Ewan MacColl and The Manchester Rambler 


I love the way blogs lead to places. Avenues open to new ventures, new ideas,  to follow or discuss.  Or is that life?

The Peak and Northern Footpaths Society’s walk in May in commemoration of the opening of the Snake Path  and subsequent Mass Trespass, led not just to the Snake Pass and a well deserved half in the Snake Inn, but to music and poetry too.

The Manchester  Rambler, Ewan MacColl’s folk standard sung by folk heros across the land stems from the 1932 Mass Trespass that Ewan MacColl took part in. The story is in the song.

The  bastardised version we sang in pubs in our misspent student days, only ever joining in the chorus and getting it wrong to boot belied the serious undertow. We knew more of whiteslaves than wageslaves and we knew precious little of those either. Perhaps in this era of austerity and the misery of zero hours contracts it is time for a re release.

The Manchester Rambler

Ewan MacColl

Lyrics

I’ve been over Snowdon, I’ve slept upon Crowdon

I’ve camped by the Waynestones as well

I’ve sunbathed on Kinder, been burned to a cinder

And many more things I can tell

My rucksack has oft been me pillow

The heather has oft been me bed

And sooner than part from the mountains

I think I would rather be dead

Ch: I’m a rambler, I’m a rambler from Manchester way

I get all me pleasure the hard moorland way

I may be a wageslave on Monday

But I am a free man on Sunday

The day was just ending and I was descending

Down Grinesbrook just by Upper Tor

When a voice cried “Hey you” in the way keepers do

He’d the worst face that ever I saw

The things that he said were unpleasant

In the teeth of his fury I said

“Sooner than part from the mountains

I think I would rather be dead”

He called me a louse and said “Think of the grouse”

Well i thought, but I still couldn’t see

Why all Kinder Scout and the moors roundabout

Couldn’t take both the poor grouse and me

He said “All this land is my master’s”

At that I stood shaking my head

No man has the right to own mountains

Any more than the deep ocean bed

I once loved a maid, a spot welder by trade

She was fair as the Rowan in bloom

And the bloom of her eye watched the blue Moreland sky

I wooed her from April to June

On the day that we should have been married

I went for a ramble instead

For sooner than part from the mountains

I think I would rather be dead

So I’ll walk where I will over mountain and hill

And I’ll lie where the bracken is deep

I belong to the mountains, the clear running fountains

Where the grey rocks lie ragged and steep

I’ve seen the white hare in the gullys

And the curlew fly high overhead

And sooner than part from the mountains

I think I would rather be dead.

Songwriters: Ewan Maccoll

The Manchester Rambler lyrics © The Bicycle Music Company

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Walking with History

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In the  burst of sunshine before autumn and winter we have opted for outdoors and walking. Hard not to walk with history here; the hills are steeped in it. Hill forts ring the coast like a necklace; craggy outcrops with flat tops, fortified walls, sometimes with the remains of hut circles.  Local names convey confusion as to exact dates or perhaps confirm that these forts have been in existence for a very long time: ancient, iron age, Roman;  perhaps having been all three.

We walked through the nature reserve converted for and by the community. Once a tip, once a salt marsh used by the monks from Cymer Abbey to graze their sheep, the name  of the road, Mynach Road, the only lasting legacy. A willow arch marks the entrance to an outdoor classroom used by the local school and a wooden pirate’s ship sets the tone for the children’s play area.  Bees hum in the wild flowers and wild clematis rampages through blackberries. Along the prom,  waves hit the breakwater, turn back on themselves and could teach a thing or two about physics as they explode with spume and ‘get’ us. White arms of a competent swimmer windmill  through the treacherous looking waves and leave the feeling that we have imagined him  till we see the rest of him, muscled and glistening,  cross the prom behind us at a run back to his car.  A section of shaly beach brings us to the railway bridge at Llanaber and up through the church yard of St Mary’s,  also known as  St Bodfan,  St Bodfan and St Mary the Virgin and just St Mary.

Bodfan was a monk on Bardsey, and founded the first church at Llanaber, probably wooden originally, lost without trace and replaced by the 13th Century church that remains.

Inside are the Llanaber Stones, two Early Christian stones found locally fording a stream and believed to be from the churchyard . Reportedly Romano British from the 5th or 6th century  the inscription is  a mixture of Latin and Welsh. Both dedicated to St Bodfan; one is inscribed Calexti Monedo Rigi,   a mythical king of Mona or Anglesey; the other inscribed  Aeterna and Aeternus,  brother and sister perhaps,  names common in Roman Britain, they say.

There is no note to explain a gravestone that lies just outside the church whose inscription looks Runic

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Churches   also ring the coast line in plain view of Bardsey, the island of a thousand saints, whence the saints came to found or give names to the churches. Perhaps, once cast off from the  safety of the shore, candles in the church windows guided  through the buffeting sea, or. as today, when the sea, except for the breakwater,  is so flat calm it is eery, kept spirits alternately up or at bay.

As we leave the little chapel the sea mist gathers as the temperature plummets for evening reminding us that this sunshine is just a reprieve.

Yesterday We Walked with Eagles

Yesterday we walked with eagles, even though we were mostly along the road,  climbing high and wild between rocky ravines with the sea falling away to our right, silvering in the sun.  One eagle flew so close its shadow blotted out the sky and fell cross us like an eclipse, fronded wings and talons threateningly close. It circled a few times before climbing away to join the others to an eerie or perhaps for better prey.

Today was more rural: a ferry ride and beautiful beaches.  In fields, buzzards followed a tractor in such numbers that one sees crows in England.  We tried to make them into eagles, but we knew that neither the country nor their silhouettes were harsh enough.  Still, a dozen or so cartwheeling, quarrelling buzzards is no mean sight.

When we reached Guemes and met Don Ernesto the old priest who runs the hostel that the guide book said was not to be missed.  I thought perhaps the eagle had been an omen. Sadly, we did not find the experience of staying in the comune that he has built with his own hands and with the help of friends, awe inspiring.

A new way to Santiago

Journey´s end in five hours by bus from Oviedo.

The intention to blog along the 250 kilometers walked along the Camino del Norte went by the board, but can be done retrospectively.  Shortage of wifi and possibly inclination after anything up to ten hours on the way has meant an enforced silence .

Oviedo, my last stop, is waking up. There is  a lot of shouting.  Last night´s revellers are making it home and market stall holders are setting up for the day.  I am waking up to Oviedo.  In the cool light of the morning with its washed streets it appears pale gold and gracious with arches, squares, and palaces.

Walking with history and minor miracles in Snowdonia National Park

display_image  the cast copper altar at St Mark’s church, Brithdir

There is still a chill wind for May. The sun does not quite penetrate the greening trees and thin cloud but lets enough light for wild flowers to flourish: the purple haze of bluebells above the pinky white of wood sorrel and stitch wort.  Wood anemone open like bright stars in the green velvet moss underfoot. Native yellow and orange poppies burst like dappled sunshine against the granite green grey rock. We follow the winding lanes and paths crisscrossing the hamlet of Brithdir.  First the Torrent Walk following the beautiful tributary of the River Wnion that runs through Dolgellau, the River Clywedog. In Welsh the path is named for the tributary, Llwybr Clywedog.  The torrent falls through the estate of Caerynwch, home to the famous botanist Mary Richards, and is still owned and managed by the Richards family.  So beautiful is this torrent, with waterfalls and crystal clear water that the family granted access to the public for all to enjoy.
As the path flattens and the river runs on through lush fields there is an old mill house, three stories high, with its footings almost in the fast flowing water. Now a private residence, there is no sign of the wheel but it is testament to the wool trade that flourished here.  The house still called pandy, the Welsh for a fulling mill. The wool was woven into ‘Welsh cotton,’ as fine and light a material as the name implies and cheap enough to clothe slaves in America. That trade, those slaves all gone. The making of woolen cloth affected the livelihood of more Welsh farmers than any other rural industry. The woven cloth was walked, laden on pack horse, as far as Welshpool where the drapers monopolized trade from the 1560’s till the War of American Independence saw trade for British wool fall off.
We divert to see the remains of a furnace, an early smelting works on the edge of a caravan site.  The mines in Tabor, now disused, used to send their ore by rail.  A sign tells of Quaker influence in the area and of Quaker philanthropists, Fry, Cadbury and Rowntree, chocolate magnates whose business ethos was to reinvest in their industries for the benefit of the lives of their workforce while they themselves lived frugally not lavishly as their wealth and status might dictate.
On our way to Y Foel, the dome shaped hill, a climb of nearly a thousand feet, (which we are not looking forward to but in the event do not find hard), we meet a farm hand who has the look of a Welsh man, the pronunciation of soft language shaping his face since birth.  One of our party addresses him in Welsh. ‘Bore dda.  Mae’n braf heddiw,’ which we can follow.  The mountain stream of a reply gushes over most of us, except for Estelle our guide, concerning the newly opened footpath along which we are embarking. Realising we have not understood, the man amicably translates and the sound of rushing water is still in his voice.
He is going the same way himself. His job for the day is to mend dry stone-walls before the sheep and lambs are sent out to pasture in the rich high ground, now the weather is warmer. Lambs that are more steady on their feet and have lost their obvious newness. His pace, urgent perhaps because of the work he still has to do, outstrips ours. Soon we can hear the sound of stone on stone as he begins his rebuilding. In the distance too, there is a cuckoo.
He could still be seen long after when we had climbed Y Foel and settled on the windy summit to have our lunch, the red check of his work shirt distinguishable against the dun of the peaty landscape.  Also visible with a panorama of 360 degrees are the hills and mountains of Meirionnedd.  Cadair Idris, Dyffwys,Llawlech, Garn Fach amongst many. Their names: Idris’ Chair, hand of slate, speak of the ancients, their beliefs, their fears, their stories.
The inn, the Cross Foxes, looks like a box from this height.  It is named in reference to George Fox and the Quakers’ troubled history. Eventually many emigrated to America. Persecuted in their own world they sought refuge in the new, a land of promises and new beginnings, part of William Penn’s vision of the Holy Experiment.  They described their new homeland in the wilderness as having a Garden of Eden quality. Welsh Quakers formed townships of Meirion, Haverford and Raglan, hoping to establish a Welsh tract, a barony or state within the province, ‘within which all causes, quarrels, crimes and disputes might be tried wholly and determined by officers, magistrates and juries of our language.’  The longing of an exile to hear their mother tongue especially since speaking it in had been forbidden in their own land.

And so gently down hill, back to the hamlet of Brithdir and St Mark’s Church, commissioned by the Richards family and built between 1895 and 1898.  Henry Wilson, the architect and also a jeweler and a leading figure in the Arts and Crafts movement, wished the church to appear as if it had sprung from the soil instead of being planted down on it.  The small graveyard that surrounds the church now overhung with trees and colonized by bats lends to that impression. No longer in use, it is maintained by the Society of The Friends of Friendless Churches and is  listed by Cadw because it is  ‘a highly important and unaltered work of Henry Wilson.’  The cast copper altar and beaten copper reredos is a rare and beautiful sight. That it is open and we are free to walk in to appreciate is itself a minor miracle.
Thinking of the walk on the short drive home I remember the hawk that surprised us, the flash of a red kyte and numerous sightings of smaller birds,  enough to further  a belief in minor miracles.