Tag Archives: landscape

Chasing Rainbows

It’s a very ordinary, grey, wet day out there now. Your typical English winter, cold, soggy and a bit visually bland. There’s nothing to show for what happened this morning. On the walk to school, with the sun low in the sky, the light was brilliant and intense against the dark clouds. Much of the sky was a deep blue at dawn, with russets along the cloud edges and intense light bringing a rare depth of colour to every surface. Fields, and stone all illuminated.

Then the rain came, painting a whole and perfect rainbow across the sky. I could see where it came down into trees, and it really looked as if it touched the ground there. Part of me wanted to go and see, despite knowing that we wouldn’t find anything. When I was a child, I used to go out with my grandmother, searching for the end of the rainbow and the pot of gold reputedly waiting there. All the land was golden this morning.

On the playground, children spotted the rainbow, pointed, gaped and marvelled. It wasn’t your regular, hazy suggestion of a rainbow either. This was rich colour, streaked across the sky. It was the kind of rainbow children draw.

Walking home, the golden light felt too intense to be real. We were no longer in winter, but it didn’t feel like any other season either. As though for a few moments the realm of faerie had layered itself over our familiar landscape. As though we walked somewhere mythic. I felt lighter than I have in a long time, safe and enchanted, magically protected and overwhelmingly well and good. These are not things I spend most of my time feeling. There was a beautiful irrationality to it all.

Now we have a very ordinary sort of rain shower, slow, persistent and free from drama. Proper English weather. It’s a mournful day, the kind of colours that breed apathy and weariness. But I am still carrying the rainbow and the light inside me. The colours haven’t entirely dimmed yet. For a little while this morning, something happened that was mystical beyond any hope of description, and I was blessed enough to be there.

Settings and Landscape

Although I don’t always make settings explicit in my stories, I always have somewhere in mind – usually a place I’ve spent time in. I think this is one of the ways in which my druidry manifests in my writing – land matters to me. Every place has its own character, and that does affect my writing and the kinds of stories I tell.

Being back in Gloucestershire and seeing the landscapes I’d written from memory, is an odd sort of process. I suspect being here will mean I’m more likely to write about the Worcestershire landscape instead. The distance helps, I find. I can’t write what’s directly around me, it gets too personal and I become bogged down in the details.

Of my stories, the following have Gloucestershire settings – Hunting The Egret is set along the banks of the River Severn, and Dreams Come True is set in Gloucester. (I didn’t make that apparent in the book, but cover artist Dalia tuned in somehow, and picked a picture of Gloucester cathedral!) My cross dressing m/m tale Sweet Illusions owes a lot to time spent with a boyfriend on a farm in Coaley, a long time ago. Teacher’s Pet was based on another village round here, although I made a lot of stuff up for that one. There is no way, living in the area, that I’d feel comfortable about writing any of that now. Being at a distance also means not having to worry about what the neighbours think, and whether they fear I’ve written about them! That set of stories are all at www.loveyoudivine.com

The bigger peculiarity on this score is the comic. The imagery underpinning Hopeless is a mixture of Maine and the Cotswolds. Tom has drawn on personal experience for the Maine architecture and landscapes, but where he’s been looking for other elements, I’ve sent him images from the part of the world I grew up in. I’ve borrowed place names from here – both for places and character names. Frampton, and Arlingham Jones were both named after Gloucestershire villages. Tom hadn’t realised this and was amusingly startled when I suggested I might be going to Frampton (they have a folk club).

There are some odd parallels between the town I grew up in and the island of Hopeless – this is a foggy place too, and when the autumn mists roll in, they can turn the hills into islands. Where the lighthouse ought to be, there is a tower in memory of William Tyndale. Thanks to its geography, Dursley does have a feeling of being cut off from the rest of the world, and that affected my writing too. And now I’m back in the area. It feels just the teensiest little bit weird, seeing things I’ve borrowed, and having them be part of my reality again.

Where will I write about next? No idea, but it almost certainly won’t be from round here!

Blessings of Beauty

I don’t think the most ardent Redditch enthusiast could claim the town is beautiful. It has a lot of trees, and they are very lovely. Some of the parks are nice, and there are views over Worcestershire and Warwickshire that are good. If you walk out into the villages, it is pleasant. The town itself is unremarkable, through to banal, dominated by a rather ugly shopping centre. I spent ten years there, and I can say that it did not feed my soul especially.

The first time I left my Cotswold home and headed into Birmingham (big city just down the road from Redditch, for readers who are further afield) stays with me. Seeing the remnants of heavy industry, the ugly, brutalised urban landscape shocked me. I was just a country girl, used to small, attractive cities like Gloucester. Nothing had prepared me for this. It seemed like hell, I felt soul-scarred by it.

Where we are affects us profoundly. If our environment is ugly, uncared for, degraded etc, then that brings a person down. Grim modern developments, poorly made and badly designed, do not encourage health or happiness. It all comes down to money of course, and those who have it do not seem very inclined to spend it on places that will be lived in, and worked in, by those who do not. Cars dominate too many places, public spaces centre around commerce more often than beauty. Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we let people put cheap functionality before quality of life?

Beauty is a blessing. It nurtures and enriches us, improves mental health, inspires and brings so many benefits. Not everywhere is inherently beautiful, but plenty of places could be more so if more thought went into it.

Right now, I am very fortunate. I’m in a lovely part of the world. There are hills and woods of remarkable beauty. I watched the sun come up last week, touching the trees with a blood red sheen. In the sunset tonight, the hills are glowing golden in the fading light. It is so beautiful I have to remind myself it is also real. I am not dreaming this. The landscape here feeds my soul, works a magic on my heart that I do not know how to explain. There is peace, and healing. At the same time, I am aware that the majority of people are not so lucky. Far too many folk are trapped in places made ugly by human stupidity and cost cutting.

Beauty should not be a perk reserved for the wealthy. It shouldn’t be something you try and tack on at the end. Instead, the idea of beauty should be an integral part of everything we make and do. Functionality and beauty are not incompatible. Nor does beauty need to be prohibitively expensive. I look at the new build out here, where people are bothering to try and make it fit, and its good stuff. So much urban development is samey, unimaginative, ugly. Redditch is terrible for it. The new bus station is a memorable exercise in being visually unappealing, and it is a gloomy, chilly sort of place not ticking boxes for functionality either.

We can do anything well. As individuals and communities, we can go into anything with a bit of style and an eye for what looks good. Or we can make cheap, lumpish messes that grind people down. And really, it’s our choice, and we almost certainly can do something about it. At the very least, we can talk, protest and demand better.

Hills and Ancestors

When I was a child, these hills held me, sheltering my growing self, and nurturing my identity. So much of my paganism started here, learning to love the land, discovering its stories, enchanted by the seasons, and the wildlife. Forest, vale, high blue hill, River Severn, Cotswold, Malvern….

The hills circle this small town, enfolding the space. It’s such a sheltered spot, so distant from the cities. Life is gentler here, people are friendly. I can also see how the place has changed in my absence – there are more houses, but fewer young folk, because you have to be very well off to afford a house here, and young people with new families stand little chance of owning property. The house I am in was built for factory workers, growing up on this road, people weren’t wealthy, but to buy in here costs a fortune now. The world has changed.

Returning, I’m aware of those hills holding me again, the feeling of peace and safety. Which is odd, because for years I had nightmares about being stuck here, unable to remember where home really was. In the last twelve months or so, the dreams of being trapped and needing to run had me back here as a safe haven. And now I am, and it is. A part of my soul belongs to this place, and I feel more complete for being here.

Not all of my ancestors came from this part of the world. My paternal grandmother came from the Forest of Dean across the river, my paternal grandfather from Winchcombe, on the edge of the Cotswolds. My grandmother’s father’s people came originally from Cornwall. But many of my ancestors lived and died in this area, their stories connected to the land itself, their bones resting here. I feel much closer to them for being in this place. I have a sense of belonging, of tribe, that had been missing. Here, my ancestors of blood, bone and tradition are all the same people.

Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Ozz, perhaps I needed to travel in order to know where to come back to. By my late teens, the circle of hills felt too small, and I was hungry to know more of the world. I will travel again, see new places, live in different houses – of that I have no doubt, but I have found something precious here. These are my roots, this is my past, and wherever the future leads, I have that understanding now, of where my heart-home lies.

Stories in the Land

There’s a strong relationship between land and story, or at least, there should be. For one, stories happen somewhere, even long, long ago and far, far away is somewhere. Knowing the stories of a landscape you are in enriches the experience of being there, and knowing the landscape enriches the story. From a bardic perspective, this is definitely something to bear in mind. Crafting stories, exploring place and history, and seeking inspiration should all include a sense of land. Everything happens somewhere.

There are stories that exist purely to explain a feature of the land – often supernatural creation stories for notable features. Silbury hill was made by a man who lugged a bag of shoes there as part of a ruse to keep the devil out of Salisbuy. Some stories are born of place names – making Bromsgrove the grave of the giant Brom. Others focus on a feature – as in the story that sitting and Caedr Idris all night will make you into a poet, or a madman. It’s a way of making sense of the world as we find it.

Some land stories come from actual history – battles, heroic ventures, and events that changed things. Bosworth field and Hastings have their stories, and people visit them because of the history. Sometimes those true tales blur into myth. Tintagel becomes part of the Arthur myth, Joseph of Aremathea gets tied up with Glastonbury. We place stories in the land, and in so doing own the myths for our own part of the country. King Arthur crops up just about everywhere in the UK. By placing a story ‘here’ we make it our own. Local history gives colour to where you live, a sense of connection with the past, a way of relating to ancestors of place.

Some tales grow out of misconceptions. There’s a hill near where I am just now, called ‘Smallpox Hill’ because there was an isolation hospital on it. On the side, you can see several distinctive raised mounds. Local legend has it that these are mass graves for all the people who died. More likely these are the remains of early Norman rabbit warrens. People fit features together to make coherent tales.

We make up stories about what we see – I’ve just shown my son how to interpret some of the hills as a pair of sleeping dragons. We’ve done that other places too, improvising our own myths. Where such things catch on, they become part of the narrative of a place.

Modern writers add to the richness of the stories. Kevan Manwaring’s The Long Woman works with the Long Man of Willmington. Alan Garner’s Weirdstone of Brisingamen works with and adds to older myths. Dr Who has a habit of using iconic UK landmarks as settings, adding in an alien twist, making new legends. There are many more such examples. It’s fun. It adds to the story, helps to draw the audience in.

Some places are richer in stories than others. Folklore can be hunted for. If there’s a shortage, new tales can be made to fill in the gaps. I think, in fact, that new tales should be made. If a land is impoverished, storywise, we ought to create new ones. We can also add in our own stories, taken from our families or our own time in a place. Sharing those tales with others is a sweet thing to do. These days people move round a lot, but it is good to go back, to remember, and to tell the tales.

Telling the stories is an honouring of place, and of ancestors, it connects us with the land and lends extra beauty and resonance to our tales.