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

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

the writing life, the land's wild magic & the lost well

My relationship to the writing process at the moment is rather like peering into this dark well for an occasional but very seductive glimpse of the phosphorescence (how do you spell that??) at the back – just there, just behind the tiny eye of the night light. 

So I either have far too much to say – like today, when I'm on a roll and trying to complete my Forest book while also finishing the penultimate essay on place for an older project, and also wanting to write up the most extraordinary time I and 8 other writers experienced last week in the far West of Cornwall – or I have nothing to say.

It's been a rather dry time for me lately. This has not been helped by a discovery a little while back that someone has poisoned my well, shall we say – a long story and I won't go into it. I'm cheered by the fact that this kind of thing usually rebounds on the perpetrator. I'm sitting with the idea of 'right action'. You can't choose what happens to you, but you can choose how to relate to it.

Nonetheless, I've been sitting by the well for quite some time waiting for it to fill with clear clean water again, and mercifully it's beginning to.

In fact, the tide – to mix my metaphors – has come in in a bit of a rush recently. Yes, good things come in threes too.

One of my old collaborators and occasional publisher gave me a poetry challenge, and had the sense to gently insist on it. I wrote a poem. It was terrible. I binned it. I emailed to say I couldn't participate. He wouldn't take no for an answer. After a further email exchange I sat down and wrote the best poem I've written in a little while, and in just five minutes.

Utterly fantastic news, for me, is that a publisher who asked to see my Isle of Iona poems has taken the manuscript on, for next year. Look out for A Trick of the Light!

And finally, for any of you who are close enough to come, Book Stop in Tavistock, Devon (UK) is organising a talk and reading with me. Here are the details: 'LIVING A WRITER'S LIFE: an evening with Roselle Angwin', where I'll be talking about the very twisty and unconventional route I've taken to here – broke, overstretched and utterly in love with the work I do. (Questions and discussion on any writing-related subject welcome on the evening.) I'll also be offering short readings from various of my ten books, most of which draw on the power of the imagination, and the significance of place and our relationship to the land. Bedford Hotel, Tavistock, Friday 7th July, 7.30pm. Tickets on the door or from Book Stop: 01822 617244. I'd love to see you!


Each morning when I step out into the courtyard the birds and their families gradually gather. I love this. I'm especially fond of one individual bird of two families of robins; this one comes very close, and has twice taken food from my hand. Often, his or her wings brush my head or my shoulder.

I was alarmed for a minute this morning when I sat outside in a patch of sun with a cup of coffee, and he (or she) appeared as usual but then collapsed onto a slate stone a foot away from me, beak agape, wings and tail fanned out and chest feathers puffed out. Then I remembered that my bantams used to sunbathe in exactly that way. 

What grace, that the robin has come close and relaxed like that within touching distance three times today. 

And our garden is producing, after a slow start. We're eating globe artichokes, new potatoes and broad beans, accompanied at the moment by a succulent harvest of rock samphire collected from a sea wall down at Cape Cornwall last week, at the end of my The Land's Wild Magic retreat.


And now that it comes to writing up last week's outdoor retreat, I find I don't have the words for it. I think I'm still processing what was (also) for me a deepening of my lifelong relationship to this my ancestral homeland. The whole week felt both grounded, very earthy and watery, and transcendent too (was it Wendell Berry who coined the phrase 'inscendent' for the former? That's it, anyway.)

It was a hugely rich, sensory and spiritual experience, profound and (two people told me) transformative to be out walking the cliffs, to the megalithic monuments, and exploring sacred sites such as stone circles and holy wells in silence, writing as we went. This part of West Cornwall has more megalithic sites per square mile than almost anywhere in Europe (with the possible exception of parts of Brittany), and on foot you start to see what the ancient landscape would have looked like, and how the sites all interconnect.

The day before we arrived, it was sunny and clear. The day we left, it was sunny and clear. In between were gale force winds and rain – and yet we barely got wet. Times, weather conditions and sites seemed to coincide in a conspiracy of protection. The winds accompanied us – and added to the inspiration (one might say quite literally). My campervan felt as if we were out at sea all night, to borrow an image from Ted Hughes.

I was sad to find that two wells, one of which I know intimately from the past, were in a terrible state. One of them, the one I've known for decades but not visited in several years, is Madron's Well. (That's the path to it on the left.)

Some consider this well to be the Great Mother Well of the Westcountry ('Madron' is probably cognate with 'Modron', a name for the Mother Goddess of our ancestors). I can't tell you how shocked I was to experience the atmosphere of neglect and disrepair in the baptistry. This is, of course, not only symbolic of the general wasteland, inner and outer, of our times, but also requires some redress. I sense a working party coming on – outwardly but also psychically. (Look out, Wellkeepers!)

I had a good group who, if necessary, suspended their disbelief. They helped me sing to the spirit of the wells; interesting how obvious it was which wells needed which kind of song, or sounding.

I'm glad I took the group to Caer Bran, a 'masculine' site to counterbalance the many more 'feminine' sites such as the stone circles and the holy wells (I personally visited seven this time, including one I didn't know existed).

I'm glad I found Men Scryfa, the stone with an inscription that's only visible in certain lights, that I swear included the name 'BRAN', the raven god of the Celts, whose singing head is supposed to be buried at the Tower of London, where of course the ravens are a significant presence.

I'm glad to have found three wells in very good health; to have rediscovered one on the cliffs I thought I'd seen; and to have found both a new one, and one which had been lost to me for years:

The Lost Well

It's always closer than you imagine,
and simpler. All these years. So here
a step into unbelief is all it takes –
the hidden is only the secluded to the seeker.

Part the thicket of yellow irises, step
through foxgloves, and there – a drift
of shingle, tumble of ancient stones, and
her water of course the purer for being lost.

© Roselle Angwin

Which says it all.


  1. Roselle, If this blog is you in a 'dry' period regarding writing, you don't know your good fortune.
    It is beautifully written, thoughtful and I can't absorb it in one sitting. I'm re-reading John O'Donohue's Ama Cara (I may have

    misremembered the title) and your piece resonated with that.
    Thanks once again. Love Marg xxx

    1. Hello Marg - what lovely words from you. Thank you.

      J O'D's book is Anam Cara, indeed - I wonder if you know his later one, Eternal Echoes? This one is even more potent, I think.

      Lovely to hear from you; even lovelier to have had you attend the Iona group this year. Love, Rx

  2. May your well be potable
    your mind potent
    and soul well met...

    1. Dear anonymous

      Those poetically-phrased sentiments were appreciated. Thank you for them!


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