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

Tuesday 27 May 2014

yesterday (poem)


So take these words

turn them into the colour
of sky, a burst of cello song

this snipe startling
from the underbrush

turn them into a few grains of sand

turn them into yesterday
turn them into love

then let them go

none of us gets out of here

© Roselle Angwin 2013 

(first published online on Robert Wilkinson's now defunct but very pleasing poetry site: The Passionate Transitory. You can see RW's work on - lots of it to do with pilgrimage; a subject close to my own heart, as they say.)

Sunday 25 May 2014

from the ragbag: branscombe mandala, talking feet, dartmoor, renewables & dog

Been a while. Sorry. Been all over the Westcountry the last week, beginning with the Branscombe Day I lead from time to time with my dear friend visual and sound artist Michael Fairfax. Nine of us met up and walked the footpath down by the stream winding through meadows to the lovely Branscombe Mouth on the East Devon coast – we walk down gently together in silence, to give us an opportunity to gather ourselves and immerse ourselves completely in the experience. I'd warned everyone to bring all-weather gear and extra layers – didn't occur to me to say 'and sunhats, sunscreen, shorts' – what a stunning, hot day we had. 

TM, meantime, was walking 22 miles on one of the most severe sections of the South West Coastpath: I dropped him at Sidmouth in the morning and picked him up at Lyme Regis after the workshop. His time was about 4 hours better than we managed when we did it together a few years ago; but then, I have a different style from his throwing-himself-at-the-sheer-cliff-at-top-speed 'walking'.

My day couldn't have been more different, given that we were in the same area.

I led the morning session (much writing was done by all, and we did an ad hoc interweaving of lines out loud) and Michael had us create a group mandala from found objects in the afternoon, each of us creating one of the eight sections.

Michael, of course, was conductor, composer and critic of the mandala-making, and reminded us that our sections would also be in dialogue with the others, and we needed to be aware of the boundaries and how or even whether they would merge, and if so how we would negotiate this. I have my own agenda in relation to that at the moment, as my own emotional boundaries are sometimes too fluid and permeable, so my own challenge was to stay with my space and choices and not be swayed if I didn't want to be, but at the same time to allow my work to be inclusive of the outside world. 

Then on Wednesday I led the inaugural daylong session of a new writing group near Lanhydrock in Cornwall. It was bliss for me being back in my homeland, and we worked in a sunroom just off the beautiful woodland garden sanctuary that my friend Carrie has created.

One of the joys for me is that so many people come to my courses over and over. This was true of both days, and it gives me a real sense of a continuing creative community. It is of course also always lovely to welcome new people, too, so that the work ripples outwards.

This new group, 'Talking Feet' (long story), will be meeting monthly as a peer group, and I will be facilitating four day sessions a year, one for each of the seasons. (Contact me if you live in Cornwall and would be interested in attending – there's space for a couple more people. It's a general writing group, and it's not frightening or high-powered: supportive and imaginative.)

Walking Carrie's water meadows with Dog afterwards, with the tors of Bodmin rising up to the West, in sunshine again, with a creative day behind me and the lushness of spring flowers and birdsong surrounding me I remembered, as I do every day, how lucky I am to live in paradise, doing work I love and believe in with such good people.

I'm also both amazed and delighted that Iona 2015, my annual Islands of the Heart retreat in April, now has its full complement of 16 people, before I've even had chance to put the word out.


Dartmoor on Friday, and a wilder stormier day. These changeable days suit the moor, cloudshadow and lightplay on the flanks of the hills, a swiftly-changing sky with its banks of cumulo-nimbus (I think) and the pewter hems to the clouds. Whole hillsides are swagged in bluebells, and in one carpeted area a small herd of purebred Dartmoor mares and foals were grazing. This is rare: most of the ponies on the moor are crossbreeds, the hardy little Shetland ponies being brought in a few generations back to work in the quarrying and mining trades.

Tavistock, as I drop down off the moor, is at its best as all the trees just reach full leaf – a hundred shades of green, complemented with the aubergine copper beeches.


Dog, after six weeks of barely eating – I mean at all – is back to her normal self. Thank goodness. It's been a time of stress, strategy and deviousness for me, punctuated with some despair and at times impatience. She's suffered from a combination of post-anaesthetic weakness; campylobacter infection which gave her a nasty stomach illness, brought on, probably, from the raw organic chicken carcass I gave her in early April; and separation anxiety after nearly three weeks in the Hebrides sleeping mostly with The Pack – self, daughter and daughter's dog; but now we're back home she sleeps in the lobby. (Fine balancing act, keeping Dog and TM both happy!) – Plus no doubt I was infecting her with my anxiety. 

And then there's the fact that really she much preferred nibbling tasty (expensive) treats from my fingers accompanied by much fuss and attention, to being left simply to get on with eating a normal meal from her normal bowl... The upshot has been one neurotic dog: she who is SO quiet turned into a barky whiny dog, which hardly endeared her to Himself, who only really tolerates dogs, no more (I've always said that people are either cat-people or dog-people; rarely both – tongue in cheek, false dualism, etc, but there's a difference in the way we relate to the world nonetheless!).

What I did? (Should you be interested.) First thing was to ignore her neurotic barking in the middle of the night (she's never done that before, and the idea is that you don't 'reward' such behaviour even by yelling 'bad dog!' or 'shut the hell up!'). Took some doing to convince TM to trust my judgement on that and give it a couple of nights.

Then I got her an essential oil diffuser, and Pet Remedy, the main active ingredient of which is the calming valerian (in the picture above, alongside red campion – not to be confused with garden valerian, the more in-your-face and common one, NOT the same thing, as I discovered as an angsty adolescent – gave me a nasty headache, brewing up the roots of that). I kept her near me as much as I could, but not all the time. I played her soothing music (thank you Chloe and the Iona group) – and – don't laugh – gave her a Tibetan singing bowl 'gong bath' at bedtime – very healing for both her and me! (Thank you Bea for reminding me.) (TM thought I'd really lost it.) But she's well, and playing like a puppy. And quiet. And EATING.


This tree came down in storms in February. Can you see the new young oak, middle top, growing out of its dereliction?

Life renews itself – 'the law of continuing'. 

And speaking of renewal, Keith Barnham has written a book making the case for the fact that we are, contrary to much expert opinion and governmental head-in-the-sand scepticism, perfectly capable here in Britain of producing sufficient renewable energy to meet our needs. At a time when my hero George Monbiot has added his voice to James Lovelock's in telling us that the only option now is nuclear, unless we want the worse alternative of coal, it's heartening to read Barnham's views, backed up by solid science. 

He's a researcher into and developer of solar cells, so of course that figures in his proposals, but he suggests a raft of measures: solar, onshore wind, biogas (methane) produced from food-waste, and ground-source heat pumps. Peter Forbes, reviewing this book in yesterday's Guardian, tells us that in Sweden more than 90% of all new homes include ground source heat pumps; that Norway is close to 100% renewables with hydroelectric and Iceland ditto with geothermal (ground source heat pumps). 

There are two issues: one is developing biofuels from CO2 emissions: using carbon capture to reduce CO2, but finding a way to put it to use instead of burying it. 'To do this we have to learn what every leaf knows,' says Forbes; 'how to turn sunlight, CO2 and water into biomass.'

The bigger issue, perhaps, is persuading GB and the US, both of whom are dragging their heels on renewables, instead promoting the nuclear option, and in this country fracking, to spend the money on taking these initiatives forward instead.

What I don't understand is why we are not installing photovoltaics on every warehouse and factory roof in the country?

(The Burning Answer: A User's Guide to the Solar Revolution, Keith Barnham, Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

Monday 19 May 2014

shepherd's huts

I was lucky enough as to 'win' two nights' stay in a wonderful Shepherd's Hut near the Somerset borders with Dorset and Devon. (When I say 'win', there was no skill involved - merely being in the right place at the right time.)

At Fordscroft Farm there are yurts, and also the four shepherd's huts, each with its own private garden leading down to the lake. The latter became  both locus and focus for me of my time there – I was fascinated by the duckly dynamics and dramas, and very quickly learned the rhythms and habits of the wildfowl there, from which two different-sized ducklings 'belonged' to which hen mallard, and at what times of day each would spend time with her alone and at what time she'd take flight from the lake without them, to the different types of communication calls in the moorhen families.

There is nothing equivalent to being by water (although Dartmoor is a close second), for me. It's something to do with rehydrating the places that get 'dry' in the human psyche when we spend too much time in human environments and daily routines and structures, and in our thinking minds. We were only at the hut from Monday evening to Wednesday morning, but I spent most of that time, when we weren't walking or I wasn't writing, outside mesmerised by the water, the patterns of light, and the lake's inhabitants.

Our hut, 'Shepherd's Keep', was perhaps the most private of the four. It's beautiful. (It's also the newest, and smelled delightfully of wood. There are some good pics on the owners' website; URL below this piece.) The owners have thought of everything: although of course it's small inside, it still has a sense of spaciousness, and is light-filled. It's well-kitted-out, and the little touches of furnishings and adornments, and the bed built-in to have a view of the lake, along with the firepit outside and little shower room whose window opens onto  the bluebell-coated slopes of the iconic Castle Hill (which must surely be an Iron Age fort) behind it make it also the perfect writer's retreat. 

Castle Hill from the lane leading back from the pub at Hinton St George

At the bottom of the little garden the comfrey plants were heavy with bees. Thrusting between them you can see above the lush stems of horsetail, equisetum arvense. These plants, with their strange segmentations reminiscent of lizards' tails, fascinate me.  They're the only remaining survivors of a plant line that can be traced back 300,000,000 years – yes, that's right. Originally their ancestors would have been as tall as trees; degraded, this species is responsible for many of the world's coal-seams. Medicinally, although they have a toxic element as well, they have traditionally been used for kidney and bladder problems. Being high in silica they have some application also in relation to arthritis, gout, joint problems generally, and calcium-deficiency-problems (to be used with expert supervision).

A highlight was our daylong walk through the sunny lanes, bluebell woods and footpaths of this part of Somerset. It's less (fewer) than 100 miles away from where we are, but the area around Crewkerne feels different, in a still-Wessex kind of way. The geology has shifted, and with it the psychogeography; where we're slate and granite with sandstone incursions, that part of Somerset is golden limestone, Hamstone, transmuting to the chalk and flint of the Wiltshire Downs a little further east. There's a continuity of unfoldment, though, the one landscape morphing into the next.

The landscape is wooded, but more open than South Devon; our hills are tightly-folded and the views happen only on the high ridges; in Somerset, the hills are larger and longer and there are distance vistas. Where we have tiny deep lush lanes and the fields are bordered with banks and hedges, they have more open space. 

Everywhere the land is flowering now, in an exuberance of spring.

holly flowers

One day, when I write that bestseller, I'll book a month here for myself (it's not cheap, but then nothing about it is cheaply-done, from the hardwood worktops to the careful planting of shrubs in the garden to ensure privacy).

If you need a few days away, writing or simply being somewhere romantic with your beloved, see  

Meantime, here's one of the seven poems that came out of those 36 fertile hours for me:

after Mancombe Wood

the deep rich notes of the blackbird in the ash
call rain but so far cloud and sun
have chased each other into dryness
we have walked and walked from the hut
with its high bed looking out
at the lake mallards moorhens
through woods and deep rides of beech and bluebell
on roads fuzzed with ploughdust this late spring
past Haunted House, toll cottage, Thoreau cabin
by a waterlily pond deep in rhododendron
and the great old golden hamstone manors
and have come to this shady bench
under the tall candles of horse chestnut flowers
gorgeous in their creamy whites and pinks
at the side of the little leat under its crumble of stone
by the Mill House (‘built by Wm Bellingham 1555’)
where we rest eat a late lunch
enjoy each other again
it could be this simple

© Roselle Angwin, May 2014

Wednesday 14 May 2014

more for may

Just back from 2 days in a wonderful shepherd's hut by a lake on the Dorset/Somerset border, of which more anon.

Delighted that several people have sent in pieces of writing on 'May', so here they are, below. Thank you all – what a treat. (I've copied and pasted from several different types of documents, so if there are font discrepancies, that's why.)



Driving across the Levels to Godney in May is like being at nature’s wedding day. Narrow lanes, a froth of white and yellow, cow parsley and charlock that hem the rhynes. Pollard willows sprout new withies and stretching away, a green sea of rippling grass spattered with buttercup gold. Overarching hawthorn scatters confetti as you pass under branch after branch. After endless winter floods that turned Somerset into a vast lake, the joy is magnified. Life and the swallows have indeed returned. Only three miles away, but by the time I got there I felt positively bridal. 

Rachael Clyne

Rachael's Mayday view of Glastonbury Tor


May day

May I? Pretty please? – Oh yes I may!
Sweet May lays at my feet another day.
My days are done and cannot be undone,
but now another May day has begun!
May first is past:
Though filled with flowers and sealed with sun
It could not last.
May two - gone too,
Though every hour to its full length was spun.
And now May three
Is courteously bending at her knee,
Is greeting me
With yet another wealth of simple treasure;
Oh may I, may I, may I
Have the pleasure?

Sally Birch


100 words for May in the South West

Dancing at dawn, in the mist on Haytor, the magic of May begins. In its wake the bursting of the buds, the leaf sheaths blown and playing with blossom in a storm. Cloud bursts alternate with billowing clouds and warm sunshine confusion – coat on, gloves off, scarf on, umbrella up, down! The ever-changing skies galloping across the sea, or Dartmoor, move me. I am elated, inspired and pulled out of my winter lethargy, full of optimism for the season. Swept along through Devon lanes and beaches, I fall in love with another blessed Spring.

Dilys Morgan Scott



I walk the headland as far from sea as you can be. Horizontals broaden the land: a daub of rape stippled by bristling wind, a froth of chervil and now the scent of May. Bury your nose in blossom and scent is elusive; step back and the air is richly mellow, not sweet or fragrant but so beguiling it dumbs the road beyond. And all around the blue vastness above reaching full stretch, lifting the larks. Now they’re buried up high, in sky overgrown, dabbling clouds; and one unwinds, plummets, then skims the earth to land with upturned flourish.

Miriam Hancock


May, Hyde Park

The patient grass begins to grow, the feet to crush, machinery to shave and scalp. Birds sing, bursting tiny throats to overcome the traffic noise. Brave leaves break out on plane trees, ready for the rain of particulates. Dogs strain and bark, wishing again for freedom from lead and collar. And then their owners, discussing where to go for lunch.

Jeff Hancock


I missed you

on the island

you chose for your healing

walked alone

on its rocky land

and heathery soil

drunk with the playful wash

of blue,

turquoise and emerald seas

mirror of fleeting

quick-flowing clouds

lapping on banana sand –

I drove through

yet barren black glens

the one day blossoming

heath in mind

looked deep into dark lochs

panting for breath

at the stories

of the howling winds


and when I saw you last night

in your deep-blue dress

the golden jacket slung

over your shoulders

your island

shimmered through –

healing may

have happened

Beatrice Grundbacher 

Sunday 11 May 2014


May, and in the deluge I walk out where the bright spring rain ignites the hillside into the ultraviolet flame of bluebells, incandescent against the new sharp greens of the valley. May, and in the deluge something hidden, almost lost, shyly steps forth and in a moment has taken wings. May, and in the rain I’m stripped naked then clothed by rain. May, and high above me, in a prism, the buzzard’s quiet jubilation encircles the day, the way a priest or a magician passes hands over the bread, the chalice, the water to be blessed; casts a spell that for one moment changes us all into what we were always meant to be. 


Send me your creative response to the fecundity of May, and I'll post it here. 100 words max, please...

Saturday 10 May 2014

pilgrimage (a poem)

On the first day
we come jostling as sheep herded and penned
not really here but not there either –
the displaced ones.

On the second day
making a new home in these sea-meadows
all our suns break through to meet the high one –
everything gilded, true.

On the third day
our fears come back and tarnish, just a little, the gold.
We want to stand apart, perhaps to hide;
it’s hard to be seen in our real faces, naked.

On the fourth day
the wave has spent itself on the white shell-sand shore.
Now we can meet the eyes that seek our own,
rest in a deeper knowing.

On day five
We bring our harvest to this our companionable table –
empty our pockets to the bare cloth, break
ourselves to share.

On day six
We leave with what we came for, whether or not we know it;
scoured by light and truth we have tasted the word; it is good.
We have made of ourselves a flame.

© Roselle Angwin, Iona April 2014

Thursday 8 May 2014

far from the tree

Travelling back along the West Highland Way from the Hebrides to Glasgow, there's a point where, from road or rail, one can see a few pine stragglers of what was once a vast acreage of the Caledonian Forest, possibly once covering something like 12,000 square miles.

Caledonian pine forest - - 1011064
 Wiki creative commons: 'these large Scots Pines may be several hundred years old. The seedlings only germinate outside the shadow of the canopy of the larger trees.'
I find it awe-inspiring that these few pine trees are direct descendants of pines that 'crossed the land bridge' from mainland Europe after the last Ice Age, around 7000BC, and before the melting glacial waters separated us from the rest of Europe. The forest has almost entirely, but not quite, gradually gone, destroyed by felling and grazing.

There's a brave big project going on to replant this ancient forest through the Trees For Life programme: This will not only restore huge tracts of forest, but also provide significant wildlife habitat; and there is talk of reintroducing once-native species such as lynx, wolf and boar to the forest.

Mediaeval Celtic literature, especially stories from the Mabinogi, the Black Book of Carmarthen, and tales of Merlin, suggest that this was not only the location of one of the famous battles of King Arthur, but also the setting for the text Cad Goddeu, a magical tale of the battle of  the trees.

It may once have been the Forest of Celydon, in which various legendary figures, including Merlin (often suffixed with the word 'Gwyllt' or 'Wyllt' in Welsh, with its etymological associations with 'wild'), went on enforced or voluntary retreat during a period of 'madness' – which may in fact have been a period of psychic and psychological change and transformation triggered by shock, circumstance, responsibility for the soul-life of the tribe, and/or possibly shamanic-type visions.

There's much to say about this, but not here.

Where I'm going with this is something my daughter told me, to do with how the forest spreads, and echoed in the caption above: 'The forest walks,' she said; 'the seeds always fall and root far from the parent tree. They can't germinate in its shadow.' I think about the tiny pine cone, its miniature 'wing', and how easily dispersed it is by wind, by bird, on the sole, or paws, of a foot.

And I think about the wonderful metaphor here for not only evolution on every level but also in relation to our children, whether these are fleshly, or are the fruits of our imaginations, and ideas: thrown far from the parent tree so as not to grow in the shade of the 'old', they take root and grow in their own direction, according to their own destiny; and yet the mirroring process of growth to be 'pine tree', not, say, minke whale, will still have within it the mark of the original blueprint, forever. 'The law of continuing', as Brian Clarke says.

Tuesday 6 May 2014

after the islands

How strange to have been virtually without internet access for three whole weeks. How difficult at first, and then how blissful to adjust to other more natural rhythms. What a shock to collect about 600 emails (not including the junk folder).

It was an epic 20-hour journey back from three weeks in the wonderful Hebrides, on three different islands: the lush gentle Luing, the wild and dramatic Mull with its eagles, cut-off basalt cliffs, and spring flowers (thank you, Treshnish), and Iona, which is unlike any other island. 

We left for home on the 9am ferry from Iona last Friday, and myself, daughter, two dogs (one sick) and two friends all set off in my campervan, which had behaved impeccably in the 1000 miles we'd done in the previous three weeks. However, it had sprung a leak which the garage said would be impossible to fix without spare parts that, given a Bank Holiday, would take days to arrive. So we risked it, topping the radiator up every 100 miles or so of the 650 mile journey, after a cooling period. 

I arrived back home at 5am; minus sleep and short on sleep anyway from leading such an intensive course, I've rarely been so glad to arrive home intact, to bluebells and the dawn chorus in the early light.

It's hard to know how to speak of Iona and the retreat I lead there every year. This is partly because I've spoken and written so much about the island and the 15 courses I've led over the 14 years that it's held a significant place in my life, and partly because much of the experience, despite it being a writing retreat, is about the experience – the felt and imaginative response to this magical place, and the transformations it seems to trigger in the people who participate. So much of this is wordless, is beyond words; though of course we do use words to explore and express our responses. In a way, though, the writing is a doorway.

There is a shared language that we develop, those of us who come every year: the language of corncrake, waves on shorelines, the Iona greenstones, of white sand, of Gaelic place names, of history and myth. The group, like the island, expands to embrace newcomers, to rock them in the warmth, the continuity and the eternal newness that these island days, where we're exploring inner and outer landscapes, bring.

And it's not always an easy journey, this journey back home, back to the core of ourselves, that we find we make. This is a pilgrimage, rather than a trip: we're not tourists, but are undertaking an at times arduous journey, on so many levels, to the heart of things, and that has its cost. It requires a shedding of layers and of what no longer serves us.

Often, it seems, people come at a time of change or transition in their lives; often the week is both cathartic and transformative; this kind of opening can make one feel vulnerable, no matter how supportive and safe the group. Deep friendships are formed here, and in between there's much joy, lots of laughter, some tears and even some anger that's triggered as the island scours people free of past stories; enables them to release old patterns; as the group and my prompts bring things to the surface.

People bring who they are, and it's hard to escape the need to go deep, to peer into our lives – and indeed, for me and therefore for the course I lead, that aspect is very important: that of renewal, of restoration, of realignment with who we are meant to be; of a way of living that is more authentic, alive and true than much of C21st largely-urban existence can allow. 

It's also about dwelling: in a place, in a moment, in how things are.

I say in the blurb: 'An island is both a physical point in space and metaphorically a place where we might bring ourselves home. Iona is one of those places where, as the Celts describe it, the veil is thin. It has probably been a place of pilgrimage for 1000s of years; it was a Druidic teaching centre before the arrival of Celtic Christianity.

'Here, surrounded by the seas that both connect us and keep us apart, is a good place to start the quest for the heart.' I have realised (with the support of Lucy – thank you, L) that there is a book to be written here; and there will be.

Meantime, for me, I hold close to my heart the bright sunny days (most of them, despite the fact that the pictures I took mostly don't reflect those days); the otter I watched just here, out of my bedroom window off the rocks below:

(in the picture too is Davy Kirkpatrick's wooden boat 'Iolaire' ['Eagle'] which took some of the group to Staffa for the Fingal's Cave and puffins-around-your-feet experience); the kindness of each member of the group; the wonderful poems that came out of the week; the corncrakes which are experiencing a resurgence on Iona, and with whose rusty-saw voices the day as well as the night was thick; the walking of the labyrinth after the obsessive hunt for greenstones; the hugs; the beautiful singing at dusk after a silent walk to the ancient Reilig Odhrain, the little St Oran's Chapel, one of the oldest buildings in Scotland and burial-place of so many kings, including the actual Pictish king Macbeth. 

Mostly I take with me the lit joyful faces of the 14 people who joined me this time.

NB you can read more about the course in previous blogposts from April each year; and also here: The retreat for 2015 is filling very fast.

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