I awaken early and go off to eat an early breakfast, planning to get in some quiet writing time before many people are about. Over breakfast I meet Jane, an elder, who tells stories not for money, not as a profession, but because that is what she is called to do, and I learn of the Norfolk Broads when she was a young woman and the young man who fashioned the godlike pendant she wears still around her neck of a handsome young man with a bird, for her from found driftwood. I hear of the time she had there amongst the wild fowl and the peat bogs, and the wonder of the landscape that I have never seen.
I hear too of times in and around the war, when eating chicken was a treat for Christmas Day, and how sharing clothes with friends was and is normal amongst her and her friends, and when the times were such that you had few clothes and you took care of them, valued them, mended and repaired them, and made them last.
I hear of a dream, never realised, of living on a barge at Chelsea, and hear how that was once a very cheap way in which to live, and I smile at the irony, I once visited friends that live on a barge on the Thames, and it was no more a cheap place to live, and I walked through Chelsea on this walk, stopped to eat lunch there, amongst the chic boutiques of the well heeled. It is often the way, that the way of the Bohemian paves the way for the wealthy, that later becomes the dream of everybody else. I watched it happen, before my very eyes, in the little fishing villages of Pipa and Tibau on the north east coast of Brazil where I once lived, watched the fishing colonies turn into hippy idylls into rich men’s playgrounds to seeing the charter flights of the package holiday maker pour tourists into the once quiet streets where barefoot children once played safely on the sandy streets.
How does this happen, I ask myself. And the answer comes; it happens when those that worship comfort arrive. Those that see the magic but will not live it in authenticity, seeing that living close to nature involves acceptance of how things are, rain or shine; they come and bring their comfort, the things that having more than everyone else bring, and soon the idyll is destroyed. We have been taught to worship comfort, the thick heavy blanket that shields us from truth, that shields us from our own self, little realising that the layer of comfort will never bring us what we seek, we cannot shelter from the truth about our nature forever, and the sad consequence of this action of defence, is the destruction of all that is beautiful about our earth. When we can love our own nature, then we can love nature without destroying it.
The sun shine streams down on us as we talk and I reluctantly head indoors to the darkened Cerediwin’s kitchen cafe yurt to write my memories of this stay at Embercombe to the tune of the kitchen staff singing along to their music
“Love gets sweeter every day” they sing, together, happily.
When I re emerge some two hours later the sun is still blazing and I meet Jessie, the young man of the quirky hat from yesterday’s tales, without the quirky hat but with the same big grin upon his face. We talk and he tells me how the tale of the old people going out into the streets inspired him and I talk about how wonderful it would be if from that first reaching out across the generations a new movement developed and young people began to seek out the old too, to hear their stories, and he is inspired, and races off to talk to Jane again, he met her last year, at the storytelling festival, and would hear her again
“…before it’s too late”
And he wonders about old people who are lonely and live alone and how it would be if he and others could go and seek them out and I feel a lump in my throat and tears well, that love would out, as it always will, when given hope and a helping hand, and my sprit dances at the thought of the young people seeking out the old and lonely in their places, just as the old have begun to seek out our young, in their places, in the big scary concrete jungles in the middle of the night and begun to reforge those lost connections, to rekindle the flame of love that was not gone out, but needed just a breath or two, or inspiration to fan it back to life.
I arose at 7 and I leave t 12! So many people to talk to , friends old and friends new, friends with loose ties becoming stronger, friends that share this life with me, breathe the same air, and choose to walk the earth at this time.
Sue and Dora give me another copy of the exquisite Embercombe compilation CD made by artists such as Seize the Day for free to help promote the work that Embercombve is doing, and help spread the word. She has given a copy for the next town, and now a copy for me, and I am happy, for this music is soul food.
I receive hugs from the Totnes folk I will see again soon, and goodbye hugs from those I may not see again for a while, and Marion McCartney, my host from Belper, Derbyshire tells me how my journey inspired them there, and videos me talking of my latest tale, from Taunton, and invites me to a Puck’s Fair next year in Southern Ireland, on the family farm her husband Peter and his sister regaled me with tales of. They have been inspired to get the farm on its feet again and I feel a wave of excitement about an August adventure next year, and some Irish tales for my storyteller’s bag.
With waves from friends and a last minute hug from an old friend I now know better, I set out back up the track, back from whence I came, past the fast emptying car park field, and sense a timelessness about all of this; for is this not how we would have met in years gone past, at gatherings of friends, old and new, to exchange the tales of our lives between meetings?
And I walk out, discarding layers of skirts as I go, into the most glorious day you can possibly imagine. Has a British bank holiday ever been so beautiful? Hot wall to wall blue sky lines my day and I experience the most idyllic magical walk I could ever have wanted. Back, back in the lands of home, for Dartmoor feels like my land, my adopted home no more, but the land of my past, reclaimed, I walk it again, tis my land and I love it and I recall poor John Clare and in his name call upon each one of us to reclaim back the land for all of us, for our ancestors’ sake, for our own peace of mind, and for the children of the children of our children.
The magic of Dartmoor is not the same as the magic of the Welsh border lands, it has a different quality, but it is as strong, and I can feel tree ancient oaks of Wistman’s Woods welcoming me home, though they lie a few days walking hence as yet. I have promised Jessie I would call in and see them on my way past, a thing I had not thought to do till the walk was finished, but he is right, I heed the messenger, it is good that these ancient trees who have survived all the devastation of the once proud Dart (oak)Forest and remain here still, to be woven into the tale I weave, the new tale, the story by which we can live as the worn out threads of the old gradually loosen their hold over us and we are free to dream again the future we would grow into.
I visit Mardon stone circle and spy Heltor rock from it and notice the symmetry of the heel stone of the circle line up with the far off rock and call out into the land silently that the time has come. We are ready to take back our power, our land, to connect back to the earth. The church tower of St Mary, all that way distant is still visible on the horizon, a beacon on the landscape.
The walk to Mortonhamstead is perfect in every way; the hot clear day, the smell of the gorse and the heather, the glorious technicolour scenes, the bees and the butterflies, the pleasant lay of the town in its valley and the church of St Michael, commanding the view at the street end.
From Mortonhamstead to Chagford, another tale, the way marred by dwellings and farms keeping dogs off leashes, to be commanded to go home by passer bys, irresponsible, unloving owners, caring not that they take the public by way as if it were their own with their territorial beasts out loose. What fears do they hold, what lack of awareness of the other that they let their beasts, instinctual creatures, loose for passer bys to negotiate their safe passage with. I feel as though I trespass, though I am on a public way; and not for the first time on my walk wish unleashed dogs had no place in public places.
I arrive at Clare Ashwheeler’s house and am shown to my lovely studio flat and served fresh pasta with veg picked fresh from the garden and take a bath, my first for several days, and I relax. I have reached safe haven for another day.