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, 5 September 2018

notes from the lost valley

Early morning walk. Little yellow globes of crab apples in the lanes (I can't find the photo so this above is younger green crab apples in Brittany two months ago). A few still-healthy elm leaves.

A lump rising in my throat as 50, 60 swallows gather on the wires – so many more than I knew were in the locality. The skies have been so empty this year and I don't know if I'm grieving for that, for the imminent loss of the swallows to their winter home, for the danger of their journey (some of them without even pointy tails yet), or for the sheer joy of seeing them. I say a few words to the bird-gods and goddesses to keep them safe, return them to us.
A hot air balloon rises over Dartmoor to the northwest like a slow – very slow – thought.

A rough lick of my hand from a black-tongue bullock.

And then the field and our veg plot, bare feet in dew: a dozen butternut squashes quietly swelling; a new two dozen tomatoes; a few courgettes; exuberances of nasturtiums; the scent of mint.

A young buzzard's plaintive mew. A charm – two charms – of goldfinches. A family of jays gathering or burying acorns rising up as I approach (I read that a jay can gather and bury several thousand acorns in a day, doing its bit for reforesting, as it can't eat that many any day). The high peep of some bullfinches.

The orchard laden.

Wild windfall plums - bullaces (or mazzards as we call them in Devon) – for breakfast.


Writing is my day-job. Unfortunately, it hardly earns me any money. Gardening is my evening-and-weekend-job. That earns me nothing at all – though of course we're saving on food costs. In between, I walk, and read, neither of them for money; and on occasion remember I need to Get A Life, and phone a friend – or even see one.

My paintbrushes are cobwebby and stiff; but you never know. One day soon. Maybe.

Gardening is a bit forefront at the moment And what a bumper summer. There are bucketloads and bucketloads of pea beans to pod and freeze for the winter. These are substantial tasty beans that we use in anything from pâtés to soups to burgers – excellent vegan protein.
We have a fabulous triffidy courgette and squash bed. There are at least a dozen fat butternut squash swelling quietly in among the leaves. This is quite a coup, as it's normally too damp down here for a good – or indeed any – butternut harvest, and this is just from two plants. At the risk of sounding like a playschool leader, perhaps you can spot a few in here?
On the other hand, the green-outside orange-fleshed squash that a friend gave me has not been quite so prolific in fruit, although it does quite well in foliage. Here's a runner making a break for the woodland:

– and this is the first of its fruits:

This is its second fruit:

– which is a beauty, albeit not ripe. Don't break it off, I said to TM, it's not ripe yet. Can you just lift it gently, while I prop it on a slate, or a slug collar (the green thing in the photo above) to stop it from rotting on the ground. TM broke it off. I don't think he actually meant to.*

And this is the third and as far as I can see final fruit. It's a squeezed squash. You can see our dilemma. I'd propped it on a slug collar and had forgotten it, and it grew into the collar. TM tried kicking it around a few times to release it, until I stopped him. It needs a chainsaw but we are a bit loath to trash one of our (100-odd) slug collars – precious and expensive commodities that they are, being at least 50% effective. Mostly.

* The problem is, TM doesn't know his own strength.

On the other hand, he did save my life the other day – I do mean that literally – when I had a very close encounter with death; shockingly close. He gave me the Heimlich manoeuvre, which is why I am here to write about encounters with squashes and squeezes. But I do now have some cracked ribs. And what's a cracked rib or two in the face of a near-death experience?

And I live to continue to write, and to garden. So the question now is is it day-job time or evening-job time, or time for a cup of tea and to sit in the courtyard listening to the screech of the young jays or the very-close-by yaffle of a young green woodpecker?

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

a question of balance

Wiki Commons image from a C15th Norman manuscript
The other day, warming up at a dance class, I found myself standing for long minutes on one leg, and then the other. Without wobbling. 

This might seem like a small thing – but despite decades of (very erratic) yoga practice, I can't actually do this. Except I just did. So it seemed worth noticing.

I read this, of course, as symbolic. What were the conditions that allowed this? – Well, apart from the dance teacher, Kay, occupied with setting up, I was the only person in the room. Kay was some distance from me, and there was very gentle music playing. I was already deeply relaxed. I'd had a little while when, for family reasons, I hadn't worked as hard as I usually do. 

Most significantly, I was in touch with my own centre.

We're only a few weeks from the autumn equinox, a time when day and night are briefly in perfect balance before the season rolls on again, with dark in the ascendant in the northern hemisphere.

I was born on the equinox. Not surprisingly, then, my life has been a continual quest for bringing the opposites together, whether in my inner or outer life. Esoterically speaking, I 'seek harmony through conflict'. Usually this has meant my being extremely unbalanced, as I try and find a midpoint, the 'Middle Way'.

My life no longer veers between the extremes of emotion, experience, lifestyle and the like that it did when I was younger. I no longer crave (mostly, anyway) the deep intensity of feelings that is closer to addiction than to love via my romantic interpersonal relationships.

I do still continue to want inspiration and passion, which I find in barrowloads through my work, through the arts, through my spiritual practice, through the experiences, friendships and other relationships, situations, people, creativity and most frequently my time alone outdoors with other species that enrich my life.

The reason I'm writing about this is because I've known for a long time that I can be thrown off my own centre of gravity, my own axis and balance, by important others, usually but not exclusively the men, in my life.

Sometimes it's a conflict between what someone else wants of me, and what I need to do for myself.

Sometimes it's a conflict between my need for a settled land-based growing lifestyle and my need for something more transitory, unpredictable and as I experience it more adventurous. 

Sometimes it's conflict between my love of human engagement and my need for solitude (solitude and intimacy, and getting this balance right, is I believe a big issue for many people in the Western world). 

Or silence and conversation. 

There's the perennial thing about trying to live ethically to the greatest extent possible when I have limited time, energy and money to do so as much as I'd like. 

There's the equally-perennial conflict between work and downtime.

I also know I'm not alone in this. Many women, in particular, have spoken to me of this issue (most commonly in relation to their own love lives), whether in the professional aspects of my life such as mentoring or workshops, or in my friendships. (I'm not qualified to know how frequently this applies to men, or to non-heteros who identify as differently-gendered.)

In some circles, this is known as 'giving away your power'. No matter how strong we are as individuals, many of us find that once in intimate relationship we feel in some ways less empowered. This is very deeply enculturated, I think, and still applies despite feminism. Perhaps it's less so in younger women? - I'm not sure my daughter would say she does this. On the other hand, I mentor younger women who seem to be strong, confident, well-qualified to be assured in their place in the world who still find themselves and their personal power-axis (I emphasise as always this is power to, not power over) compromised by relationships with perfectly nice and kind partners.

The thing is, giving away your power in this way is a sign of co-dependency, or emotional fusion (too often confused with love). What does this mean? – In its simplest form, giving over to another things you need to be responsible for yourself, such as determining your way in the world. Basically, making another responsible for your happiness.

For me, my interest is in how we can live, and love, openly – fully engaged, from our core, living in our own centre, while being sufficiently mindfully non-attached to notice what happens and how we relate to it: to relate from the heart but not driven by the emotions – two very different states of being.

In the latter, we tend to react rather than respond.

In the former, we know how to listen to our deeper wisdom, how to care for another, and how to remember that, no matter how much we love, we are still two autonomous individuals, responsible for our own paths, our own lives, our own happiness.

It was Rainer Maria Rilke who said: 'Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest individuals great distances will always exist, a wonderful living side-by-side can grow if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole and against a wide sky.'

In this way, we learn to give without giving ourselves away. That is a burden for another, not a gift.

The upshot of all of this is that we truly inhabit our souls, our deep selves, rather than live 'beside ourselves'.

Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky.
Read more at:
Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky.
Read more at:

Thursday, 9 August 2018

the next day – a poem

The next day

Above my head the mouse
has started nibbling again

perhaps this time it’ll be
the wiring – who knows –

and above a single swallow
arcs over the ash’s bare twigs

above both ash and swallow
a pigeon purposeful and fast

the ash is dying

and who knew that the sky could bear
such an absence of swallows

the world has its ten thousand
ways of being born    living

and leaving this world
and I am still here writing

about these things
because I can’t write about her

but look the evening
has its ten thousand ways

of being beautiful
look how you can see

right through the sky now

© Roselle Angwin 2018


Tuesday, 31 July 2018

the fires of lughnasadh

This is one of the entries (I'm sure I've posted it here before) for the 8 Celtic festivals on my site The Wild Ways. You can see the other festivals here (use the dropdown menu).

Lughnasadh. Lammas. 31 July/1 August. The most ‘outward’ of the four fire festivals, the cross-quarter dates of the Celtic year, each midway between one of the astronomical stations of the turning year (the solstices and equinoxes).

The other fire festivals are Samhain, Imbolc and Beltane.

Samhain, the start of the Celtic New Year on October 31st/November 1st, is the most inward of the fire festivals, and ‘feminine’ in tone: the Crone going into the cave of winter, readying the ground for new seed.

Imbolc, 31 January/1 February (some say 1/2 February) is Brigit’s time: a time for the Maiden, for creativity, for the thoughts of spring flowers.

At Beltane, 30 April/1 May, maiden-become-adult readies herself for Motherhood (which can mean, for a woman, all kinds of creative projects, not simply biological reproduction) in her union with the sun god (‘Bel’; Lugh in one of his guises). The Beltane fires are lit and couples jump through them, share the cup, then take each other joyfully in the long grasses on this cusp of late spring and early summer. The days lengthen; we live outside.

Lughnasadh is the first, the early, harvest. At Lughnasadh we celebrate; but also in the northern hemisphere we turn towards autumn, and there is a dying in the reaping, too.
‘Lammas’ in the old English calendar comes from ‘hlaf-mass’, meaning ‘loafmass’: that bread which we make from the new barley, just reaped.

Ale was the other product of barley: historically until relatively recently drunk in the UK because the fermentation process rendered it ‘cleaner’ than water.

Lugh is one of the gods of light (Bel, or Baal, Bala, celebrated at Beltane, May 1st, is also an earlier and less-well-developed, both in terms of the year and in terms of the ‘lineage’, fire or sun god). He’s also known as Llew Llaw Gyffes in the Welsh Mabinogi.

In Eire Lugh was a chief of the Tuatha de Danaan, Children or People of Dana (Aosdana in the Scots Gaelic); Dana, the divine feminine, being the mother of the god of poetry.

In some versions of the story Lugh was a triple-god (birth, death, renewal; youth, man, sage; page, prince, king – many variants), and he marries a triple goddess. This makes him a ‘primary’ god, so to speak.

Lugh’s trace remains at places in England that begin with ‘Lug’ or ‘Lud’ – I can think of a number on and around Dartmoor, and the ancient westernmost gate to the city of London was Ludgate, the name still preserved in the capital.

At this time of the grain harvest, having successfully impregnated the earth goddess, the sungod-king is sacrificed. (This sees the wheel of the year, at its peak now, beginning to roll down the hill to end in the river of dissolution, before the next rebirth.) New seed has been created, and as the old harvest is reaped so the fire-god in his kingly form is sacrificed to feed and water the earth so that the new green barley may shoot next year.

We remember this in the traditional folk-song of John Barleycorn (you may know the particularly poignant tune sung by – I think – Traffic), ‘murdered’ that we all may live. Listening to that version of the song, it’s impossible not to be aware of the ancient and archetypal rituals associated with harvest-time behind the surface words.

It’s a time of merrymaking in the outer world: dancing, feasting, games and competition, a time too of crafts, Lugh being an artisan-god.

At this turning point, it’s good to make some time to look at the ‘staple’ harvests in one’s life: what has been safely gathered in; what harvest is still not ripe; how one’s inner male and female are relating (or not); what might need to be let go of, ‘sacrificed’, as we turn away from longer days and the peak of fire and light.

The seeds we have planted have ripened now; what are we harvesting? At this peak of the fire festivals, this culmination of a cycle, something has to be given back. For new life to emerge in the psyche something old has to be sacrificed. We can’t resist what has to happen for the continuity of life; we can’t forever resist the natural cycles and tides of things and the continual drive towards transformation and renewal.

Autumn will bring further fruit, and the journey into the darkness will restore fecundity and vitality in the composting of what seems like loss but is simply a shedding.

May the Lughnasadh fires burn up the old and your first harvests be safely gathered in, my friends. Here’s the traditional and mysterious John Barleycorn song for you, redolent as it is with memories of early vegetation rites.


John Barleycorn

There were three men came out of the west,
Their fortunes for to try,
And these three men made a solemn vow,
That John Barleycorn must die.
They ploughed, they sowed, they harrowed him in,
Throwed clods upon his head,
And these three men made a solemn vow:
John Barleycorn is dead.

They let him lie for a long, long time
Till the rain from heaven did fall,
Then little Sir John popped up his head,
And soon amazed them all.
They’ve let him stand till midsummer day
When he looked both pale and wan,
And little Sir John’s grown a long, long beard
And so become a man.

They hired some men with scythes so sharp
To cut him off at the knee,
They rolled him and tied him by the waist,
And served him most barbarously.
They hired men with sharpest pitchforks
Who pricked him to the heart,
And the loader he served him worse than that,
For he bound him to the cart.

They wheeled him round and round the field
Till they came unto a barn,
And there they made a solemn mow
Of poor John Barleycorn.
They hired men with the crab-tree threshing sticks
To cut him skin from bone,
And the miller he served him worse than that,
For he ground him between two stones.

Now, here’s little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl,
And brandy in a glass;
And little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl
Proves the strongest man at last.
For the huntsman he can’t hunt the fox,
Nor so loudly blow his horn,
And the tinker he can’t mend kettles nor pots
Without a little Barleycorn.

Monday, 30 July 2018

the path through the rocks

I spend part of my year in a forest by a lake, among huge granite boulders like great sleeping animals, rock and tree cohabiting, adapting to each other.

This is where I come for stillness, to write, to feel the expanse and spaciousness that is ours when we stop cramming every minute full.

This is also where I learn from trees, find green healing, remember the way a tree joins heaven and earth – arguably our task, too, in our inner lives.

I walk the forest, listen for the birds, the rivers, the cascades, the stories of the wildwood that rustle in the leaves above me and the growth on every side, think of the great interlocking network beneath my feet, the mycorrhizal network that keeps each tree in connection with the all, the forest, and carries its own stories of carbon, sugars, water, messages from tree to tree. How much we can learn from such an ecosystem – invisible, utterly interconnected, vital.

In the forest, I walk on paths trodden since the Iron Age (the great oppidum whose ramparts are shown above is mentioned in Caesar's De Bello Gallico, The Gallic Wars, and I like to think that it was the last village to hold out in the face of Roman invasion, as in Asterix) and possibly since the Bronze Age and the late Neolithic before that.

Beyond the forest, our ancestors live on visibly in the great structures they've left; structures whose purposes we're unclear on, but that they had purpose we can be sure. This great longbarrow, allée couverte, dates from the late Neolithic; has been standing for more than 5000 years. I smile at the inscribed pairs of breasts – the Great Mother – and the inscribed 'axes' that to me look much more like phalloi, but there – who am I to question the experts?

In the forest I step into a different kind of time. It's not simply that it – in human terms – so clearly stretches back so far into the past, but also that it allows me what Thoreau described as a 'broad margin' to my day, and my life. I love this; love the unaccustomed spaciousness where I'm not striving for anything, trying to complete anything, trying to get to the end of/get on top of anything; be responsible to anyone; I'm simply letting the natural rhythms of my day and night unfold in forest time. Everyone needs a broad margin to their day.

One of the things the French do so well is their holy-wells-come-lavoirs, just outside a hamlet. This one is dedicated to St Jean, and there's a sculpture in the niche of a very homely saint with a big head.
Ever pragmatists beneath the romantic veneer, the French have diverted the water from many wells into channels and baths where until relatively recently the village women would bring their laundry. I love this mixing of the sacred and the secular.

In my time in the Pyrenees I washed all my clothes in local lavoirs; sometimes too my hair, when the mountain streams were too tumultuous or cold.

Because food is important to the French (in which I'm including the Bretons for my purposes here), another thing they do well is the picnic bench. Here's a beauty: right next to the well-lavoir, there's what looks like a mini-monolith off to the right, and the table itself is capped with an old stone.

Next to it is this ultraviolet hydrangea, ubiquitous in Brittany, and truly here the colour of heaven.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

A ragbag: surfing, ideas, the slow road to Scotland, green politics & fat hen pancakes (recipe)

This year’s Ways With Words litfest must be the best yet. I’ve gorged on a handful of excellent events, and now I've had to close my purse and open my computer, though there are plenty of great-sounding talks, and a whole poetry day, yet to come.

Once upon a time, I was a surfer (though I rarely managed to stand up on the board, wipeouts being more my natural style). In that fairy tale, we (being my Italian ex-, now late-husband, and down the line our daughter as well), worked the summers in GB making stuff (him beautiful leather bags and belts, I plant-dyed handspun knitwear to my own designs, which meant that my daughter spent many of the first few months of her life slung from my chest while I gathered plants from the North Devon coasts, woods and fields), and spent the winters in our campervan following good surfbreaks down the Atlantic coast of France into northern Spain.

So my nostalgia for the surfing life was well-tended by the first talk I went to, one by Iain Gateley who spends much of his life, even now after a hip op, checking surfbreaks from the southwest of Britain to Galicia. Can I say it was gratifying to see his clips of so many other surfers also suffering wipeouts? And the final one of a tube (which is when you surf parallel to shore INSIDE the great curl of a breaking wave’s green tunnel towards the light)  conveyed something of the ecstasy and almost-transcendence of catching a wave (though I never managed a tube).

Barry Cunliffe, that great historian, speaking on prehistoric sea-travel was his usual knowledgeable self, though TM and I were both disappointed that he stopped, more or less, before covering the western Atlantic seaboard of GB. I wanted to know more about the most recent findings in relation to the Phoenicians and their connection with the early tin trade in Cornwall.

In between these two sea-speakers I read my long Dartmoor water-poem River Suite, and – being broke as all freelance poets almost always are unless they achieve (usually posthumous) fame – was delighted to sell 6 copies of the limited edition artists’ book – that’s 250-ish sold now out of 300. (I would link to the video clip of my reading that Dartington made and posted, but a) I can’t stand listening to my own voice and b) I’m not sure who that fat old imposter reading in the clip is.)

Canon Mark Oakley delivered a passionate, erudite and eloquent talk on the continuing significance and essential role of poetry in an age of literalism. (I’d give you selected excerpts except it would mean transcribing the whole thing.) He also managed to convey deep soul, while only mentioning God twice (he is after all a canon). Oakley spoke quite a lot about wisdom, and as his next job will be Dean of St John’s College Cambridge I wanted to offer him ex-Dominican Matthew Fox’s words: ‘Looking for wisdom in a university is like looking for chastity in a brothel.’

Surfing links Iain Gately and Martin Dorey, whose new book Take the Slow Road Scotland (in a campervan) formed the story behind his talk. Predictably I loved it; the more so because I kept catching sight of what looked remarkably like my daughter’s van in his photos of the Outer Hebrides. (How I wish that TM loved the islands as much as I do. Good job we both like Brittany and France.) As the book was £20 I resisted buying it, but did buy his simultaneously-published No. More. Plastic. (I have to say that I – and probably many of us – do all this already, but still, it offers a focus.) Martin is behind the #2minutebeachclean initiative, which has persuaded a great many people that they can, in fact, help save the oceans (or verges, streets, lanes, fields) from more plastic. Of course, cleaning it up is stable doors: better by far not to buy it in the first place.

I’m on a big drive to reduce the (already-minimal) amount of plastic that comes into our home. Since TM is veggie but not vegan, but has voluntarily limited the amount of dairy products such as butter in his diet, my next venture is to try making (‘healthy’) margarine and keeping it in a Kilner jar in the fridge rather than buying all those plastic tubs. I already make our face creams and ointments – have done forever – so am hoping the emulsification principle is similar. If any of you has any idea, please let me know. I personally love olive oil congealed (in a Kilner jar) in the fridge as a spread, but it seems I’m on my own with that. Meridian does a good almond butter, but – it’s in plastic. (And yes, I know there are issues with almonds; I try and source them from Europe.) And – can I still write with a fountain pen? (Could I ever??) That would save binning a lot of plastic gel pens.

Raynor Winn’s new book The Salt Path is her account of the walk she and her husband did along the 630 miles of the Southwest Coastpath just after a devastating diagnosis for her husband, and their being made homeless simultaneously. Her talk was entertaining and honest; her book will be my reading matter in Brittany next week (also my sister’s, perhaps, as she’s coming too - hooray! - and for a few years her work involved walking and writing up circular stretches of the coastpath for the SWCP association, resulting in a series of little books).

Prof Raymond Tallis, philosopher and neuroscientist (Logos: The Mystery of How We Make Sense of the World – also at £25 too expensive for me at the moment) offered a rich and heady cocktail of ideas, though I didn’t always agree with his conclusions. When I posited, though, that while philosophy and science can help us make sense and/or meaning, they are currently generally set in opposition to myth, story and poetry (logos and mythos, which occur as a duo in many of my blogs here from the last 8 years), and that the latter are also very much about making sense and meaning of our history and our experience of being human and of the world, and should be brought together, he nodded in delight and said that that is also his conclusion. There are people working hard to cross divides, to bring false binaries back into harmony, in every discipline.

The environmental ‘debate’ between Guy Singh-Watson, founder of Riverford Organics and hot from Desert Island Discs (and yet another surfer), Natalie Bennett, ex-leader of the Green Party, and Philip Lymbery, author of Farmageddon and Where the Wild Things Were, and CEO of Compassion in World Farming on the future for food: what is the balance between food security and food safety, and how do we feed 7.5 billion people? – was also lively and impassioned with, as you’d expect, each speaker well-informed. Of course it wasn’t actually a debate, as they all agree that factory farming is not the answer to any of the issues being discussed, and nor are pesticides or GM foods. Although they didn’t address the issue of water stress (which I think is going to be massive before too long, even though it may not feel like it here in England most of the time, if not actually right now), they all agreed that eating less meat is the only way forward. Of course.

Well, you know my views on that. And yes of course it’s hard to be vegan. I don’t miss milk in my tea – which was my feeble reason for so many decades of being lacto-veggie for not going the whole hog (so to speak); in fact now I find it disgustingly animal-fatty. Cheese is a different matter. Whereas once, in my youth, I fantasised about leaving the known world with a raggle-taggle gipsyman, now I fantasise about grilled halloumi, a Greek salad with feta, buffalo mozzarella... and resist. Mostly. (As these days I do those romantic barefoot musical wanderers.)

Finally, here’s my current most-delicious vegan recipe for you, its filling today consisting of the food-for-free nutritious and self-seeded fat hen (chenopodium album, and also a dye plant; photo at top) that is abundant in England this time of year, and that I’ve just weeded from our squash bed to use in place of spinach, and a picking from our abundance of courgettes (with their beautiful yellow flowers that the bees love).

I need to say that quantities and proportions are approximate and flexible. Experiment!

In Brittany, the speciality is krampouez, or galettes de blé noir, which is buckwheat crêpes. Buckwheat is not a grain but the seed of a plant in the sorrel/rhubarb family, so it’s gluten-free too. I love these, and they are so easy to make. Vary the filling as you like – it's good with creamy mushrooms, ratatouille, mashed avocado with seasalt, tabasco and finely-chopped nuts and yeast flakes, or garlic-sautéed courgettes with onions – and any number of other fillings.

For the galettes for two people:
4 heaped tablespoons buckwheat flour
8-12 tablespoons water, added gradually and beaten well
half-teaspoon salt
half-teaspoon+ of any, or combinations of, tagine spices, turmeric, cumin seed, mustard seed

For the filling:
A big handful of spinach or chard, washed, destalked, torn up – OR fat hen! You can also use foraged orache (and it would be nice with sorrel as well, or samphire instead)
2 courgettes, sliced
bunch parsley, finely chopped
3 or 4 leaves mint, finely chopped
clove garlic, finely chopped
grated nutmeg
salt and pepper
a little olive oil
juice of half a lemon
(Coyo coconut yogurt if you want to use it)

First make your pancake mix. I make mine fairly thick as they’re less likely to stick, and I use a small cast iron frying pan (about 8 inches bottom diameter in old money).

Sauté the courgettes in a dash of oil on a low heat until soft. Throw in spinach, chard, or fat hen, garlic, and herbs. Lid the pan and let it all wilt gently. Add the other ingredients, turn heat right down.

The secret to a successful pancake is a) proportions (roughly twice as much water as flour, or a little more than that), and b) the pan. Smear a heavy-bottomed pan with a very little oil and heat till smoking. Test it with a drop of the mix. If it sizzles, it’s ready. Pour a ladleful of the mix in, and immediately tilt the pan so it covers the bottom. After about a minute, turn the heat down slightly. Let it cook (but don’t burn it) for two or three minutes, until a knife slipped under the pancake will easily lift it. Then flip, and cook for another minute or two,

Hope you like it as much as I do. Let me know!

Friday, 29 June 2018

a not-the-Guardian country diary piece

            Four Winds, Dartmoor, midsummer

On the moor, the beeches on the high granite walls are hazily opaque, not yet substantial, and the little leat muted. Beyond, Merrivale’s two Bronze Age double stone rows are just coming clear of early mist, the central burial kist in one of them barely a divot in the ground. Further again, I can’t make out the monolith or the closer little stone circle, and so far the view to Bodmin Moor and the sea is a milky wash.

The sun is rising at its most northeasterly point, apparently at a standstill for the three days of the solstice (‘solstitium’, ‘sun-standing’). Who knows what rituals might have been enacted here once, perhaps at the old Celtic midsummer of May 1st, Beltane, or perhaps nearer to our midsummer, celebrating the solar god at his zenith? It’s possible that the double rows here, like the processional avenues at Avebury which, some allege, can be seen to alternate longer thin stones with ‘lozenge’ stones, have carried over millennia their representation of a coming-together of man and woman, god and goddess, in ceremony, processing towards the obvious symbolism of the circle and the menhir behind it.

Now the mist has burnt off and another clear day reaches us. This year’s pony foals race in small gangs, knobble-kneed, through gorse and bog cotton, short tails held out stiffly as bottle-brushes. Above us all a skylark holds its place, spilling notes towards us through the clearing air as its ancestors have done, presumably, for century on century.

Driving up this morning, the Dart was empty of the many bright white-water kayaks that crowd it in its seasonal torrents, slaloming wildly through the boulders and over the short bursts of rapids. The grey wagtails are tranquilly flicking their tails on the rocks, alongside the dippers (old name water ouzel), that symbol of the Devon Wildlife Trust, that can walk and feed on the riverbed, using its wings to swim.

I come down through birch, ash, rowan and oak, blackbirds’ songs clear against the evening. Devastatingly, some of the ash trees are losing leaves from their crown branches – ash dieback. In the fields on the moorland edges they’re baling hay, rather than plastic-wrapping silage, and the scent of that and honeysuckle displaces thought.

Now, earth is drifting away from full day to lit night, lemon-white air hosting an absence of swallows this year. Home, the young blackbirds being reared in a hole in the slate-quarry wall behind a rosette of bracken are insisting on their hunger, as they will have been all day. Opposite one of the local barn owls is hunting, an otherworldly presence gliding across the scrubby hillside. Venus is rising. The sky dims slightly, but doesn’t go out.

© image & words Roselle Angwin 2018

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

poem for the summer solstice

Summer solstice 2018

Today is the day of the oak-king
horned god of the greenwood at the peak
of his solar powers, at this moment
of maximum light bound to none –

(how many years ago now did we
process to the stones at sunrise?) –
sun on his longest journey northeast
to northwest in the sky (we crowned

each other then, king and queen of
midsummer) and nowhere to hide –
no shadows – yet already the year
slides back to the moon-queen’s time

(that journey you took that midwinter)
at the nadir where the holly king
guards the doorway and wrestles the old year
down (you with your crown of antlers

and how you too succumbed). And yet
nothing dies; simply lies fallow. Burdened
with the gift of our brief bright lives we could
remember this – nothing dies; everything will return.

© Roselle Angwin

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

the land's wild magic (again)

It has been hard for me to imagine that any writing retreat I lead could be up there with Islands of the Heart on the Isle of Iona, which I've been leading since 2001.

So I'm still digesting the fact that last week's holistic writing and walking course brought as much depth, richness, delight and sheer magic as the Iona week does, albeit differently. Oh, and a lot of moving and inspiring writing.

Of course, it helped that we were back in my homeland of the far west of Cornwall, like Iona right at the rim of the world, but the southwestern rim (where, yes indeed, Poldark is both set and mostly filmed).

It helped, symbolically, that Cape Cornwall is where two seas merge to become the Atlantic Ocean (the Bristol Channel/Irish sea and the English Channel), and that the next stop west is America. (Of course, you could say that the great Atlantic splits to flow in two directions here. Either way, it's a place of transition, a threshold place.)

It helped that on the first day we spotted a pod of five dolphins leaping and playing their way around the Cape.

It helped that the participants formed a diverse, interesting and creative group of ten women, one courageous man (plus me), and that trust and intimacy arrived so swiftly.

It helped that Thelma at Boswedden provides plentiful vegetarian food, and home-made cakes.

It helped, too, that I instigated silent walking. I love this, walking together and apart simultaneously. 

We walked round the coast and came up from Porth Nanven, 'my' family beach (Angwin being cognate with Nanven) through the lush and beautiful Cot Valley so beloved of painters like Kurt Jackson in St Just. Here's one of Cot Valley's gunnera:

As always, we visited a number of holy wells, this year adding a 5th to our walks: St Levan's Well above Porthchapel Beach. What joy to peer in and see families of newts. What joy to find the few stone remains of the little oratory that was built in the 4th or 5th century CE, within close earshot of the sea, tucked back into a cliff by a waterfall, hidden away from the worst of the weather on these wild and dangerous coasts. What joy, too, to visit the current church 'proper' with its huge riven fertility rock dating back and sacred to pagan times (and countered by an ancient stone cross), to visit the walkers' chapel in the church, and to see the very old carved pew ends:

It was also a delight to see two of our number skinnydipping in Porthchapel Cove with its turquoise waters (sorry – their photo is censored):

Once more, we visited Zennor's mermaid, whose story, as always, I told; Caer Bran, ditto, having climbed up and up through meadows and over the idiosyncratic Cornish stone stiles; and Carn Euny Iron Age village with its fogou, specific to West Cornwall, and detailed in previous June blogs. This year, I caught a photo of the wonderful phosphorescence that illuminates the little circular chamber off to one side:

And we added another stone circle; like most of them in West Cornwall another one of 19 stones (perhaps marking a full metonic cycle of the moon through its 235 synodic months). This has been associated, as the early Bronze Age circles themselves have been, with the lunar Goddess of our ancestors. As far as we can tell, the druidic training was also 19 years – no coincidence.

Boskednan stone circle is up high on wild moorland overlooking the sea at Zennor, beyond Mên an Tol, the holed fertility stone, and Mên Scryfa, the inscribed stone supposedly marking the place where an important tribal leader fell and was buried after a battle with 'the invaders from the east' in around the 6th century CE, though the stone itself is a prehistoric menhir. Off to the east here is Ding Dong mine, one of the most significant of the Cornish tin mines; to the west, Carn Galva or Galver; and behind us a rather beautiful if ruined tumulus.

But maybe the highlight of the week was the final morning's visit to the most beautiful and secluded circle deep in the West Penwith countryside, site of ancient and current gorsedds,  bardic and druidic ceremonial gatherings.

Apparently, this one was one of the three major stone circles in the British Isles, cited in the Welsh Triads (some of the content of which dates back to the 9th century and earlier, maybe 6th or 7th centuries CE), though I haven't yet tracked down the other two. Avebury, I would guess, would have to be one. As for the others: a circle on Anglesey, Ynys Môn, Isle of Druids? Callanish on Lewis in the Outer Hebrides? The very beautiful Castlerigg, in Cumbria (a personal favourite)? Stonehenge? (So obvious as almost not to need citing.)

Anyway, 12 writers were utterly silent for nearly two hours, writing and writing, in this circle.

And my final treat was a bowl of rock samphire, gathered from the cove on the morning we left, and wilted with lemon and olive oil.

Next year's THE LAND'S WILD MAGIC will happen again in June.


It's been a long time since I led a 'writing from life' retreat, though I used to lead them regularly. As a good excuse to go back to Cape Cornwall, I'm offering a short course there in just that in early September this year (3 days, 4 nights). An added extra is writing from nature, in the style of the 'new' nature writing. You can read more about 'IN HARVEST TIME' here, and there's an earlybird discount.

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