Destination Uncertain

A beautiful sunny April morning. I decided to catch a bus somewhere. I originally thought I might go to Ironbridge, but I had to queue at the ATM (no money, no bus ticket!) and by the time the machine finally coughed out my cash, I would not have been able to reach the bus station before the Ironbridge bus left. Except that I then remembered that the 96 comes up through the town, and I could probably just make it to the stop in St Mary’s Street in time…. I did. I even had a couple of spare minutes to catch my breath before it came into sight.

River Severn at Buildwas

It was a lovely run through the spring countryside. This is a pretty route, going through Atcham and Wroxeter and Leighton. Rolling hills, the River Severn meandering in great loops, and the Wrekin gradually coming closer. English countryside. I got off the bus at Buildwas, thinking I would have a look around there, see the ruins of the Cistertian Abbey, and then walk on into Ironbridge. I saw a sign to the abbey, and that road took me across Buildwas Bridge. A much replaced bridge: the original one, built by the monks, was swept away in 1795, Thomas Telford made the next one three years later – there’s still a small section of its iron arch by the side of the road. The third one was built in 1905, and finally the present bridge replaced it in 1992.

While I was leaning on this bridge, taking a picture of the river and the house beside it (avoiding the power station, the other dominating feature of Buildwas), a lady came along walking a couple of friendly beagles. She told me that she used to live in the house I was busy photographing, and her mother still lives there. It’s mostly 16th Century, she said. The roof tops and walls were a wonderful tangle of creepers and vines.

Tiles and tangles

I walked on up to the Abbey entrance, but it was not yet open for the day, so I decided to continue walking. There was very little traffic, and the grass verge was scattered with white dog violets and purple ground ivy. There were butterburs near the water and patches of salt-loving scurvy-grass at the road edge.

As I continued walking, the traffic was gradually becoming heavier. I spent more and more time waiting on the verge for streams of cars to pass. After a while, I passed a roadsign sign telling me where I was going; “Much Wenlock 2”, it said. So I was not on the road to Ironbridge after all. Well, Much Wenlock’s very pretty, and I could probably manage another two miles without much trouble. Although the traffic was getting annoying. Or I could walk back the way I’d come and see the abbey instead? Decisions…. I decided to walk as far as the brow of the hill before making up my mind.

Just before I got to the top of the rise, a Land Rover passed me and then pulled to a halt. It was David and Jen from the Shropshire Community Flickr Group, offering me a lift. “Are you going to Wenlock?” they asked. “It looks like I am now!” I replied. I was amazed that anyone I knew would pass me and would recognise me when I was so far out of my usual stomping grounds. I was very happy to accept the lift.

Thanks to their kind offer, I was soon at The Edge Arts Centre on the outskirts of Much Wenlock. They were there to attend a couple of events at the Wenlock Poetry Festival, a new venture for the town. I walked on into the town centre, had a look around the little museum and found a cafe for a second breakfast – scrambled eggs on toast and coffee. I needed that!

After further walking around the town, which was bustling with people, I went into Priory Hall. There I watched a stone carver, John Neilson, inscribing a piece of local stone with couple of lines from a poem specially written for the festival by Carol Ann Duffy, the Poet Laureate and the festival’s patron.

I went into Wenlock Pottery, and spent quite a long time sitting in the sun in its courtyard, talking to the lady in charge of it. This was the venue for a couple of free poetry events, but it was too early. Nearer the time, I moved inside but the Wirral Poets, who were to provide the first item, were still on their way. Instead I had the pleasant room almost to myself – I say almost, because there were a few people at a table to my left, and over in the far corner, Roger McGough and John Gorman were having a quick, quiet practice of some pieces they were to be performing later.

Poets and pots

Gradually more audience turned up. And finally the Wirral Poets arrived in force – a large group. They were handed hi-vis waistcoats, as they were going to be out and about, taking poetry around the town, after their short performance in the Pottery. More people turned up to watch, all the chairs in the audience were soon taken and still people were coming in. And then the poetry started. I listened. Afterwards I was back in the courtyard of the pottery, in the sunshine, with a very nice pot of tea, wondering where I would to go next. In the end, I decided that what I really wanted to do next was to go back home and think about things. So I did. A pretty run on the 436 bus, over and down Wenlock Edge and finally back into Shrewsbury in the now quite hazy sunshine. Happy.

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11 Responses to “Destination Uncertain”

  1. David Turner Says:

    It was a great day, Sue and we were very happy to give you a lift to get your off that busy road. Thanks for recording your Wenlock Experiences because you saw it from a different perspective to us.

  2. David Turner Says:

    I’ve re-read this, Sue, and have spotted an inaccuracy. I should point out that Jen and I were not stewarding, we were attending as paying enthusiasts!

  3. suetortoise Says:

    I have corrected the post, David. Thanks!

  4. Hannah Livsey Says:

    Sounds like you had a lovely, serendipitous (? is that the right way to spell it?) Sue! If it hadn’t been for the small person I would have been there too, a poetry festival sounds intriguing.

  5. suetortoise Says:

    I didn’t see too much of the festival. And that was fine by me: I can cope with poetry in small amounts, but not too much all at once. I imagine that a whole festival of the stuff would leave insufficient time to think about it. The quieter, contemplative bits and the deligthful ripples of word-music are too easily overwritten by the noisy ranters and the jingle-makers.

  6. It sounds like you had a good time just going with the flow. That second picture of the old house with the creepers is just so English! It’s wonderfully evocative.

    I agree absolutely about poetry. Good poetry is so condensed that it takes some thinking about. Too much at once is rather indigestible.

  7. David Turner Says:

    Helen and Sue:

    As a poetry agnostic, I surprise myself by having to disagree, at least so far as I am concerned. We did Roger McGough on Friday evening, Imtiaz Dharker on Saturday morning, a wander round including putting a verse on the Poetree and then three Welsh poets on Saturday afternoon. Carol Ann Duffy on Saturday evening finished the indoor stuff admirably and this morning (Sunday) we joined Paul Evans’ Wenlock Edge walk. It’s been a full weekend but I feel as though I’ve had suffcient time to absorb the experience.

  8. Kevon Kenna Says:

    Good Poetry comes from a tortured mind; usually a mixture of adolescence and sexual frustration. There’s not much good poetry around these days.

    Should we get Sue a GPS for Christmas?
    They are now quite affordable. Taking the wrong road when on foot can lead to fun and adventure, but it can also lead to long walks home.

  9. suetortoise Says:

    I already have to decide between carrying the mobile phone or the camera. A GPS would just be something else to have to leave at home because of the weight. Besides, If I was worried, I would have taken the OS map. Besides, besides, I had not gone further up the road than I could comfortably walk back. And it would take the fun out, the way search engines take the fun out of finding out.

    There’s slightly more to poetry than teenage angst, Kevon.

  10. Isn’t there a pretty clear distinction between poetry on the page and performance poetry? Roger McGough was one of that generation of poets who din’t expect the reverence earlier poets were accorded merely for reading out their words. I’ve attended poetry readings where some of the audience already knew the pieces and the rest of us were left to go and pick apart the density off the page elsewhere.
    If a performance reawakens you to the possibilities and fluidity of language, job done.

  11. suetortoise Says:

    It feels as though it ought to be a different discipline. The skills and style needed for throwing words at an audience in the hope that some will stick (or at least produce a reaction) seems quite distinct from that needed to gently offer one’s work in print on a page. And yet it’s impossible to draw any firm lines between the two. And at the outer edges poetry can merge equally seamlesly into song or story, rhetoric, drama,…. As with many arts, half the work has to be done by the listener/reader and depends on his or her experience, taste and mood of the moment. There was plenty for everyone at Wenlock, and I enjoyed my small-but-satisfying sample of the festival. Job indeed done.

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