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, 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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