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.