Saturday 7 November 2009

a bit wild

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

Leigh Woods, on the Somerset side of the Avon Gorge, can be a bit variable in its wildness. At dawn you may meet the local wildlife, as Geraldine Taylor often has. On Friday around lunchtime, you are more likely to meet a dog walker trogging along behind her labrador with a mobile phone clamped to her head; or a jogger clad in inappropriate lycra; or indeed Brendagh and me, out for a little walk along one of the ostentatiously-waymarked paths. In our case, the Purple Trail (all-ability path, surfaced).

We met a stone. It's Welsh slate, carved with the words AND STONES MOVED SILENTLY ACROSS THE WORLD. It was put there by Alyson Hallet, who got the idea for it when she was up on Cadair Idris, and met an erratic boulder. And, since then, has been dumping carved rocks around the world. I feel ambivalent about this sort of thing; air-freighting rocks, and carving them so that you are imposing your idea upon them and upon the people encountering them, if you see what I mean... I was at Bristol Central Library for a reading by Alyson a couple of years ago, and she seemed very nice; but I wondered how I would feel if I came upon one of her rocks while i was out and about, and finally I did, yesterday. What I got from the experience was a vision of the bureaucracy and machinery of public art behind the positioning of this rock, here, with these words on. So... on the other hand, I really enjoyed finding some of Peter Randall-Page's sculpture embedded in the land around Drewsteignton way, especially with the prospect of a pint of Speckled Hen (or 'funky chicken') at the Drewe Arms afterwards. But that didn't seem to be trying to tell me anything.

It's been a long time since I've been in this part of the woods. There has been a fair bit of woodland management going on, and for the first time I managed to get a clear view of Stokeleigh Camp, an iron age fort which, along with the one on Observatory Hill on the other side of the gorge, dominated the Avon. Last time I'd been to this bit of the woods, you couldn't see the Camp for the trees.

We scrambled over the banks and found that some Devon Red cattle had taken up their night quarters there. They've recently been introduced to the woods. We didn't see them, just the evidence of their passing. As it were.

I commented that there had been talk of clearing the trees from Observatory Hill, too. "It's always the archeologists who want to do that," said Brendagh. "It's like shaved pubes in the porny business".

Walking to the top of the cliff, we heard a buzzard mewing from the treetops. And then a peregrine calling, down in the gorge. Slightly wild, then.


  1. "Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet." I like that line especially.

    I like the way they label the paths so you know what you are doing, though I think that I would be inclined to try out the paths because of their colours They have people strolling around Mont Blanc in high heels sometimes.

    I heard a programme on the BBC the other week, I presume that it was Alyson who took a stone to Australia.

    I'm wondering about the powers that be that think that a walk in the wilds is not enough on its own....What was the gift shop like??

  2. I heard rock lady on the radio recently, talking about a project in which she had taken this big rock all the way out to some Outback town in Australia. It took two years to set up with the local council there apparently.

    Apart from the 'Rock miles' on the plane (which I hadn't thought of), I must admit to being charmed by the idea. I love the incongruity of it, the unintended juxtaposition...but I suppose there is the 'artificiality' to it which you raise here, which rather interferes. The honesty or not of that thought "AND STONES MOVED SILENTLY ACROSS THE EARTH"...when in fact they don't, generally. Generally, most of them tend to stick around moreorless where they started. Unless you put them in your hand luggage and fly them across the world on a 747 of something. Sort of.

  3. There's an uneven book called The Passion Of Jamesie Coyle, Anji, where Jesus comes back as an Ulster catholic. He goes off into the wilderness, which in this case is a country Park, and comes back raging to his disciples about how you can't get fecking lost in the wilderness when there's so many waymarked trails...

    Exactly, Jo. I prefer more guerrilla art. Like someone I know who took an ammonite from Lavernock when he went to the Gobi Desert,and just left it there for someone to find, or not to find. And get confused, presumably. Or indeed, my owl-in-a-tree...

  4. Wouldn't mind if it was a poem like yours.

    Like Josphine, not too keen on the stones moving silently bit. It is meaningless.

  5. In another incarnation I did a geology course. the lecturer always called them erotic blocks.

    Stones move vast distances across the earth without the help of the human race, they may take their time of which they have more than us and they can make a hell on a lot of noise doing it but there is nobody around to listen.

    Bit like that falling Zen tree in the Forrest!

    I was once clambering up a lonely Scottish mountain only to be met by a couple descending dressed as though they had just left a posh wedding reception, she in strappy red sling back stilettos and skimpy red dress which covered one inch of thigh. Made my day!

  6. I lived in a place where stones had moved, they had been picked up by a glacier in the last ice age. That's what we were told at school. I think you might find one in or around Fladbury church. Bredon hill was always used as a good example as to how the glacier slid over the hard bits.

  7. Manley Hopkins, perhaps the dampest poet of them all. Lovely :-)

    I don't much care for the plonking down in the wild of municipally funded art either. Always faintly disliked the trig points atop peaks that silently insinuate 'you may consider yourself quite the explorer to have reached the top, but you are far from being the first, you know. Why, a previous visitor hauled not only their ass but also this great lump of concrete up here!'

  8. One day I'll get to those rambling rocks in Death Valley; I couldn't include them when I was there 18 or so months ago. (I would need an off-road motorcycle, as they are not on a trail.)

    I did spend far too little time in the Devil's Golf Course, which is a salt field. It creaks in the sun. Literally! (It was well over a hundred, and not conducive to simply ambling.)

    I'm not sure about moving rocks about. It strikes me as vandalism put into an acceptable context. I like the desert as precisely that - a desert. Seeing something that's not supposed to be there, because it was placed by human hand? Sorry, that's vandalism.

    Speaking of chickens, we've acquired one. Well, it sort of arrived and never left. It's actually a Guinea Fowl, but for no reason whatsoever we now call it a chicken. The cats keep looking at it in a hungry way, but it's quite large and fast, so no one has caught it. Yet? It's taken to sleeping on the deck railing, by the front door. He or she simply wanders around the woods (we live in the middle of some woodland), pecking at the grubs and seeds. It doesn't run away when I open the door, now. It doesn't stick around, but simply scampers off a few yards.

    I like the woodland! :-) (Although I doubt I'll ever come across an ancient fort: no aboriginal settlement. There is the site of a late 1600's fort over by the nuclear plant, but that's a long way from here!)

    Carolyn Ann

  9. Thank you, er, PoetL :-) -caring a haiku in stone would seem lie inappropriate use of a haiku, I think. Maybe it's the association of the jonjunction of verse and stone with memorials to the dead.

    I think of ice ages as being quite noisy, Caroline; all that creaking and rumbling, like the ice in the Ancient Mariner. It is funny meeting radically differently-dressed people in the mountains. When I went up Pen y Fan on Christmas Day I was equipped with everything I needed to survive an accident, and I was overtaken on the ascent by a chap running in a Santa suit, complete with beard.

    I guess that would be the Severn ice sheet, Anji... I like looking at glaciated landscapes and trying to see the ice working there. The Black Mountains are my faves, and at Cwmyoy there's the wonkiest church you ever saw, as it was built on a landslip caused by the glacier carving off the side of the valley and making it steeper. The landslip is still going on, slowly of course; we're still bobbing in the wake of the glaciers' passing. It makes the human occupation of the land seem very young.

    It was you who introduced me to that Hopkins verse, of course, Suzzy. I am very grateful.

    I'm not so sure, Carolyn Ann; I don't particularly like the Silent Stones idea, but the idea of finding a fragment of human stuff in a wilderness is quite appealing; a sort of Ozymandias moment. Though possibly scarier than an entirely untouched wilderness, if such a thing were to exist. I hope the guinea fowl stays ahead of the cats. A local chicken wild and free round these parts would almost certainly be got by a fox.