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

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Glastonbury, apples & mistletoe

So at last brief time in the Mists of Avalon ('isle of apples'), once again.

Me and Glastonbury: we go back a long way. Many years ago, in my previous life as a shoemaker and occasional creator of ceremonial incenses largely made from locally-foraged wild herbs, barks and resins, I'd go up to Glastonbury every few months.

This was in the spirit of a pilgrimage, and I'd take my young daughter off school for the day, on the grounds that her spiritual education was at least as important as her formal learning. We'd go via the tannery on the Levels which supplied the wonderful colourful leathers which I used to custom-make shoes to order (to post off around the world). Then we'd call by the shop to which I sold the incenses, and spend the rest of the day in Chalice Well Gardens, with sometimes a walk up the Tor.

I also went up a few times when a friend, a professional musician, was composing and recording music for me to use on my cassette Source (soon to be made into a CD) in the early 1990s. There's a great deal to say about Glastonbury, and I have elsewhere, and will, more and again.

In those days, the Gardens were open basically dawn till dusk, and had no commercial element. Like most other visitors, I'd fill a bottle with water from the Red Spring. The gardens have had new owners since then, and there's now a shop. I'm not sure I've been back in the whole 23 years I've been earning my living as a writer.

I also had one of my most significant experiences in those gardens, visiting alone. In another time, it would have been called 'a vision', and elements of it have shaped my life since.

Now, so many years on, on a wet October dusk, I draw up in the campervan to spend the night at the foot of the Tor. In 1994, my daughter and I were at Glastonbury Festival during the time when the Criminal Justice Bill with its hundreds of clauses was being passed through the House of Commons. A nasty and insidious bill-become-act, it was barely registered, it seems, by most people. Within it, though, was embedded a clause that prevents people from wild-camping in vans (or even from living in a caravan on their own land without planning permission). This is how our freedoms are removed, one by one: with stealth, by subtle force. Of course, this law is not usually enforced by police, but it does make it harder (along with the absence of wild places), to simply park up in a campervan in England, so I've booked a tiny campsite.

It's sheeting down; the drive up was filthy, and it turns out that my gas has run out – that last cup of early-morning tea by the sea in Southern Brittany! It also turns out that the shower on the campsite has been closed down. Nonetheless, I have a wonderful deep sleep on this south-facing spot, rain hammering on the van roof, and me making a triangle with the Tor and Chalice Well, each with its dreaming fruiting apple orchard.

I'm here to run a poetry workshop organised by a friend, and we spend a lively and fruitful day, the 13 of us, with an outpouring of sometimes-breathtaking writing, initially sparked by my theme of apples. Some of the best things were meeting people whom I've known remotely from the writing world; meeting old friends coming back to another workshop; meeting new 'voices'.

I have a strange experience arriving at and walking the Tor. If you're a writer, you might understand what I mean when I say that characters you live with, as in writing a novel, become as real as the places in which you set that novel. So I'm thinking, in the morning before the workshop when Dog and I walk up the lane towards the Tor: 'Oh, this is where Tamar parked when she went to scatter the ashes. Here's where she broke down afterwards; here's the gateway where she crouched and sobbed.'

Then the workshop at the Camino Centre (I've lost count of the number of timex the Camino has presented itself to me this year). The day is invigorating for me; the group is dynamic and talented; and Rachael and I take the dog up the misty Tor at dusk. Later, I fill my bottle with water from the White Spring outside the Chalice Well walls, as the gardens are now shut. 
And suddenly my summer-long drought in the writing field has shifted. (This has been longer than ever before, and it's been hard not to panic.)

The filling of the bottle is clearly not just literal. I've broken my writing-fast – paying attention to these underground sources is crucial. My dreams have been rich, and – yes! – I wrote two poems before I even got out of bed this morning, in the damp half-light of more rain, at some unconscionable hour.

She's come back, the Muse, in her feminine form this time (sometimes she is clearly a he; and what interests me is that in my last night's dream, where dolphins became horses, my male companion morphed into a woman).

I wish you all a regular sip from the well, wherever and whatever yours may be.



  1. Wow, this is breathtaking - and enlightening -THANK you, Ro!!
    With love B xx

  2. B, thank you for that - and also it was lovely to get your email. I'll respond soon!

    it was very healing for me to go back to Glastonbury. Perhaps one time when you're over we'll go together?

    With love xx


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