The Hunt is Late

I fear
the hunt
is late
this year

because
of the green
canopies

because
of the unfallen
leaves

because
your presence
is just

a whisper
of an antlered
figure in

boughs
not yet shaken
by wind.

You are here.

You are here

I know it
by the black cat
who leaps

into my
arms trembling.
The quick-

ening beat
of my heart and
the shiver

of winter
rain falling by
lamplight.

You are here.

You are here.

I know it
when I recite
my poem –

the rain
falls harder your
night-drum

beating
within me and
the wood.

Shadows
stretch and prowl
yet your

hunters
remain dark to
the seer.

I fear
the hunt
is late
this year.

*This poem is addressed to Gwyn ap Nudd, a Brythonic god whose hunt traditionally rides to gather the souls of the dead on Nos Galan Gaeaf. It is based on my marking of the occasion by reciting my poem ‘When You Hunt for Souls in the Winter Rain‘ (in the winter rain!) for Gwyn in Greencroft Valley. I find it disturbing that some of the leaves are still green and many have not yet fallen at this time of year, which in the Celtic calendars marks the beginning of winter. (The Welsh Nos Galan Gaeaf means ‘The night before the first day of winter’ and the Irish Samhain means ‘Summer’s End’).

Ywen

Ywen
dark guardian
guardian of Annwn

Ywen
dark guardian
guardian of souls

Ywen
dark guardian
guardian of mystery

Ywen
dark guardian
guardian of us all

Leaning Yew February 2018

Swyn

Swyn – charm or incantation; magic
Kristoffer Hughes

This woodland will not be felled by the axe of man or god. I drift with the souls through the mist of blood. It is damp on my cheeks and eyelashes. This is not the time for weeping, but undoing what Gwydion has done. When the featherless wings brush my face I push them away lightly and set to work.

It must begin and end with a snake biting her tail.

It takes me weeks (in this place the weeks are counted by the dripping of the blood) to ease the snakeskin down from the trees, to sew up the tears, to stick the scales back on with super glue, then stretch it out in a circle around the woodland. Lastly I retrieve the skull, prop open the jaws with a strong branch, slip the end of the tail between them, give my instructions to those who will bring the end.

The toadstone with its antidote must form the centre.

With ropes I drag it out of the bloody pool of bones and feel like Sisyphus as I push it into the central grove. A lapwing calls “pee-wit, pee-wit” circling overhead, a red-eared hound sits at my side, and a doe watches fractiously from between the trees as I sponge off the blood and polish it with a yellow duster, beginning to hum a tune as the bufonite sparkles green as emerald beneath my touch.

In the jaws of the hundred-headed beast the gateways must be opened.

I leave the woodland and climb the hill to where the heads of the beast are piled up like a totem. Stepping inside each set of cavernous jaws I light a candle to illuminate each cave and redraw the gateways around each throat with a glow-in-the-dark marker pen and somewhere hear a belly rumble.

The eagle-feathered staff of the swynydd to reverse the swyn.

Slithering on damp bone I climb my way up slowly, a candle, a gateway, in every skull, to the very top. I wrest Gwydion’s staff from between two skulls and shake his presence from it. Gently I untie the eagle feathers and watch them drift slowly to the ground like Lleu sung from the oak in Nant Lleu.

With a smile I tie on the feathers of the owl and speak a prayer to Blodeuwedd and all her kind. I call to my Lord of Annwn, Brân with his alder shield, Pryderi the swineherd dead before his time.

Beneath the stars of promise, seated on the top skull of the beast, one leg crossed over the other, I sing:

Blood drenched trees
beyond Caer Nefenhyr
souls amongst the trees
will you ever be free?

As I sing I see the trees awakening as if from a long sleep, staring about in horror, shaking off the blood. Birch is abashed by his blood-stained armour whereas Ash is proud of his splashes and scars. Golden Rod, afraid her beauty will be forever be marred, lays down her rods of golden flowers like swords.

From their bloody death-spots the souls unattach themselves, ease themselves out of the mist, the rain.

Blood drenched trees
enchanted into warriors
woodland of lost souls
will you ever be free?

A bending of the boughs, a turning and circling in confusion, the deep rumbling voice of Oak as he argues with Holly again, the silvery tongue of Birch calming them, the dream-wisdom of Willow, the fire of Rowan, prickly Blackthorn playing devil’s advocate, the squeak of clover demanding a say.

Souls fly like moths to the flame to the jaws of the beast. The green light of the toadstone begins to glow.

Blood drenched trees
will you return to Annwn
with souls of mist and feather?
Will you accept freedom?

The green light soothes them and, as a woodland, as a whole, united by blood and mycelium they agree.

The souls step into the caverns, to the gateways, and the beast shudders to life. The snakeskin begins to twitch. I sense the end approaching like the snap of countless jaws as the snake bites her tail.

Speckled Crested Snake Ouroboros Med

*This piece follows on Caer Nefenhyr and is based upon a spirit journey into the otherworldly landscape where ‘the Battle of the Trees’ took place.

After the late-night meeting

my head was pale and flashing
a tawdry halo a broken circuit
a worn out lighthouse
behind my eyes.

I went to a hollow tree
and sat myself within it.
In the slow drip of mulch
and closeness of fungus
a full moon overhead.

The ants came inexorably
shiny-black shivering over
my skin. When I clamped
my mouth they lanced
my ears. Clambered in.

Tiny mouths chewing
like an orchestra of saws
they ate the nil-light
and came out glowing.
Pouring from my mouth

in an illuminated stream
crackling legs growing distant.
A million bright footprints
teeming from my head:
an empty mulch, a hollow tree.

Beech Tree, Carr Wood

Coille Coire Chuilc: Seeking Annwn in Caledon

Coille Coire ChuilcThere once existed a tradition amongst the northern Britons of locating Annwn north of Hadrian’s wall. Its origins may be found in the writings of Tacitus about tribes beyond the northern frontier who spoke a different language to the Britons and were impossible to subdue. Ptolemy was the first person to refer to this area as Caledonia Silva.

The 6th C classical writer Procopius said: ‘Now in this island of Britain the men of ancient times built a long wall, cutting off a large part of it; and the climate and the soil and everything else is not alike on the two sides of it… on the north side… it is actually impossible for a man to survive there even half an hour, but countless snakes and serpents and every other kind of wild creature occupy their area as their own. And, strangest of all, the inhabitants say that if a man crosses this wall and goes to the other side, he dies straight away… They say, then, that the souls of men who die are always conveyed to this place.’

These writings show within the Romano-British culture of the Old North the Caledonian forest was considered to be a wild, hostile place associated with death.

Culhwch and Olwen (1350), a medieval Welsh text set during the Arthurian period preserves remnants of these superstitions. In the stories of Gwyn, Gwythyr and Creiddylad and the Very Black Witch, Arthur ‘goes north’ to inhospitable lands. Both stories feature Gwythyr ap Greidol, a northern ruler and warrior of Arthur’s court and Gwyn ap Nudd, a king of Annwn. The latter is an ancient British god associated with wild places and the dead. It is my intuition it was after a vision of Gwyn and his host at the Battle of Arfderydd that Myrddin Wyllt went mad and fled to Celyddon (Caledon) where he wandered thirty years amongst gwyllon (wild, ancestral spirits).

As the story of Gwyn, Gwythyr and Creiddylad is set at Calan Mai, a friend and I decided to head north to Coille Coire Chuilc (one of the southernmost remnants of the Caledonian forest) on the May bank holiday weekend.

Coille Coire Chuilc is an ancient woodland of Scots pines lying between the river Cononish and Allt Gleann Auchreoch close to the village of Tyndrum in Strath Fillan. Tyndrum grew out of the lead mining industry. The mines were located in Beinn Chuirn. During the 18th C pack horses travelled 50 miles to Alloa with lead ingots then back with fuel for the smelter.

Cononish HillsDuring the 19th C gold was discovered in the hills of the Cononish glen, which led to a miniature gold rush. This ended in the 20th C but has recently restarted with the approval of a second planning application to Scotsgold Resources in 2011. Gold is once more being mined from the hills and may be panned from the river Cononish, although it is more likely one will find lead and pyrite: ‘fool’s gold’. As the area is renowned for its ‘fairy places’ it was interesting to hear the hills were hollowed with mines where one is more likely to find false gold than the real deal…

Our expedition to Coille Coire Chuilc did not go to plan. Firstly we took the ‘wrong’ path, ending up north of the river Cononish rather than within the woodland. However this had the advantages of providing a good view of the distant Scots pines and an excuse to walk back down the river, seeing some sensational falls, ravines and trees clinging drastically to rocks.

The next set back was that the bridge across the Allt Gleann Auchreoch pictured in The Ancient Pinewoods of Scotland: A Guide (2013) was plankless and uncrossable!

This led to a precarious injurious fording of the burn into a woodland of bent old round-crowned pines and deep sphagnum mosses that didn’t feel overly friendly to two foolish searching humans.

Blog 6. Coille Coire ChuilcDying trees stood with a stark grey dignity reminiscent of gwyllon; ancestral presences of their land. A land where we were not at home. Where all was strange and fey. And said leave.

On our return, after I slipped over again crossing a boggy patch, one of the more positive points was glimpsing a magnificent bird which I think may have been a golden eagle.

Blog 9. Golden EagleTyndrum itself, however, was hellish. No longer a mining village but conglomeration of shops and a tourist information centre. We arrived at the scene of an accident where a car had hit a motorbike and shortly afterward saw two near car crashes within the space of a minute. We saw the whole place was now based around the tourist industry and as tourists we were part of the problem.

I felt like I was a long way north of the wall far from home in a landscape that did not want me.

I left with the impression that whilst the story of Gwyn, Gwythyr and Creiddylad in Culhwch and Olwen contains universal themes (the battle between winter and summer kings for a maiden goddess on May Day) its variant from Strathclyde locating Annwn in the Caledonian forest very much belonged to its time and people.

The fairies of Coille Coire Chuilc had concerns of their own with mining and tourism and little care for a pair of wanderers from Lancashire seeking the ancient roots of a Brythonic tale that may never have been located in their woodland at all.

Whether Myrddin ever fled quite so far remains uncertain. Perhaps we went too far north. However I think sometimes you must stray too far to come back…

The Old North from Peneverdant

SnowdropsIn the land where I live, spring awakes. Snowdrops in their prime unfold the voluminous skirts of their lanterns. Lords and ladies push their courtship through the soil alongside first signs and scents of ransoms. Swollen mosses take on a bright green living vibrancy.

As I walk the path centuries of ancestors walked to St Mary’s Well, I hear the loudness of a thrush. Could it be the one who calls me from sleep each morning, speckled chest blanched and white as birch amongst ash and sycamore? The trees hold back for now, but I know the sap will start rising soon.

I pass the site of the healing well and cross the road to the War Memorial. Splashes of pink, purple and yellow primroses are planted in beds before the Celtic cross. Etched on blue-grey slabs are the names of seventy-three men who lost their lives in the First World War and forty-six who died in the second. They are honoured and remembered here. I also think of the dead who have no memorial or whose memories have been erased or forgotten.

I follow the footpath uphill onto Church Avenue. Leading to St Mary’s Church, it once went to a Benedictine Priory, dissolved and more recently demolished. A strange road this; trodden by pilgrims in search of miraculous cures and by funeral processions. By soldiers too, maybe armies, defending this crucial position from what we now see as the castle motte.

Passing the church on the hill’s summit I stand in the graveyard amongst tilted and fallen headstones, beneath sentinel beech trees whose shells and bronzed and curling leaves still litter the greening earth.

There’s no access to the motte’s vantage point, but through leafless trees I can make out the city of Preston with its clock tower, steeples, tower blocks and huge manufacturies along Strand Road. I recall images of its panoply of smoking chimneys, flaming windows, imagine the pounding Dickensian melancholy-mad elephants.

Preston’s sleeker now. Cleaner. Less red and black. Concrete grey. Not so smoky. But sometimes the industrial pall still holds. Somewhere behind its walls lies a medieval town and behind that…

The Pennines form a sweeping backdrop, rising higher than Priest Town’s spires ever could; Parlick, Wolf Fell, Longridge Fell, Billinge Hill, Great Hill, Winter Hill. An easterly green and purple barricade. To the west, the river Ribble, Belisama, strapped into her new course, stretches long arms to her shining estuary. A sea gull cries over the horizon and disappears.

I’ve spent several years researching the history of Penwortham. The Riversway Dockfinds mark the existence of a Bronze Age Lake Village. Ballista balls on Castle Hill and a huge industrial site at Walton-le-dale ascertain a Roman presence. Following the breakdown of Roman rule, history grinds to a halt.

There is a black hole in Penwortham’s past the size of the Dark Ages; during the time of the Old North.

Historians have conjectured about this. David Hunt and Alan Crosby agree that place names (where we find a mixture of Brythonic and Old English, like Penwortham* often conjoined) suggest a gradual settlement of the local area by Anglo-Saxons during the seventh century. They say Penwortham’s remoteness on the edges of Northumbria and Mercia meant it was not a major concern. However, this conflicts with the significance of its location as a defensive position for the early Britons and Romans and later probably for the Saxons of Mercia and the key role it played for the Normans during the harrying of the North.

History starts up again with the Saxon hundreds, invasions from Scandinavia and the Norman Conquest. But what happened in between?

Unfortunately, likewise, there is a black hole in the history of the Old North the size of Penwortham. And it isn’t the only one.

The very concept of ‘Yr Hen Ogledd’ ‘the Old North’ is problematic. It is a term used post datum by scholars to identify an area of land covering the majority of northern England and southern Scotland from the time of the breakdown of Roman rule in the fifth century until the Anglian kingdom of Northumbria came to dominate in the eighth century.

During this period, it was simply known as ‘Y Gogledd’ ‘the North’. Its people spoke a Brythonic language known as Cumbric, which was similar to the Cymric language of the Welsh. Its rulers ‘Gwŷr y Gogledd’ ‘the Men of the North’ claimed common descent from either Coel Hen (Old King Coel) or Dyfnawl Hen. Again, the genealogies are problematic because they were created by kings to certify their reign by tracing their lineage back to legendary ancestral figures.

The main kingdoms of the Old North are usually identified as Alt Clud, in the south-west of Scotland, which centred on Dumbarton and later became Strathclyde; Gododdin, in the south-east of Scotland, which had a base at Edinburgh; Elmet, in western Yorkshire and Rheged in north-west England.

The location of Rheged is a matter of ongoing debate. For Ifor Williams it centres on Carlisle and the Eden Valley and covers Cumbria, the Solway Firth and Dumfries and Galloway. John Morris posits the existence of a northern Rheged in Cumbria and a southern Rheged that extended into Lancashire and Cheshire. On the basis of landscape and resources, Mike McCarthy suggests a smaller kingdom or set of sub-kingdoms existed either north or south of the Solway. If McCarthy is correct, we do not have a name for present day Lancashire at all but a black hole the size of a county or larger!

Another problem is that textual sources about the Old North are extremely limited. We have some historical records such as the Annales Cambriae, the Historia Brittonum and Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Much of the history of this period is derived from the heroic poetry of the Dark Age bards Taliesin and Aneirin. Later saga poetry construes dramatic dialogues between characters associated with earlier events.

Research leads to where history and myth converge but can take us no further. It becomes necessary to step beyond study across the threshold to otherworlds where the past, our ancestors and deities still live.

So I speak my intentions to the spirits of place; the Lady in the Ivy with her glance of green, wood pigeons gathered in the trees, the people buried here in marked and unmarked graves.

I speak with my god, Gwyn ap Nudd, who abides beyond this land but sometimes seems closer than the land itself. The god who initiated and guides this quest.

His suggestion: what is a black hole but a portal?

Our agreement stirs a ghost wind from behind the graves, rustling bronze beech leaves and tree whispers from above.

The hill seems greener. A single white sea gull barks. Then long-tailed tits come chittering and twirling to the brambles.

Beech trees and castle motte*Penwortham first appears in the Domesday Book in 1086 as ‘Peneverdant.’ Writing in 1857 Rev. W. Thornber claims this name is of British origin and ‘formed of three words- pen, werd or werid and want, as Caer werid, the green city (Lancaster) and Derwent, the water, that is the green hill on the water’. This describes exactly how I imagine Castle Hill would have looked during the eleventh century near the Ribble on the marsh. However, ‘verdant’ has always sounded more like French for ‘green’ to me.

Alan Crosby says ‘Peneverdant’ results from a Norman scribe trying to write an unfamiliar word (which was likely to have been in use for up to 500 years) phonetically. He tells us the ‘Pen’ element in Penwortham is British and means ‘prominent headland’ whilst ‘wortham’ is Old English and means ‘settlement on the bend in the river’.

If Penwortham had an older British name prior to Saxon settlement, it is unknown. I can’t help wondering if it would have been something like ‘y pen gwyrdd ar y dŵr,’ which is modern Welsh for ‘the green hill on the water’. It’s not that far from Peneverdant.

Fairy Lights and The Strangeness, Fishergate

Last night I dreamt I was watching a television programme in my living room. Somehow I entered it and became an active participant. With a group of friends I was preparing to stage a protest. For it to succeed, a special light on a tree needed to be changed. I ran with a blonde, sporty woman (who I did not know) across a car park to the tree, which stood on the end of a busy city street I identified as Fishergate in Preston.

The lights were off. The one we had to change looked more like a silver Christmas decoration and stood out as markedly special and ‘other.’ As the woman started taking it down, chatting easily, she paused. Her expression froze into uncanny wistfulness and her gaze grew distant. Speaking in a voice from far away, she told me “it belonged to Gwyn ap Nudd.”

I knew at this point (somehow being outside the programme and within it) the words and memory that possessed her were not her own. Like in a film there was powerful, beautiful music. A strange wind blew, stripping away the façade of the city streets. I had a profound sense of another landscape stirring and awaking at the sound of Gwyn’s name. Once the strangeness had blown over, the woman began chatting normally as if nothing had happened and traffic started driving past again.

Throughout the preparations there were rumours about the massing of an army of otherworldly beings. As someone in the programme with an audience member’s knowledge I knew they were the fay / Gwyn’s hunt and could sense them gathering in clouds and forests somewhere behind. I had the feeling they might disrupt the clash between the two sides in the protest. As audience, I was aware this was the part I was looking forward to.

This awareness brought me back to my living room to see the credits rolling down the screen…

***

The dream inspired me to walk into Preston at dusk tonight. Several months ago, Fishergate (the high street) was pedestrianised. The road was narrowed to make way for wider pavements and as a final touch, trees. Delighted when I saw first saw them, I walked the street, greeting them in turn and welcoming them to the city.

Since the Christmas lights went off, the trees have been lit by fairy lights. Following rain and hail, the pavements gleamed. Reflected in windscreens the lights shone like cold stars, miniscule glances leaping from fragments of hail.

Fishergate, PrestonIdentifying the tree from my dream, I noticed all the lights were working.

Tree, FishergateI stood with the tree for a short while. Crossing the road and looking back, I saw huge dark ominous clouds gathering over the County Hall, which is where the anti-fracking protests will take place on the 28th and 29th of January.

Fishergate, County HallThe music of hail came down. An immense strangeness like none I had known before came over the city. I felt as if I stood in another Preston where the landscape was more than it was by the strange life of those lights against winter’s silver-grey sky. Everything seemed more profound and enthused with meaning, although I couldn’t divine what the exact meaning was.

Fairy LightWhat happened to the silvery light, which belonged to Gwyn ap Nudd and led me to the strangeness remains uncertain.

Review: Your Face is a Forest by Rhyd Wildermuth

Your Face is a ForestRhyd Wildermuth is a writer and social worker based in Seattle. He writes for ‘The Wild Hunt,’ ‘Patheos Pagan’ and ‘Polytheist.com’ and blogs at ‘Paganarch.com.’ He describes himself as ‘a dream-drenched, tea-swilling leftist pagan punk bard.’ He is also a student of Druidry with OBOD. What drew me to his work was his boldness, passion, vision and the fact he proudly and outspokenly ‘worships gods.’

Your Face is a Forest is a collection of essays and prose. Rhyd describes his style as ‘weaving a forest from meaning’. This book’s a tapestry of poetic prose and prose poetry woven from themes that make sense as a whole only in the non-rational way trees make a forest. It’s rough, edgy and raw, and also a little rough around the edges, which adds to its anarchic charm.

Rhyd invites the reader to step into his life and accompany him through the places where he lives into forests behind to meet the faces of ‘the Other’ in ‘tasselled willows’, pines and alders, satyr dances and Dionysian revels. To find the tooth of an elk long dead and buried where cars now drive. A world full of life and another world behind it.

What I love about this book is that Rhyd speaks deeply and richly of both worlds. On pilgrimages to France and Germany he tells of the wonder of waking in a field of rabbits, playing flute with locals on unknown streets, sitting within the pink fur womb of a Berlin bar. He speaks of his despair at social inequality and the continuing repression of homosexuality in Christian colleges. He is a poet of the sacredness of this-worldly life on all levels.

He also shares some of his innermost visions of the gods and otherworlds. These have guided his life and thus form the reader’s guiding threads. Outstanding was a vision of Bran, which deserves quoting in full; ‘When I saw Bran, his great black cloak rippled in an unseen wind, his powerful form straddling a Breton valley between the River of Alder and the sea. But the cloak fled from his body, a myriad of ravens having stripped from his flesh sinew and skin, leaving only great white pillars of bone, the foundation of a temple and a tower. I do not yet know where his head lies.’ On his pilgrimages we find a mysterious tower on a mountain, a stone head in a fountain and a magical cloak. But Rhyd doesn’t give all his secrets away.

Other deities include Arianrhod, Ceridwen, Brighid, Dionysos and the unnamed gods and spirits of the city streets, buried forests and culverted rivers. What I liked most about these sections is that rather than kowtowing to being acceptable, Rhyd speaks his experiences directly and authentically. This was encouraging and inspiring for me and I think will be for other polytheists whose encounters with the gods go beyond known mythology and conventional Pagan text books. There are few modern authors who speak of the mystical aspects of deity and Rhyd does it exceptionally well.

I’d recommend Your Face is a Forest to all Pagans who are looking for real, undoctored insights into nature and the gods. Because it’s not only about Paganism and is written by somebody fully immersed in the beauty and pain of life and the search for love I’d recommend it to non-Pagans too, particularly those interested in spiritual journeys and visionary prose and poetry. Quoting Rhyd’s dedication, to ‘Everyone who’s ever looked into the Abyss / And brought back light for the rest of us.’

Your Face is a Forest is available through Lulu: http://www.lulu.com/shop/rhyd-wildermuth/your-face-is-a-forest/paperback/product-21887986.html

Completion of Penwortham By-pass

A couple of weeks ago I found out about the plans to build a new stretch of by-pass between Broad Oak Roundabout and the A59 in my home town of Penwortham (1). In The Central Lancashire Highways and Transport Masterplan this is referred to as ‘Completion of Penwortham By-pass’ (2). Since then I have walked the accessible parts of the route on the map in order to see first hand where it will go and visualise its impact.

Beginning at Broak Oak Roundabout

Beginning at Broad Oak Roundabout, courtesy of South Ribble Borough Council

The new stretch of by-pass will begin to the south west of Broak Oak Roundabout.

Broad Oak RoundaboutIt looks like the entrance road may be hereEntrance Road?and the exit road here.

Exit Road?It willl then head across this scrubby field of oak saplings, thistle and dock, over which I saw a buzzard circling today.

Scrubby FieldThen it will bear west and straight to the A59.

New Stretch of Penwortham By-pass, courtesy of South Ribble Borough Council

New Stretch of Penwortham By-pass, courtesy of South Ribble Borough Council

The beginning of the route will cut through a wooded footpath that begins as a track at Nutter’s Platt and runs alongside Mill Brook (pictured south of the by-pass). One part bears left to join Lindle Lane, the other right to join Howick Moor Lane. The trees include oak, beech and hawthorn. The plentiful brambles are covered in blackberries. This path is a frequent throughfare for long tailed tits.

Penwortham By-pass, Freshers Fayre 017The by-pass will then run across a series of fields, which are divided by trees and hedegrows (important wildlife corridors) and currently used for pasture.

PasturePenwortham By-pass, Freshers Fayre 018Penwortham By-pass, Freshers Fayre 020It will finally run through the playing fields of All Hallows Catholic High School. They have been offered compensatory land closer to the school.

All Hallows Playing Fields

All Hallows Playing Fields

It will end with the Proposed Roundabout, between Blackhurst cottages and Howick CE Primary School.

Proposed Roundabout, courtesy of South Ribble Borough Council

Proposed Roundabout, courtesy of South Ribble Borough Council

A59

Admittedly, this route is preferable to the rescinded route, which would have brought about the destruction of much more land and five houses.

However I can’t help feeling angry about the way the value of the economic growth and development of human society has come to win out against the value of the living landscape and its inhabitants. That whilst the human community has been consulted nobody has thought to consider that the birds and wildlife may not wish to leave their homes even if they are provided with others, that the planting of more trees is no real compensation to the trees cut down, that the land itself might not want to be dug up and subjected to the turbulence of another road.

What’s more, a later part of the plan is to link this stretch of by-pass to a new bridge over the river Ribble and a valuable piece of salt marsh. The issues surrounding this will be explored in a later post.

(1) https://lornasmithers.wordpress.com/2014/09/09/penwortham-by-pass-and-the-city-deal/
(2) http://new.lancashire.gov.uk/media/234524/Central-Lancashire-Highways-and-Transport-Masterplan.pdf

Fish House Brook

Fish House BrookFish House Brook is a stream in Penwortham, which runs from behind my street, Bank Parade, through Greencroft Valley to the river Ribble. Since I started litter picking in the valley three years ago I have been clearing the brook, walking it regularly and researching its history. This article traces its course from source to mouth and provides snap shots of the ways people have related to it over the last few centuries.

~

The source of Fish House Brook and its earliest stretch have been culverted underground. Its course is indicated by the street names Bank Parade and an adjacent cul-de-sac called Burnside Way. It runs underneath the gardens on the eastern side of Bank Parade.

Bank Parade and Burnside Way, courtesy of Mario Maps

Bank Parade and Burnside Way, courtesy of Mario Maps

A few months ago Gordon at number 14 kindly invited me into his garden to see the site of its steep banking, which is now occupied by a pond.

FHB tributary's old valley BP no. 14 - CopyHe also lifted the grille to let me take a peek at the swiftly flowing underground stream.

FHB culverted tributary - CopyThe brook now emerges from a concrete pipeline behind Malt Kiln Cottage.

Fish House Brook, sourceThe following maps show Fish House Brook running from behind Malt Kiln Cottage into Greencroft Valley in the 1840’s and today.

Malt Kiln Farm and Greencroft Valley

Malt Kilm Cottage and Greencroft Valley 1840’s, courtesy of Mario Maps

Malt Kiln Farm and Greencroft Valley

Malt Kiln Cottage and Greencroft Valley now, courtesy of Mario Maps

Malt Kiln Cottage

Malt Kiln Cottage

Malt Kiln Cottage originally housed a water mill used to mill grain for beer. A picture of the pool behind the mill leat can be found on the Tithe Map (1838). Elizabeth Basquill provides a detailed account of how the malsters in residence used water from the stream and adjacent well to soak barley in a malster’s trough before it was dried and delivered by horse and cart round the corner to the Black Bull pub (2).

Malt Kiln Cottage, Tithe Map, 1838

Malt Kiln Cottage, Tithe Map, 1838

During this period Fish House Brook must have been much larger and more powerful to turn a water wheel. Its diminishment shows the effect of building 300 houses and their accompanying pipelines for clean water, drainage and sewage during the Central New Towns Project in the 1980’s.

Greencroft Valley

Greencroft Valley

Greencroft Valley is the largest surviving green space between the new estates. The old field lines remain intact, indicated by rows of trees. The wooded areas provide living space and nesting places for hedgehogs, squirrels and birds including magpies, wrens, a variety of tits, nut hatches and a woodpecker.

Greencroft Valley

Greencroft Valley playing field

The brook has had its share of pollution problems, mainly from grey water out of faulty washing machines. Since reporting this, it has been less frequent. Frog spawn and frogs have been seen, and a few smaller insects. However, there is no sign of any fish. This is disappointing as the 1840’s map shows a fish pond, which according to the Tithe Map was in Fish Pan Field, suggesting local people used to pan in the brook for fish.

Fish Pan Field

Fish Pond and Greencroft Valley 1840, courtesy of Mario Maps

Fish Pan Field

Greencroft Valley now, courtesy of Mario Maps

The brook is culverted from Greencroft Valley beneath Hill Road South.

Fish House Brook, Culvert under Hill Rd SouthIt emerges close to Rosefold house and cottages.

Rose Fold Cottages

Rose Fold Cottages

According to Elizabeth Basquill the cottages and yard were part of a tannery. During the late 19th century Fish House Brook was used to wash hides. ‘The hides were soaked in slaked lime first, then washed, and the hair and flesh scraped off.’ This process would have caused considerable pollution to the stream. Two adjacent fish ponds, which Elizabeth believes may have existed from the medieval period were ‘later used as tan pits for washing the skins’ (3).

Rosefold

Rose Fold 1840, Courtesy of Mario Maps

Rosefold

Rose Fold now, courtesy of Mario Maps

The first stretch of the brook, heading northeast, cannot be followed behind the houses. Where it makes a rightangle and heads northwest, a footpath runs alongside it. This follows the line of a much older route that led from Middleforth Green to St Mary’s Well (4).

Fish House BrookIt then bends right and passes through Campbell’s Park Homes following its old course round the back of the mobile houses.

Fish House Brook, Campbell's Park Homes

Fish House Brook, Campbell’s Park Homes

Campbells Park Homes, Meadows

Fish House Brook 1840, courtesy of Mario Maps

Campbell's Park Homes, Meadows

Fish House Brook, the Meadows and Campbells Park Homes now, courtesy of Mario Maps

The residential park nestles within the triangle of Penwortham Junction. The train lines pictured closed in 1965 and are now covered by beech, birch, sycamore, bramble and an array of wildflowers, forming important wildlife corridors.

Campbell's Park Homes

Campbell’s Park Homes

Another tributary enters Fish House Brook, running from the back of Far Field across the meadows. The pathway to St Mary’s Well crosses it, and there is a newer footbridge further south. At this time of year the meadows are thriving with mayflowers, buttercups, plantain, wild carrot, orange tipped and cabbage white butterflies and an abundance of bees.

The Meadows

The Meadows

The brook runs through Penwortham Allotments (unfortunately out of bounds) then is finally culverted beneath Leyland Road under Fish House Bridge.

Fish House Bridge

Fish House Bridge

Fish House Bridge

Fish House Brook culverted under Fish House Bridge

The 1840’s map shows a lodge beside Fish House Bridge. Alan Crosby says the bridge took its name from a timber building which ‘served as the quarters of the manorial river bailiff.’ This dwelling was adjacent to the fish garths, which were mainly used for catching salmon between December and August. It was the bailiff’s task to make sure the fishermen from different townships abided by the rules of the fisheries (5).

Fish House Bridge

Fish House Bridge 1840’s, courtesy of Mario Maps

Fish House Bridge

Fish House Bridge now, courtesy of Mario Maps

It is clear Fish House Brook derives its name from the Fish House, and as far as I know, no trace of an earlier name remains.

~

Each of these locations holds a story and discloses a relationship between the brook and the people who have depended on it. Since water started being piped in the 19th century, we’ve had no need to fetch it from wells or streams for drinking or bathing. Due to modern farming and production methods few of us rely on local waterways for fish, mill our own grain or tan our own skins.

This has a distancing effect. Due to continuing building work, I cannot imagine a time when the water from Fish House Brook will be safe to drink. It is uncertain whether fish will return, although some small fish were sighted by mum in nearby Penwortham Brook.

Small fish photographed by my mum in Penwortham Brook. Can you identify them?

Small fish photographed by my mum in Penwortham Brook. Can you identify them?

Whilst it’s impossible to turn back the clocks, I think there is time to get to know and understand our watercourses, and the lives and motivations of the people who have worked with and changed them. This article is an early marker stone on the journey through this process for me.

(1) Courtesy of Mario Maps
(2) Elizabeth Basquill, More Hidden Histories of Penwortham Houses (2011), p6-11, 42-44
(3) Ibid, p34-36
(4) St Mary’s Well was famous for being the cleanest source of water in the area and was attributed healing properties. Local people used to walk a mile to access their favoured water source, and it was also a site of pilgrimage.
(5) Alan Crosby, Penwortham in the Past, (1988), p48