Monday, 28 April 2014

Homing again to the sea

A good part of my life was spent growing up in the shadow of Robinswood Hill, which I climbed with Lilly on Friday evening. The hill and its quarry are an indelible stamp upon the early mental imagery of my childhood. That led me to thinking of other particular sights that define this place I grew up.

The Cathedral is one. And one of my favourites, though less for its association with God and more its association with man; with all our rich folly and ambition, our by parts glorious and tragic history and dreams.

It's so much a part of us, and yet so stands apart.

Haresfield Beacon, which I'm sure I've written of here previously. And undoubtedly will again.

The Malverns marking our boundary to the north, of which I am sure I have not. I've not been to the Malverns since I was a small child, and know little about them, other than when I pass them by car or by train when returning from the north, they are the first distinct landmark that tell me I'm now home. Everything from there to my doorstep becomes once again familiar.

And May Hill, the western sentinel. That's the picture above, taken last autumn when I took Lilly and Boo for a walk up Haresfield Beacon.

I love Google. Much of the following was learned just, and I've now plagurised with gratitude from the sources Google led me to, those being, but not limited to, mostly our local paper The Citizen and Wikipedia.

The local legend is that May Hill was named after a certain Captain May who used it as a landmark when navigating the Severn estuary.

I love this, for obvious reasons, but documents from a couple of hundred years ago relate that the hill was known as Yartleton Hill and was renamed because of the May Day events held there. A ceremony on May Day morning has been carried out atop the hill for several centuries; originally it included a mock battle between youths.

They're a robust, enthusiastic lot, the youths of Gloucestershire. By way of illustration, look up Cooper's Hill and Cheese Rolling.

We still get Morris Dancers up on May Hill swilling scrumpy and beating the vermin out of the hedgerows (or whatever it is they're doing) every May Day. Which, thinking about it, is coming soon.

Prince Rupert and his Cavaliers are said to have taken shelter amongst the trees during the Siege of Gloucester in 1643.

In 1905, it was said in parliament that witches were practising their craft on May Hill when the Markey family 'went insane'. A whole family going insane, and on that side of the River? Who could imagine such a thing!

Buried treasure is said to be on the east of the hill at Crockett's Hole – a place of safety in times of persecution under Queen Mary.

Sadly, the trees and their signature view are now threatened by disease; Red Band Blight. It acts slowly, but the Parish Council has been recommended to take down the mainly Corsican Pines, most of which were planted in 1887 to mark Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. The trees are not likely to face the axe soon, but they will have to be replaced as they are being slowly killed by the blight, which affects photosynthesis.

All the brief hunting around for gimlets of information regarding May Hill on the Internet have led me to Ivor Gurney, a local composer and poet of the Great War, who lived 1890 to 1937, for which I'm grateful.


God, that I might see
Framilode once again!
Redmarley, all renewed,
Clear shining after rain.

And Cranham, Cranham trees,
And blaze of Autumn hues.
Portway under the moon,
Silvered with freezing dews.

May Hill that Gloster dwellers
'Gainst every sunset see;
And the wide Severn river
Homing again to the sea.

The star of afterglow,
Venus, on western hills;
Dymock in spring : O spring
Of home ! O daffodils !

And Malvern's matchless hues
Bastions of ancient fires
These will not let me rest,
So hot my heart desires....

Here we go sore of shoulder,
Sore of foot, by quiet streams;
But these are not my rivers....
And these are useless dreams.

by Ivor Gurney, circa 1917

The First World War Poetry Digital Archive

Sixpence was singing atop the hawthorn outside my window a few moments ago. He looks well. I'm pleased. I didn't see or hear him at all last week beyond that chance Tuesday lunchtime meeting in the car park.

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