Tales from the Riverbank

Lured by an enticing path just a short stroll away and a secret passage through a thicket, I find myself in a kind of Narnia.

From a bridge over the river, I see that way leads to way.

There are private roads flanked by large acres of farmland. Tractors occasionally travel along here kicking up clouds of dust. This expanse of land beneath the blue reminds me of the American mid-west. Soon this landscape will change as various crops emerge from the sun-stirred earth.

Stepping into the light, I’m on the dandelion-gold riverbank. No one else appears to walk here and although the path is richly green and seldom traversed, it’s a good, clean path.

There are herons and swans, and a pair of geese with their young currently sailing on the water.

The walk along the riverbank takes me to 7 acres of private woodlands. I have freedom to roam here to gather inspiration for my writing and, for this, I am filled with gratitude. It’s a magical place. I have yet to see the deer that live here although I’m certain they have already seen me.

At the end of this part of the riverbank, where the sluice meets the river, trees mark the boundary and offer shelter and shade. I can sit here for hours – days, perhaps – and not see a human soul.

I love it here. Having spent my childhood by the gentle curves of another river and exploring the once green pastures of land by my family’s blacksmith’s cottage, being here in the lands of my new writer’s nest immediately takes me back to that time and place before everything changed. This flash of recollection is significant. I feel I am again in a richly-natured place that enriches my soul. I have travelled the years and grown but I am the same essence and, more than ever, I am keenly aware of my soul’s light. Once more, I’m reminded that nature has a way of bringing us to our truth.

Life here answers to the elements, the rise and full of the sun, the moon’s cycles, and it all plays out in a glorious symphony.

I walk gently along this riverbank, listening to nature’s song, and gathering tales for future stories. Here, the world is very much awake.

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Swallows and Home-Coming

April came and went in a flash. For most of the month, Fen and I were pre-occupied with preparations for our house move. Despite moving several times in the past few years and despite having little in the way of household paraphernalia to take with us, it was still an all-consuming mission. New roads awaited us though and soon we were on our way…

We moved into the little terrace barn conversion that is my new writer’s nest on the same day that the swallows arrived. We took this as a good omen and a kind of home-coming for them and us.

Here in rural West Lancashire, we are surrounded by fertile lands of meadows and meres, busy hedgerows and secret woods, and a rich store of inspiration that is already tantalising my senses.

Birds twitter and flutter at my window, the resident peacock preens himself under blossoming pear trees, and ghost owls watch over me in my moon-lit loft.

Less than thirty short strides away from my door, one of two fishing lakes glistens enticingly. There are stories here that run deep into the earth and all the trees, of which there are many species I’ve yet to become acquainted with, are already whispering their tales. In my heart, I know this: I will write my next novel here.

Also in my heart is the sense of being at home, at least for now, which I haven’t felt in a long, long time. We are renting from a truly lovely family – good-hearted folk whose roots to the land run through many generations. It feels like a privilege to be here, although I’m always where I’m meant to be.

Being in rural England (despite just a short crow’s flight away from town and coast) means that the mobile signal is poor and, as I write, the Openreach magicians have yet to find a way of providing a fixed internet connection. It could take another few weeks before this is resolved – or maybe never. Anyone would think I’ve moved to another dimension. Maybe I have. It certainly feels like a magical, timeless place.

As my chosen word for April was ‘surrender’, I have found I’ve been doing plenty of that – in this instance, surrendering to the fact that communication channels are currently a challenge here, which means I have to carefully schedule online time for my projects and commissions. Even this is proving to be a gift. I now have long spells of quiet time to contemplate, imagine, and write without the distraction of constantly being ‘plugged in’ online. It’s only when surrendering to ‘what is’ that these gifts are revealed, and I’m adapting gracefully to new ways of being and doing.

From my writer’s nest, I see swallows flying and swooping on their stealth-like wings and sparrows enjoying a dust bath in the yard. The apple trees are wearing their crowns of blossom. Whatever the weather, this will be a good season of my life.

~ * ~

I have a new focus word for May, which I’m sharing with the Magical Kinship through my newsletter along with book club choices and magical moments. Perhaps you’ll find something there for you…

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Lonely Lanes and Sunny Glades

A cheerful warmth greets me on this mid-April day: a warmth that dares me to walk bare-armed, bare-legged in eagerness to feel those life-giving rays. White skin, silver hair might blind any onlooker so I quicken my pace to retreat to the lonely lanes and long forgotten paths where birdsong is orchestral.

Woodland floors, sluice banks and hedges are quickly greening now, punctuated with swathes of gold – ageing daffodils and bright new dandelions and celandine.

The first of the bluebells are teased out by the strengthening sun and tree branches are filled with ripening buds.

Already, the dance of butterflies begins – peacocks, red admirals, gatekeepers, speckled wood – and hoverflies and bumblebees grow merry on the sweetness of this advancing spring, seeking out sunny glades.

Courting and nesting birds are too busy to notice my passing. There are goldfinch, greenfinch, and chaffinch all in the same stretch of hawthorn hedge. I follow a flock of long-tail tits who rest a wee while on tender branches and then take to the air again as soon as I catch them up.

A buzzard flies across a recently tilled field and seems to hover, kestrel-like, for just three flaps of its mottled wings. There was something magical about that.

There is still coolness in the stern coastal breeze but in the sheltered spots of greenery, the sun crawls upon my pale skin and brings much needed warmth after a long winter. I dared to ‘cast a clout’ and I’m now dreaming of summer.

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The Art of Travel

I always feel ‘at home’ when I’m travelling. Despite the contradiction, my soul settles when I’m on the move. It’s when I feel the most present and alive and inspired.

I know why I prefer to travel than arrive. I know why this makes me the happiest. Travelling, whether by foot, car, train, bicycle or spaceship (why not?) equates to freedom and excitement. There is always the potential of something magical at every turn, and this is fine fuel for the imagination.

This need to be moving – travelling through the landscape (near or far) – is deeply innate. It probably goes some way to explaining my frequent house moves in recent years and this sense of never being totally settled in one place. I am content when I’m on my way, whether I happen to be on my way to somewhere or nowhere in particular.

I am a wandering star with a Romany heart. Haven’t I always known this? The roaming soul that I am is my natural state of being. Before I arrived on this planet, I have no doubt that I was wandering the cosmos with the freedom of a ghost bird.

As a child, I wandered for hours by the river and in the meadows close to the former blacksmith’s cottage that is my family’s home. Only the sound of my mother’s voice calling me in for dinner brought me back. Even then it was a reluctant return, despite the happy home and loving family that awaited me. My need to be on the move – exploring, dreaming, being – felt necessary for my well-being.

Even now, after prolonged, grounding stints of writing and project time, I become restless. Some aspect of my soul is always travelling. My imagination will take me beyond any wall; I can bi-locate quite freely… something we creative folks can do with relative ease. It’s not always enough though, and the irresistible art of travelling requires full and complete expression through body, mind and soul.

Looking way back, the prospect of a car journey with my dad was always a treat. This was an adventure on winter evenings when the world became a live picture book of moon-lit frosted land, running hares, narrow winding lanes, moth clouds, spooky trees, spookier owls… I was entranced by those small journeys, full of imagery and story, that took us wanderers from one village to another.

It is only in the past decade or so that I’ve realised how important travelling is to my creativity. While writing Light Weaver, for example, my ‘research trips’ were absolutely essential. The time I spent journeying and exploring the Lake District and the Cumbria / Lancashire borders offered sensory insights that found their way into the writing of that story, and I’m sure that is why I have such wonderful comments about the book. Perhaps, in some way, this novel re-connected my readers with their own free travelling soul.

In recent times, I’ve been experimenting with my camera while travelling (as a passenger I hasten to add).

The scenery and light is ever-changing and the resulting imagery is often semi-abstract, neither here or there, revealing glimpses of time-travel and the transience of the moment.

This creative experimentation is enriching my travels in unexpected ways. I find it endlessly fascinating and, at the heart of it all, I see it for what it is: a journey without end.

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Where Woodland Meets the Shore

Fen and I travelled to Ulverston (again), South Cumbria in the last week of February, just a few days before the arrival of snow. Lunch at Gillam’s tearoom on Market Street was followed by a visit to Sutton’s Book Shop (a few doors up) to buy several nature-inspired books. What a treat!

The rest of the afternoon was without a plan and, sometimes, that is how we like it. By allowing space to explore, we often find unexpected treasure.

Way leads to way, as only way does, and we found ourselves at Conishead Priory on the Furness peninsula, which is home to the Manjushri Buddhist Centre. We’ve passed this place on many occasions, and yet this was our first visit. Neither of us subscribe to any religion or belief system, but we love the energy of good-hearts, honest creation, and guardians of nature, and this was abundantly evident at Conishead.

(Picture source: http://manjushri.org)

Though it was Friday afternoon, the priory was surprisingly busy. Great care has been invested into restoring this Gothic building, which was once a spa and convalescent home with a history said to date back to 1160.

Impressive as the building is, Fen and I were here for the 70 acres of beautiful gardens, arboretum, the pond and streams, and woods skirting the pebbled shore that overlooks Chapel Island and Morecambe Bay.

The path into the woods lured us in, greeting us with a gathering of snowdrops. Within moments, I fell under the spell of a mighty presence… is it a Cedar of Lebanon, a Deodar, Coastal Redwood, a Douglas Fir…? I’m not entirely sure, but I spent precious moments under the tree’s lofty boughs and evergreen-needled canopy.

The undulating ground, littered with cones, felt fertile and I was aware of the ever-reaching roots hidden deep beneath my feet. This tree, like all trees, has uncountable stories with the passing of time marked within its girth.

The day was dry and, surprisingly, so was the path. Sunlight appeared now and then, filling the woodland in a pale lemon glow, although the sky was mostly muffled in a swathe of cloud.

We took the much-trodden path to the shore, which was guarded by crows.

A curious robin flew along with us for a while although he was too flighty to pause for a photo.

As we approached the entrance to the shore, the temperature dropped considerably.

A bitter wind played on the waves, and the iced air tinted our pale exposed skin.

William Wordsworth, describing the view of Chapel island across from Conishead, said,  ‘As I advanced, all that I saw and felt was gentleness and peace’.

I imagined the gentleness… on a calm, summer’s day, but the oncoming of a Siberian storm was already bringing an uncomfortable rawness to the air. Winter is not yet over despite the murmur of spring.

We explored the pebbled beach but only for a short time before we retreated to the shelter of the woods.

Here, the marcescence of gold-brown leaves clung to their branches, shivering in the breeze.

After a quick visit to the priory shop for organic treats, we found our way to the lake, which held a mirror to the sky.

Here, we entered the garden where pools and streams enlivened the senses.

It felt warmer here in the late afternoon sun and we paused for a while to reflect upon the moment.

Souls replenished and hearts filled with gratitude, we left Conishead Priory, imagining how these gardens and woodland will bloom in the weeks to come. ‘Let’s return in the summer’, we both smiled, shivering like those last clinging leaves as we planted our wish.

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Stepping Into the Magic

The fragrance of spring is already in the air,
subtle yet sure.

January passed in a fit of gales, rain, and sleet with a rare moment of stillness. I have moved between resting and weaving – that delicate balance that is needed when creating something from the heart.

Winter has been extremely wet, windy, cold and damp in my part of the shire, and yet unnaturally warm at times. For most of this period, life has slumbered along beneath a suffocating blanket of grey. I’ve been tuning into my inner light in order to thrive, and when the sun is allowed to shine, I bathe in those nurturing rays.

The elements have been harsh through these long, dark days (a reflection of mainstream consciousness, perhaps?), but winter has its own song, and I’m reminded of these words by this pure poetic soul…

“It is a pleasure to a real lover of Nature to give winter all the glory he can,
for summer will make its own way, and speak its own praises.”

– Dorothy Wordsworth

Short journeys here and there and quiet moments spent in nature have proved uplifting and essential. Each one has brought a magical moment – the little owl posing for a photograph, a white horse standing proud beside an ancient oak, murmurations of starlings and lapwings, numerous hares crossing our path at dusk, rain-jewelled tree branches glistening in winter’s light…

I’ve continued to dance and write and sketch, and I’ve been singing, too, in a flurry of fearless and spontaneous creativity. This brings me joy.

The fragrance of spring is already in the air, subtle yet sure. The birds are more vocal. There are buds filling out on branches and green shoots emerging from still wet soil, and yet some flowers never stopped blossoming over this strange winter.

As I write, on this first day of February, the sky has cleared. I throw open the window, to let those rare rays enliven my spirit, and breathe. Life is beautiful.

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The Future is Round

One of the highlights of 2017 was having the opportunity to try out ‘glamping’. I was on my way to the Weleda Open Day in Derbyshire with Fen and we needed somewhere to stay. Through a curious string of synchronicity, I discovered Nether Farm near Ashbourne and they happened to have one of their three glamping roundhouses available. I always take special note of synchronicity and booked immediately. It felt like it was meant to be.

Before the visit, I viewed the photos of the roundhouse, which suggested that we were in for a luxurious glamping experience. This would be very different to days long ago, where a type of glamping involved spending a summer night with friends in a hay-barn or family caravan holidays in the Norfolk Broads.

Upon arrival, Nether Farm’s Pam Brown greeted us and showed us to ‘the round’. I had that fluttery excited feeling that comes with being in a space that is rather special. It felt as though this roundhouse had been built with a lot of love, care and attention to detail. And it truly was luxurious with all mod-cons, beautifully designed and furnished, and had everything we could possibly need.

Sensitively crafted and positioned, the roundhouse offered views of the quiet rolling green of the Henmore Brook countryside. With plenty of natural light in the roundhouse and a spectacular circular window in the dome for star-gazing, I felt close to nature while being in complete comfort.

During our brief stay at Nether Farm, it occurred to me that I could easily live in a roundhouse such as this. It’s surprisingly spacious and has all the comforts of home. It’s built with ecology and sustainability in mind, and has a special energy. It feels like a pure space, a healthy one, and certainly good for well-being. Why can’t we have roundhouses for our homes?

A few months on, and I have been fortunate to connect with the wonderful Gemma Roe of Rotunda Roundhouses, the Spatial Designer who is at the heart of these stunning roundhouses – at Nether Farm and in many other locations on these fair lands and overseas.

I recently interviewed Gemma for Happiful.com and discovered her inspiring vision for the future of natural and sustainable housing and community. Wouldn’t it be amazing to have the option of being able to live in a space such as this.

My wish to live in a roundhouse appears to be something I share with my maternal granddad. Apparently, he had always wanted to live in a lighthouse or windmill. Perhaps he knew a thing or two about the special qualities of the round.

If you have the opportunity, book a break at Nether Farm to experience the roundhouse for yourself. Maybe you’ll become a roundie enthusiast, too.

 

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Revisiting Dove Cottage

For a while, and with joyful heart,
I was cut loose from time.

I never tire of visiting the Lake District. This enigmatic landscape of lakes and fells and ever-changing moods was the setting for my first novel. Although the characters of this story still greet me each time I return, there is another story here – one of secrets and longing and love – that keeps me intrigued in such a way that I have to resist the temptation to stop everything else and take up the pen to write.

On Tuesday 12th December, I returned to Dove Cottage in Grasmere, former home of the Wordsworth family, and now a magnet for all inspired by the romantics of poetry and art born out of that vital period in the early 1800s.

Photo: Wordsworth Trust

A small group, including Fen, my mother and myself, sat by the fire in Dove Cottage to listen to Sophie Verbeke’s fascinating talk about the commonplace book (also known as scrapbooks) and how the Wordsworth family used these to store ideas, news, sketches and insights.

For a while, and with joyful heart, I was cut loose from time. Little has changed here. The presence of Dorothy and William – even Coleridge – and other wild romantics from yesteryear seemed to fill the room, which was heady with fire-smoke and candle-light.

Photo: Wordsworth Trust

After the talk, we enjoyed tea and toasted crumpets from the cottage kitchen while, outside, a gentle flurry of snowflakes fell without touching the sacred earth.

Each time I find myself here, no matter how many years between, I find a presence within my heart that is timeless. It is deeply rooted: a home-coming of sorts, and I know that I have unfinished work here.

Thank you to all at Dove Cottage and the Wordsworth Trust for this inspiring event.

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On the Shores of Loch Lomond

It’s the story of land and water,
of nature in its pure wildness,
that will endure.

It’s been a crazy sort of year. My beautiful dad passed over to the eternal summerlands late July. I moved home twice. I’ve been here, there, and everywhere… sometimes without even flexing a muscle. I’ve written thousands of words for lovely people and magazines, and time has surged like a storm-kissed river, carrying me away and away. It felt appropriate to retreat for a few days before the year fizzled out, to find some stillness, and where better than on the timeless shores of Loch Lomond.

After a journey of four hours, Fen and I find ourselves at the stunning holiday lodge by the water, and it feels like we’ve entered a magical realm far removed from the world’s weary chaos.

My heart fills with gratitude for such a treasured spot. It’s so peaceful and the only sound is bird song and whispers from water and air.

It occurs to me that it’s over 6 years since my last visit to Loch Lomond, but it’s as if no time has passed at all. On my previous visit, I was in experiential research for my next novel – yes, the one that has still to be completed! I realise that much has happened since then… joys and sadness; beginnings and endings; life.

Being back here, I consider whether it will reignite my passion for writing this particular novel, but conclude that the fire of it has never left me. As dramatic as it sounds, my debut novel, Light Weaver, took more from me than I’ve probably ever shared. It took my time and the roof over my head, and I’ve been navigating the aftermath of that experience. Although I made a start on this Scottish based novel, the business of living has stolen the hours needed to continue.

I may write more fiction at some point, but other writing and projects inspire and feed me better right now, and I’m joyful and at peace with where I am. Being here again brings me to this sense of clarity.

So here, in November’s embrace, I meditate on the ever-changing light. I sing and dance. I sit by the water listening to its secrets. I let memories surface – memories of my dad, my earth family and friends, and of the wonderful moments forever being created with Fen. I allow my eyes to fill and my heart to overflow. But mostly, I’m present – absolutely present – aware of the gift of this precious space in nature.

I watch the birds on the water… a swan family, little grebe, red-breasted merganser, gulls; and the birds on the land… robin, wren, blackbird, crow. Like the birds, I’m on the edge between this place and another, and this is where I love to be.

Loch Lomond, the largest inland stretch of fresh water in Great Britain, once known as Lake of the Elms, is jewelled with more than 30 islands, including one that has a colony of wallabies! Munros and rocky peaks, green glens and woodland, surround the loch, becoming more or less – depending upon the mist and light.

There are stories here, for sure… of people that have been before and will arrive long after I’ve gone, but it’s the story of land and water, of nature in its pure wildness, that will endure.

I know that I will leave this otherworldly realm on the shores of Loch Lomond without really leaving at all, feeling richer and stronger and more vital for having spent time well within its healing embrace. Here on these bonnie banks, I am restored, and ready to continue my journey.

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The Dance of the Starlings

Travelling through West Lancashire late afternoon, I happened to be in the right place at the right time to capture one of the most beautiful and hypnotic sights in nature… a murmuration of starlings.

It’s not the first murmuration I’ve seen, but it’s possibly the largest. This isn’t surprising as I was on a country lane close to WWT Martin Mere Wetland Centre, where some 50,000 starlings are currently roosting this autumn. It’s the largest number of starlings the Centre has ever seen.

The dance of the starlings begins around 4 pm, just before dusk, when the birds return to their roost. They give an aerial display that is enigmatic and unforgettable. This lasts for approximately 20 minutes before they land in the reed beds and settle for the night.

One is left wondering how and why. How do they fly together in vast numbers so flawlessly? Why do they do it? I love to think that they fly the way they do for pure joy, but there are possibly practical reasons, too. Flying and swooping as a flock might make it difficult for falcon predators to target one bird, and the energetic flight might help to generate warmth for the flock before their long night’s roost. But who knows for sure? The birds, no doubt.

Nature is full of magic and mystery, and this is just one of many marvels that is always a joy to see.

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