Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Shaping the Water Path

At Casterton near Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria.

Devil's Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale

Day of Poetry and Music in The Old Vicarage. Organised and hosted by Sally Evans, poet, prose writer and blogger, publisher, bookseller, editor of Poetry Scotland and organiser and host of the annual Callander Poetry Weekend.

The Old Vicarage was one of Sally's childhood homes. When it came on the market recently, her brother bought it, and has generously made it available for the whole family to use, including special gatherings such as this one.

The Old Vicarage, Casterton

Sally and I travelled south on Friday 28 April and spent Saturday shopping in Kirkby Lonsdale then preparing a meal for about 30 people who would come the following day, May 1st.

Casterton is only a few miles away from one of the schools that Charlotte Bronte attended. Adjacent to the avenue that leads up to the house, is the Church. The bells chime the hours, a reassuring sound, giving you the impression that time is kindly, protective, it is on your side and is on the side of every generation, it marks the tide of 'time future and time past'. I heard it at night from my room. And in the morning, flitting among the trees, pine, willow, oak and one giant redwood – there was birdsong, mingling with the regular tolling of the bells. 

Garden in front of the old vicarage in evening

After the meal we were given information about the house, to use as a prompt for writing. This grand house is on three floors, with five rooms each on ground floor and first floor, and three in the attic. Built in 1845 it then housed the vicar, his wife and three children, several domestic servants, a teacher, a governess, a gardener and a groom. 

I sat in the dining room, with a large dark-stained wooden table, and a Japanese screen between two of the windows. What I wrote includes snippets of background conversation...

You get the feeling that everybody has either been here before, has ancestors who lived, visited or came from here  - or perhaps it's the Bronte connection, a root that we all have in common.

Mind you, I like the hills when they're like this, all covered in mist -

Beyond the Japanese screen – its beige branches, leaves, birds and blossom design on black background, like a landscape glimpsed in a sudden headlight as the car crests the hill and dips down again, so the vision disappears -

I feel a sonnet coming on -

I wondered what that funny noise was - 

Beyond the Japanese screen, with its surround of dark wood – there's the window leading onto the garden –  and the bridge over the beck which the Polish builders strengthened and where they made a wall to shore up the beck which swept the bridge away and submerged part of the lawn in the recent floods.

The house was quiet in evening sunlight when we arrived, the Polish builders making sausages and potatoes in the kitchen, and the light makes its way through the branches of the redwood tree, 

the newly-built bridge, then the lawn that slopes up to the rockery and the light reaches the kitchen door and we open it, so that the light meets us and it's as if you've lived for so long looking at a picture on the wall and now – now the door has opened and you have entered the picture and the strange thing is that you know exactly what it is and where it is and – even stranger – is that you remember being in it, just moments ago it seems now – when you left it – so what was this lifetime, folded neatly, an accordion of thin, papery images – like a Chinese fan, like the Japanese screen –

David, one of the Polish builders from Warsaw, talks about the city of Lodz, with its elegant red-brick buildings, abandoned, falling into disrepair, the broken windows, the snaking plants growing in once tended gardens, spreading across the empty window sockets – 

Abandoned factory in Lodz, Poland

The factories made materials to export to the Soviet Union, but since it collapsed, the trade dried up, the factories closed down – but some are being used for other things. One serves as a studio for artists and an Art Book Museum, with performance space in a large room with parquet floors and grand piano, paintwork peeling from ceiling and walls, gently, in irregular lines, like waves that dash and froth, then slip back into an evening tide.

And in the basement, old printing presses, letterpress type, handmade paper, from flax, earth-brown – and in the main street of Lodz, on a bench, a seated statue of the poet Julian Tuwim, and it's good to see a celebrated writer sitting there, sharing his bench, and he's smiling, gleaming in the sunlight, golden-bronze. 

Statue of poet Julian Tuwim in Lodz

So I remember Lodz in golden light, and David – he sees what it once was, among the ruins.

Beyond the Japanese screen –
there's the rebuilt bridge, the beck, the sunlight – Polish expertise now moulding the water path, shaping it, containing the future, securing it against the ravages of time and weather – 


David offers us some of their sausages, vegetables, potatoes.

Leave the back door open, let the evening sunlight in.


Forest Dream Weaver said...

Beautiful....so interesting...and what an amazing thing to buy this house steeped in history. You paint a sensuous picture!

dritanje said...

Thank you Ruby. It is an amazing house and while, when it was built, it needed several people to run it and the garden, so it does today too, gardeners, builders, home help, voluntary caterers (excellent, (Sally) and very amateur (me). I wonder if in the 18th century the house also hosted soirees of recitals of poetry song and music as we did on the evening of May 1st. I think it's very likely. So I think the house and its surroundings have always been appreciated many people have worked in it and for it and long may that continue.
M xx