Monday, 18 December 2017

Gwaith 26 (Catch Up): Hart Fell: Take Two

Hi Everyone

Unlike the previous day, the weather was forecasted to be ‘fine and sunny’. Sure enough, when I parked at the large shed near the trail to Hart Fell, I looked over my shoulder and saw a rainbow. A nice, positive omen.
The start of the climb
The walk itself started in sunny weather—as they say in Wales, Mae’r haul yn gwenu (‘The sun is smiling’). However, even though the sky was relatively clear of dark clouds, a constant drizzle filmed my glasses. Halfway to Hart Fell spar, the drizzle faded, but the glistening grass made the way a little slippery at times.
On other occasions when I have tried to reach the summit of Hart Fell, I would visit the spar itself, then climb from there. This time I strode past the side trail to the spar and continued along the main path. Unfortunately, this path soon petered out and I had to make my way up and sideways along steep trails, past gorse, bramble, bracken, and heather.
The river on the way to Hart Fell Spar
Sheep were annoyed at my disrupting their feeding, with one group making funny huffing noises at me. Crows and ravens circled overhead. The river sparkled and rumbled on my right.
After consulting my map, I continued to follow the fence line and, when it changed direction in the distance, I headed straight up the slope in front of me. I expected the summit to be over the ridge.
It wasn’t.
I heard voices and saw two men descending a track on the other side of the fence. We nodded to each other, then the man in the yellow jacket asked if I was okay. Even though the whole climb had left me huffing and I had to pause numerous times, I said I was fine.
Further up the mountain, I came across a plateau area that I initially thought might be a useful setting for my novel. It led to a saddleback, after which was the final ascent to the trig point at the top of Hart Fell.
The summit there is a broad plateau, much bigger than the previous one, big enough for tents and the rituals and celebrations I’ve written about for a kingship ceremony. The only vegetation is grasses, heather, and clumps of bracken. The views—those I could see—are amazing. One can even see the Solway Firth and beyond.
Vegetation at the summit of Hart Fell
I was pleased to have made it to the top after so many failed attempts, but of course the mountain still had a surprise for me. Just as I decided to take photos and videos of the views, for later reference when I re-write the scenes set here, a heavy mist rolled in, accompanied by a bitterly cold north wind.
Huddled in the cairn at the trig point, I ate some lunch and meditated for a few minutes. As the weather wasn’t letting up, I started down again. I angled across the slope I had come up earlier and kept this up as I tried to hook up with paths I had spotted from higher up. Occasionally, I stopped to write notes about the terrain and vegetation, but mainly I stumbled, slid, and sideways stepped my way back. Sometimes on a track. Sometimes from one sheep path to another.
On the way back, showing the mist
The trip up took 3¼ hours. The trip back, not counting a stop at the spar, took me around 2¾ hours. At the spa itself, I offered a small gift to Merlin/Myrddin, as I had done earlier at the summit of Hart Fell, and drank three drops of water that dripped from the roof of the cave. With the day wending on and my not wanting to be caught in a late afternoon change of weather for the worse, I didn’t stay long. On the way back I noted the ash, birch, rowan and oak lining alongside the river that leads back to where I parked my car.
I left The Bonnington around 10am and arrived back at 6pm. I was stiff, sore and quite tired, and I immediately jumped into a hot shower. After making notes about the climb—including descriptions such as the swirls of dragonflies and damselflies, the give-way of moss, the knock of water on rock, the expanse of rust-coloured bracken—I had an early night.

I hope you enjoyed this post. As always, I welcome your comments.

Best Wishes


Saturday, 11 November 2017

Gwaith 25 (Catch Up): Remembrance Day and March, York, 2016

Hi Everyone

A few days after my visit to Bridge and my experience of Bonfire Night (see my last post), I arrive in York to research the dark ages history of the place for my novel.  The morning after my arrival, I walk into the city to grab some food before my explorations. I pop into a bakery and stand in line to buy some Chelsea Buns, for which I had developed a taste while in Wales. Suddenly, all noise stops as the shop radio announces the two minutes of silence for Armistice/Remembrance Day. I stand with my head bowed and think about my nephews, one currently serving in the Navy and two recently discharged from the Army, and of my father, who was in the RAAF during World War II. For the rest of the day, my thoughts keep returning to them and what I know of their experiences, and in the evening I draft a poem. Below are the opening lines of the final version, which was published a few days ago in Eureka Street (and can be read here):

In a bakery in York, I stand silent
With other customers for two minutes,
Think of nephews who have served
And seen action, some still serving
On land and on water, some bearing
The costs of their service in bad knees,
Hard hearing, scars in hidden places,
And think also of you, my father…

Two days later, Sunday, 13 November 2016, I am walking through the city on my way to the train station for my trip back to Wales. I notice people are gathering on the bridge over the Ouse. Babes in prams. People wearing everything from their Sunday best to work clobber. Tourists with cameras. A security presence.
View of the River Ouse from the bridge
I ask an army press officer near me what’s happening. It turns out there is a march through the city every year to celebrate Armistice Day/Remembrance Day and then a laying down of wreaths at the war memorial in a park near the banks of the Ouse. I am ahead of schedule for catching my train, so I decide to stay and watch. Below are photographs of the occasion. (I tried to get one of each of the different services/units, but am not sure of their names. Any suggestions would be welcome.)
The head of the march 

Royal Navy 
Military Police? 
Other veterans
The wreath laying at the memorial
The lowering of military colours
Smoke from the gun salute near the end of the ceremony
Much of the crowd stayed around after the ceremony, to share in the memories evoked and to give thanks, but I had to get to the railway station. I was glad to have seen the march and the wreath-laying and so pay my respects to those, like my nephews and those of my father's generation, who had given something of themselves in the service of their country.

As always, I welcome your comments, especially if you’d like to share some of your own Remembrance Day memories.

Best Wishes


Sunday, 5 November 2017

Gwaith 24 (Catch Up): Bonfire Night, Bridge, 5 November 2016

Hi Everyone

This catch-up post is out of chronological order because of today’s date. One year ago I attended a Bonfire Night in Bridge, a village near Canterbury, UK, with my good friends Simon and Lise. And so, I wanted to blog about it to celebrate the anniversary of that event.

We don’t celebrate Bonfire Night in Australia anymore, for a variety of reasons, some to do with safety and some to do with a distancing of our culture from such English customs. I remember the bonfires of my childhood on the empty block of land on the other side of the road from our house. The whole neighbourhood participated. For days, people brought old furniture, timber off-cuts, and broken fruit boxes and piled them high. I wrote about these memories in ‘Fall Out’, a poem about a dead childhood friend, which won a national award many years ago and was published in Azuria #4 in 2015. Below is the opening stanza:

Dead now thirty years or more, you were
just one of the neighbourhood knockabout kids
kicking a rolled-up-newspaper-and-twine footy,
racing bikes and billy-carts down the hill,
playing gangs in the paddock across the road
with its grass hillock hideaways, rubbish mound forts,
whooping and hooting with the next fruit box tossed
flinting sparks and flames on the Guy Fawkes bonfire,
skyrockets whoosh-slicing the night to the refrain
of bolts and penny bangers in metal pipes.

So, when Simon and Lise suggested we attend the Bonfire Night being held in a local field, I jumped at the chance. Once night, with a light touch of dew, had truly descended, we joined a couple of hundred people crowded at the fence line around an enormous mound of wood in the middle of the field and cheered when fire safety officers 'lit her up'.

We were treated to a sprightly fire that at times grew menacing, with its raging, crackling sounds, its tumbling and crashing timbers, and its glowing embers and burning debris carried by the north wind, which troubled our eyes and threaten to ignite the nearby oak and beech trees. The fierce heat baked our faces with grins, gasps and exclamations. The erupting, rolling, leaping flames took on whirling shapes with elongated mouths and jagged limbs.

Then came the fireworks, a magnificent, wonderful, splendid, surprisingly long, keeping-your-gaze-engaged set of explosions and colours. Whistling rockets. Crackling white star bursts. Dazzling splurges and cascades of yellow, red and green against the backdrop of night. Sooty embers raining down around us. The smell of burnt air and gunpowder. Cheers. Little children pointing and clapping. Adults with arms around each other. Faces turned upward and glowing.

Afterwards, we went back to Simon and Lise’s ‘Wendy House’ for some beer and wine and a pre-dinner reading of entries from The English Year: The Nation’s Customs and Festivals, from May Day to Mischief Night. Padstow Oss. The Wooden Horse of Kent. And, of course, Guy Fawkes:

Remember, remember!
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

A great end to a night that was part nostalgia and part wonder.

I hope you enjoyed this post. If you have any memories of Bonfire Nights, do share them in the comments if you like.

Best Wishes

Monday, 23 October 2017

Gwaith 23 (Catch Up): Rain-affected Site-Seeing

Hi Everyone

After visiting Clochmabenstane, as recorded in an earlier posting (here), I travelled to my next base, The Bonnington in Moffat. I’ve talked before about my time in Moffat (here), so I won’t go into any details, other than to say I was once again warmly welcomed by the proprietors, Lesley and Paul, who greeted me with banana cake and a cup of tea. As with my previous stays there, they were always extremely helpful and hospitable.
Mine hosts: Paul and Lesley
The next day I left The Bonnington and made my way to the parking place near the trail to Hart Fell. As Nikolai Tolstoy states in his book The Quest for Merlin, if there ever is a sacred place in Britain, it is here, where it is said Myrddin (the historical character that Merlin is based on) escaped to after the battle of Arfderydd, in which he went mad. I have visited Hart Fell Spar twice before and drunk of its waters and honoured the presence of Myrddin/Merlin.
Hart Fell Spar. Note the ram's skull above the entrance.
Signage at the spar.
On my first visit, I climbed to a plateau just above the spar in the mistaken belief that this was Hart Fell itself. It wasn’t. As those of you who have followed my blog about my previous trips would know, I tend to climb first and check maps, etc., afterwards. So, on my next visit, I knew where I had to go, but heavy rain defeated my trudging from crest to crest towards the ever-receding summit that kept disappearing into mist.
View of area above Hart Fell Spar (2013).
On the way to the top of Hart Fell, before the rain really set in (2015).
I was determined this time to make it, but half way to the spar, the weather defeated me yet again—mist became a drizzle then a steady rain. My new hiking boots became waterlogged, even though they had been ‘proofed’, as did my jacket and my new waterproof overpants. I was starting to think that the spirits of the place had in it for me, or at least were testing me as if they were Threshold Guardians like those in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey. I returned to my car and, after picking up maps and directions from my room, I headed out to sites I hadn’t expected to be visiting for a couple of days.
Signage at Castle Loch

I travelled down to Lochmaben, a small town about fifteen miles (30 minutes) south from Moffat. Nearby is Castle Loch, on the shores of which is Lochmaben Castle, the home of Robert the Bruce when he was Lord of Annandale. I had been to the loch and the castle area before, as I was using the setting for a major druid location. This time, I wanted to check out the area in a different season to those other visits. By the time I got there, the rain had stopped, but the temperature was still so cold my breath plumed in front of me.
Woods of Lochmaben
Sky above Lochmaben 
I spent an hour or so wandering the paths around the site and through the surrounding wood, accompanied by the constant drip of water from the rowans, hawthorn, beech, oak, and sycamore, like someone’s footsteps in the undergrowth, and by the calls of robins, thrushes, tits, and jackdaws and the flashes of colour as they darted through the trees. Two crows complained to each other about the weather. Out on the loch, two swans upended themselves as they fed, a line of ducks cruised across the dimpled water, and noisy geese passed overhead.
Swans swimming in one of the bays of Castle Loch
Line of ducks across the middle of the loch
Behind the castle ruins, to the west, is a low mound on which are perched six massive, gnarled beech trees, their trunks moss-wrapped near the roots. When I wrote the first draft of my novel, I described a mound that was used for the meeting of the druid community. I had been to Lochmaben before writing this, but I don’t remember noticing the actual mound that time. Some sort of synchronicity, perhaps? This time, I mapped out the mound, its guardian trees, and the flat amphitheatre area in front of it.
The mound behind the castle
Path to the mound from the castle area
One of the beech trees on the perimeter of the mound
I then travelled to Rockcliffe to climb The Mote of Mark, an Iron Age hillfort that seems to have been a centre for metalwork, which is how I am using it in the novel. My hero travels there as a test on his decision to become a druid. Brambles, beech, sycamore oak and rowan trees line the nearby stream, some of them with vines hanging down from their branches. Around the base are hawthorn and apple trees, wreathed in moss. The mound itself is quite sparse, with grass, bracken, gorse and tufts of spinifex, though there are some oak saplings in the hollow where I imagine the master metalworker had his dwellings and smithy. Moss covers some vitrified rocks that may have belonged to the original stone walls surrounding the dwellings on top of the summit.
Signage at the Mote of Mark, which overlooks the Urr estuary
The Mote of Mark
Moss-covered hawthorn tree
The mound has a great view of the bay to the south and the hills and valleys on the other sides. On the mudflats, oystercatchers called to each other as they searched for food. At one point, they were in a line, like advancing warriors, but most of the time they were scattered around, like fighters in their individual single combats. A flock of sparrows darted above the broad flat space between the north side of the mound and the next hill. When the chill breeze from the across the bay dropped, I could hear people talking on properties a quarter of a mile and more away.
The summit
Artistic rendition of the layout of the settlement on top of the mound
Possible vitrified fortifications
The mudflats south of the mound
View to the north of the mound
After more photos and measurements, I headed back to The Bonnington for a meal from The Moffat Chippy and a relaxing evening writing up my notes, planning my next day’s research, and purchasing train tickets for my upcoming trip to Germany.

I hope you enjoyed this post. As always, I welcome your comments and will answer any questions you have about these Iron Age sites.

Best wishes