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 27 January 2016

Guest poem (Vere Smyth)

From stormy Devon, here's a poem from Vere Smyth that is utterly different in its tone and 'weather'. I can't tell you much about Vere – an elusive figure; all I know is that we share an interest in Buddhist thought and practice.

What I particularly like about this poem is its appreciation in relation to timing: something I'm not so good at, myself.

Thank you, Vere, for the moments of stillness it brings, and the sense of deeper rhythms to which we're all attuned, whether or not we humans let them guide us.


A peacock butterfly
At the height of a hot summer chose
To take up on the wall of my bedroom
Just above the Popovici painting
(full of anguish about her homeland Romania)
And wait for the right moment
And wait
Month after month after my meditation I would look again at the butterfly
Not moving
Just waiting, for the right moment
Then on the 23rd of December the right moment came
The sound of fluttering wings at the window
With a heavy heart I opened the window
What glee!
What certainty!
Off with a purpose into the winter sky
And I watched as another individual
Dancing to a beat we all know but do not understand
Did what it must do

© Vere Smyth


Tuesday 26 January 2016

of sea & earth (+ recipe)

One of the things about being self-employed, theoretically, is an ability to take time out when you want; you can always make it up at, for instance, a weekend.

In practice, it’s generally hard to actually do it.

All the better, then, that self, Daughter and TM, all of us self-employed, managed to coincide and head off to the beach to collect seaweed for the garden; a now-annual event for self and TM. It's a wonderful respite to be doing something kind of earthy instead of being on the computer.

We bribe ourselves magnificently with brunch first at The Beach House.

Then, in wild weather, we head off down past the little lagoon with its cargo of waterbirds, dogs in tow.

Yelp. No kelp. Generally, there is a mass washed up in the eastern corner of the beach; it stretches for many metres, and is a thick belt knee-deep. Our puny 30 bags make not a jot of difference.

This time, though, despite the recent and frequent storms, very little of the kelp that is torn up from deep water has washed in; or more likely it did, but the high spring tides associated with the weekend's full moon washed it all back out again.

That shot should show wall-to-wall kelp. Thick, deep, luscious, fertile. Sigh. But we set to, well-garbed against the strong southwesterly.

And despite the apparent paucity, we gathered 60 sacks – as much again as we normally manage. TM is very happy.

It must be down to the daughterly hard graft. My arm is healing well, but I probably only managed 15, and none of the carrying. Poor me. Was able to wander off, dog at side: hello clouds, hello sky. Anyone for skiving?

And noted where the snails hang out to hibernate in their winter quarters; all but one foolhardy gastropod tucked safely in the lee of the wind.|

And saw the kestrel. And watched the seriously-brave – or so they looked to me – kiteboarders riding the wild wind and squally surf far too close to the reefs for my stomach; ripped across the bay (if you look very closely at the top photo, that dark dot against the green of the headland is a kiteboarder).

So that's the sea, and the soil of our five – seven if you count the little ones – raised beds will benefit from her gifts.

I've finally planted my garlic, due to be planted, preferably, on the winter solstice. 

In last year's garlic bed where, with all the rain and cold, the garlic came to 0, there's a little thicket of green garlic leaves. I see too in the lanes that the wild garlic is thinking about spearing its way towards the sky (daffodils, snowdrops and violets all have).

Since last year's little garlic bulbs have to be removed and the garlic will grow elsewhere, as we practise crop rotation, I need to find a use for all the shooting leaves. So I looked in the fridge and larder for ex-Christmas goodies to combine with the chopped-up leaves, and made the proteinous dip below (now that I'm back to being vegan protein is something I try and eat each meal. I'm always on the lookout for tasty protein-filled dips, and in fact have come up with two or three, posted here I think, when we get to wild garlic time).

If you're like me, you may not have such luxuries in store (especially if like me you mind food miles), so this is a special-treat dip.


~ a small handful of fresh green garlic tips; OR a spring onion and a clove of garlic; OR 2 leaves of wild garlic
~ a good handful of watercress
~  a tablespoon of pine nuts
~ one third of a block of smoked tofu* (SEE BELOW)
~ 3 tablespoons CoYo** (see below)
~ I found a grilled artichoke in oil in a jar in the fridge. This was a wonderful addition!

 * Tofu: if, like me, you think tofu is a disgusting wobbly slimy tasteless thing, you obviously haven't tried the Taifun range: smoked, and solid. Not a hint of wobbly viscousness. Extremely good (I used the almond and sesame seed in the above recipe). If you're a menopausal or post-menopausal woman, though, it might be best to go easy on tofu and soy generally; the jury's out but too much might mess with your thyroid. Medical opinions differ.

** And if you haven't yet found CoYo, you really ain't lived. Dairy yogurt doesn't touch this wonderful stuff, live coconut yogurt. Not easy to get, but if you can, do try it. Food miles, yes, in the UK, and not cheap.

Saturday 23 January 2016

working in the arts

Some of you will be aware that there's been a small kerfuffle (technical term) in the literary world. Philip Pullman, previously Patron of the Oxford Literary Festival sponsored, I believe, by The Times, feels that his engagement with OLF compromises his position as President of the Society of Authors, which champions authors' rights.

Wherein the conflict of interests, one might ask? The issue is that the big literary festivals – and for all I know the smaller ones too – don't pay their authors for their appearances, talks, workshops, readings, etc. (I don't know if this is true completely across the board, i.e. whether the big-name celebrity authors are in fact paid.)

The Society of Authors exists, of course, to promote such things as authors' rights. The Soc of A is currently campaigning for writers to be paid for appearing at a LitFest.

Pullman makes the point that at every step of the literary festival infrastructure salaries, fees, costs, wages are paid to everyone who participates in making the event happen (aside from the volunteers), from the programme managers down to the bar staff and marquee erectors. Everyone, that is, except for the people without whom a literary festival can't exist – the writers.

Too bloody right they should be paid. Why is it that, if we work at something that gives us pleasure (as well as hair-tearing pain, at times), we should be seen as privileged for that very fact, and therefore not need money? And if that's in the arts, where payment is small (average earnings of a full-time writer stand currently at around £11,000, with many, of course, existing on quite a lot less than that) and erratic at best anyway, all the more relevant that they are, and are seen to be, paid for the work they do.

As writers are fond of saying 'You wouldn't expect to book a plumber and then be surprised when s/he wanted to be paid; why an author?' 

At the risk of sounding horrendously worthy and virtuous, back in the days when I was the director of a small Dartmoor literary festival it never crossed my mind that my programmed writers would perform for free.

Between 1998 and 2004, I booked writers whose work, skill and vision I rated and whose ability to engage an audience or lead a workshop was excellent. They weren't top flight celebrities; instead, they were quiet lights in their own field of something generally more profound than celebrity culture.

At the time (as now, in fact) I was making my way in the world entirely through my writing and writing-related activities, entirely freelance. There were many times when I simply didn't know whether I was going to be able to pay the rent and bills at the end of the month; there were some times when I had to choose between paying the rent, buying food, or clothing my daughter. That is how it is if you refuse to compromise your vision and work in a vocation that is not valued in our current culture.

For nine months of each year during that period, I gave over most of my freelance working time to planning and programming that festival not knowing during several months of that time if I'd receive the grants essential to covering all the costs and paying me for my work too. I had virtually no other income, and no capital, savings, or financial help. As it happened, we (I say 'we' as I had the most fantastic team of volunteers helping me) always did.

But never once did it occur to me not to pay the visiting authors. I gambled on being able to pay them, if grants failed, by the takings on the door, realising that I'd have to do even more promotion than we already were. By the standards of those days, I (we) paid them well, too: between £150 and £200 each 'slot' for a reading of up to an hour, and/or a two hour workshop. In fact, that's pretty good by today's standards, too.

I was also naïve. I had no idea, then, that bigger festivals, such as Ways With Words in Dartington, sponsored by The Telegraph, didn't pay their authors. 

If I had known, it would have changed nothing. Too bloody right that authors need to be paid. Too bloody right that Pullman has brought that to our collective attention.

* LATER: a friend, co-founder and co-organiser of the Teignmouth Poetry Festival, reminded me that this (small) one, and the Torbay (small) one both pay their poets. Having read at both festivals myself I should have remembered that. Support the small festivals, people!

Tuesday 19 January 2016

dwelling in the house of poetry (again)

How good that poetry has stepped back over my threshold once again. During the last year, a year that included two family bereavements and other significant if (mostly) happier events, for the first time since I was a teenager poetry appeared to be perpetually on the cusp of vanishing over the brow of the hill in my rear-view mirror.

So here I am dwelling in it once again: reading it, writing it, and thinking about it.

In the Guardian of Saturday 16 January, Ben Wilkinson mentions the oft-quoted sentence by R S Thomas: 'Poetry is that which arrives at the intellect by way of the heart.'

In his review of Sarah Howe's debut T S Eliot-prizewinning collection Loop of Jade, he goes on:

'The poet's task is to find the effective middle ground to perform that lyric trick whereby thought and emotions seem to effortlessly combine. Seek to provoke only feeling, and crude sentimentality ensues; indulge in the cerebral, and the poem might remain interesting enough, but it will remain lifeless – a kind of versified intelligence.'

Couldn't have put it better myself. In my Elements of Poetry online course, I say:

'Poetry speaks the language of the heart in a way that no other literature does. Indeed many people come to reading and/or writing poetry at a time of deep personal feeling – maybe the tenderness and sensitivity of adolescence, or maybe after a time of heightened emotion – after a loss, or when falling in love – when one feels as if something inside oneself has broken open. In this way poetry may be cathartic: both expressive, and a means of healing or coming to terms with what is being expressed.
            'One’s early poetry then is likely to be full of feeling – and that’s how it should be. Looking back on our early poetry we can feel excruciating embarrassment; but in fact that early work is a gift, allowing something that is pushing at the surface to erupt into our lives. Starting as it so often does with the raw, the deeply personal, it has its roots in authentic experience which cannot be contrived.
'However, great feeling is not in itself great poetry. After that initial outpouring of feeling comes the time to shape and refine it. To this, we need to bring a certain amount of mental sharpness and objectivity. With experience comes a greater degree of sophistication, where one learns to use original imagery, a keener structure, and more subtle language instead of the usual over-emotional or sentimental expression or clichéd phraseology and self-consciously ‘poetic’ words with which, often, one starts. Nonetheless, to my mind poetry needs to express some level of emotional literacy.
'Poetry then is a meeting point between the heart and the head; in other words, it requires both the image-making feeling nature that is, for the sake of shorthand, associated with what is often described as the right hemisphere of the brain, and the more linear, analytical speech-based functions of the left brain.'
The drawing-together of head and heart is one way of defining the lyric poem. It's a joy when one comes across poets and poems that do this.

I have read or reread the last week a few poems that do it for me. Working as I do, it is not as frequent as it once was. I suspect that my taste has become, let's say, more refined; or perhaps simply more critical.

Then again, in the deluge that is the contemporary poetry world where everyone wants to write poetry – and why not – but few want to buy it, it is possible that the proportion of good poetry to OK or mediocre poetry is smaller.

One poet whose work I rate is Rosie Jackson. Forthcoming soon from Cultured Llama is her (overdue) first full collection, The Light Box. On Josephine Corcoran's site you can read the title poem, which is a fine, restrained and moving poem.

Last birthday a dear friend sent me a poem by David Sutton. I return over and over to this poem; in its simplicity and depth I find some kind of sanctuary. David has kindly given me permission to reprint it here.

The House

Come and live, they said,
In the house of science
With its solid floor of sense
Its tiled and timbered roof,
Its foursquare walls of proof.

But I chose instead
The house of poetry
Under its rowan tree,
Half ruin and half grave
With green grass like a wave,

Nettles and moss for bed,
And its people coming and going
Like seeds the wind might bring,
Like words in the wind's song,
Their tenancy not long.

© David Sutton

You can read more of David's poetry here.

Saturday 16 January 2016

at the heart of... (+ recipe)

I was at Schumacher College the other day listening to a fascinating talk on biodynamic cooking, and the history of food (I had gone along rather half-heartedly, thinking I didn't really want to spend a half day when I have so much on listening to talk about food, but I had committed to the group in which this talk happened. I am so glad I went; and it also tapped in nicely to things I have been thinking about.)

I sat up when the speaker said that she considers the table to be at the heart of a civilisation, of a culture. I thought about how some of the profoundest conversations, as well as my most enjoyable social times, have been round a table.

I also remembered the reasons for my conviction that all my residential courses are best opened with a shared meal: not only does eating together with strangers break the ice and create warmth and ease, but people will also freely reveal deeply intimate details of themselves in such a context, which in turn deepens cohesion and trust in a group setting.

My recent postings about the vegan thing are connected, for me, with the holistic picture of a life lived consciously – I mean, I suppose, the attempt to live as consciously as possible. For me, eating in a way that causes as little suffering and harm as possible to others and the planet is congruent with other aspects of my life and values, and trying to close the gap between these things is a primary motivation.

But I'm a sensualist, and not a masochist, so this doesn't have to mean bland and virtuous – rather, for me it means tasty, appetising, visually-appealing, fragrant, interesting and healthy deliciousness – in food and in life. (And yes, I'm not above chocolate, chips or crisps, believe me; and don't mention French patisseries...)

Our food not only feeds our body, but feeds too our mind and emotions. If the food itself is good, and prepared with care, something extra is added.

And good vegan food, like good vegetarian food, is not characterised by any sense of lack or deprivation if the people preparing it have imagination, a little nutritional knowledge, and source well. 

This latter means for me as local as possible, as fresh as possible, as in-season as possible, and organic.

We grow much of our own food, and forage a little too. This is so satisfying. The pumpkins above were our over-abundant harvest from 2014: grown on pure muck, they fed us and some neighbours as well all winter (and more).

How we eat matters, too.

When my daughter was young, and I was working in the arts more than full time (I'd usually start again when she went to bed), one ritual was sacrosanct, no matter what. I'd always cook, and we'd always eat supper together, with a candle, at least in winter, and often with music too. We never had a television, and I think that makes a difference.

The ritual continues: TM and I share the cooking, with produce from our own garden as much as possible.

Tonight it will be vegetable tagine. It's so simple. Here's a recipe for you. Tagine is basically a Moroccan spicy stew, traditionally cooked in a clay pot. Usually there's a dash of sweetness; the squash will provide that, as would sweet potatoes; some people add a little honey or eg maple syrup; I like to add a few dried apricots.

Winter Vegetable Tagine

INGREDIENTS for 3-4 servings:
2 leeks or 2 onions
Two big potatoes diced (big chunks)
Three carrots diced (big chunks)

1/2 beetroot
1 small butternut squash or half a medium-sized red one, either prebaked or diced (big chunks) (I bake whole squashes, pricked with a fork, scoop out the flesh and freeze it)

Any other veg to taste, eg root veg, courgettes, peppers, aubergines 
Optional: chickpeas or beans for extra protein

2-3 tbsps olive oil

Tin tomatoes
Cup stock if more liquid needed; otherwise veggie stock cube or Vecon
Small handful dried apricots if liked
Juice of half lemon

2 cloves of garlic finely chopped or minced
3 dessertspoons of harissa or 1 tsp chopped or dried chilli (less if you don’t want it hot)
1 tbsp fresh ginger root, minced or grated
1 tsp crushed coriander seed
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp of turmeric
salt & black pepper to taste 

Optional to garnish:
1 tbsp of chopped parsley
1 tbsp of chopped mint 

Almonds or cashews

Dry-toast the whole dry spices for a minute or two, then add oil, and sauté onions/leeks till soft. Add garlic and ginger. Add other veg and spices and simmer gently 10 minutes.

Add lemon juice and tin of tomatoes. At this point add stock if needed, or stock cube (etc) anyway, and apricots (plus honey or syrup if you like). 

Simmer on a low heat for around 20-30 minutes, until root veg are cooked. Taste and season.

Serve over rice or couscous, with steamed greens on the side (I love rainbow chard alongside the warming colours of winter veg); garnish with parsley and mint if liked. Some people add yogurt, or a vegan equivalent (the best by far, though food-mile-high, is Coyo – yogurt made from coconut).

Friday 15 January 2016

'stand in the light' (guest poem)

Stand in the Light

Stand in the light.
Allow the wild things to creep
out of the shadows.
Welcome them all, the wet
bedraggled things, the ones
all spit and claws, the one
who weeps and hangs its head,
the one who stares, and says ‘Make me.’
Stand in the light. They are yours,
washed and unwashed alike.

Stand in the light, and sing.
Raise your voice as if
there was no fear of darkness.
Listen and you will hear
other voices, other songs,
rough and sweet and dauntless,
blues and canto jondo,
pibroch, nanha, tanakh.
Stand in the light and sing. Their pain
is yours. Allow it to hurt.

Stand in the light. Be still.
Light is what we need. Let it glow,
let it shine into the furthest dark
to find the lost forgotten hopes
and warm them to new life.
Allow it to grow and touch the ruined
homes and hearts and show us
what’s to mend. Stand in the light.
Be still. Become the light.
©  Elizabeth Rimmer

Elizabeth Rimmer's poem above appeared earlier on Josephine Corcoran's excellent 'And Other Poems' website. Elizabeth says it was 'born in the crucible of last year's dramas' culminating in the Paris bombings.  

Elizabeth was born and educated in Liverpool and moved to Scotland in 1977. Poet, gardener and river-watcher, her roots are Catholic, radical, feminist and green. Her poems have appeared in Poetry Scotland, Northwords Now, Gutter, Brittle Star and Southlight. Her first full collection, Wherever We Live Now, was published by Red Squirrel in 2011, who also published her second, The Territory of Rain, in 2015. Currently she is working on poems about herbs, social and environmental upheaval, and strategies for responding to hard times.

You can see more of Elizabeth's writings here.

Thank you Elizabeth, Josephine.

Wednesday 13 January 2016


It has not been easy, the last year, to remember I'm a poet. Although I've written a fair bit of creative non-fiction, and have finally found a resolution for my story Crane Woman, begun 3 or 4 years ago (and hopefully to appear as a small chapbook illustrated by the wonderful Alexi later this year), I've written no poetry that I really rate in the year since my dad died, apart from three I wrote for him. But death does crystallise things, and since the more recent death in the family I feel, among many other things, a stirring, a flapping of wings.

And yet – as I think Kahlil Gibran implied in his 'Trees are poems / that the earth writes / upon the sky // we chop them down / and turn them into paper / to record our emptiness' – the natural world already makes its poems so beautifully. How can I improve on that? 

(I may have misremembered the quote, and also the writer – so please correct me if you know.) 


Speaking of wings, how birds open something spacious inside me. They were in a way my salvation from depression when I was a student: my first term at Cambridge University was hard. I loved the intellectual and cultural 'buzz', but I hated my all-women's college accessed on a very busy main road. For the first (and last) time in my life I'd been transplanted to a city, and a southeastern city with grey-white flat unchanging skies and no hills. Having spent all my life in Western parts of relative wilderness amongst hills and woods and by the sea, it was a shock that dislocated and deracinated me. But all it took was a thrush, a blackbird, a pigeon, and I felt alive again.

The birds that come to my feeder give me so much joy (and I like knowing that I'm helping some small birds to survive in this era of habitat loss, pesticide and herbicide use and mass extinctions). Each morning six species of tit come to the feeder; a nuthatch, and two spotted woodpeckers (despite the closeness to the house), as well as the groundfeeders.

Rain dharma

Poetry again after such an absence,
the house quiet, looking out at the courtyard,
its many leaves fat with gratefulness for this spring,
for rain; a bullfinch swaying like a tropical blossom

on the pot choked with seeding cranesbill, one
thrush, a late swallow checking out the eaves, rain
making the woods more distant and impenetrable,
its tap on the stone step an invitation. The valley’s hush.

Rain settling in like conversation between
lifelong friends; rain, plants, stone, birds
at ease with themselves and each other, at ease
with how the world needs to be.

© Roselle Angwin, in All the Missing Names of Love (IDP)

No, we don't yet have swallows, nor really spring, save some snowdrops and violets; but yes, we do still have rain...


Victoria (who wrote a blog for me recently) mentions that her experience of the Camino was nothing like the film I mentioned, 'The Way'. I imagine that the film is a romanticised version; it's simply that 'The Way' uplifts me; it's an offsetting against all the horrors in this world in the face of which we feel so helpless: the lighting of small candles.


I have mentioned that one of my small candles is my recommitment to veganism, and my creating of a website/blog around that. There is a very long way to go with the site (and of course it's a mere millimetre compared with the human and animal suffering at the hands of our species around the world), but.  And I have my first offering, from dear JS, which will be posted soon under 'Experiences' – an invitation here to anyone who is trying to go vegan or has already done so, or at least to cut their use of animal products to contribute to this, or to the recipe section when I put it up.

You can see the small steps so far at


A small personal (professional) boast: in the service of remembering I am a writer, the 2016 MsLexia women writer's diary is rooted in my contribution: my long introductory essay about 'writing the body', plus my monthly brief notes, suggestions for exercises, and a creative piece by A N Others(one of whom is Sharon Black, who runs the Abri Creative Writing centre in southern France where each year I lead courses).

Monday 11 January 2016

Camino (guest blog by Robert Wilkinson)

I notice that, in my inviting of occasional guest blogs from people whose life and work I respect, I've been leaning towards those who have a relationship with pilgrimage: that is, any journey undertaken with intention, in mindfulness (over-used as that word is), and with the understanding that the journey is also the destination; the 'process' is as important as the 'event'.

From a Zen perspective, every minute is an opportunity for presence; my late teacher used to say that real practice starts when you get up from your zafu (meditation cushion).

It wasn't a conscious action to invite pilgrimage blogs; it could have been poetry, natural history, philosophy, deep ecology, prehistory, storytelling, Zen and so on; and no doubt, in time, it will be. (In fact, if you have something to say on any of those subjects, please get in touch with me, via my websites.)

But a lot of my focus with my courses and retreat the last few years, especially since place is very important to them, has been how we approach such a time together: can we make the whole trip and retreat time in a spirit of pilgrimage?

Anyway, enough. Today's blogpost comes from Robert Wilkinson, a real veteran of the Camino de Santiago; that mythic route which has fascinated so many of us, myself included (I won't tell you how many times I've watched the film 'The Way', Emilio Estevez' film with Martin Sheen – my top feelgood film).  With my thanks to Robert.


'Wanderer, there is no way, the way is made by walking.' ANTONIO MACHADO

I’ve always loved walking. I like the simplicity and freedom of it. No tying or troublesome equipment needed — just a serviceable pair of feet. Planes, trains, ships, cars, bikes, horses and donkeys all limit you in one way or another. With foot travel — barring walking on air and walking on water — you can go wherever you want, whenever you want. You don’t have to look at a timetable, you don’t have to wait for a ride, you don’t have to spend lots of money and you don’t have to buy loads of gear.  All you have to do is point your feet to the north, south, east or west. Walking creates an intoxicating sense of possibility you don’t experience with any other form of locomotion. As I once wrote: The most soulful places are almost always reached only on foot.

Yes, I love walking, and have done a lot of it — country walks, city walks, day walks, night walks, circular walks, walks to the shops — but, until 2007, I’d done very little long-distance walking. That’s not to say I hadn’t dreamed about it. I spent thirty years of my life as a travelling salesman (ok, publisher’s sales and marketing executive, if you want the grand title) and had England’s motorways imprinted on my mind like varicose veins on a middle-aged leg. My fitness suffered as I succumbed to endless car journeys and expense-account lunches. But all the while I dreamed of a different life, a life in which I would ditch the car in the knacker’s yard — before I ended up there myself. A life in which I could walk and walk and not stop walking.

One rain-sodden May evening in 2007 I was sitting in a pub in the village of Kirk Yetholm, a few miles beyond the Scottish border. I’d just finished walking the Pennine Way. The only National Trail I’d walked before had been the Dales Way, a delightfully bucolic ramble from Ilkley in Yorkshire, over the Pennine watershed and down to Windermere in the Lake District. This had taken five days, the Pennine Way nearly three weeks. I was celebrating coming to the end of the trail with two other hikers. One of them, a merchant seaman, told me his life story. How for years he’d spent his free time  — his time on dry land — drinking, partying and chasing women. How one day it had suddenly dawned on him that he was completely wasting his life. And how he’d begun to walk the Caminos, a network of ancient pilgrim routes which crossed Europe and led to holy shrines in Rome and Jerusalem and Santiago de Compostela. Walking these paths had become a drug to him. Listening to his anecdotes, absorbing his enthusiasm, I became entranced, and was soon hooked.

To hike my first Camino, from Le Puy in south-central France to Santiago in north-west Spain, took me two months  — from mid-October to mid-December 2007. I covered 1000 miles at an average walking pace of 17 miles a day. Not that considerations of time and speed are particularly relevant or important — at least, not to me. The Camino is not a race or a competition.  It doesn’t matter if you walk it in one go or spend a lifetime knocking off short stages. It doesn’t matter if you walk it alone, with a friend, in a group or walk it backwards. There are no rules and, if you want rules, you can make them up as you go along. Then break them, if you wish. In my opinion, it’s not even imperative to arrive at your actual destination, your holy shrine (this may be heretical) — though most pilgrims, including myself, desire this, and the whole Camino tradition is based on pilgrims doing penance or seeking a cure for illness by completing the journey.

Where or what is the destination, anyhow? In these New Age days of Zen and syncretism and imaginative thinking, many — again including myself — believe that the destination is the Way itself. Life is a perpetual journey, and we never reach the end of our questing and questioning — and every end is just another beginning, as we know. So the Camino becomes a metaphor for life, a signifier for a continuous spiritual journey of self-discovery. En route you may with luck, and a little magical guidance, find and celebrate your true self, as well as celebrating the people and places you encounter each day.

Of course, it’s very much a physical journey too — with all the associated highs and lows, pleasures and hardships: the fatigue, the aching limbs, the sore feet, as well as the mental exhilaration and occasional epiphanies.  Also, because the Way usually takes the shortest possible route to its sacred goal, and because it’s a practical, religious route, not a tourist route, the landscape it passes through is both rough and smooth: there are ugly, tedious stretches as well as sections of sublime beauty. Though the Camino teaches you to see something of value in the mundane and the quotidian as much as the rare and the sparkling.

Since 2007 I’ve walked six more Caminos, including most of the Via Francigena from Canterbury to Rome (I’ve got as far as Lucca). I’ve walked day after day in rain, wind and snow. I’ve walked across baking hot plains and through cool temperate forests. I’ve struggled up the steep slopes of mountains and coasted down the other side. I’ve met some fascinating people and also some people I’ve tried like crazy to avoid. I’ve seen both breathtaking landscapes and some very ordinary ones. I’ve entered many wonderful churches and some distinctly unfriendly bars. I’ve eaten some of the best meals of my life but sometimes existed all day on stale bread and mouldy cheese. I’ve been threatened by aggressive dogs. I’ve nearly fallen into a ravine. In short, it’s been a bit like life in general, but far more focused and intense.

You have time to think and to experience things in a very full and rich way on the Camino, and each experience seems valuable — if not at the time, then often in retrospect. Somehow the very process of walking through a landscape or a country for weeks on end — it’s a very visceral, earthy thing — enables you to really feel that place in your heart and soul. To be truly touched by it. To know it far more deeply than if you’d used any other mode of travel. And, more importantly, it enables you to know yourself.   

'All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware.' MARTIN BUBER

Posted by Robert, The Solitary Walker.

You can read more of Robert’s Camino adventures on his blog:

The website of the Confraternity of Saint James, a UK-based charity established to promote the pilgrimage to the shrine of St James in Santiago de Compostela, can be found here:   


I've written a number of times on this blog about contemporary pilgrimage ; there's one example here.  RLA  


Friday 8 January 2016

fire in the head & the wild ways: calendar 2016

They say, don't they, that work can sometimes save you. This seems to be true; especially if, like me, you love what you do.

So I've been updating my websites with the various retreats I'm leading this year; I feel a deep excitement and also a quiet satisfaction with how things are evolving in the work I do. Increasingly, I'm offering courses that involve deep ecology: collaboration with the land, other species and outdoor work in conjunction with the imagination and the realm of soul – all these stories. What a joy, to be doing the work I was born to do.

And what a delight, too, to work in places as inspiring as the Hebrides, Dartmoor, Exmoor, Cornwall, Brittany and the southern French mountains.

There is much that I could say (and frequently do), but for the moment I'll let the links below speak for themselves, and hope to see various of you lovely and creative people on one or another of them this year.

And if you're a woman writer – preferably one who still uses a hard-copy diary and who hasn't yet bought one for 2016 – I'm pleased to tell you that I am the 'guest' for this year's MsLexia Writers' Diary: I wrote the long introductory essay, and the material for each month's prompt.


If you’d like to hear of new events, books & writing tips, contact me with your email address and I’ll add you to my list. The newsletter happens three or four times a year, and I promise I’ll never sell your name or allow it to be used for other purposes.

Imbolc: the inward flame, January 29–31, Devon PLACES STILL AVAILABLE

Thresholds: Saturday 30 January, Devon (self-contained part of above retreat) PLACES STILL AVAILABLE

Soul Medicine: Held in the palm of the land: Sunday 13 March, a retreat day in north Cornwall, listening to the land and to soul, writing BOOKING NOW

Stories of the Earth March 20–24 Dartington, Devon I am delighted to be offering a day workshop on Dartmoor for this short course at Schumacher College offered by shamanic practitioners Jonathan Horwitz and Zara Waldeback. Bookings through Schumacher; see link

Islands of the Heart 1, early April, Isle of Iona (1 PLACE AVAILABLE for a ‘returner’)

Islands of the Heart 2, late April, Isle of Iona (FULL)

Poetry, Place & Pilgrimage on the coast, among the many megalithic sites and at the holy wells of West Cornwall, 9–14 June BOOKING NOW

Horse Medicine, Exmoor, 24, 25, 26 June non-residential

Writing the Bright Moment, Saturday 27 August – Saturday 3 September France  (although our medium of exploration & expression is creative, reflective & eco-writing, place, land & the waterfall pool are very much part of the week)

Seize the Week: Saturday 3 September – Saturday 10 September, France untutored WRITING week to focus on your novel, that poetry collection, writing from nature, or any writing project in the company of other writers, and with individual tutorials and a daily group feedback session available from this very experienced writer and tutor

Tongues in Trees/Tales from the Forest: Brittany, October tba. This will be a weeklong version of the day workshop you can read about here, in an old enchanted forest, and will incorporate various other expressive arts. I’m very excited about this. More anon.

Soul Medicine: tba


I thought it might be useful to post a summary of who I am and where I'm coming from in relation to my workshops and retreats. This is the info on the Schumacher College page:

'Roselle Angwin is a Westcountry poet, novelist, creative essayist and painter and has written widely on creative, reflective and therapeutic writing, and ecopsychology. She’s been leading holistic workshops, courses and retreats for 25 years. Increasingly they happen outdoors on Dartmoor and Exmoor, in Cornwall and the Hebrides in the UK, and Brittany and the Cévennes mountains in France. She has also co-led wilderness and vision quest rites of passage on Dartmoor. 
'She has a deep love for and lifelong knowledge of the natural world, and combines this with the Celtic shamanic and bardic tradition, Zen mindfulness and her training in transpersonal psychology. All of these practices feed into her ‘ecosoul’ courses, along with walking, myth, story and poetry. 

'Roselle has a reputation for three things in particular: encouraging the kind of deep seeing that a poet’s eye brings to the land and other species; inspiring a passionate re-visioning of our relationship to the other-than-human; and catalysing creative exploration through the expressive arts, commonly writing. She is the author of 10 books, including "Writing the Bright Moment" and "River Suite", a long Dartmoor poem.'

Thursday 7 January 2016

made of rain

It happens in a blink of an eye, in the interstice between one hour and another, in the gaps between raindrops. Between snowflakes.

Perhaps you are doing something else. Perhaps you are sharing poetry with deep friends, sharing tea and cake and wine, cosy and loved, oblivious.

He was there in another country, and though we never saw him, we knew he was there. Then suddenly, too young, too suddenly, he wasn't there, and we didn't know for days. And then the wild rush to be there – floods traffic sea mountains lagoons touchdown traffic snow fog – before this his last journey from this realm, at least for now.

Colourful. Unique. Difficult. Utopian idealist. Creator. Outsider. Adventurer, traveller, surfer, maker, musician, linguist, existentialist, loner, stranger.

There is much to say of our time together and its many many adventures (and mishaps); of the journeys; the creations, not least she who changed my world so significantly for the better; the foraging and wild living outdoors in lost pockets of Europe; the sea, the sea, the sea; the songwriting and busking; the learnings; the challenges; the laughter. His laugh.

And none of it is for here. But if I am silent a while, this is why.

The world is still spinning, but spinning a little faster and in a counter-clockwise direction for me, right now.

My friend J wrote me these beautiful words (à propos of being): 'It feels like deep winter to me – made up of sleep for the heart... Well actually made up from rain... aren't we all...' 

Friday 1 January 2016

ragbag blog January 1 2016

Hello lovely people – and Happy New Year to you – from the soggy but (worryingly) flower-rich lands of Devon, where right now I'm looking out at a bird seed-feeder crowded with up to 6 different varieties of tit at any one time, and where the peanuts are visited regularly each day by both a male and a female spotted woodpecker.

Yesterday morning early a barn owl flew up over our heads just yards away from my herb-and-bee garden; I had a ringside seat of each of her snowy feathers. It felt auspicious; a privileged glimpse into a secret life. Two days before I'd seen a small bird less than a yard away on a verge also in full clarity: the bright chestnut-rust black-tipped tail fanned like an open hand. I realise I have no idea what it was. It wasn't a British kestrel (looked more like an American one); nor a snipe, jack snipe, woodcock... anyone?

'There were the simple miracles called birds'  wrote Octavio Paz in one of my favourite poems, 'Fable'.

Birds somehow save me from myself, as poetry does. And how good it is to immerse myself in poetry again, after a dry year. Paz (in El arco y la lira, The Bow and the Lyre) wrote: 'Poetry is knowledge, salvation, power, abandonment. An operation capable of changing the world, poetic activity is revolutionary by nature; a spiritual exercise, it is a means of interior liberation.' The website for this quote continues: 'According to Paz, poetry is a form of transcendence, removing the self from history and offering in its place a vision of pure or essential being and time. Poetry is sacred, providing salvation in a secular world.'

So there you are.


Tomorrow is 'perihelion': when the earth is at its closest annual point to the sun. Thought you might like to know that. It's symbolic of something-or-other.


My arm is mending well. The French consultant had suggested I request 15 'séances' (isn't that great? – 'sessions') of physio from the NHS, a request that I somehow suspected might be unmet. The physio at my first appointment the other day was so pleased with the strength and movement I have back that she thinks just one more plus exercises will do it. How good to be driving again, though the big old campervan takes some hauling in slow manoeuvres in small spaces. The worst bit though was reaching behind me to pull the seatbelt, or winding the window up. The driving was fine.

And I now have 50,000 words of my new book, 'creative non-fiction', as they say, on place, story, identity and belonging, written; 30,000 of those typed with one finger of my left hand. It was good to have that solo slow time in the forest writing, reading, walking and sleeping; it also helped a lot that my daughter was close by, and we cunningly managed to instill positive reinforcement for my endless hospital trips with the fact that the best patisserie in France is right opposite the hospital.


On wider matters: I have enjoyed the short conversation in the Comments below my Syria post of early December. (I love it when you comment.) Of course things have moved on, though the questions remain. 

What is 'right action', 'right response' from all of us to and in the current Middle Eastern situation?

How can I possibly know? The situation is complex. I've been pleased to catch up with the many searching and thought-provoking articles that The New Statesman provides on this and related matters. The 4-10 December issue had a number of very good articles.

But I'm also struck how, with the focus on the fear generated by Daesh, it's easy to overlook other things happening. One column in that edition, by Helen Lewis, reminds us how very inhumane the Assad regime is; she details, graphically, some of the atrocities. Isn't it easy, now, almost to think of Assad as a 'good guy' in comparison with 'the terrorists'?

I also notice, on a totally different tack, how the Government has given the go-ahead for fracking in British National Parks (does the flooding change this?); and also how the badger cull will be rolled out in 9 counties now with none of the time limits of the pilot culls – despite scientific evidence that culling badgers will not make the necessary difference in bovine TB.

It's as if, with the 'war on terror' headlining, apparently lesser subjects with enormous implications are slipped under the wire with relatively minor public attention. My father used to speak of how the Government would deliberately draw our focus on one subject to detract attention from other erosions of freedoms, human and otherwise; I thought he was being paranoid.


Speaking of erosions on freedoms (or perhaps rights), I've been a lacto-veggie for 40 years. Until a few months ago, I was vegan for 4 of those 40 years; an inevitable progression, I think, ethically.

In France, however, like various other things, it went out of the window a bit and I've eaten a lot of cheese/cream/butter lately.

I was never a perfect vegan: I still wear leather footwear at the moment (the alternatives are to bin lovely footwear for which an animal has already died, and to buy petrochemical fabrics that don't biodegrade), though I'm going to change that. I also ate eggs – no justification, except that if I stopped I would probably have succumbed to occasional hits of dairy because – well, I do miss cheese so much. If I was out and someone had made me a dairy-based meal, I'd eat it with pleasure.

But Ms Virtuous has raised her head again. It's about congruence. One of the truly distressing things about Western culture, and writ large in my face in Brittany, is the intensive farming of animals – suffering on a massive scale hidden away from our view. Of course I/we all know it happens, and passing cattle trucks fill me with a profound upset. But in Brittany the lush fields are empty, and intensive units of pigs and veal calves are everywhere.

Having a veal farm that I passed frequently where I was kind of leaked the suffering into my (no doubt over-porous) psyche on a continuing basis. I was constantly aware of the presence of so much quiet suffering. These poor little sods are taken from their mothers often at a few days old, kept in crates in the near-dark, and shipped off to have their throats slit at a few weeks of age. Stories abound of their attempting to suckle at the fingers of the slaughtermen in the abattoir. 

This is a direct by-product of the dairy industry. I cannot be part of this. For a long time, like many others, I'm sure, I have felt helpless to do anything at all about the cruelty of all this, other than clean up my own larder and wardrobe, so to speak.

I can't let them out; I can't tackle the farmer; I can't save all the suffering animals (and humans) in the world; probably no one except myself.

What I can do, though, I have now decided, is to revert to veganism and also to set up a kind of 'going vegan' website/blog for this new year. I shan't be preaching or proselytising – each person's path and karma takes them where it does, so it's more somewhere to go for info if you feel you want to change things.

I want just to put the info out there via my own trials and lapses and hypocrisies; plus what eating meat and dairy entails for animal suffering (OK you can eat organic, where here in GB the Soil Association monitors animal welfare, but you're still supporting the suffering of pigs, sheep, poultry, cows and the production of calves for the meat industry) and the climate. 

I want to examine why we don't need meat, and why we could feed ten times more people on a plant-based diet.

I want to look at the alternatives and their implications; offer nutritional info; maybe delicious recipes (because they can be utterly wonderful).

I want it to include others' thoughts and contributions; I want it to be well-informed, compassionate, not overly-sentimental despite the deeply emotive aspects of all this. A kind of clearing-house.

This is my commitment to the other-than-human.


And another commitment, as many of you know and many of you share, is to the life of the imagination, without which, as Lindsay Clarke says, empathy is not possible. And to soul, and its nurturing.

I'm excited about my this year's programme of courses, most of which now are week-long retreats in wonderful and wildish places: Iona, the Cévennes, Cornwall, Brittany.

I'm utterly delighted to be offering a day workshop on Dartmoor in the vein of my old 'Ground of Being' workshops on a shamanic course at Schumacher College – more soon.

And then there is Horse Medicine as a weekend on Exmoor.

Oh and a possible new poetry group in North Cornwall.

Meantime, there are still two residential places left on my 'IMBOLC: The Inward Flame' retreat weekend here in Devon, mentioned in the last post of last year, at the Celtic fire festival at the very end of January; one of the 'waystations' of the turning year, and a time for renewal, creative inspiration and deep restoration. As part of that is the self-contained THRESHOLDS day workshop: 'this wild & precious life', a chance to reflect on your life, what's working for you and what's not; and whether inner and outer lives work fruitfully together.

Can I tempt you?


One last thing (really!): is there somewhere – anywhere – you might plant a tree this year? If we all did, what a revolution that would be.


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