from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Friday, 30 October 2015

samhain, the celtic new year & time to compost losses and outgrown ways

This is a reblog of an old post, in honour of the Celtic New Year on Saturday/Sunday. For me, huge things have happened in this last twelvemonth; some very positive, some very distressing. I shall make my little samhain winter garden shrine, and welcome in the dark incubatory months with the hag ('holy woman elder') aspect of the divine feminine, and symbolically burn all that is past, all that no longer serves me, grieve all that has broken or is lost, and let it run into the rich dark earth, as compost.


Samhain is one of the great fire festivals of the pagan/Celtic world. This time is a 'doorway' into other planes and subtler realms, where the veil between our world and the Otherworld is thin. This is a time when spirit and matter may approach each other more closely, as they are after all not separate. We can slip through into subtle realms.

It's also the Celtic New Year, and the festivities in the ancient Celtic world would last for three days (the traditional length of time for initiation/transformation into higher levels of being, to our ancestors: viz at the winter solstice Christ in the tomb, Odin on his tree, Osiris in his underworld journey) from the evening of October 30th until the evening of November 1st.

At this time one can remember ancestors: loved friends and relatives, or teachers, who have died, and invite something of their spirit into our lives as well as bless their passing. I make a practice of lighting candles in every window to shine out into the dark on the night of 31st. The west is the direction of the dead, the dying year, the setting sun, so in Celtic areas sometimes a shrine was made to the west of the house in honour of the ancestors. A fire or bonfire, indoors or outdoors, seems essential – a reminder of the light as we turn to the dark of the year, and 'summer's end', the meaning of 'samhain' or 'samhuinn'.

The other thing one can do is a ceremony or ritual fitting to the ending of an old and beginning of a new year: I try to make the time to reflect on and write about what has passed in the year just gone; what I need to mourn and let go of; what I need to welcome in. I write down and symbolically burn that which is dead, gone from, or needs to be gone from my life (often this is a psychological quality; eg anxiety); and I do the same thing with what I invite into my life in the coming year.

In the Druidic year a branch of yew would be brought into the house, and offerings (as thanksgivings for the harvest of summer) of bread, salt, wine and honey made to the fire and then tasted by those present.

Outside the Wild Hunt passes, mythically speaking, with the Gabriel Hounds or Herne the Hunter (the horned god, consort to the goddess, now in her third phase of 'hag', whose time is from Samhain till Imbolc, 1st February). In  parts of Eire this was the time of the White Mare, symbol of the Great Goddess.

This can be seen as a time of timelessness, briefly, when eternity is closer to us, when subtle doors and windows are open.

I wish you a good one; and blessings from the fires of immortality.


Samhain - late October dawn
Six o’clock and the black and silver valley dressed funereal
but ribbons of blue mist over the brook; a few larch tips like rusty arrowheads
We need the vertical dimension; have found no substitute for God
Husks, all of us, through which
the winds of heaven pour
To tread here in rimed grass - withered fields, ochre stems, tattered black thistleheads, umbels outlined in white, still some nettles, portly oaks squatting like sheep, quick stink of fox in your nostrils - still alive, then, the mangy old bird-food thief
To be here in and of this land, this morning, this moment
and call it home
knowing that home can never truly be known
but merely reached out to
The warmth of flesh and the warmth of flesh on flesh; still never naming anywhere home; this mist, this frost, these falling leaves; still a passing only
the common language of the flesh our common heresy: an overlay, a disguise sketched on the invisible, unknowable
            fleshless and indivisible
October morning
The redwings are back, crooning over berries or skirring in flocks over the water meadows.
By the wall, dead montbretia heads stream like prayer flags
We see ourselves more clearly
when we’re not looking
Calling somewhere home
October dusk
These nights of the quick and the dead. The earth turns away from the sun. Something of ancient fire flickers within us still; we flower like candles in grinning pumpkin faces in someone else’s window
Now, tonight, under this shifting coloured sky all this falls away. You are walking, walking, staff of quickbeam, oiled boots - the long view, the green note that calls you away over these hills, where you will be
another indigo handprint on the hem
of night.

This poem appears in Looking for Icarus, Roselle Angwin, bluechrome 2005/Indigo Dreams 2015
 © Roselle Angwin


Sunday, 25 October 2015

dexter and sinister

I’m not ambidextrous (or is it 'dexterous'?). Even if i were, i wouldn’t use that word (look, i’m going to give up trying to capitalise these sentences. i’ve somehow turned off auto-capitalisation in Pages, can’t find how to undo it, and it’s just too hard with one hand and an expensive internet connection).

language subtly enforces cultural biases, doesn’t it? how did ‘dexter’, meaning ‘right’, become the default suffix after ‘ambi’ for that desired but rare state of being able to use both hands equally well? as if only right-handed people can actually be dextrous in the way we generally use that word, meaning ‘good with our hands’? and how was it ever ok to stigmatise whole swathes of the population whose preferred hand is their left by calling left ‘sinister’? 

i remember my left-handed sister at school in the 1960s being forced to stay at the dinner table, or in a lesson, long after everyone else had left - until she’d finished her lunch by holding knife and fork in the right-handed way, or written with her right hand. how is this ever ok?

anyway, i’ve discovered just how hard everything is, and how slow, when your accustomed hand is out of action.

i’m loving today’s sun. i’m loving the walks in the leaf-fall forest time. i’m loving simply sitting and reading if i want to. and to my astonishment i have actually managed to type 2000 words towards my book this week. but it’s slow, it hurts and the content of my writing feels less than inspired. 

but still.

what i can do:
lift a glass of wine (but not drink it as it clashes with the painkillers. am thinking of ditching the painkillers)
walk - with my hazel stick on stony ground
eat, but not cut up my food
read - hooray
bring in kindling
gather sweet chestnuts
make a cup of tea (just about)

what i can’t do:
open a bottle of wine
open a tin, bottle or jar of anything
chop vegetables
spread toast with anything
drink a cup of tea and hold a book at the same time (my favourite solo breakfast thing)
use my new axe to split wood
pull on and button my jeans
carry wood
strike matches
put on a coat or even t-shirt (been sleeping and walking in the same clothes for ooh days)
put arnica cream on my huge, swollen and bruised right arm
carry shopping
stop the dog bouncing to play with another dog if said other dog is small and scared of big dogs

but do you know what pisses me off most of all? people saying ‘what is the universe trying to tell you?' grrr. a) i’ve thought of this myself, and b) i have been SO looking forward to this time, this writing sabbatical - in all the time (24 years part-time, 21 full-) i’ve been a pro freelance writer on a pro writer’s income (look up the society of authors’ research on this - below the minimum wage; well below, even if you have, as i do, more than ten books out there, none of them vanity-published) i have NEVER had two months out JUST to write a book i’m very excited to be in the middle of. i’ve always had to do other writing-related stuff - i love and value all the work i do tutoring, mentoring and generally supporting other writers, and it does after all pay the bills, but it is so easy to lose sight of my own creativity.

so is the universe telling me i shouldn’t be using this time to do what i’d always planned: rest, walk, reflect, grieve the deaths of my parents and write?? is 'the universe' telling me anything at all?

on the other hand, my soul is, and i'm listening...

grump. grump.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

100 words from here

It’s flocking time of year. The last grain crops are gathered in; between the stubble-stalks pigeons feast and fatten on the gleanings. Goldfinches loop and twitter in an easterly breeze, bellies gold with autumn sun. In the forest, streams and waterfalls are bright, blue, chilly. Leaves scatter at our feet, tack down air, come to roost in our hair. Yesterday a goshawk flew over; later a doe and fawn froze and peered, then fled. My windowsills are lined with orange squashes from our Devon garden. Midnight in the hamlet. Two dogfoxes bark and growl. 

Making home in starry night.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

instant karma

Instant karma, you could say. Ms Sanctimonious, over here on a very-long-awaited and much-needed writing retreat, broke her writing arm while walking in the forest yesterday.

At the moment she doesn't yet know the implications of all this, but she is in some pain and writing anything significant with one finger of her left hand seems a challenging idea.

Expect not much more than occasional haiku here, dear readers! And send me some sympathy...

Sunday, 18 October 2015

a little fall from grace and a long long ranty blog

As an ex-Catholic, I’m sure I have more-than-the-usual burden of guilt (not to mention a burden of envy of those who don’t lie awake at night listing their sins and failings).

My father brought the zeal of the convert to our immersion in the Catholic faith when I was 10. In those days the Church was really quite hardline – even more than now (and who knows whether Pope Francis will turn things around), and a sharp wake-up to a dreamy idealistic young girl. 

I remember my horror at being told that animals don’t have souls and that, along with the planet as a whole, they were put here for our use, for example. 

I remember even at that age being aware that, if their husbands converted, it wasn’t right that women should have to adopt the Catholic faith, not use any form of contraception (not that I knew that word then, but I knew the Church said that women were supposed to have as many children as God ordained, no matter what their own feelings and needs were – those of course weren’t important), and bring their children up as Catholics. 

And as for the injustice of girls having to wear mantillas to cover their hair so that men weren’t tempted to sin… (Yes. This was still how it was in the late 1960s.)

I hadn’t intended that little gallop, above, about Catholicism. I didn’t realise I still have outrage in me at all that. Where I was going was towards something about sustainable living. I guess, though, that the campaigner in me might have been radicalised to challenge such injustices by such an early induction into the Ways of Men and the (patriarchal, hierarchical anti-nature) Roman Church.

When I was 16-17, five significant things happened. One was that I left the Catholic Church; the second, connected to the first, was that I discovered Zen Buddhism; the third, that I became vegetarian. Then I founded a college magazine that focused on poetry and the arts, the counter-culture (to which I was just being introduced), resistance politics, and things metaphysical. Alongside this I acquired a boyfriend whose parents, influenced by Schumacher and smallholding guru John Seymour, worked a smallholding on Exmoor. 

These things have determined, I suppose, the life I’ve lived since. 

In my twenties I was an eco-activist, dragging my young daughter with me on anti-nuclear and environmental marches, protests and demos. I’ve continued to some extent with all this, though minus my (now-grown-up) daughter, and more often the last few years my protests have been cyber-campaigns and through some of my writings, notably in relation to the badger cull which has been rolled out, as they say, again in the Southwest of England, despite the fact that we know it’s inhumane, costly and ineffective. (In my novel The Burning Ground I document the mishandling of the crisis that was foot-and-mouth, as I witnessed it on Dartmoor.)

In my professional life my increasing concern and passion is how we might use creativity and the expressive arts to raise awareness urgently of the imperative and relevance of deep ecology, and putting earth and other species at the heart of everything we do – in other words, making the rights of the more-than-human and other-than-human as essential as our own.

For me, congruence means that this has to be a lived truth, not just a nice aspiration. As humans it’s easy to put our own convenience, appetites and desires at the top of the tree, and I’m always dismayed at how many people seem to be unaware of the costs to other humans and/or species of their choices. Mostly I keep my mouth shut, but I can’t always. 

We all draw the line in different places, naturally enough. I’m a bit of a hardliner, I think, and I know some people find my attitudes hard to take and hard to live up to.

They’re hard for me to live up to, too – I remember a winter living in a campervan with my then-husband and toddler on the coasts of Charente Maritime in France in one of the coldest winters on record, sometimes as low as 13 below zero in the daytime, breaking ice on buckets of cold water to wash out my daughter’s cloth nappies, which then festooned the van as I attempted to dry them, rather than succumb to disposable nappies. (The good aspect was that for at least two months that late autumn and early winter we were able to live almost entirely on foraged food from the coastline and in the forests.)

I know how difficult it is to try and follow through on beliefs, especially when it’s ‘inconvenient’ to do so, and/or personally uncomfortable because others find it challenging or offensive. 

Be aware that I might be about to sound self-righteous. TM tells me I can be sanctimonious. I want to apologise (is that another Catholic legacy?), but I’m going to resist and desist. So be it if I do. And you don’t have to read on.

We have a planet to look after. Living as sustainably and ethically as possible seems essential to me, small drop in the ocean though it be.

About ten years ago the local surgery asked me to put together a list that they might pin to their wall of ‘ten things you can do to save the planet’. I was impressed by their commitment. 

I have decided that I need to speak more of these things on this blog, even though I may well lose a few readers. This too is about congruence. Bit by bit I’ll be addressing some of the points on that list (assuming I can find the original list). 

Right now, this is a kind of summary of my own position, living on a low income, growing a lot of my own veg – organically of course, and foraging for some, and making choices that seem to be healthful for me and also for other species/the planet – partly to make the point that it needn’t cost more; so it is in effect a win-win situation. (As I type this I remember one of the big supermarkets reporting that, as an experiment in organic food sales a few years ago, they priced organic and chemically-treated (that is, the usual) produce identically for a promotion, for a week; most people still bought the non-organic, which suggests to me that many people still don’t understand the point of the former and provenance of the latter, and don’t understand the implications of all those ingested chemicals – for themselves or the ecosystem.)

So I live a fairly frugal lifestyle by most of our Western standards – and very rich by those of many other less fortunate nations.

My big driving motivation is to avoid buying foods or products that involve serious depletion or pollution of the ecosphere, and animal suffering. This means, for me:
  • being mainly vegan, though I do eat some eggs, free range only. For many years I relied heavily on dairy, as a veggie; but a) it’s not actually terribly good for us – something like 80% of adults don’t have the enzyme properly to digest cow’s milk – and b) eating cheese, for instance, even when it’s Soil Association accredited to guarantee organic status and, importantly, a reasonable degree of animal welfare, and even if it uses non-animal rennet rather than calf-stomach-extract rennet, still means that calves are taken from their mothers too early, and a high proportion of them slaughtered sooner or later. I also:
  • don’t buy convenience or processed foods 
  • or disposable anythings, including kitchen paper and tissues (except loo-paper – recycled, naturally) - that is except very rarely some tin foil, and sponges for washing up, and I’m about to revert to good old-fashioned washable cloths for the latter
  • don’t use any kind of chemical product in the house or garden
  • keep driving to a minimum; and almost never fly
  • almost never shop in supermarkets or multinationals generally
  • try not to buy anything that’s prepackaged or comes from another continent/is out of season (except tea)
  • and especially try to avoid plastics and petrochemical products generally if at all possible. 

Right now, though, it’s good old guilt driving this particular post.

There’s something about coming to France that means I have a sudden craving to dive into a French supermarket and throw my principles to the winds (well, some of them anyway). Here my shadow self slips out and somehow I can let myself buy things I’d never buy in England. In a SUPERMARKET. Having a holiday from principles is very freeing – for about ten minutes! That's the trouble with being over-committed, over-attached to certain ideas, I guess.

Yesterday I indulged that craving with some delight.

So I have grabbed self – after such an excursion – by the scruff and from now on I vow to be mindful again. Mostly. And shop in the market and local wholefood store. Mostly. And forage a bit more – after all it’s nut and mushroom season, and a walk yesterday produced a few good-sized sweet chestnuts here in the forest.

And for penance I’m offering you two snippets I found in the English-language newspaper Connexion, bought in said supermarket.

They had a whole section on environmental stuff, including a French cancer charity’s launch of a campaign for a Europe-wide ban on Roundup, Monsanto’s glyphosate weedkiller, linked with cancers in animals, poisoning of watercourses, and potentially carcinogenic damage to human cells, at least in vitro

On the same page was a piece about lesions found in the brain of a farmer who collapsed after inhaling the pesticide chlorobenzene he sprayed on his maize, and who has successfully sued Monsanto, the makers of the product also, after a ten-year-battle.

I imagine that anyone reading this blog will already be aware of the dangers of herbicides and pesticides. 

You may not be aware, though, as I wasn’t, that an alternative weedkiller for domestic use is hot vinegar, preferably spirit vinegar. You can, but don’t have to, add salt to it, or liquid soap; and it will kill your weeds. Supposing you consider any plants weeds, that is, in the first place. Better still, perhaps, is to reframe your attitudes to so-called weeds, and see them as plants that need no extra tending from you? No? 

And another piece reminded me that once upon a time I used to make my own non-detergent laundry liquid (OK for septic tanks, non-toxic and degradable). My adaptation of Connexion’s version is this:

Take 75 gms of Savon de Marseille, those big square blocks of olive oil soap
1 tsp of bicarb
1 tsp of soda crystals
25 drops of an essential oil (I like orange, tangerine, lemon, bergamot, rosemary, lavender; you could also use geranium and/or cedarwood)
(Optional: 1 tbsp of lemon juice; if you want to use this for washing dishes you’ll need extra lemon juice)
1.75 litres of hot water.

Grate the soap into a large bowl, mix with the two sodas, add the essential oils, add the hot water, pour into old laundry liquid containers, and shake well.

Suds ahoy.

Monday, 12 October 2015


'Grace' is one of those words that's tricky to define, and comes as such a loaded term that many people can't stand it anyway. So it's hard to use, especially in a non-Christian context.

But I'm also discovering how important it is for me – to recognise and name, to cherish, to incorporate into my daily life.

Last night, my 93-year-old mother-out-of-law and I had one of those brief quiet conversations we have when we are alone together for a few minutes. She and I share many interests, views and values. As co-founder of the Medical and Scientific Network, and co-director of a spiritual Centre for many years, she has an interest in integrating the spiritual with the scientific, with the psychological, and especially with the sociopolitical. She routinely and with great passion writes to MPs, David Cameron and the broadsheets with her articulate views on Gaza, climate change, poverty, capitalism and the benefits cuts.

She is becoming frailer physically, and was speaking of the fact that she has to accept a much more limited physical presence in the world on eg political demos and rallies. So we spoke of how she handles this loss of action.

Eileen is a Quaker with an interest in what she calls liberal Catholicism and in Taoism. (I have always so wished that she'd had the opportunity to meet my father before he had his stroke; he too incorporated many spiritual paths into his own Way, and had much to say of them in relation to living in the world.)

'Grace is becoming more and more important in my life,' Eileen said last night. I asked how she experienced that, and she spoke of 'Letting go and letting God.'

TM, ever keen to dive into a conversation on more-than-mundane matters, came into the room at the point. 'What do you mean by grace, though?'

Eileen said something about standing in the benign and generous presence of the Divine in an attitude of surrender. I knew how the word 'surrender' would catalyse TM's fierce objections. However, he restrained himself admirably from taking that definition apart, or shooting down the word 'surrender'.

I rarely speak of this to anyone, but I added that from my perspective it is something to do with emptying oneself to All That Is so that one slips the leash of ego, at least briefly, in order to align oneself with presence and whatever it is that is so much larger than we are, and what we might call – though I have huge hesitations about naming it at all – the Intelligent Cosmos, Great Spirit, the Great Mystery, the Creative Intelligence; or simply the Web of Being (to borrow from the Buddhist notions of Indra's Net).

Moments of grace, if one is open to them, present themselves in every moment of the day. We, being human, of course, live so much in the past or the future that we may consider ourselves blessed to notice simply two or three.

When I notice one such moment – and I make a practice, both as a writer and as a meditator, of putting myself into the position where I may be showered with them at the start of each day – I experience a deep sense of both calm and ecstasy.

So, now, this morning, early, there is the little thin serpent of rivermist hovering over the brook.

There is the way the sun glides above the hill, and colours in the field with its spent umbelliferae and spider-threads, as I stand at the field gate.

There is the robin, who appears when I go out into the border of the field and, eyeing me all the time from less than a foot away, lets his or her throat swell with the very quiet song he seems to be offering directly to me; the bigger a gift because when I go and fetch food for him he is not interested, but continues to gaze at me and sing.

No matter what happens next in one's day – and today for me what happened next was a major and time-expensive computer crash – the moments remain in the blood, in the nervous system, in the heart of me.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

this writing thing...

How wonderful to be able to 'commute' to yesterday's work, leading poetry sessions in a tiny rural primary school, across Dartmoor. The moor is at her most stunning in autumnal stormy weather: shawling the tors in tatters of fog, then ripping aside a corner to blast a shaft of sun slantwise across a brackeny hillside, a berry-laden rowan, or to glance off the flush of a water-source where none was before.

How wonderful that 'rush hour' means a small herd of 5 or 6 Belted Galloway cattle, smaller and hairier, furrier, than most breeds, and charming with their white 'belt' on dusky black fur, with their gentle faces and long eyelashes, calves at foot, wandering down the moorland lane.

How good to arrive fifteen minutes early and lean on the old steeply-arched bridge listening for the ghosts of hooves where Daughter and self sometimes rode ponies up on to the open moor behind Sheepstor all those years ago.

And how good to journey the same trans-moor road again today, to work at another primary school.

And how very different the schools, and the ease – or not – with which the writing flowed.

Much of my time used to be spent in primary schools when I first started freelancing as a poet and author. It's a while, though, now, and it starts badly this time in that I have no idea where to find my folder of poems I've written for children. That starting point goes to the winds, as does my usual method of referring back to 100s of previous workshop notes to begin to build something appropriate for this day, for the same reason.

Well, I think to myself, if I can't ad lib a bit after 24 years of doing this stuff, what does that say? Because I'm not a teacher, I also have some kind of free rein; although it does mean I need at least to glance at the curriculum from time to time to make sure I haven't fallen off my branch in terms of content. But because they're paying me I also feel it has to be good, and productive, and fun, and informative. Especially inspiring. And something that the usual class teacher can't deliver.

No pressure then, as they say.

And I do ad lib (despite my newly-minted intensive notes), and the first class is attentive and engaged, charming and creative. By the end of the day the pupils, who range in age from 6 to 11, have written, with my input but their own ideas and vocab, a number of poems about their moorland environment that I feel they can be proud of.

Today was a different matter. Same material, loosely the same stimulus, same age range, another moorland location. Utterly exhausting wading against a tide of noise and disinterest (thank goodness I'm not a teacher who has to deal with this every day), and until early afternoon I had the sense that they'd no idea what I was on, or on about, that I'd lost them and that the day was a write-off (ha!).

But at one stage I had taken them outside, had them lie on the only-very-slightly-damp tarmac of the playground and stare at the clouds until they felt the clouds staring back at them (which was about 3 seconds in total duration for most of them). Another good idea that didn't seem to take off.

Nonetheless, something seemed to have happened; suddenly, about an hour before end of day, poems started to be born. Interesting poems. Original phraseology. Clouds figured a bit. And – hooray – the moor, which was the brief.

Big relief.


Why do we write? I asked the children yesterday. And why do we read? And particularly why poetry?
To make people feel things.
To make ourselves feel things.
To work out things.
What kind of things?
Sadness. Friends and stuff. When people go away. A pet dying.
Because sometimes I can write things I can't say.
To make other people listen.
To understand.
To sort of make music with words.
To make pictures! Pictures with words!
To think.
Not to feel too lonely.
Because it makes me feel calm.


Why do I think it's worth spending my life catalysing people's writing?

For the value in itself for people of spending time with the imagination, and an expressive art
For the journey: for what is discovered, uncovered, recovered in the following of the pen, or the cursor
For the results of that – poetry, story, creative non-fiction, journalling and everything that lies in the gaps
For writing's well-researched contribution to psychological and physical health and wellbeing
For the fact that it opens people up to the psyche and its wisdom
For its contribution to self-awareness, self-understanding, self-knowledge
For its potential to enrich relationship, empathy, a sense of connectedness
To explore and deepen our place in the local and global communities
To bring attention to our relationship with our environment, the rest of the natural world and other species
To help to heal splits: between self and other, head and heart, human and wild.
So – I know this sounds pretentious – but something to do with adding to collective consciousness, potentially, at least.

And perhaps above all, as Burghild Nina Holzer says in her journal on journalling: to be more deeply alive.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

the goldenness

So I have been home, and in so many ways I'm restored. Just three days without phone or internet, routines or work, in hot sun on the West Cornwall cliffs and something has righted itself in me. 

My daughter and I and the dogs took the campervans down to a cliffside campsite to celebrate the equinox and my birthday. 

In those few days I remembered what it feels like to relax completely, and to follow only the promptings of what made my heart sing. Why is it such a luxury? It should be how we live. It restored enchantment, magic, deep longing of the inspirational sort, and the fulfilment of that longing at the same time.

Down here everything makes my heart sing: the cliffs, the sea, the granite, the many wildflowers, the light on the water, dusk, dawn, the charms of goldfinches on the hay meadows, the buzzards and sparrowhawks, the waterbirds, the herd of organic dairy cattle in the next field, so sleek and fit and shiny and healthy.  The walking. The dreaming. 

I'm reminded of something Einstein said: 'There are only two ways to live. One is to see miracles in nothing. The other is to see miracles in everything.'

There are some views that are so heart-cuttingly lovely, especially in that golden light of transitional times and transitional seasons, that you want to photograph them over and over. Or at least, I do; with the result that my camera now has perhaps 30 shots of just 3 coves in West Cornwall: Pednvounder at Treen, Porthcurno to the west, and Penberth to the east, all within a mile or two.

Here are one or two:

This is Penberth, where filming was in progress. It was supposedly secret, but everyone knows that the next season of Poldark is what they're shooting. And I know because a romantic gypsy fiddler on the cliffs told me he was an extra on the set (though I'd have guessed that anyway).

Here is one of my beloved holloways; probably dating from at least early mediaeval times, and possibly prehistoric.

Hello Grandmother Thorn, just back from the cliff's edge. I read stories in your lichened branches. 

There are rocks that encourage leaners. The rock here is granite, 'my' rock, and this particular monolith pulled me strongly. Warm in the evening sun, its licheny scent took me back more than thirty years to when, a young mother, I'd wander the cliffs of the North Devon Atlantic coast to gather materials for vegetable dyeing the wool I used to spin, then knit and weave into garments – a way in which once upon a time I made a living, of sorts.

My baby daughter would be slung on my chest, and we'd (I'd) gather plants and barks and tree-lichens; just very occasionally rock-lichen, which makes an extraordinarily beautiful dye and retains, in the wool, an indescribable and warm peaty scent, but takes so many decades to grow it's not environmentally-friendly to pick much. 

Leaning on this rock was strangely like being given a hug, whimsical though I know that sounds. But everything has its own quality of being, and maybe rock is, as First Nation people believe, as alive as anything else, vibrating at a slower lower rate than what we normally consider animate. In my view, everything is animate, and it's a mistake to judge 'living' by mammalian characteristics only.

Strangely, coming up by quite a different route from me, my daughter is now a weaver (on a much more serious scale than my own small weavings, which were really panel inserts for knitted garments).

For my birthday, she wove me, from Harris tweed, this stunningly beautiful blanket:

... in all the colours of a Devon spring hedgerow (

Coming home, I stopped off near Lamorna with its megalithic history – once upon a time I led a number of workshops and retreats within the grounds of Rosemerryn House, now a B&B, which is not only sited within a triple earthwork, but has a fogou in its grounds.

West Penwith has, mile for mile, a greater concentration of megalithic sites than anywhere else in Europe. Perhaps it's this that gives it a palpable sense of Otherness?

In the Boleigh area are the remains, sadly bisected by the road, of what must have been quite a significant site once.

Still intact is the 'dancing circle': the nineteen stones of the Merry Maidens. (Someone lent me a pair of dowsing rods when I was in the circle; delighted to see I haven't lost my touch.)

And off to one side are two tall monoliths, and the supposed burial chamber of Tregiffian, or Cruk Tregyffian, a once-extensive site from the late Neolithic, 3000-2000 BCE, now sadly abbreviated by said road.

And then the winding lane to Lamorna Cove, and coffee overlooking the sea for a last dreaming, before heading back up the A30 once again.


Some or all of these sites, plus others such as Men an Tol and one or two holy wells, will form part of my retreat week in West Cornwall ('Poetry, Place & Pilgrimage') next June. My websites have yet to be updated, but if you think you'd enjoy such a week, please do contact me through here.

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