I meander. There is a dried ditch by the side of the road that meanders slightly.
I have a new friend with me. Thom is making a documentary about me and my project but anyone who travels with me gets put to work. I send him into a house called ‘Redworms’ to interview Jim about the ‘Waters of Woe’. Jim plays a melodeon to Thom.
I am tired and slightly frazzled but the village comforts me and I go back to Arthur Mee’s words on the village. They are read by Tilli here. Arthur is my constant guide on these journeys. It was half hisidea after all.
I find Chris and admire his roses. He tells me about the Gypsy Race, his name for Jim’s Waters of Woe. The water never returns.
Margaret in Harley sent me the memoirs of Hilda Preece as a suggestion for a song subject. Hilda lived in the village from 1904 to 1998. She tells stories of all night dance parties with gramophones in the barns.
She talks about climbing the “Jenny Wind” to the top of Wenlock Edge that looms over the village. The Jenny Wind is an old winched tramway used to haul limestone from the quarries at the top to the lime kilns at the bottom.
We search and can’t find it. The next day we try again and realised we’d missed it by a few metres. I sit down and sing. I can see the village of Harley. I can see all of it.
A Shropshire song ‘The Wind Wind Blows’ is hidden in the ending.
Saxby is in walking distance from Teigh and it’s the first village I arrive in by foot.
Tor from the rectory in Teigh made me a packed lunch. I search in vain for the old railway station but as I suspected it was flattened a few years earlier.
I am on my own again but my rucksack is full of friends. I write a song about it.
I meet Angie who is keen to help me a put a show on in Saxby. I save my song to play live at the show a few months later.
Angie and Pudsey decorate a dutch barn in orange and I play for the village with my friend Dan. Audrey and George arrive from Teigh, villagers come from East Norton.
I play them the sound of a steam train coming in to Saxby in 1957. The sun opens up and I play them a song about their village.
Right at the start of this project there was a story in Teigh that leapt out of the research. The Reverend Henry Stanley Tibbs was jailed during World War 2 for being a Nazi sympathizer as was his son.
The story was compelling but I didn’t know how it would fit in my collection of small and grateful tales.
Sally Beers is the granddaughter of Henry Tibbs and proved hard to track down. She arrives at the Holy Trinity Church in Teigh with her dog Leanne. Leanne curls up on the altar and twitches in her sleep with her eyes open.
Sally has only recently found out about her grandfather herself. She tells the story with wit and warmth and a small amount of confusion.
Audrey and George Morley are residents in Teigh and complete the story. They have photos of Sally’s family that she has never seen before.
Alfred Watkins invented the idea of the ‘ley’ line. The mysticism and spirituality was attached to them much later. Alfred was a walker and lover of maps. He saw the leys as an ancient form of navigation.
He drew lines connecting burial grounds, mounds, forts and churches and concluded there were too many sites on these lines to be mere coincidence. Many dispute his theories now.
I was drawn to Alfred because like me he was drawing connections between places on tenuous or random details.
I found that three of his ley lines come together in the Thankful Village of Knill in Alfred’s home county of Herefordshire. Two cross on the site of an ancient fort on a huge mound called Burfa Bank that overlooks the village. Another two cross in a chicken run by the side of the road.
I wrote a song for Alfred and sang them where his lines cross on top of the fort.
I try to identify trees with my Observer book of trees but it proves hard.
It’s one of the first days of spring and Middleton is full of lambs and daffodils.
Spring should make you happy but I feel slightly melancholic. There’s something about the change of a season that tells me I haven’t done enough, that I’m falling behind.
I tap and rattle children’s percussion next to a hedge where a dog barks at me in frustration. I leave the dog in peace and try to let the lambs get used to me.
Instead of writing something new I’m reminded of an old tune resting in the cobwebs of my faulty mind, it’s almost a nursery rhyme. I coax it back to life whilst I wait for the animals to stop being frightened.
I shouldn’t fear the changing of seasons. It should reassure me.
The day before going to East Wittering I find a battered, ancient camera lens on the floor. It has a small lever that triggers a timer that makes a pleasing whirring noise when I put it near my ear.
Bored of the car we decide to reach a Thankful Village by public transport.
We take a couple of trains followed by a bus. The journey is slow but easy. Trains make me feel calm even when they run late.
East Wittering is the biggest so far of all the Thankful Villages with shops, pubs and restaurants. It has palm trees on it’s beach that are savaged by the wind. It doesn’t seem to know where it is.
I’m pleased to have company on this Thankful trip.
Abi does all the filming and I sit on the beach looking through the lens and making East Wittering look smaller.
I make a tune out of clicks and whirs.
(Video directed by Abigail Forbes)
During my travels we lost one Thankful Village, it is believed possible that a soldier who died in the Great War could have come from Welbury on the first volume of Thankful Villages.
However one village has been added, Toft. Michael McCarthy worked tirelessly to prove what has long been local legend, that everyone returned to Toft alive from the first World War.
I went to Toft three times.
The first time Jake Tebbit showed me his paintings and Michael and Cynan sang to me in his kitchen.
The second time I sang for Michael and the rest of the village in the People’s Hall.
The third time I saw their May Day festival. My friend Emma danced round the May pole on the village green. Then we blessed the well and hugged the church on it’s 800th birthday.
Whilst staying in Herbrandston for Christmas me and John drive north to Llanfihangel. We drive through a village called Bethlehem.
This third volume of Thankful Villages has theme of schools and their closures but Llanfihangel is the rarest of villages; it has a working school over 175 years old.
The village is proud of its’ school, they have a book detailing it’s history and the school playground is brightly coloured with a mural painted by the children.
A tiny stream separates the school from the graveyard. The weather is fearsome and blows right through us. The Y Ffarmers pub feeds us by an open fire.
As is often the case, an elder gentleman stops and asks us what we are doing. ‘Have you seen some changes?’ asks John.
‘Everything changes,’ he replies, not in resignation but in quiet acceptance.
I took my best friend John Jervis to spend Christmas with me in Herbrandston. John is a tower of strength but the gentlest of men. His present to me was a book about a dog on a train and a cup with ‘Jazz’ written on it. I bought him Planet of the Apes comics.
Herbrandston is on the south westerly tip of Wales and surrounded by refineries’ industry and abandoned forts. There is one pub called the Taberna Inn which is also the local shop and the post office. Peter the landlord loves trains and leaves updated and hand corrected timetables on each table.
I recorded the mass on Christmas Eve and you can here them singing here. We met Colin that night who told the opening story.
Rebecca gave me a book of Welsh Hymns which had ‘All Through the Night’ in it and on which this is based.
You can buy Thankful Villages volume 3 here www.hefnet.com