It was not the storm

that broke me or the storm
before it or the storm before it.
Ciara, Brendan, Atiyah, even
distant Ophelia or Freya.

It was not the winter storms
of 2013 – 2014 before storms
were given alphabetical names.
It was not the St Jude storm,

the London or Birmingham
tornadoes, Storm Kyrill – killer
of 11 people, the Great Storm
of 1987 or any of the storms

before I was born in 1981.
It was not the cliché of the storm
within although winds have swept
through my branches broken

my fingers swayed me that way
and this like a sapling turned me over
like a hay wheel rattled me like
a bag on a barbed wire fence.

Rain has flooded my landscape,
rising up over my pagodas and bins,
my fountain and its four nymphs,
washed away all my bridges,

receded to leave a mottle of reed,
rainbow puddles to splash wellies in,
birches surprising in their reflections
like Rimbaud illuminated in 1876.

It has cleaned and cleansed me.
My Taekwondo belt is blue and green.
I am learning O Jang I but I do not
call myself Master of the Wind

for I do not know what broke me –
childhood bullying, a neurotic father,
a defective gene or something deeper
within? But it was not the storm.

*Arthur Rimbaud wrote his Illuminations in 1876.
**O Jang means ‘Wind’ and it is the fifth pattern in WTF Taekwondo.
***I wrote this poem in the aftermath of Storm Ciara during which the Ribble broke her banks at Avenham and Miller Parks and further upriver.

Elk Prints

The Harris Museum

I.
I lean down
to touch
them

like

an
ancient
huntress
taste

not
blood
but paint
still follow
the trail
of red

(do I detect the hint of a limp?)

up the stone steps
past paintings
depicting

your hunting
like the Stations
of the Cross

(watercolours)

those old old hunters
we will know as the Dwellers
in the Water Country

semi-amphibious
blue-limbed
against
the green
of the fenlands

(it is 11,500BC)

bows drawn back
like the grins
of wolves

the madman
with the axe who
severed your tendons

before you limped on
dripping red

your pain
sucked up by
the sedge

the last
shudder of
your thick skin
not enjoyed by midges
at mid-winter
in a pool.

II.
On the
second floor
in the Discovery Gallery

where your skeleton stands
beyond hunting trophy
beyond Messiah
beyond icon

I pause for breath imagining

flints tips against ribs
heaving lungs

the loneliness
of your
heart.

III.
When I press
the red button that blasts
out your roar

the city trembles

breathes in and breathes out

the paddle of a dug-out canoe
splashing a reminder
of aurochs, deer,
wolf, elk…

*With thanks to the Harris Museum for the images.

Green Equinox

This equinox
seems greener than before –
warmth, steam remind me of the Atlantic rainforests in Wales
where it rains six days out of seven glaw, glaw, glaw,
whilst protests sweep the planet like clouds
but do not quell the Amazon fires.

I win my green belt in a martial art
learning to harness light like photosynthesis,
undoing my roots, learning to twist, kick, turn, leap,
kicking back against body dysmorphia.

The leaves, all green-brown, are not yet
in their autumn splendour bursting into colour
like lollipops like coloured belts I don’t yet know the meaning of.

Leaves of ash fall, touch my shoulder, give me strength.

Heaven and Light, Joyfulness, Fire and Sun, these
are the names of the first three poomsae but the fourth
is Thunder and the morning after I win that belt

I’m awoken by a mighty roar and flash of lightning
illuminating my room, the altars of my gods, a broken mirror,
my laptop and the jam jar in which I keep my pens
painted black with yellow and red stars,

the rubber the only dumb thing like the doubts
that hold me back yet the eraser of my past.

The skies are broken glass and the stream a darkness
running from eternity as a voice from a martial arts film asks:
“What do you see in front of your fist?” “My destiny.”

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*‘Glaw, glaw, glaw’ is Welsh for ‘rain, rain, rain’.
**The martial art I am learning is Taekwondo and my instructor is Eddie Ellison.
***The lines from the martial arts film are from Streetfighter II: The Animated Movie (1994).
****All photos are my own except ‘Lightning Ground Storm‘ by Brandon Morgan on Unsplash.

Ward’s Stone

Now, at that highest point
on the fells, no trace remains of what
was done so long ago,
but its name has endured.
They call it
the Wardstone.
– Joseph Delaney

What was done so long ago?
Bog feet squelch across the moors.
Black peaty waters know.
Underground streams pour.

Its name has endured.
Sphagnum knows the springy secret
of the one known as the ward
but cannot keep it.

They call it the Wardstone,
say it keeps the fells in place,
some Annuvian monster down.
At the highest point no trace.

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I’ve lived in Lancashire since I was six but this is the first time I’ve been to Ward’s Stone, the highest fell, made hauntingly legendary by Joseph Delaney in his awesome Wardstone Chronicles.

It’s a wonderful place although not many humans seem to visit. I saw one group of students who gave up after the first few boggy patches and a couple who vanished into the earth at the Queen’s Chair. Somehow, in spite of all the bogs, I didn’t get wet feet. Walking boots are the best invention ever!

Winter Break

Winter is a time
of nurturing deeper dreams
whilst the land sleeps beneath
the rule of Winter’s King

so I’m going to be taking a break from blogging here until Imbolc to work on my new book and other gestating ideas and to explore the landscape. Best wishes to everybody for the cold season.

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Lancashire Responds

Some photographs from yesterday’s Lancashire Responds protest near the proposed fracking site at Preston New Road:

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Gathering outside Maple Farm

Speeches from leaders of anti-fracking groups

March to Wesley farm to shame the farm owners who have sold their land to Cuadrilla

An ominous sky over the farmhouse

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Tying yellow ribbons to the hedge as a sign we’ll be back

Maelawr Gawr and Gwerthmwl Wledig: Pen Dinas in Retrospect

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When I went to visit Heron in Borth last year I stayed in Aberystwyth. On my last day I had the chance to climb Pen Dinas (‘Head of the Citadel’). This is the name of the northern summit of the hill overlooking Aberstwyth which lies between the rivers Ystwyth and Rheidol.

When I made my visit, I went with limited knowledge. I’d read on Wikipedia that there was a Bronze Age burial mound on the southern summit. It was the site of two consecutive Iron Age hill-forts, one of which had been raided. The Romans did not occupy the hill, but a 4thC hoard of coins suggested they used it as a shrine.

I also read that Pen Dinas was associated with Maelawr Gawr (‘the giant’) who had three sons called Cornippyn, Crygyn and Babwa. Like in so many British stories he was presented as an adversary. In this case it isn’t clear what he’d done wrong. The crux of the story is that he was captured in Cyfeiliog and sentenced to death.

Maelawr asked his enemies a final request: to blow on his horn three times. The horn was so loud and forceful that on the first blow his hair and beard fell out, on the second his finger and toenails fell off and on the third the horn blasted apart and crumbled into pieces.

Cornippyn heard the horn whilst he was out hunting with horse and hound. He set off to rescue his father so fast he tore the head off his hound. He spurred his horse on in one leap over the Ystwyth and was slain in his attack on Maelor’s captors. Crygyn and Bwba were murdered in their fortresses in Llanilar and Llanbadarn Fawr the same night.

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I was drawn up the hill by the magnetism of the Wellington Monument on the northern summit. It felt like a strong place: like the aura of giant wasn’t quite gone nor the feeling of relative safety offered by occupying a high hill.

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Looking toward Penparcau I didn’t spot or hear a headless hound but I did see a pair of ravens.

Clouds marched in on a growing wind. I found myself feeling distant from the harbour beneath, Aberystwyth and the cliff railway, not so much in place but time.

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I felt Gwyn’s presence and that of others cloaked in cloud and knew he had been there to gather the dead.

That was unexpected and it wasn’t until several months later I found a possible explanation. In The Triads of the Island of Britain I found the fragments of a story set during the Dark Ages.

One of ‘Three Horses who carried the Three Horse Burdens’ is ‘Dappled the horse of the sons of Gwerthmwl Wledig, who carried Gweir and Gleis and Archenad up the hill of Maelawr in Ceredigion to avenge their father.’

‘The hill of Maelawr’ has been identified as Pen Dinas by Owen Jones. In Cymru, he says ‘in the land of Aber Teifi there was in former times before Brutus came to this island, the giant Maylor, and the place where he lives is still called Castell Maylor, built upon a high hill or ridge which is called Y Dinas, beside the river Ystwyth, within the freehold of the town of Aberystwyth.’

It appears that Gwerthmwl led an attack on Maelawr and was defeated hence his three sons rode up Pen Dinas to avenge him. Pen Dinas was the site of two Dark Age battles as well as a raid in the Iron Age. There is no record of whether Gwerthmwl’s sons succeeded.

Further research turned up that Gwerthmwl was an important (albeit now forgotten) figure in British mythology who originated from northern Britain. In Rhonabwy’s Dream he appears as one of forty-two of Arthur’s counsellors.

In the ‘Three Tribal Thrones’ he is listed as ‘Chief Elder’ in ‘Pen Rhionydd in the North’ alongside ‘Arthur as Chief of Princes’ and ‘Cyndeyrn Garthwys’ (St Kentigern) as ‘Chief of Bishops’.

Pen Rhionydd has been identified with Ptolemy’s Rerigonium ‘very royal place’ and may have been located on the Rhinns. One possible location is Port Patrick, which used to be called Portree (from port righ ‘King’s Port’). Another is Penrith. Wherever Pen Rhionydd was, Gwerthmwl’s three sons travelled a long way to avenge their father’s death.

Gwerthmwl also appears in The Triads as one of ‘Three Bull-Spectres’. Epithets such as Bull Chieftain, Bull Protector and Bull of Battle were commonly assigned to Dark Age warriors to illustrate their strength and battle-prowess.

Gwerthmwl’s status as a Bull-Spectre suggests he was as a bull-epitheted warrior who remained as a ghost. Another interpretation is he became wyllt ‘wild’ or ‘mad’ as a result of his battle with Maelawr (the welsh for Bull Spectre is tharw ellyll).

It is notable that Gwyn, who is addressed as a Bull of Battle by Gwyddno Garanhir, has strong associations with warriors with bull-epithets and gwyllon.

The resting place of Gwerthmwl is listed in ‘The Stanzas of the Graves’:

‘The grave of a chieftain from the North
is in the open land of Gwynasedd,
where the Lliw flows into the Llychwr;
at Celli Friafael is the grave of Gyrthmwl.’

Gwerthmwl’s grave is where the Lliw runs into the Llwchwr near Casllwchwr in Gower. He was buried a long way south of Pen Dinas and a long, long way from Pen Rhionydd in the North.

In the story of Maelawr and Gwerthmwl I come across another example of the destructive conflicts between the people of Wales and the North which Gwyn attended as a psychopomp.

What makes this particular story interesting is that Maelawr is most famously remembered as a giant. This raises the question of whether he was always known as a giant or was a human chieftain who literally grew in status after defending his hill from Gwerthmwl.

Could the story of Maelawr’s capture and death be founded on the vengeance of the sons of Gwerthmwl?

The answer lies buried as the giant’s bones, his fallen beard, fingernails, toenails, the broken pieces of his horn which still blasts clouds over the pillar that marks the location of his citadel.

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SOURCES

Mike McCarthy, ‘Rheged: An Early Historic Kingdom near the Solway’ in Proc Soc Antiq Scot, 132 (2002),
Peter Bartrum, A Welsh Classical Dictionary: People in History and Legend up to about A.D. 1000, (National Library of Wales, 1993)
Rachel Bromwich (ed), The Triads of the Island of Britain, (University of Wales Press, 2014)
Sioned Davies (transl.), The Mabinogion, (Oxford University Press, 2007)
Wikipedia ‘Pen Dinas’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pen_Dinas

Ribble Rising

After a month’s heavy rain across northern England, rivers have risen to record levels. Following 100mm of downpour in one night in Lancashire, the river Ribble (from Gallo-Brythonic Riga Belisama ‘Most Shining’ or ‘Most Mighty Queen’) burst her banks at Ribchester and Whalley, forcing people from their homes.

Yesterday the Ribble ran high between Penwortham and Preston swelling under Penwortham Bridge carrying trees, branches, tyres and other debris out to the sea with an urgent roar.

A playground in Middleforth with an overflowing storm drain was underwater.

Several riverside footpaths were submerged.

The Ribble had flooded the bottom of Miller Park completely, almost covering the fountain and pagoda.

The Pavillion Cafe was cut off like a stranded lake dwelling.

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As dusk approached, Victorian lamps illuminated the submerged pathway.

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Luckily at the most dangerous point: high tide at around 11pm, the Ribble did not break over the flood walls. Avenham and Miller Parks and the flood plains of Central Park managed the rest and no-one was evacuated.

It would have been a very different story if the Riverworks project, which intended to create a barrage on the Ribble and build on its floodplains had gone ahead. We have Jane Brunning and other ‘Save the Ribble‘ campaigners to thank that we have Central Park instead.

This morning, I walked along the old railway track to see Central Park’s flooded fields.

The floods had receded from Avenham and Miller Park and the Ribble sunk back to her normal course.

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Last night Belisama heard our apologies, songs and prayers. Today she received gratitude and thanks. This was the highest I have ever seen the Ribble rise. It was really quite terrifying and gave me a fuller understanding of why, before flood-walls, our ancestors revered and feared her as a Mighty Queen.

With temperatures increasing ten times faster than in known history and water levels rising globally I fear this will not be the last time the Ribble bursts her banks. It is a clear message everything possible must be done to slow climate change and adjustments must be made to accomodate rising rivers and returning wetlands.

Having Central Park saved us here. My thoughts are with those not so lucky in Ribchester, Whalley and in York from where 2,200 people have been evacuated.

Four Wells

Four wells at Preston New Road.
Four wells at Roseacre.
Four wells in the darkness
between drilling and decision.

Four wells of steel meets shale.
Four wells boring into the mind.
Four wells of screaming poison.
Four wells of deadly sands of time.

Four wells where gas the question
scorches ears of invisible skies.
Four wells? An uneasy whisper
from underworld gods.

Four wells to decide the future.
Four wells of choice. Four wells of trembling.
By the word on four wells our land
will be saved or destroyed.

~

This is a poem I sent to Lancashire County Council’s Development Management Group along with more logical reasons why I am opposed to Caudrilla’s drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of four wells at Preston New Road and Roseacre. Protests at the County Hall will be beginning tomorrow (Wed 23rd June) as LCC make their final decision about Caudrilla’s application. For more information on how to register opposition by e-mail and join the protest see Frack Free Lancashire’s website.

Sign for fracking protest

Below are some photos from when I visited the potential fracking site at Preston New Road. The area is cordoned off and anti-trespassing notices are in place. It looks like work has already been done to prepare it for the drilling rig.

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