Friday, 21 December 2012

Yew musings

Before I step out for a misty solstice walk, and hopefully while Simon Bradley and Phil Harding race to the Halifax Beacon in order to save Time itself, here is a link to some work my husband has been doing with recordings I made at the Llangernyw yew.

Phil is calling for participation to contribute to a 40 minute piece of (rather wonderful) music, open until January 20th, 2013.

 While considering what the voice of Angelystor might sound like, he decided that it would be an aggregate of voices of all ages and sexes – the ancestral voices of the parish.

Phil would like people (globally) to contribute to the project by sending a recording of themselves saying a name.

This could be either: “Sion (pronounced ‘Shon’) ap Robert” – a man who, local legend tells, heard his own name spoken by Angelystor, or the name of a friend, family member or hero you wish to memorialise.

 If you would like to participate, please read more at his blog, Larkfall.

We have been using the Ancient Yew resource in order to find more local old yews to visit and pay homage to, sadly the gazetteer flags up many 'lost' yews, cut down while still healthy and relatively young. Last weekend we visited Hazlewood Castle's yew, which you can see in all it's glory as the first photo in this PDF.  Sadly on our visit the tree had been pruned to just it's central trunk, losing much of the bulk of the tree.

Hazlewood Castle overlooks Towton battlefield near Aberford, a place which we seem to be gravitating towards currently. We seem to have followed the course of the Cock Beck for a while now, either through Barwick, treading ancient paths, at Whinmoor, searching for the site of Penda's last battle or at Aberford, hunting blood-stained roses.

In final, and slightly less landscape related news, I have been photographing artwork created by a dear friend named John Godbert, who is a talented archaeological illustrator, also having his art featured on a myriad of album covers (such as The Fall's Live at The Witch Trials cover). He is also a rather spectacular performer, or rather, is never seen in the same room as Herb Diamante.

His collages mix imagery of the physical; biological technicalities and planets collide, with the paraphysical, John is interested in all kinds of the surreal but some of his most striking collages involve magic and the otherworld, mediums delivering reams of ectoplasm, Crowley sitting astride K2, the Cottingley fairy images. His artwork is available to purchase from my Facebook album or alternatively, Etsy.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Llangernyw Yew, Gwytherin and Gwrych

Llangernyw yew is the oldest tree in Wales, and one of the oldest living things on Earth. I was lucky enough to hitch a ride there last week and check out this beautiful tree first hand.

Local legend holds that Angelystor, the recording angel, manifests inside this 4,000 year old tree and appears on Samhain to solemnly intone the names of those who will die in the coming year. Most of the people who I mentioned this to in relation to my impending visit seemed to genuinely suspend disbelief in response to the tale and asked me to tell them if the spirit mentioned their name. I was impressed at the power of the myth before I even visited the place.

We arrived at Llangernyw at 11pm, as we imagined the churchyard would be best experienced late at night.There wasn't much time then as we had an early start, but being abruptly left on my own as my companion left me to photograph the tree while he had a smoke with the creak of the ancient branches of the yew in a slight breeze, was one of the most genuinely awe-inspiring moments spent in it's company.

The quiet of the country night is a very special thing and I miss it more with each passing day. To be able to escape the constant drone of mechanised life, to be able to hear the sounds of a natural world, these things are very rare now. The yew spoke in it's low creaks, a ship on an undulating ocean, moving softly it's fine needles to slice out ogham letters in the air.

A comfortable night was spent at Plas y Brenin, and I was back at Llangernyw first thing in the morning. No longer did the dark green canopy merge with the stars but the yew was illuminated in beautiful morning sunlight, a rare warm November day.

 I felt humbled in the presence of this most ancient, beautiful and very much living thing, having sought out old trees before. The Laund oak near Bolton Abbey is gnarled and skeletal, only a few remaining branches pushing out green breaths of leaves. Old trees are usually impressive in their near decimation, their struggle against the canker that will inevitably kill them creating hollow depths to explore in their Ent-like trunks, precariously leaning knotted arthritic branches bowing in to the ground and bare, exposed barkless twig fingers littering the ground.

The Llangernyw yew is a different kind of creature, lithe and green, the dark branches spreading-wide in graceful arches. A male yew, it's branches were full of the little green cones which spread it's seed, I collected some of the bright plump berries from the female yew which grew a couple of yards away to grow a tiny Llangernyw yew of my own.

On the other side of the church, two standing stones around a recumbent create a cove to stand, a foresight from some bronze age observation. The old churchyard is roughly round, elevated from the surrounding village as though built on a mound. One of the stones bear an old inscribed cross, allowing it to remain an obviously pagan symbol in a Christianised site.

A four mile walk over the hill from Llangernyw is the tiny village of Gwtherin, which has it's own trio of ancient yews in St. Winifred's churchyard. A row of four standing stones runs inbetween the line of the stream and the church, one inscribed with "VINNEMAGLI FILI / SENEMAGLI", this inscription is dated the the 5th century but the stones seem earlier.

On the drive home, I paid a return visit to Gwrych Castle over Abergele, which enchanted me and Briony in the mist several years ago.

The castle remains as a Gothic shell, built in 1819 on the site of a hillfort but left to decay in the 1980s. Having only explored the exterior before, the interior was a slightly terrifying experience, a precarious mess of missing floors and crumbling walls, the most impressive remaining feature being the huge marble staircase.

I have to admit to being a little skeptical of the recent ghost photography at Gwrych, the most frightening aspect of the building being the very un-supernatural potential for large pieces of stonework to crush you to death, but it is a special place - possibly somewhere that should be maintained as a spectacular ruin rather than modernised into a hotel.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

The Angel and The Girl

I was wed by the Witch's stone last week to the most wonderful man I know, we were married by the talented poet Becky Cherriman with all our dear friends and family in attendance. Graham Vasey took this beautiful silver gelatin plate of us on the big day, our friend Rory played us to the stone and back again on his hurdy gurdy, Briggate danced with us in the streets by the Meanwood Institute and we were lucky enough to have a performance by Herb Diamante (with Emily Clavering on Piano and Backing Vocals!) for our first dance and entertainment. Phil's aunt wrote a lovely blog post about it here, which is probably a much better write up than I could manage of a day filled with bliss but one that went incredibly quickly!

I am so proud to be Layla Legard, the path we took to get to where we both are now was so full of light and dark, such great leaps of faith in each other and our pairing! This is the Edwin Muir poem Phil sent me the morning after we first confessed our love for one another:

See, they have come together, see,
While the destroying minutes flow, 
Each reflects the other's face 
Till heaven in hers and earth in his
Shine steady there.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Leeds Scheduled Monuments - Becca Banks and The Ridge

I have been neglecting this blog, partly due to impending nuptials and partly because free time is scarce and the time I do get I very much wish to spend striding across the landscape that is so blessed to me rather than sitting at home thinking about it. Scanning the list of local Scheduled Monuments this morning I realised that, although not all have been cataloged here, I have visited most of them at some point or the other and should probably document them here as I proposed to some time ago.

Becca Bank and the Ridge are part of a possible Brigantian defensive network, Becca bank using some of the natural scarp slope to create a hugely imposing form on the landscape, even today delineating the furthermost westerly reaches of Aberford.

Below the crag we happened to spot a tiny toad amid the rubble and held him captive until a dog walker and his leaping hounds had passed us by. Our little friend inspired Phil to scribble down some lines of poetry in his notebook, while I took in the dusk-lit woodland alongside the bank.

We walked through the Gascoigne estate, walking along Becca Lane in view of the hall and then along to the Ridge, where ripe corn grew.

We crossed over the Cock Beck, Winwaek, which flows down from Whinmoor through Penda's field, where he, the last pagan king, was slain in battle. A few miles further SE and Cock Beck flows through another battlefield at Towton, where the legendary Towton rose flourished on the burial mounds at Bloody Meadow.

The moon rose over the bank as we walked through meadows in the growing dark. The last view of the Ridge with the dwindling sunset through an ancient Miry Lane heading towards the site of the medieval shrunken village of Potterton, or Potter's Tun.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

How Myths are Born - Susan Mary Dawson's Grave

Susan Mary Dawson's grave lies in Weston All Saints churchyard, next to Weston Hall, complete with 16th century banqueting house.

The church has a wonderful patchwork effect, showing the various additions and subtractions over the centuries.

Susan Dawson is buried in a family plot on the side of the graveyard next to Weston Hall, her husband, Col. Walter Stopham Dawson's ancestral home. The Stopham family have, according to Meville Babbage Cox, been associated with the Weston estate since 1250  before the family merged with that of the Vavasours who erected the present hall. The grave marker is a collection of boulders resembling a small cairn, one of which shows quite distinct cup and ring markings.

Searching for information on the grave one discovers a small trail of information. Paul Bennett speculates, entirely reasonably, that unlikely as it may be that the Dawson's had an interest in geomancy, some local landowners had dealings in the occult (David Murgatroyd and his magical maps spring to mind) and this tomb could have been the Dawson family's reconstruction of a bronze age burial. However it seems that this suggestion has taken flight in the imagination of others, making the leap from an interesting speculation to a confirmed 'myth'. 

I do think it is entirely plausible that Mary could have held an interest in the Occult, but some evidence should surface before we state it as fact. In 1912 it was reported in a local newspaper that the family leased Ilkley Moor for grouse shooting and therefore it seems most likely that the moor and it's stones held a personal significance to the family primarily as a place of leisure. I hope to do more research on the stones and their current usage though, the Churchyard also holds some other unusual grave-markers, several holed stones can be found on the other side of the church, perhaps Mary's grave influenced other local families to use undressed rock to mark the resting place of their dead:

Friday, 20 July 2012

Almias Revisited

Phil and Simon have been busy bees preparing the Almias App for Android (!) this past few months. This reworks the music and oral history elements (which were a little overshadowed by the tour and book aspects) of the art project we conducted for the Harrogate fringe a couple of years ago.

  I had the pleasure of testing it on and off the Crag and I think it's turned out wonderfully well, the original recordings of us singing and playing were made up on the crag and this brings the piece literally to life, making a changing acoustic environment depending on your movement and location on almscliffe.

The oral history interview with the landowner is also made more coherent by placing it upon the locations referred to, I am extremely pleased and proud that P + S have breathed new life into what was already a very wonderful project.

Go here to download the app!

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Chandos Five Dance

One of my favorite Morris dances that Briggate dance is Chandos Five. The dance is set up with the five dancers in the figure of a cross, facing inwards and each dancer has a name for the figure she dances; pick-up, arches, twiddle, windows and reel.

Though it took a while to learn (I only had chance to dance it through twice at a practice and since then have had to muddle through at dance outs) now I know it well it has become very fun to dance and the various circles and arcs made as we move have played on my mind. I dreamt about the patterns it would make if you drew the dance out and Phil helped me make an image to represent this:

I would like to film some dances from above to try and create some images which show the patterns the dances make as I thought the Chandos pattern looked extremely beautiful.

We use bobbins with bells and ribbons on for a lot of our dances, North West style Morris is derived from the parade dances of mill workers, which also gives us the wooden clogs. Some people say the steps of some dances are supposed to echo the sound of the mill machinery, perhaps a little of the weaving patterns made it's way into the dances too. 

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Why Rush - Institute of Stone Age Sex Performance.

Before we rush off to step out on Ilkley moor, a few photos taken by Si Cliff of the performance that happened on Friday.

Briony on cello, Simon on cello, Phil on vox/accordion, me on vox/harmonium/bells and so on!

More photos will follow I hope, and hopefully more gigs! Having tested out my mettle at the Grove Folk club on friday singers nights was a great introduction to performing for a small audience and I hope summer will bring the free time to go back to my folk roots.

Dry brittle branches bear bones, we plan to make bone flutes and bring new life out of them. The summer blooms despite the cold.