For the young me, the ghost stories and folklore of Britain had a powerful effect. Odd to think of it now, but reading about the dead as a child, brought the wider world to a rich and vivid life.
Out there, it seemed, was a land, far older, stranger and deeper than my limited experience. A world where multiple layers of history could still be seen, or felt, not only in old houses, ruined castles and abbeys, but also in and around more ordinary sites such as shops, factories, pubs and suburban streets.
A mysterious letter. A secret journal. An ancient wood, in borderland territory. Deceptive paths and strange, ghostlike figures, stirring at the edge of the trees. These were some of the elements that quickly took hold and drew me into Ryhope Wood, when I first read about it aged 15.
Recently I re-read it, rediscovered and found many new things to treasure.
Dead rats aside, there was one area of the garden that always made me feel a little uneasy. As the name suggests, there was once a mill here.
In the late 18th century it was a paper mill, but by the 1820s had become a cloth-mill. By the end of the Victorian era, the mill was gone, but perhaps something else lingered in the grounds.
At the inaugural Balham Literary Festival, a gathering of Nature Writers, Landscape Writers and Writer writers came together to discuss the state of the natural world. Here’s my report on what I saw and heard.
Is it possible to be haunted by a place? I think that I may be. In this case it is Ashley Vale in Bristol – an exceptional urban oasis caught between the tracks, containing allotments, woods, hilltops and a pub next door to a farm.
It’s dark. It’s raining. January is upon us and the season of reflection, projection and resolve is underway. For voracious readers, this means that the perennial question: what to read next will be nagging at their shoulders more urgently than ever.
Clevedon: the most boring seaside town in all England; filled with dusty, fusty little sepia-tinted shops, selling dull stuff like lacework, horse brasses and pink and blue vintage porcelain salt-and-pepper sets in the shape of Edwardian ladies.
At least that’s what I used to think…