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
Elfrieda Warren sent me some photos of the old Hunstanworth School. She also sent me a poem written by Hilda Everitt for the day the school closed down in 1974. The school’s teacher at the time was Bronwen Winskill.
Hilda’s granddaughter Ruby lives in the village today but goes to school elsewhere. She reads the poem here.
We stayed in Hunstanworth for five days. We took long walks to Blanchland and the surrounding hills and forests.
The roofs in the village have the most beautiful tiled designs in them. The landscape lifts you. This might be the prettiest of the Thankful Villages.
The old school house is there and still has the Devil’s Stride in its driveway. The Devil’s Stride is a huge pole, which would have ropes hanging from it. The children would run with the ropes then swing into the air.
We take disposable film cameras and Fisher Price cassette players to East Carlton.
Me and Abigail have designed a game. We have a map of the village and have drawn a grid over it. We split up and wander round the village for the length of one side of a C90 cassette.
The lines on the grid on the Y axis denote pitch and the lines on the X axis denote tonality. The idea is that the shape of our walk around the village will dictate a tune. What we see and hear would inform the words. We say what we see into our cheap plastic recorders. We try to speak and take pictures without thinking. We let memories and observations collide.
We let the village create it’s own song. We chase the light.
A set of coincidences.
I have been looking for local musicians to help me capture the villages. Dan Mayfield often plays violin with me but also belongs to a family that plays in Morris sides.
His mother Becky grew up in Horncastle near High Toynton. I arranged for them to visit St John’s the Baptist’s church together and do a rendition of Lincolnshire’s most famous folk song, The Lincolnshire Poacher. To gain access to the church we must collect the key from Alison Bell at her Yoga studio opposite. It turns out that Alison and Becky haven’t seen each other since they attended school together. Alison brings a friend and a dog to watch the Mayfield family play folks songs in the church.
The smaller the audience, the bigger the heart.
The Lincolnshire Poacher was used to disguise codes and was broadcast by the numbers stations during the Cold War by the British intelligence service.
When I arrive in Minting a strange and wild-looking cat climbs into my car and refuses to leave. David finds me trying to coax the cat out. David is a school head who lives in the old school house. He is a keen member of the historical society, a musician, and makes his own notebooks.
David is also a keen detectorist and was happy to show me his boxes of finds from the fields around his home.
He took me detectoring and we found something quickly. He dug a small hole and found an old Chinese coin.
David had found some before around the village.
Apparently Francis Bashforth, the local rector in 1857 to 1908, invented a new system for measuring the velocity of bullets and often visited China.
A few weeks after my visit David sent me the coin in the post.