Category Archives: poetry

233. Isle of Wight 1: On Tennyson Down

freshwater-bay-isle-of-wight-england-by-roadsofstone
No rock so hard but that a little wave
May beat admission in a thousand years

Alfred, Lord Tennyson — The Princess (1847)

* * * * *

freshwater-footpath-dusk-isle-of-wight-england-by-roadsofstoneThe fog is hanging low across the Chalk Downs as ahead of me the village of Freshwater huddles deep between the trees. The first streetlights of a November evening flicker weakly above the street.

As inspiring landscapes go, perhaps this drizzly valley wouldn’t rate that high. But five miles run before the autumn daylight fades is precious, shrunken time, expanded on the trail.

The village street is empty. A fine mist of rain would keep most folk inside, but in truth it’s almost perfect running weather.

the-abyss-cliffs-tennyson-down-isle-of-wight-england-foggy-dusk-roadsofstoneI loop around to find the path, cut into steps above the road through dense gorse and bramble. It climbs relentlessly between the trees, emerging breathlessly onto a chalky, flinty track under a darkening canopy of woods — branches of yew holding up grey clouds just a metre or so above.

At last the path emerges from the underworld and in just a second my feet burst out into a longer stride across wide and grey-lit grassland, rising evenly towards a lurking hill unseen beyond.

The evening silence is different here — wider, more expansive and with a distant, threatening edge. I skulk onwards more cautiously now — for all the firm, smooth ground beneath my feet, there’s a clifftop not all that far away.

Open, yawning space fills the sky, as the empty horizon closes out direction and up or down. It’s unsettling, nauseating — yet an elemental elation fills my throat.

This is fear.

tennyson-memorial-in-fog-isle-of-wight-england-by-roadsofstoneA minute further through the void, I’m a mile or more from anyone who would hear me scream when a dark grey mass rears itself tall and high from unlikely, empty fog.

Atop this wild, forsaken hill there stands a cross.
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198. This bank and shoal of time – beside the river in Stratford-upon-Avon

stratford-upon-avon-england-christmas-lights-on-clopton-bridge-dec-2008-by-roadsofstoneBut here, upon this bank and shoal of time,
We’d jump the life to come.
Macbeth, Act 1, Sc. 7.

Why then the world’s mine oyster.
The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act 2, Sc 2.

The Roman road crossed the river at its widest and shallowest point, and gave this town its name: Strat-ford-upon-Avon.

The Clopton Bridge stands at the same spot today – five hundred years old, and still carrying all the traffic across the river. Beneath the bridge, the Avon flows both chill and slow. I know the feeling.

I run past the boathouse, the Tramway Bridge and the Rowing Club. The Avon is full of rowers out bright and early. A couple of fours, a sculler or two. There are no canal boats today, but the river is navigable all the way from the sea.

stratford-upon-avon-england-monument-at-new-lock-dec-2008-by-roadsofstoneThe navigation works were authorised by King Charles I in 1635, and by 1641 the river was open to within four miles of Warwick. But by 1874, the upper section had fallen into disuse.

It was the vision of David Hutchings and the Upper Avon Navigation Trust to re-open the river between the Severn and the Birmingham Canal. Stratford New Lock was the last link in that chain, finally completed in 1971.

The lock was built by volunteers from Gloucester Gaol, and Stratford’s Shawshank offered a tough kind of redemption. Continue reading

196. In Shelley’s Sussex footsteps – running from Horsham to Warnham

autumn-on-the-causeway-horsham-sussex-england-by-yoshi-san-virtual-tourist-comO Wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being
Thou from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing

Ode to the West Wind, Percy Bysshe Shelley — 1819

A new season in a new town. Autumn has come and gone here in Horsham, scattering her falling leaves behind new footsteps across the park.

September laid a blank canvas all around this pretty Sussex town, and running set me free to paint. It’s invigorating, exciting and refreshing to explore anew.

Horsham is over a thousand years old. Standing calm beside the River Arun, amid green fields atop the Wealden Clay, historically this town gave birth to bricks, and beer and Catherine Howard.

Two centuries ago, Percy Bysshe Shelley set forth upon his life from here — a journey cut short before his 30th birthday in a shipwreck off the Italian coast. One of the great lyric poets and an unconventional and uncompromising radical, Shelley was expelled from Oxford for his atheist and anti-monarchist views.
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177. From white box to empty shell – rebuilding the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

royal-shakespeare-theatre-river-stratford-upon-avon-england-2008-by-roadsofstone.jpgThere’s a brick building at the end of the street where I grew up. I run past it every time I’m in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Today, it’s just an empty shell.

After more than seventy years, a new Royal Shakespeare Theatre is being built inside the framework of the old one.

It’s a constraining decision, architecturally – which limits the capacity and design of the new theatre, whilst still destroying the marvellous art deco foyer within. Just think – for £110 mm we could have had a Sydney Opera House instead of a revamped old blockhouse with only 1,000 seats – a third fewer than before.

royal-shakespeare-theatre-rebuild-stratford-upon-avon-england-2008-by-roadsofstone.jpgLooking across the river now, I can see empty space where the heart of the building should be.

And in a way, that’s just how it was in 1970 when I saw my first Shakespeare play here – Peter Brook’s famous ‘White Box’ production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, famously staged inside a chasm of blank white walls.
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173. Lines on the New Hampshire primary 2008

So. Farewell then
barack-obama-the-audacity-of-hope-random-house.jpg Barack Hussein Obama
The Audacity of Hope

For five January days
We believed
The world could change

And then New Hampshire
Told you
They’d changed their minds
Instead.

With apologies to EJ Thribb (17 ½)

* * * * *

Coming soon:
To mark the start of USA 2008 new-hampshire-snow-by-atonal-at-flickrdotcom.jpgthis column is taking temporary residence deep in the snows of New Hampshire.

Please see From Scratch for a specially syndicated Roads of Stone, reporting on the US primaries.

173. Lines on the New Hampshire primary 2008 : : 173. Lines on the New Hampshire primary 2008 : : 173. Lines on the New Hampshire primary 2008 : : 173. Lines on the New Hampshire primary 2008 : : 173. Lines on the New Hampshire primary 2008 : : 173. Lines on the New Hampshire primary 2008

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110. The hands that built America – Houston skylines
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4. GO British ! Chicago Marathon 2002
17. It’s puzzling – a letter on Iraq, to Tony Blair
71. How the West Was Won – Iraq implodes

154. Thinking blogger award

thinking-blogger-award.jpg Hot news from the internet red carpets of Tinseltown is that thanks to EllaElla of From Scratch, this site has been nominated for a Thinking Blogger Award.

english-summer-2007.jpg That must surely have been a misprint, though.

Certainly Tuesday evening’s incredibly muddy Hash Run through a thunderstorm might much more easily have led to a Sinking Blogger.

The trashed state of my socks later could also have justified the soubriquet of Stinking Blogger (but let’s not go there, shall we?)

pyrford-lock-surrey-hash-2007.jpgAnd after ‘following’ a floating flour trail during a torrential cloudburst, a belated arrival at the pub was more than cause enough for my enthusiastic reclassification as a Drinking Blogger.

Honestly, Ella, there wasn’t all that much thinking involved, but thank you very much, all the same.
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147. Eurydice – from this blackened earth

eurydice-by-steve-w-flickrcomSometimes the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls.

Walking from Waterloo Station to the City of London, you can read this entire poem along the underpass.

Eurydice, by Sue Hubbard

Related articles:
142. South Bank spring – Tate Modern, London
14. A London favourite – running on the South Bank
80. Paul Simon – lines from an English railway platform
36. The Embankment, inspiration and reality
11. London Snow by Robert Bridges