During the 2017 walking festival, we were delighted to host a creative writing workshop, led by Sue Boyle, at Kelston Old Barn.  Through a combination of workshop, walking, group work and guided writing, those attending produced a number of poems, individually and collectively.  They are reproduced here.  Many thanks to Sue and the writers.

 

The Old Barn at Kelston

I stand within this ancient barn,
now spruced up and partly modernised
but still predominantly exuding history.

Before the barn,
before the fields and hedgerows,
just pathways linked the wooded valleys
with the hill-top forts.
And before the pathways
there was just the wild country of the hills.

The barn rises from the stone beneath the ground.
A mix of practicality,
of toil,
and of beauty.
The beauty of the building
and of the views.
I touch the rough mortar of the walls
watch the stones rise above my head.

I turn to the vast landscape below me,
and the round hill above me.
Modernity slides out like paste
in the towns and suburbs to the South.
But for most of the time they were not there.
The hill-top circle of trees
revolves under the sun,
but once that was not there either.

And who built the barn?
How many farmers worked through the centuries of toil?

Now silence sits across the land
save distant traffic noise from the valley.
yet even in my deafness I hear
echoes of the farmhands, cowherds…..

Andrew / Able Lawrence

 

Barn

This fertile space
contained by stone and lime,
this womb of mason’s eye,
here seed was spent
on threshing floor.

Listen close and you will hear
a to and fro of sweated skin,
an ecstasy of beaten ears.

Here, in this stillness of stone,
resounds the certainty of change.

Phil Shepherd

 

Kelston Barn

Scoured and sunned by turns, this level piece of land belongs to itself, to
the sky and wind, and perhaps to the grazing sheep. It belongs to itself,
but calls to men and women, a space inviting a human stamp.

Restless with purpose, with imaginations both soaring and grounded,
the local villagers eye the space, its geometric lure, rich possibilities.
They hunger at its vacancy, all the potentiality of square or rectangular
foundations forming themselves on the ground. Before a finger is lifted,
or stones hauled with strong-woven ropes, they shape a great building
in the air, gesturing excitedly to one another– see it rising before them
and already filled with grain.

Almost before spring signals itself, with bud and small green leaf, they
are out early and late. They erect heavy stone-block upon block, infill
the gaps with stones from the field, measuring and fitting unevenness to
unevenness, until the irregular becomes a line, a wave. Wave upon wave
of ochre, dun, creamy lime, walls rising high above the earth – and now,
meeting the arched and triangular rafters hewn from local woods, tree-
torn, tree-gifted. Shape upon shape rising into the sky: a whole slowly
forming, enclosing and sanctifying the space; wind through the open
door-way transmuting to air filtered through human lungs, and sifted
with masonry dust, particles of wood-shaving, human skin, animal
dander.

The transfigured space accepts its new purpose with grace, air settling
within the four solid walls and quivering with light: sunlight by day and
candle or oil-lamp by night. The space is consecrated by use and labour
in lean years and sweetened with festivities in fair seasons. It becomes
the villagers’ meeting-place, and safe harbour for man and beast, holds
the community’s harvest, its hopes: grain heaped against winter’s harsh,
its gold a beacon in the dark.

Caroline Heaton

 

As the barley loves the blade

Here where I pause for breath
below the hill’s brow
instinct rules this is the place.
I make a start by scuffing marks
in grass, by rooting up chicory
for its blue flowers, for my lady,
and she will love me
for my hands that hold a spade
heave clods of earth, hoist stones
of honey colour.

I will build a strong dream
and let the summer’s birds
swoop in, and she
will love me
as the barley loves the blade
as the wheat longs for the scythe
to turn promise into purpose
and to embrace the fire
to be so consumed
to be so changed.

Claire Grace Coleman

 

Kelston Barn

Lit wood and wit
and unstained stone.
Mortar and the mortal.

Michael Loveday

 

A Home for the Harvest – Written at Kelston Old Barn

We’ve abandoned the ways of our forebears
forsaken the annual tracks along ridges
to join with the weavers of grain.

This square of soil contains our lives.
We live on what rain and sun can yield from it
so start to build a barn

cracking and honing Cotswold stone
trees from the valley are split and hewed
raised and fitted into wall and roof

until a barn stands tall and stark
the fruit of the harvest enclosed
from winter’s insatiable hunger.

Conor Whelan

 

The barn in time

The old barn had served its purpose,
had its time. The folk who built it
scratched a living from thin soil.
They rarely looked up to the Roundhill
with its crown of oak, ash and hawthorn,
barely heard the shouts of travellers
on the path below the ridge.
It was enough to know
their barn would see them through another winter.

Here is a new barn for a new generation.
They do not work the land
but want to breathe its air, to climb its hills,
to look down on the city.
Their barn must be light and lofty
so they can look up knowing
that there is room to store their hopes,
share their memories,
grow their fellowship.

The roof must be more than weathertight,
must have windows opening to the sky,
spaces to watch the drifting clouds,
the ever-changing light.
This barn will kindle spirit more radiant than fire.

Ann Preston

 

Kelston Old Barn

Ice broke this land
into life, shaped this humpbacked hill.
I climb the track to the old barn.
Cows doze. The barn stands still.

Wind came blasting
from the vast sea, fought and flared
in hornbeam, ash; light and shadow
boxing like love-struck hares.

In flew bridal
fire, a thousand yellow cowslips
springing from her wrists, ankles, breasts;
summer in her hips.

Water wanted
to surface, swam up through oolite
rock and fullers earth, split open
the hillside, drank the light.

These days, folk say,
Phantom horses race across the hills.
Out at sea, men haul up their nets.
Stars turn. The barn stands still.

Tessa Strickland

 

A Surprising Afternoon

It is not often I find myself amazed by a Council initiative and could hardly believe my good fortune when I was offered a place on a (free) creative writing workshop up at the Old Barn, Kelston Roundhill. This is a place I have grown to love. Through some odd coincidences, my younger son and a German friend purchased some 160 acres of farmland including the landmark “clump” or “tump”, with its crown of trees, an area of outstanding natural beauty and special scientific interest and appeal.

I woke thinking I would stress the spirituality of the place even if I was a lone voice and this was contrary to municipal policy; perhaps we were meant to be concentrating on the rural surroundings and the need to make people aware of them, not matters spiritual. I could be out on a limb and unpopular and would have to be brave and not mind. However I need not have worried. Proceedings began, after an introduction and a few housekeeping points, with a reading from Ecclesiastes and went on to include R S Thomas.

A latecomer entered declaring, “I have crossed my spiritual threshold”. We were away. I could relax and enjoy all the scriptural references in the readings: Genesis, the garden of Eden and a lot else. I kept thinking of Galilee and how much happier I was there than in Jerusalem and considering those who lost their land, whether in the Highland clearances, the enclosures, the industrial revolution, inability to make ends meet or through war. A reference in a poem to men plotting to kill their enemies made me think of English farmers out in WW1 fighting on farms not unlike theirs back home, turning countryside to horror.

In the first part of the workshop we were invited to listen then write. Those given to poetry wrote verse. My thoughts tended to be a stream of consciousness; I am more of a reporter or raconteur than poet and my imagination and memory were sparked by so much; the moon, the farming life – my father came from generations of yeomen farmers, neither serfs nor gentry, up in the north, change and decay, the different way people perceived the landscape. Sheep made Sylvia Plath so very gloomy; Ted Hughes was happy showing his daughter cows.

This difference in perception was very marked when in groups of four we tried to compose a piece of not more than twenty lines about the Old Barn and its surroundings. Some wrote of the wheat, cows and sheep. One group had clearly come suffering. My group got on to women; I was a lone voice on spirituality and the sorrow at leaving the land, I think, in the foursome, and I dislike dogs and was unhappy with a doggy simile. There was real talent about and William, my son, will have the work to display on his web.

Our leader did an amazing job. She encouraged rather than criticised. We had some good laughs. Friendships were made. People were kind and helpful, and above, all willing to contribute. It was a marvelous experience for this disabled 86 year old and tremendous thanks to all concerned. Bathonians are lucky that BANES is supporting appreciation of our surroundings.

Margaret Heath

Building the Kelston Barn
A Chorus for Eight Voices
September 2017

first voice
Ice broke this land to life,
this humpbacked hill,
water split it open
and drank the light,
wind blew these trees
out of kilter, their lanky limbs
boxing like love-struck hares.

second voice
The land stretched out
like a dog at the hearth and said,
Here you may build your barn,
enclose this piece of world
to be a haven on this broken hill,
nourished by the view, the skies, the stars,
the ever-changing light a sanctuary,
a safe place for travelling souls.

third voice
Though rain may lean its grief against your walls,
though storm may crash against your sacred space,
and folded clouds smear darkness through the gloom,
you will be graced by sunshine here,
cold sun on the silver days
in this nest of stone.

fourth voice
Here will be windows open to the sky,
here will be space to watch the drifting clouds,
here there will be time
to listen,
to stand in the rain and look towards the sea,
to share your hopes,
to grow your fellowship,
to kindle spirit brighter than a fire,
to share your memories.
Here you will be free
to travel beyond yourselves.

fifth voice
We do not work the land.
Earth called us here
as it called our ancestors,
men with the will to work,
masons, labourers,
the six-fingered carpenter
between them finding out
the alchemy of stone,
the bones of timber.
Something pulls us,
something draws us in.
Wind-scoured and weathered,
lifting by stages to the rising sun
in this tree-gifted place,
evolving against the backcloth of the sky,
a beauty grows itself.

sixth voice
I was drawn a pilgrim to this place.
Lost voices spoke.
Lost wisdom came to me.
I was alone, but I was not alone.
I felt no fear.
I was held. I was sustained.

seventh voice
Apart and yet a part
mortar and mortal
wood, wit, unstained stone

As the barley loves the blade
as the wheat longs for the scythe
to turn promise into purpose

I want to walk the path into the fire
to be so consumed
to be so changed.

eighth voice
All who come with shadows as well as stones,
whose lives are locked in anger and in grief,
all who bear heavy weight,
all who fear the failing of the light

All who seek to breathe a clearer air,
who ask time to pardon them,
all who long to speak and to be heard,
all who have fallen, all who carry dreams

Are welcome.

A Poem for Performance created by

Sue Boyle, Claire Coleman, Darren Evans, Jill Field, Louise Green, Tanya Guildford, Charlie Hancock, Meretta Hart, Margaret Heath, William Heath, Caroline Heaton, Radha Housden, Rosie Jackson, Andrew Lawrence, Michael Loveday, Helen Mumford, Ras Nyah, Ann Preston, Phillip Shepherd, Tessa Strickland, Liban Suleiman, Eliot Warwick, and Conor Whelan

Photo credits: Bathscape and KelstonRoundhill.com