Monday, 31 December 2012

Meet at 11.15 a.m. on Sunday 6th January outside the Prince Albert

Rendezvous Prince Albert for our first springs walk and organise cars. It seems oddly contradictory to ask for a dry day when we track six springs in the Toadsmoor Valley, in our search for the genius loci of Stroud and the Five Valleys, but there we are. Please give us a dry day, Fate.
As the Guardian editorial put it today: "It's the soundtrack to 2012. The hammering and splatting of rain on roofs and umbrellas, the plonk and the hiss as it falls into swelling puddles, the swish of passing cars on sodden roads, the swirling suck as it disappears down the drain - and the ominous gurgle as it comes back up again. This year, it has rained stair rods and cats and dogs and then it's drizzled and mizzled...The result is often startlingly beautiful...And in the literary imagination...It is a wild, roaring, uncontrollable force...So farewell, 2012, and here's to a dryer 2013. Not too dry, of course."
Hope to see you on Sunday the 6th, ready to reconnoitre, record and re-imagine our landscape.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Happy New Year and Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night
Mapping of the Springs
Toadsmoor Valley
Sunday 6th January, 11.30 am
On the basis that the Christian festival of Epiphany walked hand in hand with a winter festival involving the Lord of Misrule and a consequent turning of the world upside down, what better day to have for our first springs-walk? Despite the Shakespearian trope of gender-swopping and cross-dressing as in his play, Twelfth Night, first performed on this day, it is probably more practical to make sure you are sensibly shod and attired - just in case "the rain it raineth every day.'
We shall revisit the folk-lore of the bean and pea in the feast - or, rather, cake, for us - and whosoever has the legume shall become the Lord/Lady of Misrule. S/he shall lead our motley throng with the map as s/he attempts to locate and name the springs of the Toadsmoor Valley.
The hunt is on for the six springs within in the steep-sided Toadsmoor Valley, as depicted on pre-war maps. Will we be able to find them, or in the spirit of Epiphany, might we discover others? The walk will be between three and five miles in length - depending on what we discover. Bring along something to eat - and your curiosity.
Precise meeting point to be confirmed - watch this space or Facebook or

Friday, 14 December 2012

A Stroud Valleys Christmas

There is a poem below called A Stroud Valleys Christmas, but first I would like to draw your early attention to our first collective walk, when we map, record and re-imagine the landscape. This will be on Twelfth Night, Sunday January 6th. By then, our website at  should be moving beyond work in progress: that is the place where we shall place our collaborative multi-media interpretations of our locality. Further details about the walk – meeting point, route, mileage and so on, will follow, both  on the blog and the website; but for the moment, let us all enjoy Christmas-Tide, remembering that the poem below could become a half-forgotten memory if building takes place in the Slad Valley.

A Stroud Valleys Christmas

One damp, December Sunday afternoon,
I biked out through Stroud’s featureless streets,
And then along the Slad Valley to Bull’s Cross:
Past shooting, pollarded willow trees,
All lined along the lanes;
Past well wrapped figures stacking yuletide logs,
All shrouded in a coppice;
Past the chapels turned to guest houses,
Their graveyards full of cars;
Past families cutting mistletoe,
Their long handled secateurs silhouetted
Against the setting sun’s cloudscape;
Past rooks, gathering in the gathering dusk,
All calling in the copse -
Until, all was still and silent,
At sunset;
That moment,
When all life seems to be suspended.

I listened to the silence,
Then turned my bike for home.
And when I returned to Stroud in darkness,
Nocturnal winter-spring had sprung:
Every window was now ablaze with lights,
And glittering trees and candles;
Doors were hung with stars and wreaths of holly,
Laced with ivy and mistletoe;
Christmas has come!
Cold season’s magic!

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Common Sense under Threat

I think it was Leon Trotsky who once opined that “Common sense is the wisdom of the ruling class” but that old chestnut was cast rudely to the pavement recently by our country’s planning minister. In a classic case of nominative indeterminism, Nick Boles said he wants to see a 33% increase in land under new construction. He declared that “The built environment can be more beautiful than nature” and that “We shouldn’t obsess about the fact that the only landscapes that are beautiful are open.” He then added, “Sometimes buildings are better.” This is beyond parody. But it is frightening.
The piece below was written in the spring of 2009 as part of the Remembering Rodborough project, when we went out with Walking the Land, looking at old maps and pictures as we ambled along. The second line has a reference to an old pub and bakery that used to exist – the buildings still do. The second verse refers to the old field names that used to adorn Rodborough Fields. You just know that if the developers move in then someone will think it quaint to name the new streets after the old field names.That is beyond parody. But it is frightening.

Psycho-Geography: A Walk around Rodborough Fields

There we were, a baker's dozen, at Butterow West,
Just by the Princess Royal and Gardiner's Bakery,
(Opposite the Pavilion, don't you know)
Sketching, chatting, filming and reminiscing,
Looking at old maps and photographs,
Listening to recorded voices, oral histories,
Telling us how it used to be -
Tales of the allotments and the parrot
Calling the men up the hill to the pub,
When Sunday noon meant time to down tools.

Then on to Rodborough Fields' long dead elm trees,
Recreating the patchwork quilt of fields of 1838:
Rack Hill, Thresher, Bacon Slad,
Spout Leaze, Lower Orchard, Upper Bacon Slad,
Calves Close, Sheep Furlong, Little Chapel Hill,
Freeze Land, The Park, The Island, Cobswell,
Side Long Piece, Fir Tree Ground, Wheatlands,
Cobbs Acre, Great Fromate, Spillman,
Well Croft, Birds Lagget, Home Ground, Broad Close,
The Mead, Old Well Close, Kitchen Close,
Barn Close,Dye House Mead,
Sweetmead, New Leaze.

We then ambled through Victoria's reign,
To stand on the bank above Capel Mill,
We saw an Edwardian lady gaze at the waters,
Hands clutching the rustic fencing
That ran all along the bridge,
In a picture postcard pose and scene,
More seaside than Stroud,
Like the puff from 1902,
Selling land for building in Coronation Road,
"Near the GWR and Midland Railways",
And the well known "health resort" of Rodborough Common.

We returned to the present and walked along Arundel Drive,
(Cherry trees all in dazzling bloom, front path exotic splendour,
A suburban trope reminding us of our Imperial heritage)
To track the water's trickle of the culverted stream,
(32 feet deep behind Coronation Road,
With 6 springs at the end of Rodborough Avenue)
Moss and lichen growing on the hidden dry stone wall,
Where the water drops down on its way to the Frome,
The stream where our senior citizens used to play,
Swinging in the trees from willow bank to bank,
Their muffled shouts of joy bursting from the depths of time,
Traces of the past escaping from the confines of the present.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Rodborough Fields Under Threat

Rodborough Fields in Space and Time

I like the way the hidden springs gather force,
A wild winter rush down the meadow side,
The wind singing in the saplings’ rigging
On the water’s voyage to the treasured Frome,
Thence on to the Severn and the ocean.

One glance is enough to enhance our lives,
And to make us feel a part of it all,
Both spiritually and globally,
Impossible thoughts with pipes and culverts:
Diminished lives.

I like the way the path of a low winter sun
Highlights the shadow of ridge and furrow,
A medieval landscape’s palimpsest;
I can see the ghost of Piers Plowman,
His footprints fresh in the frosted fields.

One glance is enough to enhance our lives,
And to make us feel a part of it all,
Spiritually and historically,
Impossible thoughts with bricks and mortar:
Diminished lives.

So why not build homes on brownfield sites,
So that these new families will also
Be able to feel a part of it all,
Walking the fields with undiminished lives,
Not listening to the car radio,
Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi”:
“Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone,
They paved Paradise and put up a parking lot.”

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Remembrance Day Walks

Now let’s have a look at some other Remembrance walks and pilgrimages that we could make. I think an amble to a local church is a good idea – apart from a war memorial, one often discovers Commonwealth War Graves and also Great War family graves and tombstones. These family memorials, in some ways, are even more melancholic and mournful than the official Commonwealth War Graves. They seem to catch the mossy, dripping, atmosphere of Remembrance-Tide and the shared despair of the final line of Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth - “And each slow dusk the drawing down of blinds.”
 I visit Rodborough Church Yard: there are a number of Commonwealth War Graves scattered about but the family tombstones and memorials are in the higher part of the churchyard. It was a dismal, dank, October day when I visited and I had trouble deciphering the words on the Apperly memorial. I’ll do that next time I visit.
When you wander through the churchyard, you will see family memorials and tombstones with commemorations for : William Henry Stephen Winn, Killed in Action, 1917, aged 24; Lance Corporal F. Critchley Cordwell, killed Ypres, 1917, interred at Dickebusch Military Cemetery – “Into the field of battle He bravely took his place And fought and died for England And the honour of his race.”; Samuel Huntley Powell, killed in action, France, aged 25, March 25th 1918, Pro Patria Mori; Alfred H. (Eddie) Spencer, killed in France, December 1917, aged 20; Private William R. Carter, August 22nd 1917, aged 33; the broken cross for  the Bennett  family commemorates Captain Theodore John Bennett, Indian Army, “who fell in Palestine”, September 7th 1918 (the base of the cross has the famous Rupert Brooke lines: “If I should die, think only this of me: That there’s some corner of a foreign field That is for ever England”) and Harold Stanley Bennett 2nd Lieutenant RCA “called to rest” April 25th 1915.
The war graves themselves, of course, do not express family heart-felt loss, but they still a tale that stirs the reader’s heart.  You will find the following names and implicit stories: Private RMLI HC Nicholls, Royal Naval Division, 15th October 1918; Private L Phipps, Gloucestershire Regiment, 26th January 1916; Private WL Allen, Gloucestershire Regiment, 23rd December 1917, aged 21; Private W Stevens, Gloucestershire Regimen, 26th December 1918, age 23; Private R Bick, Gloucestershire Regiment, 7th April 1915; FA Bartlett, Chief Petty Officer, RN, HMS “Vernon”, 28th August, aged 49. After making a few notes, I entered the Church and bought a jar of marmalade for Church funds; I then studied the memorial tablets for WW1 and WW2, placed on opposite walls. Rodborough  Church and Churchyard is well worth a visit.
If you want to make a pilgrimage, rather than take a walk, however, then let’s go to Framilode and also to Brimscombe, in the footsteps of Ivor Gurney. The more obviously atmospheric trip is down by the river, but the trip to Brimscombe might be a more demanding one for any empathetic reconstruction, and therefore equally enriching. We’ll start with the river, however: the Severn Way is an obvious pilgrimage-route; you can park by St. Peter’s Church, Upper Framilode, but before heading downstream, walk back to find the lock-keeper’s cottage ( Lock House, near where the Stroudwater Canal and the River Severn clasped hands). This is where Gurney kept his boat and where he and Will Harvey enjoyed so many happy hours. Now walk until you find a good vantage point for gazing downstream, so as to lose your mind, as it were, in the view and river-scape. (“When I saw Framilode first she was a blowy Severn tidy place under azure sky…Adventure stirring the blood like thunder, With the never forgotten soft beauty of the Frome, One evening when elver-lights made the river like a stall-road to see”.)
Will went missing on a reconnaissance mission in no man’s land in 1916, and a distraught Gurney, thinking his boyhood friend dead (he was, in fact, captured), wrote “To His Love” ( Harvey had become engaged to a nurse, Sarah Ann Kane). It might be right to declaim this whilst staring downstream.
“He’s gone, and all our plans Are useless indeed, We’ll walk no more on Cotswold Where the sheep feed Quietly and take no heed.     His body that was so quick Is not as you Knew it, on Severn river  Under the blue  Driving our small boat through.    You would not know him now…  But still he died  Nobly, so cover him  With violets of pride  Purple from Severn side.  Cover him, cover him soon!  And with thick-set Masses of memoried flowers - Hide that red wet Thing I must somehow forget.”
If you buy or borrow a copy of Eleanor M. Rawling’s book “Ivor Gurney’s Gloucestershire Exploring Poetry and Place”, then you can follow this walk in much more detail. She comments: “Walking the Severn Way, at the present time, along this very stretch of river, it is possible to experience the sights and sounds of the river very much as it was in the early twentieth century, and to imagine the white sail of the little boat and the glorious feeling of freedom this must have given Gurney.” Standing at The Pridings, you could recite a few lines from “Near Midsummer”:
“Severn’s most fair today! See what a tide of blue She pours, and flecked away With gold, and what a crew Of seagulls snowy white Float around her to delight Villagers, travellers, A brown thick flood is hers In winter…Low meadows flooding deep With torrents from the steep…Blue June has altered all – The river makes its fall With murmurous still sound, Past Priding’s faery ground, And steep-down Newham cliff…”
Then when you return, perhaps the following might be appropriate, from “On Somme”, linking as it does, the Severn with the Somme:
“Suddenly into the still air burst thudding
And thudding and cold fear possessed me all,
On the grey slopes there, where Winter in sullen brooding
Hung between height and depth of the ugly fall
Of Heaven to earth; and the thudding was illness own.
But still a hope I kept that were we there going over
I, in the line, I should not fail, but take recover
From others courage, and not as coward be known.
No flame we saw, the noise and the dread alone
Was battle to us; men were enduring there such
And such things, in wire tangled, to shatters blown.
Courage kept, but ready to vanish at first touch.
Fear, but just held. Poets were luckier once
In the hot fray swallowed and some magnificence.”
A hard act to follow, but we will, with a nocturnal stroll on the spring line above Brimscombe. Choose a clear, starry night and feel the presence of Ivor Gurney , for he made a similar night-walk , pausing to take in Brimscombe.
“One lucky hour in middle of my tiredness
I came under the pines of the sheer steep
And saw the stars like steady candles gleam
Above and through; Brimscombe wrapped (past life) in sleep!
Such body weariness and ugliness
Had gone before, such tiredness to come on me —
This perfect moment had such pure clemency
That it my memory has all coloured since,
Forgetting the blackness and pain so driven hence.
And the naked uplands even from bramble free.
That ringed-in hour of pines, stars, and dark eminence.
(The thing we looked for in our fear of France).”
Another pilgrimage one might make to link the Great War and Gloucestershire lies beyond the Five Valleys but is do-able by public transport. I used the train to Gloucester and the bus to and back from Dymock for some Edward Thomas reverie. I went in late October and the water table was quite high in the red clay fields near the River Leadon; the Poets’ Path I took - number 2 of 2 Poets’ Paths; there is also a Daffodil Way walk too - was well marked but ran into impenetrable stinging nettles when skirting a field of sweet corn. I know that Rodborough Tabernacle members used to bike out to Dymock for the daffodils at Easter donkey’s years ago, and I think that Easter might be the best time to visit Dymock – especially as Edward Thomas was killed at Arras on Easter Monday 1917. By the way, there is a little bit of old England in St. Mary’s Church, right by the ‘bus stop and the Beauchamp Arms, with a beautiful display about the Georgian Poets; don’t miss that.
I trudged through the quagmire for an hour or two (the Paths are 10 miles and 8 miles long), but the weather was unprepossessing and so I returned to the church when confronted by the nettles. Mist shrouded the Malverns and May Hill: the sun-dial at the church denoted no time, the aspens were still and the smithy long silent. Even so, it was impossible to be unreflective and uninspired. It was here, after all, that Thomas moved from prose to poetry and where Robert Frost’s company led Thomas to enlist. He joined up on the day that my mother was born and for that reason I have always felt a bond with him. My mother was named Nancy Mary Lorraine “In honour of our gallant French allies”; she was born on July 14th 1915, Bastille Day.
Edward Thomas’ poem, “For These”, explains his reasons for enlisting:
An acre of land between the shore and the hills,
Upon a ledge that shows my kingdoms three,
The lovely visible earth and sky and sea
Where what the curlew needs not, the farmer tills:

A house that shall love me as I love it,
Well-hedged, and honoured by a few ash trees
That linnets, greenfinches, and goldfinches
Shall often visit and make love in and flit:

A garden I need never go beyond,
Broken but neat, whose sunflowers every one
Are fit to be the sign of the Rising Sun:
A spring, a brook's bend, or at least a pond:

For these I ask not, but, neither too late
Nor yet too early, for what men call content,
And also that something may be sent
To be contented with, I ask of Fate.
I sat down on the bench in front of the church, remembered giving mum a framed copy of the poem for her birthday one year, ate my cheese and chutney sandwich, then penned a few lines on the back of my walking guide. The excellent Friends of the Dymock Poets’ website has these walking guides for free.
Dymock, October 24th, 2012
I drew up there in Dymock,
(On the 132 bus to Ledbury)
The ‘bus stopped,
I coughed and got off,
No-one else did.
I came for Edward Thomas,
And also Robert Frost,
But there are two Poets’ Paths in Dymock,
Diverging in a yellow, autumn wood.
I take the one more travelled,
The one that leads to France,
The one that leads straight
To the last lines of a war diary,
“Where any turn may lead to Heaven
Or any corner may hide Hell
Roads shining like river up hill after rain.”

W.H. Davies, later to live at Nailsworth, and earlier befriended by Thomas, wrote an elegy for him. Here is the last stanza:
“But thou, my friend, art lying dead,
War: with its hell-born childishness
Has claimed thy life, with many more:
The man that loved this England well
And never left it once before.”

The last walk I made during Remembrance-Tide was along Tinkley Lane, from Forest Green to Nympsfield. The road can be busy at times; it is also muddy, puddle-pockmarked and narrow. The views are wonderful, however. At times, it feels as though one is in the Yorkshire Wolds: high up in big sky country, but with the Severn to the west, and the Downs above Swindon, on the Wiltshire-Berkshire border, to the east. Forest Green were at home on the day I chose; it was quite busy when I returned from Nympsfield. Green Union Jacks, a band playing, a football ground along a street named “Another Way” – I’ll have to go sometime. The ‘bus to Stroud (46/93) runs every thirty minutes, but, to be honest, it’s not really a walk I would recommend. Whereas “Another Way” might be an example of nominative determinism, Tinkley Lane is lane in name only. Busy Thoroughfare might be a better description. Why not get the number 35 that runs Monday to Friday and goes to Nympsfield?
The war memorial has a plaque with an inscription that reveals why it is worth visiting: see below. After making my notes, I had lemonade in the Rose and Crown, a walk around the Roman Catholic Church, and then wandered over to the village football pitch for a think. Whilst pondering, the local team arrived to change and run out for a kick-about before the start of the match. This coincidence of time and space serendipitously and subsequently determined my writing.
The war memorial stands at the cross-roads, right by the road-side, and is attached to the old chapel house. The plaque stands below Christ on a crucifix, with an octagonal base and the names of the fallen. It states:
Haiku for Nympsfield War Memorial
As I write these lines,
The young men of the village
Arrive for the match.

Nympsfield village,
Catholic sanctuary,
High-up on the wolds.

And at the cross-roads,
A sentinel-crucifix
Honouring the dead.

This cross, once shattered,
Lying in some forlorn hope,
Out in No Man’s Land.

Brought here from the Somme,
Repaired and resurrected,
Life and Death conjoined.

Last gasp on a fag,
Then it’s out over the top,
Ref blows the whistle.

The laughter of youth,
Innocent carefree minutes –
Who would think of war?

Just as once before,
Those memorialised names
Played, too, in the sun.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Radical Remembrance Walks

The Guardian used the phrase “cultural tyranny” recently to describe the atmosphere surrounding media expectations about the wearing of poppies. The editorial wondered if a poppy week might be a way of concentrating minds and hearts. We all recognise that attitudes vary towards the poppy in the buttonhole: I wear one to remember my dad and grand-dad; some wear them in recognition of current conflicts; some do not wish to wear one and some wear a white poppy. It is easy to forget that the renewed intensity surrounding Remembrance is of recent provenance.
Whatever our motivations, I am sure we are all united in our despair at the carnage of WW1. How can we forget Harry Patch describing war as “legalised murder”? So in that spirit, I include the final line of Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth, “And each slow dusk the drawing down of blinds”, for our own mobilisation and entrance to the front line. This image seems to capture the heart break of war; the atmosphere of a dismal November afternoon; the empty evenings and empty spaces; even the foreshadowing of the arrival of the telegram announcing the news of Owen’s own death, on Armistice Day.
So with thanks to Chas Townley for his book “Lest Ye Forget” and with thanks to  Eleanor M. Rawling for her “Ivor Gurney’s Gloucestershire Exploring Poetry and Place”, both of which I heartily recommend, I will try to suggest some walks and/or pilgrimages to suit all tastes this and every Remembrance-tide. The first thing to say that there are a lot of moving war memorials in the area – no wonder; for here are the numbers of dead listed in Chas’ book, taken from the pages of “The Stroud District and its part in The Great War, 1914-1919”, published by The Stroud News, in the aftermath of the ending of that conflict.
(This is from a quick count – I may have made inadvertent mistakes.)
WHITESHILL: 36  WOODCHESTER: 25. So, it would be easy to arrange walks, bike rides and pilgrimages to these memorials: a moving and memorable thing to do.
There are other places to visit too - Chas writes, in his introduction, that “More or less every Gloucestershire village and town is marked by war memorials listing the fallen and it is easy to forget the many more practical projects undertaken to remember their sacrifice.” Here are these “practical projects” that one could visit:  the 1919 extension to Stroud Hospital, the “Peace Memorial Wing”; “Victory Park” at Cainscross;  “for the wealthy a public park, as at Park Gardens in Stroud”, says Chas and “ For the less well off, perhaps a bench or donation”.
Betty Merrett wrote of the “Parks and Gardens of Stroud” in the Stroud Local History Society’s Millennium Booklet: “Park Gardens was another gift to the town. Sidney Park was a local businessman and councillor. Parks Drapery prominently occupied the corner of King Street and George Street where the HSBC bank now stands. The family lived in a flat over the shop.
Their only son, Herbert, was killed in France in 1917 in WW1 aged 23, and in 1920 Councillor Park gave a tract of land off Slad Road as a garden memorial to his son and all who fell during the 1914-18 war. The town’s cenotaph stands in the garden.”
Now I return to Chas and his section on Oakridge: “Oakridge’s war memorial was a water supply and drinking fountain – a reminder that in the villages we did not have mains water for many years to come.” He also mentions the font at Minchinhampton church; the Eagle Lectern at Leonard Stanley church; the Wayside Cross at Woodchester Priory and, tells us a great deal more about the Oakridge War Memorial. This is worth knowing. It could mean a pilgrimage.
The Oakridge site commemorates the only woman to be named on a memorial in the area: Mabel Dearmer. She went to serve in Serbia as a hospital orderly; she died within three months from enteric fever, but left these comment for posterity:  “This war will not bring peace – no war will bring peace – only love and mercy and terrific virtues such as loving one’s enemy can bring a terrific thing like peace.” Her editor reflected on the tragedy of her end in a similar vein: “It is easy to go into danger when convinced that your country’s cause is righteous; she thought that for all countries war was unrighteous, yet she went.”
Her husband served as a chaplain with the Red Cross; one son died at Gallipoli; one son survived the war. The Oakridge Memorial - a practical commemoration – brought the village a water supply from a nearby spring. These are the words on the Dearmer Inscription plate at Oakridge:
“In memory of MABEL DEARMER
who went from Oakridge the place she loved best
to give help in Serbia where she died of fever
at Kragujevatz on July 11th aged 43, and of
Who died of wounds at Suvla Bay in Gallipoli
On October 6th 1915 aged 21
Proud of the war all glorious went the son.
Loathing the war all mournful went the mother.
Each had the same wage when the day was done.
Tell me was either braver than the other.

They slept in mire who went so comely ever
Then when you wash let the thought of them abide.
They knew the parching thirst of wounds and fever.
Here when you drink remember them who died.
Chas writes: “In a town that is divided by values and visions of war and peace;
where the wearing of a poppy (for some red for some white) is seen by some 
not as an act of  Charity and Love but as acts of personal controversy,
 something needs to be done to build bridges…Couldn’t we all at least unite at
 Percy Dearmer’s  Water Fountain to remember those  who laid down 
 their lives  in our service?”
E. Blackwell  M. Blackwell  A. Curtis  W.M. Curtis  A. Fern  W. Fern  P. Gardiner  S. Gardiner 
P. Hill W. Hunt  W.G. Hunt  R.T. Gardiner  A. Robbins A. Rowles  A. Smith  T. White  H. White
A. Young E. Young  F. Young  E. Weare
George Edward Ivor Fry PTE. RAMC
James Frederick Fry SGT. NAV. RAF
Albert Hunt PTE. RAOC
Stanley Henry Morgan GNR. R.A.
R.C.Baker Stallard-Penoyre LT. R.N. (A)
Arthur Phipps GNR. R.A.
James Edward Young PTE. R. NORF. REG.

                                      A Remembrance Walk to Oakridge and back to Stroud October 17th 2012

I caught the number 54 Cotswold Green bus,
On a russet-warm, apple-autumn day,
To Frampton Mansell Church,
In the 1920s footsteps of my dad,
Who lived here in a Great War Nissan hut;
His de-mob dad, seeking work,
 My dad, playing conkers on his way to school,
Or watching the trains on the viaduct,
Just as I do today in his memory.

I walked on down past the giant retaining wall,
Under the railway and across the canal,
To climb the hill past streams, brooks, rills and springs,
To reach Oakridge Lynch War Memorial:
There are so many corners of foreign fields,
That are for ever England,
In word, dust, deed, blood, ash and bone,
But here, on Oakridge village green,
Is a cruciform water- trough,
Fed by a spring that is for ever England,
That roams through wild flowers,
Breathing English air,
Bless’d by the sun on its way to the Severn,
A heart of peace, under an English heaven,
Giving back thoughts of England given.

I read the inscriptions and then sat back on the green,
Chatting to a woman gathering flowers,
Who told me that during the Tewkesbury floods,
When piped water became polluted,
Oakridge village used the springs once more;
Another woman told me of the war graves in the churchyard,
Recently and lovingly cleaned and pristine-restored;
She pointed out my footpath to Eastcombe:
“Go past the old toll house.”

I walked past more springs,
Then the site of a Roman villa,
Then more springs and some tumuli,
Before rain made me dispense with map and specs,
To follow my nose and ask for directions instead:
“Aim for the waterfall”,
“Contour Mackhouse woods and aim south for Stroud”.

I walked past black-spot sycamore leaves,
Blood-red rowan and spiked-steel hawthorn,
Thunder crackling above like guns across the Channel,
Hailstones ricocheting like shrapnel;
My path was blocked by fallen trees,
Prickled barbed wire stars of holly,
Puddles like forlorn foxholes,
And a succession of map-marked Spouts,
Until I left No-Man’s Land.

I ambled along spring-line Thrupp Lane,
Then down the canal to the Lock-Keeper’s,
Where on an opposite wall,
A new piece of graffiti has appeared,
A Banksy-like badger’s face,
With a bullet in its blood-red eye.
“Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.”

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Walking the Landscape and Mapping Springs

Well, we all need Wikipedia, sometimes, I suppose, when we move out of our comfort zones, as I do today when I begin to muse upon our spring-quest and its depiction by map. The font of all knowledge says that “A map is a visual representation of an area—a symbolic depiction highlighting relationships between elements of that space such as objects, regions, and themes. Many maps are static two-dimensional, geometrically accurate,” or almost accurate, “representations of three-dimensional space, while others are dynamic or interactive, even three-dimensional.” The article then goes on to speak of scale, ratio, projection etc. and the usual distinction between “political” and “physical” maps.
Why did I look this up today, the 29th August 2012? Well, partly because it’s pouring down again and I can’t face getting soaked again, but also because of a splendid article in the Guardian which touches upon our spring-quest. Oliver Burkeman wrote about Google Earth - “inspired by zooming satellite images in TV war reports” - and how Google continually adds new data to its maps (“in June it was 2,000 miles of canal towpaths…in July it was bike lanes”). This constant process could, of course, add data from the movement of individuals…No wonder “cartographic historian”, Jerry Brotton  thinks that the switch to digital mapping is an even “more profound change” than the Renaissance manuscript to print revolution.
Now, seemingly surreal invention is at one’s fingertips: Alice in Wonderland one to one scale is possible, as are cartographic mash-ups, as is the seeming impossibility of getting lost. One of the most ubiquitous sights of recent years is the traveller consulting a smartphone and resolutely, if mutely, going on their way. No more “Excuse me. I’m lost. Could you help me find…” Burkeman points out, however, that “In a world of GPS-enabled smartphones” whilst you are consulting a map, Google and Apple are mapping you. Martin Dodge from Manchester University says that products that might appear to be “innocent and neutral” are actually “vacuuming up all sorts of behavioural and attitudinal data.”
The article concludes with cartography curator, Lucy Fellowes’ famous statement that “Every map is someone’s way of getting you to look at the world his or her way” and the implications of viewing the world through the lens of Californian capitalism rather than through Alice’s Looking Glass: a world of mercenary, Gradgrindian logic, no matter how cool the employees dress. So this is where we come in with the spring-quest.
Our map making will reclaim Lewis Carroll from Google and we will walk hand in hand with History, Philosophy, Geology, Literature, Logic, Mythology and Pyschogeography. We may not go down the rabbit-hole but we will certainly peer into the depths of our springs and map the genius loci of Stroud and the Five Valleys. Our maps will be collaborative, shared and Blakean in their envisioning of the fusion of Space and Time, past, present and future. Who knows? We might even meet the Green Man. And s/he might even tell us how to name unnamed springs and so change Google Earth. As the Paris Situationists used to say: “Underneath the pavements, the beach!”

Thursday, 4 October 2012

The Genius Loci of Stroud: Springs

If you are looking for the genius loci of Stroud, it has to involve water, and as water moves and flows in a constant reinvention of itself, it is a fitting initial symbol of Stroud and the Valleys. To understand the effect of water around us, locally, we have to have some basic understanding of our local geology: we can slice open our scarp to reveal the layers of rock and time, stretching from the heights of Minchinhampton down to the River Severn. I thank the Stroud Museum for giving me this sort of Ladybird understanding, with their excellent displays; I have had minimal interest in or understanding of geology before, but I do recommend a visit to Stroud Museum, if you are geologically illiterate, like me.
So, what did I discover? Well, on the top, we have Great OoLitic Limestone; dropping down to Rodborough, we find Fullers Earth Clay; then we drop down to Lower Inferior Oolite Limestone; then Cotswold Sands; then Upper Lias Clays (we are now at Stinchcombe, King’s Stanley and Wotton under Edge); we then get to the Maristone Platform and the Severn and Lower Lias Clays.
The springs that occur where limestone meets clay attracted early settlement, with wells subsequently dug away from the spring-line. This combination of rocks and clays has produced the history that will later follow, after our spring-line wander lust, in other ways too. The steep valleys caused by erosion have produced the fast flowing streams and the consequent cloth trade, with their quaint hill-climbing patterns of settlement. It is true to say, therefore, that our first search for our genius loci should involve some walking or cycling around the spring-line, writing and photographing the springs as we go. As Robert Macfarlane said in “The Old Ways, A Journey on Foot”, “This book could not have been written by sitting still. The relationship between paths, walking and the imagination is its subject, and much of its thinking was therefore done - was only possible – while on foot.” It will be the same for us – although we might well bike as well as walk, but just like Macfarlane, we might well have Edward Thomas and Flann O’Brien as company too.
Or, just like Rob Young, in “Electric Eden”, we might hear Caliban reminding us to
“Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometimes voices,
That, if I then had wak’d after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that, when I wak’d,
I cried to dream again.”
It would be good to declaim this by a spring’s harmonies when out walking, and then cup spring water in one’s hands, reminding ourselves, like Rob Young, of Blake, once more:
“Hold infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour.”
And if the walk to a spring, once named or featured on an OS map reveals nothing of its issue, then we could speak two lines from John Clare:
“There once were springs, where daisies’ silver studs
Like sheets of snow on every pasture spread;”

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Pyschogeography: Part2

So, let us follow further the ideas of Mr. Coverley, as in his lower-case entitled and unpunctuated “the art of wandering the writer as walker”. Here, Merlin Coverley invokes the spirit of an equally magically named savant, anthropologist Tim Ingold, “who has outlined in some detail his belief that such fundamental activities as walking, writing, reading, and drawing” will, in Ingold’s words now, leave “ a path through a terrain…a trace, at once in the imagination and on the ground.” This, he calls “wayfaring”, and the process of reading a book and  reading a landscape through walking are the same: “To walk is to journey in the mind as much as on the land: it is a deeply meditative practice. And to read is to journey on the page as much as in the mind.”
So, we are almost ready to go wayfaring through space and time, but before we depart for the springs around Stroud, we have another port of call: William Blake. Coverley writes of Blake: “Here, then, we find all the features ascribed to pyschogeography today: the mental traveller who remakes the city in accordance with his own imagination is allied to the urban wanderer who drifts through the city streets; the political radicalism that seeks to overthrow the established order of the day is tempered by an awareness of the city as eternal and unchanging; and the use of antiquarian and occult symbolism reflects the precedence given to the subjective and anti-rational over more systemic modes of thought.”
This way of thinking (in a sense, the simultaneity of linear and lateral thought) has had a permanent influence upon me, ever since I had a time-shift moment at the Tower of London when I was 9 – way before I knew the term, “pyschogeography”.We’ve all had these moments, even if we don’t see angels in the trees in Peckham Rye, but I finish with four famous lines from Blake about the River Thames (even more poignant and relevant in 2012 with some economists describing water as “natural capital”) and an aside from me about our local waters. There then follows a piece from Tim Wright at  as an inspiration to us all to get walking and recording. It is not a conclusion; it is an introduction.

“I wander thro’ each charter’d street,
Near where the charter’d Thames does flow.
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.”

The Mill Race
When you sit by the mute, still, mill race,
With swallows swooping low over a surface
Like glass, it’s easy to miss the water’s whispers.
I don’t mean the oozing and splashes,
The swish of the fish or the wind in the rushes,
I mean the tales of long ago when weir
And sluice meant a spuming spate of power,
A circuit of cog, belt, loom and jenny,
A revolution of the water wheels,
A pandemonium of 5 valley hammer-noise.

I laughed then in the face of precocious steam,
Bade weavers leave their homes to come to me,
Sprung cycles of boom and workhouse bust
To make any modern credit crunch seem very small beer,
Told workmen to form combinations,
Threw masters in the cut and felt the red coats’
Horses’ hooves pound the ground with General Wolfe,
Forced spinners to emigrate to New South Wales
Or lodge in hulks on their way to Botany Bay,
Saw coal black gold shift on cut and iron railway,
Fought a losing battle with boiler, chimney, steam,
Felt weed-dank choke my wooden-wheels,
Then knew my time was past.

So shed a mournful tear and took my vow of silence.

“Standing at the top of the Monument with the Bells of London ringing out, I had something of a Revelation. I am BlakeWalking to Escape. By refusing to Record the Obvious, by Publishing on the Hoof and Concentrating on Seemingly Aimless Conversation rather than Actual Output, by Consorting with Fellow BlakeWalkers, others who Refuse to Conform to the Usual Views & Routes, I can hope to Transcend; and perhaps Create a True Work of Personal Genius; rather than of General Commodity. Something closer to what might be described as a Vision! If you would like to Walk and Talk and Create, please Make Contact so we can continue to Evolve our Shared Ideas and develop Continuous Creative BlakeWorks.”

Friday, 31 August 2012

Psychogeography: Part1

So what is psychogeography? I first came across the term when reading Ian Sinclair some years ago, but the Writing Britain exhibition at the British Library gave the term some further temporal contextualisation, in terms of British traditions of landscape writing, rural as well as urban. (Try to have a look at “Writing Britain, Wastelands to Wonderlands” by Christina Hardyment, published by the British Library.) Two books by Merlin Coverley were especially helpful in this regard and I would heartily recommend “The Art of Wandering, The Writer as Walker” and “Psychogeography” to anyone. Indeed, the following synopsis owes a lot to Mr. Coverley: so, once more, what is pyschogeography?
The school of thought and activity is usually associated with the Paris Situationists, or the 19th century flaneur, or Thomas de Quincey, Ian Sinclair, J.G.Ballard, Will Self, Peter Ackroyd, Robert Macfarlane, Stewart Home (“avant-bard”), et al. It is a set of ideas that loosely revolve around the proposition that movement through space, through either aimless wandering or purposeful walking, can enable one to re-connect with the past beneath one’s feet. In a sense, time immemorial and time out of mind can become time within mind; time can be experienced as synchronic rather than diachronic.
Guy Debord defined pyschogeography as “The study of the specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals.” It is a practice that is usually associated with cityscapes, but Merlin Coverley’s approach can be conveniently and completely applied to the tone, intention, practice and vibe of our Stroud research. Coverley's comments in his 2010 book, “…the predominant characteristics of pyschogeographical ideas – urban wandering, the imaginative reworking of the city, the otherworldly sense of spirit of place, the unexpected insights and juxtapositions created by aimless drifting, the new ways of experiencing familiar surroundings…” are  what our projects will be all about, all be it, in and around a mill town in the Cotswolds.

Friday, 17 August 2012

What do we mean by "Radical History"?

My second posting on this blog will clarify what I mean by radical history. I use the term to describe both the content and the form of the story we intend to tell about our area’s past. The content will focus upon places in our local landscape that have a radical history, in a sort of upside down view of “Heritage”. Christopher Hill wrote of a world turned upside down; that is how we intend to write of our heritage. Places and stories that are often forgotten or ignored will be brought back to life; conventional narratives and explanations will be questioned. I remember the excitement of reading E.P. Thompson’s "Making of the English Working Class” on my 21st birthday and have never forgotten his wish that the lives of ordinary people should be rescued from “the enormous condescension of posterity.” That’s what we will be doing in terms of places, people and posterity.
I will now address what I mean by a radical approach: this has a number of varying meanings. One meaning is in terms of collaboration: the history that is written will be produced by a group of people in a number of different ways, using different media, rather than by anyone “voyaging alone on strange seas of thought”. Secondly, our approach will go beyond the usual analysis of primary and secondary historical sources; we shall also use imagination, together with artistic and literary responses to both the past and the landscape. We shall boldly go beyond the sources of evidence, as well as the split infinitive, with lateral as well as linear thought – we shall be both Newtonian as well as Keatsian historians. There will be, in short, a rewriting of historical protocol.
 This leads to our third emphasis: pyschogeography. I know that many of you will be thoroughly acquainted with this concept. I also know that many, at best, will think it a questionable notion. I am also aware that many will not have the slightest idea what this term implies. If it’s any consolation, I think I am probably in all three camps most or all of the time. But this confusion may give me an advantage in explaining this term for what teachers used to describe as “a mixed-ability audience”; this is what I/we will do on the next posting; we will define “pyschogeography” at some length and with some easily comprehensible detail. The posting after that synopsis will start to apply such a psychogeographical approach to our first choice of study: the whereabouts and meanings of our local springs.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Discovering Historic Stroud Together

I started writing A Guide to the Radical History of Stroud and the Five Valleys a year ago, with a narrative history occasionally touched by a comedic Mark Steele/ Mark Thomas style of analysis. After a year, I have reached the mid-nineteenth century, in terms of content, with a definite feeling that my style and approach are about to change. A visit to the Writing Britain exhibition at the British Library has made me think more widely about the relationship between landscape, literature, the writing of history and pyschogeography. It has also made me think more deeply about the collaborative use of different media in the presentation of my findings - as opposed to the lonely writer in the garret trope. Hence this blog, as a first step, as a first step towards discovering, perpetuating and developing the genius loci of Stroud and the Five Valleys. The story is too important for humour: serious history and literature might be needed; as will a group-effort. A lot of people who move into Stroud are fascinated by its radicalism and wonder whence it came; let us hope that we can all, locals and newcomers alike, answer the question, “What is the peculiar genius loci of Stroud and its associated valleys?”