Blodeuwedd – Woman of Flowers and Owls – A storytelling workshop on 30th April 2022

The earth energy is rising. It’s powerful, unstoppable and it’s going on inside, as well as outside of us. We are nature. And it’s not always easy to negotiate our wildness with this world.

As I type, I’m watching my wild bees flying around at the bottom of the garden. They look as though they are dancing – and maybe they are – a dance of life and of sweetness. They are such brave warriors, sometimes I watch them flying in and out, even in the rain and in the cold weather. They are a community. They work together collecting nectar, making honey, visiting bright flowers, raising young, flying for the joy of it, humming the deep vibrations of the earth.

I like to believe that Jenny and I are building an informal community of women up on the mysterious Blackdown Hills. We have journeyed through four of the Celtic festivals, so far. I’m excited to share Beltane with you.

The story of Blodeuwedd, the flower maiden, is one of transition. An ancient Welsh story, first written down by a monk in the middle ages, told for a long, long time before that – how much did the story change in the hands of a celibate monk? The flower maiden was created by a magician, a power hungry man. He believed that he could control her, that she would submit utterly to him because he had made her….of Meadow sweet, of Broom, of Oak flowers, of Hawthorn, of Nettle…He gathered all the flowers to make a woman.

The one thing the Magician didn’t bank on – was the Power of Flowers.

This story feels especially relevant at this time – when the patriarchy, both outside and inside of us, needs dismantling – inorder to allow something new to be born.

The Blodeuwedd workshop is on Saturday 30th April, 10am – 4.30pm

At Jenny Ash’s beautiful home in Sheldon, Nr Honiton.

Price is £65 to include drinks, snacks, a full vegetarian lunch with pudding – lovingly cooked by Jenny (It’s always incredible!) and tea and homemade cakes at the end of the day.

The workshop will include;

A telling of the tale of Blodeuwedd – I’ve been working on this story for many years. It’s a big and powerful myth of these lands.

Sharing and discussion – there will be time to share about our personal lives and how the tale impacts on us, as well as sharing thoughts and ideas about the themes of the story.

Focus on how we can support one another as a community of women, including and celebrating our Owl aspect, as well as delighting in our Flowers.

Connecting with the Spirit of Owl and a Flower (that you will choose).

Movement and keeping connected to our bodies.

Some simple ceremony to celebrate.


Deer Goddess Dreaming – a workshop for women

The Deer Goddess is one of the  ancestors of this land. She dreamt the original tribal pathways through the primeval forests and then trod them on her migratory journeys.

Today we still distantly remember her in the form of Santa’s reindeer! But there are stories of the Deer Goddess and of her dreams.

At this Mid Winter time you are invited to a Women’s gathering to share and explore stories of the Deer. I will tell a version of ‘Elen of the Ways’, first written down in the Welsh manuscript known as the Mabinogion. I’ll also share a Scottish tale and a tale from Somerset.

The focus of this workshop will be on Storytelling and Dreaming. Together we will dream these ancient stories alive again and consider how they might be relevant to us as modern women.

The workshop will run from 10am to 4.30pm on Saturday 18th December.
We will gather at Jenny Ash’s beautiful home on the Blackdown Hills, where she has a large purpose built group room, full of the gongs that she works with and named the Crystal Hive.

Jenny will take care of us providing a delicious vegetarian lunch, tea’s coffee’s, home made cakes and biscuits

The cost of the day is £65 including all the above.

There are 10 places available, please contact me as soon as possible to book your place.

Baba Yaga – A Storytelling Workshop – 30 October 2021

Baba Yaga – Mother of the Snakes, Keeper of the Bones, Holder of the Fire, Guardian of Ancestral Power – Baba Yaga.

Do you dare to visit her?

At this time of year nature invites us to begin our descent into darkness, to be stripped to the bone….a gift that nature gives us every year – the opportunity to move closer to our true potential, to our raw and powerful selves.

Clare will tell her version of this ancient Russian folktale. The story will lead into a workshop where you will be guided to explore your own seeing of the story and how it relates to your life. You will be supported to do some storytelling of your own. There will also be sharing and co created ceremony to celebrate the festival of Samhain, known in the Celtic world as the time of both endings and new beginnings.

We will gather at Jenny Ash’s beautiful, purpose built group room on the Blackdown Hills. This is a room filled with light and crystals and the vibration of the regular gong baths that Jenny runs here. We will eat lunch in Jenny’s welcoming kitchen and spend time outside in the garden and with the water shrine.

Price includes a homemade vegetarian lunch plus tea’s, coffee’s and biscuits throughout the day.

Timing; 10.00am arrival for 10.30am start – 4pm Cost; £65

About Clare Viner; Clare has been telling stories since 2000, when she completed the ‘Craft of the Storyteller’ intensive course at Emerson College, Sussex. She published ‘The Emerald Dragon’ as a result of story walks held over several years on the Blackdown and Quantock Hills. Her most recent work is in collaboration with the ‘Connecting the Culm’ project. Clare was commissioned to create a collection of stories about the River Culm in Devon and Somerset. These stories are currently being performed by Clare as part of the Culm project. Clare has been running story workshops for women in her local woods throughout and beyond lockdown.

Stories on the River Culm – Week 6

Making Honey and late foraging for Stories.

Honey Bees have always been very close to my heart. I have a hive of semi wild bees in my garden. So I’ve decided that creating stories is a bit like creating honey; first is the glorious foraging – just flying out into the landscape to see what you can find, listening to the wind, following the direction of the sun – I love the foraging part!
About a month ago I realised that I had a hive full of foraged stories. It was time to stop, to sit in the dark for a while and to allow the stories to begin the process of distilling.
Did you know that in order for a bee to turn nectar into honey the nectar is passed by the bees from mouth to mouth. Each mouth adds some enzymes to the nectar so that it begins to transform.
So with storytelling each time the foraged material is told, each time it passes through a mouth it changes a little bit, even when it passes through the same mouth! So I begin the process of speaking the stories out. I record them, listen to them. Then close my eyes and speak them out again…and again..and so the stories begin to transform, to distill, to turn into something else.
I couldn’t resist one last bit of foraging. I took a trip up to Cadbury castle in search of the dragon. He’s said to fly between here and Killerton leaving the river Culm in the valley directly below. I took my drum and called up some energy. He must have come because that night I dreamt of him and a story started to emerge.
Another story that was very late to show herself was the story of St Columb. I knew that Columb meant dove. The story of the Irish saint didn’t initially draw me but doves and pigeons have been circling me all summer. Then I discovered the other one…the other St Columb. There is a Saint Columb from Cornwall who is a woman and has an intriguing and complex story. Her story has links with St Sidwell, typically known as an Exeter saint but I found a farm dedicated to her in Culmstock. There is also more than a hint of St Catherine – and I’d noticed the pub in Hemyock is called ‘The Catherine Wheel’.
One last jewel that I unearthed in the later stages of foraging was ‘Joan the Wad’. She is known as ‘Queen of the Pixies’ and has been revered in both Cornwall and Devon.
After distilling the stories that I’d found from a large notebook full of notes, to one large sheet of paper, to words spoken and spoken into my voice recorder. And then spoken again, several precious stories edited out for the time being – and I had 3 x 35min storytelling pieces ready to tell at the Walronds on 25th September.
The day went well. The audiences were small but appreciative and the stories were finally birthed into Cullompton! Comments included;

“ I absolutely loved it!’
And ‘A very restful experience’.

The next event is on 9th October, also at the Walronds between 9.30 and 2pm. There will be lots of music and events – Please come and listen to the stories – this work feels like an aspect of re – mything the landscape – an important part of repairing our relationship with the natural world. Not just for children – Please come!

Stories on the River Culm – Week 5

Culmstock, an old newspaper article and a Corn Goddess.


Where is the folklore for the River Culm? It certainly doesn’t jump into my hand. 

Researching in the libraries this week, so many people stepping forward to help me. The librarian at Exeter Central gave me a mountain of books on Devon folklore, several containing maps with every area of Devon covered….except the Culm valley. 

The Exeter and Devon Institute offered me volumes of wonderful songs and more folklore from Dartmoor, but nothing specifically about the Culm valley. At first this was frustrating. Then it became interesting. There will have been folklore spoken in this area but why has it not been written down? The story of the Fisher King is about the healing being in the questions. I’ll keep asking questions!

In my previous research for ‘The Emerald Dragon book’ I struggled to find folklore about the Blackdown Hills, which span Devon and Somerset. It was an archaeologist who put a little book into my hands. It was called ‘Tales of the Blackdown Borderlands’ by F W Mathews (1923). The book was like gold dust but I had to return it. At the Exeter and Devon Institute Emma Jackson,  the research director there, was incredibly helpful. We discovered that the book is only available in Cambridge and one other place that I can’t remember ( it was far away!). As far as I can find so far, this little book – and my book – are the only places where traditional stories of the Blackdown Hills have been recorded. Now, I”m not great at marketing ( massive understatement!)  You won’t find my book on Amazon or any of the usual online places…so still the stories are hidden….I wonder if this is to protect them…I’ll keep asking questions – and telling stories.

In the Exeter and Devon Institute, Emma found me an article on the River Culm from 1878, in ‘The Western Times’ newspaper. It was kept in a box,  with other papers, that was so huge we had to lift it together, we rearranged furniture and set up giant sponges to open the box. Once inside we found the date; July 16th 1878. The print was so tiny I had to read the article with a magnifying glass – it was worth it. 

A beautifully flowery account of an Exeter fisherman setting out to fish on the river Culm. It seems there was a lady on Exeter High street called Miss Osbourne, who sold the most wonderful collections of flies – in many colours and beautifully displayed, in my imagination they are like the butterfly collection at RAMM museum, exquisite and wonderful and the result of someone’s passion and obsession. Miss Osbourne apparently gave all sorts of advice about fishing not the Culm, she feels like someone who might like to appear in a story. The author of the article then talked about catching the steam train to the Culm valley, the best places to stay and describes in detail the very wonderful trout that could be found. He says they were by far the best trout in Devon rivers – golden as a guinea and decorated with orange spots, the flesh of the fish being flakey and pink and very superior to any fish you might catch in the Exe! 

I love this process of searching for long hidden stories, the things that jump out and allow themselves to be seen. The article on fishing and the writers passion for fishing in the Culm, ‘the most ancient river in Devon’ lends credence to my hunch about the ‘St Andrew’s church’s’ being to do with fishermen. The fish and the catching of fish in this landscape, the relationship between the people of the Culm valley and fish has been important for a long time. This suggests that there was once a great abundance of fish, in 1878 there were! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the river could be teeming with Golden, orange spotted trout once again!

One other thing that has jumped out at me during my research has been the presence of American service men in Cullompton during the Second World War. I”m wondering how they were received, if people, women especially, found them exciting, intriguing. I’ve started another story about a stranger who arrives at the head of the Culm in very ancient times. A photograph of the three handsome service men from the 1940s made me wonder if the ‘Stranger’, in close knit communities, could be a theme. It reminded me that Ed Sheeran’s latest song was playing on the radio outside when I arrived at ‘The Holman’s Clavel’ pub, some builders where hard at work, Ed Shearan sang out, 

‘Bad habits lead to late nights endin’ alone

Conversations with a stranger I barely know

Swearin’ this will be the last time 

But it probably won’t

I got nothin’ left to lose, or use, or do’

What is it about ‘the stranger’ that’s exciting, challenging. I can feel that I both want and don’t want the stranger at the same time. The song seems to be about a kind of edgy desperation, a longing and a hopelessness. What happens if I take the longing but let it be hopeful, let it be challenging but good for me, not bad for me. Take the shadow and dance with it without wanting it to destroy me.

It’s easy to romanticise rural life. In Culmstock the village was beautiful. In the fields all around was evidence of the hay being harvested. Huge bales speckled the land on either side of the Culm. The archaeological evidence is that people have used this land to grow hay for thousands of years. I walked along the river with my sixteen year old daughter. We started at the ‘Culm valley Inn’, where I found a dragon sculpture in the pub garden! The pub is right next to the river and had a wonderful community feeling. The pub sign a reminder of the steam train (another dragon) that once ran through the village. 

We followed the foot path beside the river and over a bridge where we were delighted to discover – three little pigs! Immediately I thought of the story, but then how it needs rewriting. In all the stories the wolf is bad, ‘The Big Bad Wolf’. Yet in reality there are no accounts of wolves attacking humans unprovoked. We’ve demonised wolves because we don’t want to share food with them and now there are none left on our land. It occurred to me that the Stranger is a bit like the Wolf, the ‘other’ one, the one we just reject and make bad. And how we can rewrite the story.

Heading out of Culmstock, I wanted to go to Cold Harbour Mill at Uffculme.  The sat nav wasn’t working, so we tried to follow an OS map, we turned left and left again and ended up driving down a lane that got narrower and narrower. I had a feeling we were being ‘Pixie led’ – an experience that I’ve often had on the Blackdown Hills! I said a little prayer to the pixies – those nearly forgotten ancestors of the land. I reassured them that I’m doing my best to bring nourishing stories to this landscape. And then I saw it. A big sign on my left, a farm building and the land dropping steeply behind. The sign said, ‘Sidwell’s farm’.

Now to most people this wouldn’t mean much – or anything, just a name. But to me it was an ‘Allaylooya’ moment! I have a very long relationship with Sidwell. She is a saint, the patron saint of Exeter, but little known. I met her in my first week in Exeter, twenty years ago, when a small book containing her story literally fell off a shelf in Exeter library and hit me on the head! Her saint’s day is 1st/2nd August, the Celtic festival of Lammas, the first harvest. She is always depicted with a Sythe, according to Christian tradition, this was the implement of her death, before rebirth. Often she is shown holding sheaves of Corn. She is clearly pre-Christian, complete with a ‘Wicked Step Mother’, her’s is a story of Celtic fairytale. I link her with the Greek Corn Goddess, Demeter. But the Devon/Somerset Goddess is also clearly linked to Water. I feel thrilled to have found evidence of her presence in the Culm valley. To me, (trust me, I’m telling stories!) The pixies led me directly to this place- St Sidwell or Sativola (her Latin name) wanted me to know about her presence here. Yet, really, it’s obvious – with all that hay!

And yes, we did get to Uffculme, just before Cold Harbour Mill closed but in time for a look around and a quick cup of tea. More stories tumbling fast and determined,  as the river that runs alongside the mill. 

I’m on holiday next week, taking a big pile of books and my notepad. I’m hoping to start bringing some shape to this  cauldron of stories. When I come back to Devon, I’ll be spending some more time in Cullompton and Uffculme and also venturing out to the West Country Studies library in Sowton. Please do get in touch with me if you have anything to share that might feed the pot of stories.  

Weaving Stories on the Culm 4

Storying the Culm – Week 4

Stoke Cannon and Rewe – a Dream and a Song.

This week I’ve been exploring the mouth of the River Culm, the place where the river meets with the Exe before finally making her way down to the sea.

For years I’ve driven through these two villages on my way to Bickleigh or Tiverton. I’ve often noticed the churches, St Mary Magdalen in Stoke Cannon and St Mary the Virgn in Rewe. It interested me to have two St Mary churches, to the two different Mary’s right next to each other.

First I was met with a warm welcome at St Mary Magdalen’s. On the day I chose to go, they were preparing for a festival there. It was called ‘Over the Rainbow’ and they were celebrating the NHS and what people have been doing in lockdown. It was colourful and there was an excited atmosphere of, mostly women, preparing displays and stalls. 

The church immediately struck me as unusually cosy. I realised that a partition had been placed halfway down the church and there were no pews. When I chatted to a local woman, she told me that the community had gathered in a village hall in the past, when the church needed a new roof. As they gathered, they naturally formed a circle to worship and they realised that they preferred this to the more formal church setting. So they decided to rearrange their church. I’m not a regular church goer, but the cosy intimate feeling in the church, more like going into a beautiful room, made me determined to return. I was also struck by the wonderful Victorian stained glass windows. Here the Magdalen (always a controversial figure in Christianity) was represented not once but three times. I loved seeing her, first with her pot of spices, then with a book of learning and finally over the altar, greeting the risen Lord.
Around the back of the church I wondered if I’d find the river, but the churchyard backed onto a school and noisy playground. I made my way to Rewe church, just a few minutes drive along the road. Rewe churchyard seemed to greet me with dark trees whispering as if conspiratorial. The church was locked. It felt very different. But when I walked to the back of the churchyard, I met a wonderful view! The bank dropped away quite steeply and there winding her way, gracefully through the landscape was the Culm. The setting was spectacular and it felt to me that the proximity of the church to the river was no accident. Also the church being on raised ground felt somehow significant. I remembered Antony Firth, the archaeologist, telling me that there was evidence of stone henges and burial barrows in the landscape between Killerton and Rewe. 

A few nights later I dreamed that I was rocking in a cradle over the edge of the drop in Rewe churchyard. It was one of those dreams with an incredibly happy feeling. The sun was shining and I was with two friends, there was a feeling of nature all around and a gentle rocking.

I decided to go back to Rewe. But stopped again at Stoke Cannon on the way. I saw a sharp turn to the right after the church and went down it – there was the river! She was meandering her way in a wide channel under an old bridge. The first thing I noticed was lots of damsel flies. But then as I stood looking into the river, a song rose up in me. I wondered how many other women had stood by this river singing in the past, maybe as they were spinning or washing – or maybe like me, just daydreaming and feeling into their lives. I didn’t think too much about the words, just made them up as I went along. But afterwards, the focus on eyes and tears struck me – Of course! Mary Magdalen washed Christ’s feet with her tears. And there were also several eye wells known of along the Culm. It was a clue – to what…not sure yet. But I felt the presence of the crying women from the past and Mary Magdalen amongst them.

And up above, sitting in a row, like a string of beads, on a telegraph wire, were swallows. From time to time, as I was singing, the swallows would swoop in over the river.

‘We are back! We are hunting! We are alive! All the way from Africa! We are back! We are alive!’

Extraordinary migratory birds! And later I’m reminded of the Beaker people, who probably built the Wood henges at Rewe. Again there’s some controversy about them. But mostly now, it’s understood that they were a migratory people. People migrating thousands of years ago, returning to this landscape, like the swallows. And what about now? Is it in our blood, do we still long to migrate? And how do we greet those who migrate here – after long difficult journeys. The movement of people, roads in July, jammed packed. I wonder if the river was once jammed with boats, the river bank busy with people walking along, moving, traveling, to trade, to explore, to pilgrimage, to find a new life.

I’m aware as I dream my way into the landscape, that I’m seeking to create stories that will open up a deeper connection with the river for many. I know from experience that the stories need to be reasonable straight forward – to delight and reach both children and adults. Sometimes at this stage in the story process it can feel …a bit complex…how will I ever weave simple, beautiful, touching and memorable stories out of this complex brew of random events and musings? But I trust the process. Something is emerging. A bit more time needed yet.

A trip to the ‘Devon and Exeter Intitution’ next week. I discovered it by chance a while ago – just off the Cathedral Green in Exeter, a door was open as I walked past. I was guided in by studious, bespectacled ladies – and what a treasure trove! A Victorian library, high ceilinged with an antique table in the centre. All around, reaching up high, were rows upon rows of leather bound books – there was a smell there of something, a bit musky but intriguing…the smell of knowledge, like magic…hanging in the air. What might our ancestors have recorded about the Culm? What nearly forgotten treasures might I unearth here?

Weaving Stories on the Culm 2

It’s been a busy week exploring the Culm in search of stories.
In my head I’ve been wandering around ancient lost cities. There are rumours that there was a lost city on the Blackdowns. So far I haven’t found any evidence from archaeology, but very little field archaeology has been done in this area – so there may well be mirrors, swords and pieces of jewellery that just haven’t been found. There have been some bowls found at Hembury. If there was a city, it seems likely that it wouldn’t have been a ‘City’ in the way that modern people think of a city. More likely a gathering, a community or tribe of people that were lost – but for some reason, something extraordinary about them, or their way of life, meant that they were never quite lost, whispers, tales of them continued to be told, mouth to ear down the generations.
At the beginning of the week Antony Firth, the archeologist sent me some more information about the Holy Wells along the river. Apparently they aren’t all documented as Eye Wells, only three of them at Kentisbeare, Siverton (this is a Holy Eye Stream) and Cullompton. There are three other wells found at Sampford Peverell, Bagmore Hill, Broad Cyst.
But later in the week I spent a very enjoyable morning talking with residents in Cullompton at their craft fair (I’d really recommend this, held in The Walronds gardens every two weeks) Iain Emmett told me that there are Springs all around Cullompton and Wells recorded in many of the old houses. So it seems likely that there are many more than the six wells found in the archaeological records. The one found that Antony knew of in Cullompton was called St George’s Well and found with Roman coins nearby and a bronze figure of Bacchus. Bacchus is the Roman God of wine. He’s associated with dancing, wild trance states and was said to have many women followers – I always think he’s rather exciting.
But Bacchus takes me to the tale of the Minotaur – do you know it? The terrifying creature, half man, half bull who must have 14 human sacrifices every year. It was the king’s daughter, Ariadne, who helped the hero Theseus to escape. In modern historical tellings Ariadne is betrayed by Theseus and abandoned with Bacchus and his followers. But it always struck me – maybe it would be more fun to be with Bacchus, singing, dancing, being wild, than being a meek Greek wife. So the Bacchus figure found in Cullompton makes me think, was there once some wildness here? Crazy trance dancing, drum beating, voice freeing, arms waving, letting in the spirit of land and waters, letting them flow through….and what of Ariadne?
Talking to other residents in Cullompton at the craft fair, I started to build up a stronger and stronger picture of just how important water is in this town. In the past water was a friend, supporting many industries, farming, leather making, the wool trade, paper making and more. But in recent times it seems that this friend has become like an old unwanted wife. She’s pushed around the back of the town, barely visible, she’s silting up leats, causing problems in the Weirs, new houses build on her meadows, she floods, uncontainable, uncontrollable again and again.
But there are clearly some who are aware of her beauty. Some who do want to listen to her and find out what it is that she is trying to say. People are frustrated that her leats are silted up with rubbish, they know she is an asset to this ancient town but how to make this real?
The more I explore this landscape the more I fall in love with it. It seems to be longing to run, gush and sing with water but at the moment, so much of it unseen.
On Friday I was lucky enough to walk with friend and Geomorphologist, Julian Payne. We started on the A30 driving up from Exeter together. There was a horrible accident on the road, emergency vehicles, numerous cars and distressed people scattered the road. Julian and I both shuddered. It was a shockingly close reminder of mortality. For a while we stopped talking, taking in the reality of tragedy that can always be a whisper away. I remembered the hearse that drove past me the week before as I arrived at the Holman Clavel. It made me wonder about tragedy, the many people who have lived and died on this landscape, some at appropriate times and others not.
Julian and I drove to Clayhidon. I wanted to visit the pub, ‘The Half Moon Inn’ as it is the setting for a tale in my book, The Emerald Dragon. The story is about a man called Abraham Stocker who upsets the local pixies by saying that he doesn’t believe in them. In the tale the pixies decide to
get their revenge by ‘pixie leading’ Abraham right into the bog at Springline Mire. In case you don’t know, there is only one remedy to being pixie led – you have to turn something inside out. If you don’t, the pixies will lead you a merry dance to the place of their choosing. I found this story is an out of print book called, ‘Tales of the Blackdown Borderlands’ by F W Mathews (1923). Visiting the bog made me wonder, who were the pixies? What ancient memory are they part of?
After our drive, it was tempting to head straight into the pub but we decided to visit the church first. Like Cullompton church, the church here is dedicated to St Andrew – the one who was a fisherman with his brother Simon, when he first met Jesus. I’m always interested in church dedications – I see them as clues to the landscape. It seems to me that either consciously or sub consciously the people who dedicated the churches were linking with something very ancient in the earth of the building. Could this suggest that a lot of local people once fished in the river Culm? And so, that there were once many fish here?
The church itself was very interesting (from the outside – sadly locked). There was evidence of lots of different periods of architecture including a Saxon arch.
There were some dishcloths hanging out to dry in a yard that backed onto the graveyard. As I looked at them out of the corner of my eye, I was reminded of the ‘Washer at the Ford’ a Celtic fairy woman or Goddess. She sits at the ford, washing the clothes of those about to be killed in battle. There is a legend of a battle in Clayhidon; the last battle fought between the hill tribe people ( the Celts?) And the Saxon invaders. The tribes people were led by their king, Geraint, later to be Sir Geraint in King Arthurs court. Geraint and two of his men were the only local survivors of the battle. They fled to Exmoor according to legend. More on him later…
In the pub, we looked at the OS map together. Julian pointed out the lay of the land, how the valley that the Culm flows through is relatively narrow. He said it looked possible that the ancient glacial melt waters may have carved out a different pathway, maybe where the river Madford now flows, with Culm bridge going across it. This was the first indication that the bed of the Culm may have moved around over time – that the river we now call Culm, is in no way fixed, either historically or in it’s current state.
Once we got down to the river, dropping down in the valley from Clayhidon, the first thing I noticed was the sound. To my ear it was merry and tinkling as water splashed and danced over the stones. We stopped to look. Julian said this was a good sign; the river was shallow, there were stones with water weeds attached on the river bed, showing that the flow was relatively slow.
But a very short distance, walking along the river, this changed. The water became significantly wider and deeper, we noticed farm crops growing right up to the relatively high river bank. In a more natural state the river banks wouldn’t be so steep and the river would have the chance to flood onto surrounding land. But as this couldn’t happen here, all the water was pushed into the flow. It meant that the river was becoming bigger very quickly, carrying more water than it naturally should. There was still some waterweed, which was good, Julian told me, suggesting the water wasn’t going too fast. But still the river was carrying a lot of water.
We thought about a paddle, took off our shoes but the stones under our feet were very sharp. We’d noticed the Chert stone earlier on our walk – maybe these stones were used to make tools and weapons both by very early man but also later into the 17th century ( for scything). The stones lined the river bed. They were too sharp for paddling very far but as I looked at the water weed, it suddenly looked to me like the hair of a mermaid. Then I saw lots of them, mermaids with long green hair under the water. I wondered what they’d like to tell us about the river, what their stories might be.
As we continued to walk down the river, the green weed disappeared and the water was clearly flowing faster. Julian questioned me, ‘What is a river?’ Slightly self consciously, I tried to answer. I mumbled something about water flowing through a channel. Then he asked, so if water was flowing through a pipe, is that a river? No, I said. This led to a discussion about the water in the river and the river bed – that the river bed and the land all around the river could all be defined as river. It was interesting – a bit technical for me – but interesting and I had a feeling I understood

what he was describing. That it’s not just the water that is the river, that the land that holds the river is just as, if not more, important. It took me to a story.
It’s the story of the ‘Fisher King’ – there he is, St Andrew, the fisherman, again -and the Sacred Grail or Bowl. The Fisher King is terribly wounded, nothing will heal him and the land is a wasteland. The land can’t heal until the King heals. The only thing that sustains the King is a Sacred Bowl or Grail. The King has a son who fishes day and night, seeking nourishment and healing for his father. One day a knight comes, one of King Arthurs knights. He finally asks a question that brings about the healing of King and Land.
So the asking of questions. And what is the question? Who does the Grail/Bowl Serve?
On our walk we considered this question and the question, Who does the River Bed serve? Who does the River serve? Who do the questions serve?
It makes me wonder about the wisdom of these ancient tales. The asking of questions for healing – people and lands. And this particular question about the containment of liquid – who does this serve? And who could it serve?
I’m starting to feel thick with stories and information, maybe time for a swim in the river next week. Can anyone tell me good places to swim in the Culm? Can anyone share personal stories or anecdotes about the river? I feel a bit like the holder of the Holy Bowl in the Fisher King story. I’m wanting the bowl to serve everyone connected with the Culm. So if you have something to throw into the mix, please let me know, every ingredient adds a little to the flavour!
Now I’m imagining the lost city – alive and vibrant again, people gathering to share stories, songs, magic. There’s a fine meal heating in the earthen ware bowl hanging over the fire! You are invited.

Weaving Stories on the River Culm

Weaving Tales on the Culm

The Beginning

I’m setting off this week on a journey to discover and weave stories about the River Culm.

This is part of and funded by a larger project, ‘Connecting the Culm’ which is seeking to create a long term plan for the River Culm. The aims of the plan are to make the river better for wildlife and people by improving water quality and making the river more resilient to drought and flooding. 

The preparation for my story work began a few weeks ago with some webinars made by the ‘Connecting the Culm’ team. One particularly inspired me with Rob Hopkins asking the question,
‘What if….’
He invited participants to use their imaginations – unedited – to vision a world, and in this case, a River, as we would really love it to be – no buts, just an open door.
My ‘What if…’ was

‘What if we have the power to believe in beauty’

I want the river to be really seen as beautiful, precious, again, humming and buzzing and wriggling with life – nourishing and inspiring both the human and the natural world.

And if we can start to see it that way, in our imaginations, we take a step towards making it a possibility.
So this week I’ve been seeking to get a general overview of the whole river – to ‘see’ it both in my imagination and in reality.



I had a fascinating conversation with Marine Archaeologist Antony Firth. He encouraged me to think about the relationships in the landscape between one thing and another. We talked about the constant movement that has always been going on in the land for thousands of years. The flow of people, boats, plants, creatures and water. How sometimes us humans work with what is there and sometimes we seek to change it.
He told me about five holy wells that have been identified along the river. I like stories about wells – wells are sources of fresh drinking water but also remind us of something ancient, mysterious. The wells are all ‘Eye Wells’ as far as is known. Eyes – are how we see, perceive the world. I’m wondering, what does the River what us to See right now?
And he mentioned a book, ‘River Kings’ by Cat Jarman. I’ve started reading it and there’s a very injured Viking warrior at the beginning. He’s reminding me about some of the warriors, maybe King Arthurs warriors, fierce tribal men who fought against Saxon invaders on the Blackdown hills.
Antony reminded me about maps! Ah, maps – are such a wonderful tool for a storyteller! And he mentioned the possibility of a ceremonial or very ancient pathway between Killerton and Rewe.
And as I look at the maps, the questions begin……
Why? Why Killerton to Rewe? Why is there said to be a Dragon at Killerton that flies to Cadbury? Why is the church in Cullompton dedicated to St Andrew? Why are there so many hints at Arthurian legends?…..and more

To the Source

Yesterday I set out on a field trip – to the source of the Culm – always good to start at the beginning.

A pearl – a string of pearls

As I rushed out of the house, I glanced at my chaotic sitting room, strewn with OS maps, pens, pencils and my totally not to scale ‘Storymap’ – it’s helping me to organise my ideas and possible stories as they rise up.
But there, in the middle of pens, with a lump of gunk stuck to the back, was a pearl earring I thought I’d lost. I picked it up carefully, turning it over in my hand. How did it get here? I was reminded about the novel, ‘Perlycross’ by RD Blackmore, about the River Culm. He describes Hemyock, Culmstock and Uffculm as being like pearls on a string…..It’s a tenuous link…but I like it….

The Holman Clavel and Horses

I realised that I’ve been very close to the source of the Culm before, because there is a pub at Culmhead called ‘The Holman Clavel’. In my book ‘The Emerald Dragon’ I touched on the story about a ghost who is said to haunt this pub, Chimberly Charlie.
I’ve always known there is magic on the Blackdown Hills – I get lost nearly every time I go there, and I go often! I rarely get lost in other places. But there are tales of people being ‘pixie led’ here. Chimberly Charlie and the very mysterious stories about him are all part of the magic. More about him later.
Yesterday as I walked up to the source, it seemed to be guarded by three horses. They came right up to me, one pushing her head into my chest, once she’d checked me out, as if to say,
‘You can go now’.
I was reminded that in folklore Dragons and Horses are often linked, both seen as Primal Ancestors, going right back to our early history, both with their powerful strong necks. I was also intrigued to see that the only evidence of water in the field, just a stones’ throw away from the pub, was in clear pools made by the deep indentations of horses hooves. Like the Dragon, the horses are maybe guarding the very beginning of this river, holding her waters.
In the pub the really friendly staff, especially, Tamar, told me about the history of the building. For a long time people rode up on horses, leaving them in stables while they went in to drink. And there used to be a bowling alley, which is now a storage space, where the ghost of Chimberly Charlie used to join in with the games. Tamar took me into this space and it made me shiver! Goose bumps all along my arms…
And yet, the pub felt so welcoming, Tamar brought me a really delicious mackerel salad. I had a feeling of wanting to stay, that I could just walk and eat and write in this place for a long time and be very happy. The source…something powerful here…it’s not immediately obvious, just a boggy field on first view, but if you don’t believe me, go and have lunch at the pub, take a bit of time, chat to people there, venture past the geese and into the horses field, brave the stinging nettles and the soggy mud, pause a moment, look into your reflection in the water, the little puddles made by the horses hooves.

Cullompton, St Andrews, Weaving and the song of the Mermaid mothers.

And then I stopped in Cullompton on the way back to Exeter. Here the Culm flows with a busy road by her side. It felt a bit shocking. I met a family feeding the ducks and I wanted the traffic to go away – and knew I was also part of it.
I wanted to visit St Andrew’s church. St Andrew is one of the apostles or friends of Jesus in the Bible stories. But I’m interested that he was chosen for the church dedication here, as Andrew was a fisherman. I remembered that Jesus said ‘Let us be Fishers of Men’. It seems likely that the Culm was used for fishing for a very long time. It also reminds me of an Arthurian story called ‘The Fisher King’ – which makes me think of Kingfishers…the workings of a story seekers mind!
In Cullompton I felt a connection with the wooden trade, I walked past a converted mill – and a beautifully croquet hat on a letter box! I liked the reference outside the church (which was sadly locked – another visit needed) to the name of Cullompton being recorded in the 800s as Culm

tune- Ha! I thought, the tune of the Culm, the song of the river. This took my thoughts back to the pearl and the mermaids.
All the way home I sang what I imagined to be a sewing songs, the songs passed down from mother to daughter to son, as the clothes were woven or the fishing nets mended.
Next week to Clayhiden to learn more about the Pixies here, the Springline Mire at Simonsburrow, Battle Street and Geriant, the Arthurian hero, Hemyock, St Margaret and the first clear Dragon clue….

Women in the Woods – workshops

The Spring Equinox on 21st March is leaping and bounding towards us.

I’ve been researching and dreaming with Hare and the Dawn Goddess. She has many names. One theory is that ‘Easter’ comes from the name of the Spring Goddess, ‘Eostre’.

There’s a story I love about a lonely fisherman who waits on the sea all night for a Goddess he calls ‘Zora Djvojega’ – she’s clearly a dawn Goddess of great power – but rarely referenced other than in this story from the Balkans.

What does a new Dawn hold for us both personally and collectively?

And how can Hare help us if we call her as an Allie?

There have been hare’s on this land since before the Ice Age, they’ve been here for at least 200,000 years. Hare’s are matrifocal and the females fiercely defend their right to choose their own mates. She’s connected to the corn and to the Moon. She runs fast (40mph) and she knows how to change direction in the blink of an eye. Changing, changing, changing woman.

Join me in an exploration of Hare as Allie, through storytelling, sharing and ritual. As we prepare to meet the new Dawn, of life in these changing times.

Sunday 21st March 2021 – 6.30-8pm – on Zoom – £10

I want to keep the group to a maximum of 10 women, but could possibly run two groups.

Please let me know as soon as possible if you’d like to come.

Thirty nights of Well Being – night 30 – Gratitude

There’s a lot of evidence now, that gratitude is very good for our brains – and it clearly supports our mental health.

So tonight I”m offering you my gratitude for your time and your trust in listening to my recordings.

And inviting you to work with gratitude in your life generally. You could try the practise taught to me by my 16year old daughter; every night she writes down 5 things that she is grateful for – easy to begin with but you are not allowed to write the same things twice! If you keep following this practise it will change your outlook on life (and possibly your brain).

For this final night, I’m also offering a recording from ‘Thoughts of the Earth’ a Navajo Indian chant.