of the estuary, Clevedon Pier, a mile or so to the south.  

The beach was small enough for Cwtch to potter about on her own a bit, which she really enjoyed ... 

... although we had to make sure she didn't get too close to other families to bother them. (We weren't the only escapees from Queen Elizabeth's funeral.) 

On our way down the M5, we'd seen a helicopter flying north and I'd joked with Son the Younger that it was taking number plates to see who wasn't mourning appropriately. Then two more flew up the coast ... 

... followed presently by a raven, which might even have flown down from the Tower of London, who knows in this present climate of zero tolerance for dissent.

As usual, I was on the look-out for treasure. This curlew feather, for instance ... 

... and masses of sea glass - in fact, I don't think I've ever picked up so much sitting on the spot. The only thing is, the pieces are mostly tiny. I could only safely empty my pockets once we were back home.

I could have stayed there for ever, but eventually it was time to depart, especially as Son the Younger was due to drive back to Rugby and another early morning shift at work. It was good, though, to spend a couple of hours outside of time and away from a prescribed narrative I don't share.  And what a find in lovely Ladye Bay. I will be back.


Thursday, 15 September 2022

The open doors of Winterbourne Mediaeval Barn and St Saviour's Church

Open Doors Day - or Heritage Open Days, as they now seem to be called - have changed, at least in Bristol, and not for the better. Admittedly, the more popular locations have had to be booked in advance for some years, and in our not-really-post-Covid world, arranging these sort of events is certainly more complex than it was, but I was dismayed to see that this year, people wishing to join in had to buy a wristband in advance. Gone the spontaneity of stopping by, deviating from the planned route because somewhere takes your fancy, and going home early when your feet have had enough. Gone, too, the principle of not paying. It feels like something really quite precious has been commercialised, and in commercialising it, made more middle class, more exclusive.

So, I decided to stick to South Gloucestershire venues - only a couple as I only had a couple of hours - and rolled up in a timely fashion at Winterbourne's mediaeval barn, which I'd been keen to see for some years. 

Built in 1343 just before the Black Death decimated the workforce, the barn was commissioned by Thomas de Bradeston, who is, possibly, implicated in the horrible murder of Edward II at nearby Berkeley Castle. 

This barn's importance lies in the fact that whereas other surviving great barns were built by monastic estates, Universities or Knights Hospitallers, this one is one of only three recorded that were built by a Lord of the Manor.

If it looks a bit smaller than some of the other great mediaeval barns, that's because only seven of its eleven original bays have survived.

And because it's important to have an idea of these things, it's estimated that as many as 240 oak trees were used to build the roof structure.

Apparently, the circle of stones is where cattle would tread to turn the mills.

The Church of St Michael is literally a stone's throw from the barn, so I decided to make a swift visit before setting out for my next destination. I'd visited before, and was looking forward to reacquainting myself with my favourite surly cherub in the churchyard. 

What I'd evidently missed on that previous visit was this precursor of the famous last scene of 'Carrie'.

As I was passing the bell tower, I was invited up for a talk on bell-ringing, which turned out to be long, though of interest too, not least because the bells had been muffled and rung the previous day to mark the death of the Queen. Then I had the anxiety of climbing down the narrow winding steps of the tower, although it turned out to be less alarming than the ascent. 

I'm always going to be beguiled by mediaeval wall paintings ... 

... but the tomb of Thomas de Bradeston was of extra interest now I was aware of his role in the building of the barn murder of Edward II (allegedly).

My final destination was St Saviour's Church in Coalpit Heath, the interior of which I'd tried to see on a previous Open Doors Day, only to find it not as open as advertised.  

The church is of interest to me having been built by William Butterfield, a Gothic Revivial architect and forerunner of the architects of the Arts and Crafts Movement.

After all the trying to get in, I was a bit taken aback by the interior. I think I must have been expecting something more ... well, Gothic, but it's actually pretty plain, and reminded me of my artistically constrained Methodist upbringing. The light fitting in the chancel has an Arts and Crafts vibe to it, though, as do the painted inscriptions on the wall.

By now the bell-ringers were getting ready to ring for the dead Queen and when I saw the bell-ringer from St Michael's advancing across the car park, I thought I'd better scoot off before I got another potted history, so I did. Things to do, places to be in these strange days.


Saturday, 10 September 2022

Three Brooks at the tail-end of summer

Back in May, arranging to have our new bathroom fitted during the school summer holidays seemed like an excellent plan, not least since I'd be around all the time to take care of the dog, so she didn't interfere with any of the work going on. In fact, I would take her out on a series of day trips for the duration, to the beach, to the moor, to the hills. Lots of lovely dog walks and clean air, coming home (eventually) to beautiful, if bijou, Palace of Ablutions.  

As it turned out, I failed to reckon with the 34°C+ heatwave that coincided with our planned work, and we soon discovered it wasn't much fun being left without a shower, bath or flushing toilet during two of the hottest weeks this country has ever endured. 

To make matters worse, it was way too hot to take a dark and very hairy little collie out any later than 10.30am, so I got into the habit of driving to Bradley Stoke Leisure Centre first thing in the morning, using their facilities, and then wandering around Three Brooks Nature Reserve for an hour or two. 

I'd been vaguely aware of a nature reserve not that far from where I live for years, but it was only during the first lockdown that it really impinged on my consciousness, and by then it was a) too far away to travel to, and b) rammed with locals trying to get their permitted exercise session in. But the situation has improved somewhat since then, and a nature reserve - even in Tory Toytown - isn't to be sniffed at, unless you're Cwtch.

Coppiced hazel by Patchway Brook

It took five visits to explore all the parts of the reserve, and I was reminded how August is actually a pretty dull month nature-wise, as most of the flowers are over and the birds are all moulting in bushes. Plus, there was the extreme heat, which was an exacerbating factor in this feeling of lifelessness. But the trees - particularly in Webbs Wood, which is designated ancient woodland - were magnificent and I was fascinated by the prospect of somewhere new to explore in all seasons.

Three Brooks Lake

Patchway Brook

Webbs Wood

Oaks and an understorey of hazel ...

... and thorn

Coppiced Oak

Pollarded oak

Blowflies in Savages Wood

Bowsland meadow looking very parched in extreme heat

A venerable ash in Savages Wood

Chicken of the Woods

Community Orchard

Old farm machinery

Very tall ash trees

Artist's conk

This path leads uphill to a man-made feature called the Tump, which covers what was once Fiddlers Wood Farm and has a fascinating origin story, namely, that it mainly comprises spill from the construction of the new Severn Bridge.

The soils, which aren't typical of the area, have developed as scrubland, providing a different habitat for wildlife, which, even in mid-August, was looking quite autumnal. 

My fifth visit was much more recent, after we'd had some rain, and it was good to see the brooks in a slightly less lethargic state, and a few ducks on the lake. 

Bridge over Bradley Brook

This time we walked along Stoke Brook to Sherbourne's Brake and back. The trees in this part of the reserve are mostly crack willow, black poplar, oak and turkey oak.

Stoke Brook

A gnarly old apple tree

Turkey oak

We will return in the by and by, when a different season is doing its thing. And as for the bathroom, well, it turned out rather nicely, thanks for asking.