Saturday, 13 October 2012

Carrying A Story to the End of The Land {part 1}

WHEN I LAST WROTE WORDS TO YOU HERE we were packing the van in preparation for a long trip north, in the bright days of July, during that long ago, all too short summer that tickled our shores so briefly. Since then many adventures have been had, and ways wended, many stories told and born and sold and worn. We have been so extremely busy that I've really not had a spare minute to check emails and keep up with the daily necessaries, let alone keep this log woven with new colours. 

Now it is autumn, and the skies are folding us in. These days are for reflection and rest. So I sit here at the kitchen table on a grey after-dawn and unpack my travelling bag at last. I have much to tell, so I'll not write it all in one go. Today, I'll take your hand and pull you back with me to a summer day, on a road going north from here, our bellies full of the unknown, our heads dancing with a well-rehearsed story, and the little red van full of paintings and storytelling masks and folding chairs and food for the journey and pots and pans and flasks of tea and firewood and accordions and a trembling grey lurcher who doesn't like travelling very much...

...when what should appear up ahead of us but a bright and outlandish motorway neighbour - the trailer of a tattoo artist perhaps?

We have been driving for some hours, with map and music; the road rolls under our wheels keenly, and sights flash by. We speed on through England, past villages, hamlets and towns mostly tucked away from the big roads, continuing happily in their quotidians, unravelling their own stories, as we unravel ours.

A little way off the M6 in Cheshire, we decide to stop for lunch. Some smaller roads and lanes bring us here - past a sign that says "To The Edge" - to this tranquil green and singing beech wood. 

Macha (who is still wearing her seatbelt-harness) is relieved to have stopped hurtling; she leaps delighted out of the van and promptly scurries off, nose to forest floor, in search of things only dogs know about.

We have brought our little Frontier Stove out into the woods with us, to heat our lunch. It's ideal for having a fire in a place folk might not want you to have a fire. It unfolds pleasingly and leaves no scorched circle behind.

We are in Alderley Edge, famous thanks to Alan Garner's reawakening of its legends in his brilliant books.

The smoke and the dappling sunlight fuse a peace into the afternoon, away from roads and people. We delight in the wide carpet of quiet space beech trees make at their feet.

And we sit in awe under the high high canopy of green, which dances with daylight and birdsong and the gentlest of breezes.

We are thankful and fed. And now, refreshed, we must drive on, promising ourselves that next time we come here, we'll go beyond the beech wood and to The Edge.

On the road again, and we pass another outlandish load. The skies begin to darken.

Eventually, as the evening edges towards us, the north a little nearer, we leave the main roads and wend our way through the beautiful Lake District to look for a park-up. These are tiny dry-stone-walled lanes, steep and sheep-scattered, climbing over streams and little ancient bridges. 

We stop eventually in a secluded spot by a little river where we'll spend the night.

It's not raining yet, so we set up the kitchen on the green riverbank.

After dinner, as dusk rolls in, we play music for the cows on the other side of the river.

And they come over to listen.

That night is quiet and rainy, only the river rushes through our dreams. Breakfast is had in the same spot and a friendly farmer comes upon us there, wishing us a good morning. We pack up reluctantly; our first performance is to be the following night, and we have miles more to drive, not to mention much to prepare once we arrive. We must leave these hills and cows in meadowsweet-edged fields and drive on...

The clouds rain on our leave-taking and our roads wind up and down between the lakes. The north-western edge of this island is striated with water-filled valleys etched there by glaciers millions of years ago. The land is high and beautiful, and it rolls us along between its shoulder blades on this wet, wet morning in July.

Misted fells, patchworked with stone walls rush by the van windows.

And every so often: lakes. They appear like magic, out of the mist-green, beyond the trees. We stop beside one for lunch. The air is heavy and you cannot see far. All the peaks are cloud-shrouded. Not many people are about.

We cross the border into Scotland and reach our friends Dougie and Em Strang in time for late lunch. Their house is warm and laughing with children. It is surrounded by a forest.

The following night is our first performance... we are nervous as can be. The theatre where we are to perform is in Moffat, a small border town which I know quite well from my days living not very far from there. We arrive early. The sun illuminates the venue from behind parted rain clouds. A theatre! We're performing in a theatre! The hilarious terrifying ridiculousness of this bubbles very close to the surface. We are used to telling our stories outdoors by a fire under the stars where mistakes are not mistakes, but just colour in the firelight of a human recounting a tale, or playing a tune to friends.

But here, we have a dressing room! With lights around the mirror! Suddenly we imagine that we are doing an am-dram tour of provincial seaside theatres, and the hilarity combines with our now quite overwhelming nerves, and we look at each other in the mirror, listening to the sound of the audience arriving through the door to the foyer, and wonder why we do these things...

Between breathing and trying to keep the energy up and the terror at bay with some yoga on the dressing room floor, I manage to take a couple of photographs in the light-edged mirror.

Here we are just before "the call". And on the right: my great grandparents on my father's side who were Music Hall Artistes and travelled far and wide with their performance. Their act was called the 'Hellman Cousins' or 'Helm & Cousins' - nobody's very sure. I know they toured America and other countries as well as the UK around the turn of the century. By all accounts, they spent most of their earnings on drink. Though I lack my great grandmother's obvious stage confidence, I liked comparing us for that brief moment in the dressing room mirror of a small theatre.

The performance goes well after all, though the audience is small. We hadn't realised it coincided with the opening night of the Olympics. A couple of neighbours from my old village in South Lanarkshire come along after having seen the poster in town. I sell a few prints in the foyer afterwards, and we go home exhausted and relieved that the 'first night' is over.


{part 2 continued here}

{this post has been divided into separate episodes on account of its excessive length and the inability of google reader to cope! If you'd like to read it all in one go, please go here}


Laura Morrigan said...

These are the kind of magical hidden places I want to find next time I go to England! They still seem to untouched and enchanted! It is places like this that draw me, although i love the city too for all the culture that it offers!

I love the story about your ancestors! They sound very fun! It sounds like you get to do what you love too, so I think it's a good comparison!

Wayward Harper said...

Ahh Splendid!! now on to the rest... ;D

Lunaea Weatherstone said...

As always, Rima, I am grateful to be able to share in the waking dream that is your beautiful life.

Linda B. said...

Oh how beautiful! I visited the Lake District many years ago and have never awakened from its spell. Now on to Part 2 . . .