On a glass-clear day at the end of January, I set off with David Armitage of Malvern Hills AONB, Karen Gregor, producer of ‘Ramblings’, and the one and only, marvellous, Clare Balding. We were taking a poem for a walk, as part of Ledbury Poetry Festival‘s Troubadour of the Hills project,
which is a joint venture between the Festival and Malvern Hills AONB. Also with us were Dimitri Houtart (BBC Head of Rural Affairs) and Peter Sutton, translator of ‘Piers Plowman’. The programme aired on 21 March 2019, and you can still listen to it here!
We left from Hollybush car park and turned south, skirting Ragged Stone Hill on a path through the woods to its west side. Here we paused (to get our breath) and I read –
I’m lit along the wood-edge.
Blond light off corn stubble,
a sky full of rain and light.
In one ear, press of hide on saplings,
the unseen deer retreat
Raggedstone, steep, sallow
Then we climbed to the ridge, and Peter Sutton told us about the Malvern Hills known to William Langland back in the 14th century, and the connections still to be found here.
We greeted a friendly golden retriever who was obviously a Ramblings fan, then stopped before the fine views of Chase End Hill. So I read –
Banked with shades and shadows
winding up inside a slope
the deep lane remembers everything
I misremember everything, I know
Chase End Hill, white cumulus, concrete trig
At this point I have to admit that we missed the turn in the wood (talking, talking) and so yes, we actually did lose Clare Balding on the Malverns. She was extraordinarily nice about it, (she was just extraordinarily nice, in fact), and we did retrieve the situation within a few minutes, and made our way down to show her the extraordinary meadow ants field.
Here Ramblings’ director Dimitri sprang to and saved a sheep who was cast on her back, while meantime we mused on the internal intricacies and simplicities of anthills.
We walked on to reach Hollybed Common, where Karen produced a welcome bag of doughnuts, Clare asked the geese to be quiet and they instantly were – and then I read –
A bellwether sheep
leads a long file past me,
roman nose to soiled tail.
They beat the cloven common
into the common
Hollybed, pale, trodden
From there uphill to The Gullet, with its dark lake under the ancient rocks of the quarry.
Here I read –
Come out at the car park
red car, yellow car, sweet,
Rain runs down me,
down the hill, and down the hour
The Gullet, fogged, viridian
And we climbed (some more) up through the throat of The Gullet to reach the ridge below Midsummer Hill. And up again, past natural windows in the bare trees, showing us glimpses of Hollybed Common far below, and long, clear views away to the Lickey Hills and the Cotswolds. On top of Midsummer Hill the wind was fresh, and the views in every direction utterly breath-taking.
I read –
The hills are always here.
They wear away.
They stay, grip close
the patience of the igneous.
Their fossils sit me out
Midsummer Hill, bedrock, bowl-sky