Friday, 31 October 2014


Fir trees on  Stone Row, Culbone
Well well, haven't posted to this blog since .... ever. I finished making the RomLitScape then had a year-long crisis of confusion: should I release it as originally intended (as a GPS-triggered downloadable app which brought to life the Romantic poets in their halcyon year of 1798 in the Quantocks and along the North Exmoor Coast), or should I turn it into something else ( a sort of geo-caching exercise)?

I went down to the Quantocks and the N Exmoor coast earlier this week with two purposes:
  • distribute flyers and posters for my upcoming 'ROMANCING THE GIBBET' collaboration with Steve Poole (UWE) and Michael Fairfax (sculptor, weird sound maker) about the Walford Murder of 1789 (nice mirroring - 1798/1789)
  • test the latest iteration of the RomLitScape both on the Quantocks and N Exmoor coast
Long Combe
I did a long ramble over the westerly Quantocks from Halsway Manor on the Tuesday afternoon (28 October 2014). This is a part of the Quantocks I don't know (I say I 'know' the rest of the hills, but in fact, I still get lost all the time. You descend one combe and then the stream quattrofurcates or something and as you can't see out of the narrow stream valley you follow the wrong stream back up and end up miles from where you intended to be).

The cloud was low and only the valleys were clear(ish). I'm not going to post my exact route (I may still use mark points on the route for a geo-caching version), but I ticked off Bicknoller Post, Beacon Hill, Round Hill; at West Hill where I'd wandered looking for a view over the sea I encountered three pre-elderly persons (as I get older the definition of 'elderly' recedes ever before me. It now means 'something over 80', which gives me a long time yet until I become that!). They were amicably (...) discussing the map and where they could be on it. The man had the map (as usual), and 'knew where he was' (sic) whereas the two women didn't have the map, but did actually know where they weren't, which wasn't where the man with the map thought he was (as usual). I showed them where they were on the map, exchanged comments on the view and left them to it. Later, I noticed they'd retraced their steps (the two women stood out on the dark moor - one in red, the other in blue), so hopefully they found their vehicle before it got dark. Back to Halsway by much the same route, taking in all the barrows I could find, but keeping to the high places.

Came down towards the straggled hedge of writhen beeches which I knew led down to Halsway and burst into a simple patch of green grass amidst a sea of withered, gone-over bracken. Diffuse light streamed out of a hole in the cloud and the whole vale opened out before me. What it is to be alone. 

Drove on to and through Porlock, with dusk descending. Up Porlock Hill - DCL Motors in Egerton Road, Bristol, must've put rocket fuel - or maybe snake oil - in my 10yr old turbo-diesel Honda Civic in its recent service, It was actually accelerating up Porlock Hill - one of the steepest roads in the known universe - in 3rd . Blimey!). Off at the Culbone Inn, swerving around kamikaze pheasants intent on sacrificing themselves to The Great Vehicle in the Sky in the Hope and Expectation of the Life Everlasting, to Parsonage Farm. Mine hosts - Jeremy, Paivi, Sebastian & Maia - made me very welcome indeed and gave me a bed for the night. We had a soiree and drank, now let me see, it started off with gin and ginger beer, progressed onto a white then a Rioja and Merlot, ate incredible ham cooked by Paivi, and ended up with  a pumpkin pie (Paivi - Linda McCartney recipe). Wow. Most grateful.

you can stay at Parsonage Farm 
Parsonage Farm is a possible candidate for Coleridge's creation of 'Kubla Khan'. The others are Ash Farm and Broomstreet Farm. The venue for creation was, acc. to STC, of the order of 1/4 mile from Culbone (Church). But he did say, later, that it was 'Brimstone Farm',. This has been taken as a possible wordplay on 'Broomstreet Farm'. However, apart from his delight in deliberate obfuscation, Broomstreet Farm is a good mile or more from Culbone and round several bends and a deep valley or two, so it seems unlikely (and anyway, as Jeremy said, he could also have been punning on 'ash' ... as in 'brimstone and ash'). So it's either Ash Farm or Parsonage Farm. 

The Candidates

To get to either from Culbone on 'official' routes nowadays means a dogleg on the SW Coastpath up to near Silcombe Farm, then back along Yearnor Mill Lane, first stumbling across Parsonage Farm, then Ash Farm. However, there is still a path which leads directly from Culbone to Ash Farm. It takes off just above the church on the coastpath (Porlock direction) and is actually signposted 'Ash Farm B&B'. Only a 15-20 min easy walk.  I rest my case, Mi'lud. 

Is this the way Coleridge trod to Ash Farm?
Drat, it's that Man from Porlock again. Reminds me, as I'm in the habit of finishing Coleridge's unfinished works for him (CHRISTABEL-RELEASED), I really should finish Kubla Khan next (it's a no-brainer)(Duh).

St John the Evangelist i' the Mist, Countisbury

On the misty Wednesday, a walk - actually more a sort of scramble - on a round-route around Countisbury - Foreland Point. 

Great Hills of Shale!
I must be a Romantic: I like being alone in sublime Nature. Howling, freezing wind especially along the ridge overlooking the lighthouse; mist pours over the gap past St John the Evangelist,  into caverns measureless to man, down to a sunless sea

but then dissolves into bright blue air; and light, and life.

Less mist below

And more on top

I think the walk has recalibrated my head. I'm now thinking I should release the RomLitScape as originally intended. Any thoughts, anyone?

lunch spot - cowering behind very prickly gorse

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The Holfordian Triangle

On 14 September we held a group ramble to run the final version of the RomLitScape past a mixture of people, some of whom had experienced it before, others who were newlings to the technology and content. There was a slight panic a few days before as the weather report was dire for the Sunday (strong winds, persistent rain, not to mention asteroid impact, black holes etc), but. luckily, they're made of sterner stuff down there in Zummerzet than us townies and were aghast at the very idea of not doing something because of the weather. As RT said, 'what would Coleridge have done?' (and as RH - not me, another RH - replied: 'he would've taken shit loads of opium and stayed at home!')

a shy local tribesperson being inveigled out of the undergrowth at Alfoxton Hall
In the event a healthy 9 people in total turned up at Holford Green. It proceeded to bucket it down

But that didn't matter too much as we were soon under the canopy of trees in Dorothy's Glen and the stately row of beeches on the track to Alfoxton. It then desisted. A few of the usual GPS issues surfaced. It seems each phone has its own personality. Different phones in the same location vary in their ability & speed to establish a fix.

Alfoxton Hall - where the Wordsworths lived in 1798

At Alfoxton

walled garden beyond
A lot of chopping back vegetation and trees since I was last up there. Perhaps someone's bought it at last? It'll cost a good few hundred thousand (million?) to get it into any sort of shape, and the outhouses, such as the Coach-House with the clock, have, I understand, been hived off to separate buyers.

We proceeded up the hill. It was rather windy, but the rain had stopped. All my soundpools were triggering nicely, thank you - and slightly down to the Memorial Firs (WW Memorial). Rings of isolated trees on hills always strike me as cathedral-like - after all, where did the Gothic architects get their ideas for vaulted ceilings from if not in a woodland with interlaced branches? - and the Memorial Firs are no exception. Wind softly sighing through firs, view open across Bridgwater Bay, Hinkley Point Nuclear Power Station ... and a setting of Wordsworth's tragic poem 'The Ruined Cottage'

My script on the above:


William          How should it be told? Even harder, how should it be heard? Why do these things happen? Who is re­sponsible? What are we to do in the face of such events?

Coleridge       Thomas De Quincey is tearing his hair out, jumping up and down in exasperation and rage like a demented dwarf. He says she should’ve – you should’ve written it so – she should’ve taken advantage of, who knows – the vicar, the magistrate, the war office, the commander of the nearest army post, a store owner, oh, almost any responsible citizen. Quote: “To have overlooked a point of policy so broadly apparent as this vitiates and nullifies the very basis of the story.” Unquote. Margaret is to be censored for ‘gadding about’ instead of taking care of her house and her children

William      This is a poem – not a political pamphlet or social documentary. They address different things. I address what life IS, they address what – they consider -  life should be.

Coleridge    We can distinguish here between those, like De Quincey, who consider the individual ultimately responsible for themselves –

William           She was. She did what she did

Coleridge    - and those, on the other hand, who consider her – people – mere pawns, cannon fodder, to oppressive hegemonies. The war machine wages war to the detriment of its own citizens, it gobbles us, then itself up. The never dying worm eating its own tail. We twilight beings are gobbled up by Ragnarok

William         Status quo – or revolution. We – especially we, Coleridge -  have seen that both are inadequate against evil and human suffering. She dies. Explain that? Hmm.

Down the edge into Hodders Combe. On the way we lost 3 people, then found one, then lost two, then found two, then lost two, then found one. I must've located the Bermuda Triangle instead of a soundpool along this stretch! (Hey, there's an idea!) Sandwiches at the confluence of tracks at streams-merge:

And a toddle back down to Holford Green.

I'd like to sincerely thank all participants - and hope that those swallowed up by the Holfordian Triangle eventually made their way out safe and sound. Some very useful suggestions were made, and, as usual in any project, you realize you could in fact work on it for the next, er, 10 years quite happily in order to accommodate the suggestions. But it works, it can be built on, we've got the technology, Houston. Many thanks to my SATSYMPH collaborator, Phill Phelps (the guy in the foreground in the hat) and many thanks to you all, too!

Reward - at Kilve Chantry!

Saturday, 31 August 2013


 Last Wednesday, 28th August, I delivered as part of the Binham Grange Summer Exhibition, my   completion of Coleridge's epic Gothic ballad, CHRISTABEL. My CHRISTABEL-RELEASED takes about 3hrs to declaim and is about 1/3rd original Coleridge and 2/3 original Hoyte. I had been slightly worrying whether I would actually be able to do the whole 3 hrs (4 - 4  1/2 with breaks) as I did my back in earlier in the week, but in the event I was fine (iboprufen and cider did the trick...)

At the suggestion of Mel and Marie, the spoken-word performance took place in 3 separate venues: 1/3 outside in the garden (sun setting, rooks cawing, pigeons cooing as an accompaniment); 1/3 in Binham Grange's formal dining room (by candle-light); and the final 1/3rd in the comfortable drawing room. The small audience (13 in total) seemed to enjoy the work. A strange thing, is it not - tell someone you are going to perform a 3hr-long poem and they'll run a mile rather than come; but those who actually do come say afterwards, 'oh, was that really 3 hours? I never wanted it to end!' After all, Wagner fans - like my parent's ex-neighbours -  will devote weeks of their time to studying The Ring Cycle and then listen for a total of 16 hours to the actual performance.

A long performance allows people to settle, to fully engage with the world they're being presented with, to travel to this other/here world. Splitting the performance up into 3 parts in different places really helped, as did the fact that I've split the work up into 19 parts plus an Epilogue, with each part having (in Victorian manner) an introduction to the action to take place. And Phill was taken by the fact that each part ended 'in a cliffhanger'. People really wanted to know what happened to Christabel. Which is where Coleridge failed us, and her. Ahem. I also challenged people to identify the 'join' where Coleridge left off and Hoyte began, but no-one could, so, mission accomplished, me'thinks!

CHRISTABEL-RELEASED  is available on Kindle HERE

Chris Jelley (thanks, Chris!) wrote about the performance on his blog HERE

Wincing in pain or carried away by the muse???

After the performance there was a lively discussion about the work; and then about GPS-triggered soundscapes etc (see also Chris Jelley's work - link to blog above)

Friday, 30 August 2013


Yes, not posted for a while. The July 3rd focus group meet-up at Watchet provided, as detailed in the post, more very useful feedback on 'experience-design'. What the artist may want is one thing, how it comes across is, for this app, crucial. Anyway, you get to a point where you really cannot see the wood for the trees, so a 'reality-check' tends to bring up very simple things you've overlooked.

Foreland Point
Having established (again) that the thing essentially works, I spent most of the rest of July plotting out in Appfurnace where the actual soundpools should be. There's over 4hrs of sound in there, which poses a problem re. device capacity. Fine for iPhone app, not so fine for Android app, as they limit the size of the app to (what was it, Phill? I said somewhere, but can't find it. Not very large, anyway).

County Gate, looking over Exmoor

Questions being wrestled with:

  • reduce mp3 quality to get more capacity as it's only spoken, not music (answer: can't much reduce mp3, I gather, as it's already well squashed)
  • replicate content (same content in different places)(answer: are we trying to cover too many audience-bases and too wide an area? Er, that's a question! Answer: the app's potentially aimed at 'cultural tourists'; 'walkers/ramblers'; an educational audience; a 'casual tourist' demographic. Some people, depending on pricing policy, may download it 'just for an afternoon ramble around, eg, Nether Stowey'; others, at the other end of the spectrum, may doggedly, over a period of months, hunt down every last soundpool - numbering over 100! How to pitch it for these opposite ends of the spectrum? Ralph, that's another question! Er...
  • delay release till, now, spring 2014: this we'll do. No point releasing 'an outdoor app' at the tail end of the summer. The months ahead will be put to use researching tactics to make such an app commercially successful
The Blue Boar at Countisbury (Church to right)
So that was July. August is a month off. No-one's in town. I went down to the N Exmoor coast several times, camping overnight in a river valley just north of Porlock with various groupings of family/fellow testers. Countisbury still seems to be on my mind! The Blue Boar at Countisbury was eaten at once, but I'm afraid it doesn't exactly fly the banner for English pub food. Whereas the Piggy in the Middle in Porlock high street is, mostly, excellent - very good Fish n' Chips freshly cooked. The mainman told me he has a flat in Goa and goes out there regularly, has toured a lot of India on a motorbike.

Spent time with Phill making an installation of all 4 hours of recorded scripts for Gallery 4 Art's Summer Exhibition at Binham Grange, Somerset.

Started off with headphones, progressed onto using speakers as 'pick-up' on the headphones seemed limited - maybe people shy? Think they'll get an ear-bug? Perhaps having ghostly voices booming around an old barn is more evocative anyway

Yes, that's Lizzie Siddal, the Pre-Raphaelite's muse, Dante Gabriel Rossetti's wife, "a most beautiful creature with an air between dignity and sweetness with something that exceeded modest self-respect and partook of disdainful reserve; tall, finely-formed with a lofty neck and regular yet somewhat uncommon features, greenish-blue unsparkling eyes, large perfect eyelids, brilliant complexion and a lavish heavy wealth of coppery golden hair." She 'died of an overdose of laudanum' in 1862.

High-Class tea at Binham Grange

The end of the barn at Binham Grange is dedicated to my installation and art by the Gallery 4 Art artisys inspired by the Romantic poets (especially Coleridge, it seems, that addicted laudanum  - containing opium - user)

Mel Deegan

sorry, didn't note artist!

Jim Munnion


The Summer Exhibition is still running (closes this coming Sunday, 1st September) so you can still go see it, have a cream tea at the Grange (beautiful old manor house and garden!), listen to the installation - BUY SOME ART! Here's the exhibition flyer: BINHAM GRANGE SUMMER EXHIBITION

Lord and Lady

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Focus Group Meet-Up 2: Watchet

Phill, Ben, Rachel, Dan, Ye Ancyent Mariner, a Dead Albatross
The latest Focus Group outing was arranged for Watchet Harbour last Sunday (so June 2013). Hope I got everyone's name right (this could be a ploy to see who reads the blog!). The 'scape was laid out as follows:

It had a particular emphasis on The Rime of the Ancyent Mariner as the works' conception is intimately linked with Watchet.

We met, walked, talked, listened, jabbed various screens and had a few technical and script issues (eg 'Oh, I'd thought I'd placed THAT script somewhere else - why's it popping up here?'). It's interesting that individual smartphones seem to have their own personalities and react differently to the same environments. Either they've finally achieved singularity ("I'm having a bad hair day today, humans, and just don't feel like it" ?), or it's the usual, making things which will work across a range of devices and platforms is just plain HARD work, man.

Chris Jelly (above), doing a partner project, popped up out of a container somewhere, along the harbour, right, where he was fitting out containers for the CONTAINS project (go along to their launch this Saturday 6 July!) and joined us for a while to listen to the 'scape. He's blogged on his impressions (and there's some nice photos!) at THE COLERIDGE WAY)

Wandered around a bit more>>>

Posed outside The Bell (where the Three stayed in 1798) - they drank 'flip' - some concoction of warm beer and brandy or something

Wandered along to the Lighthouse


And took really useful user feedback. It's really interesting, and encouraging, that participants felt the RomLitScape enhanced their experience, rather than distracted them from their surroundings:

Participant 1:

It’s really interesting … the sound adds an extra layer to a walk, a walk  around the town, but you feel a connection to history and art and the past … and it feels quite private, it’s very different to reading a board or whatever, it’s a very different thing because its coming straight into your ears; it’s really quite fascinating actually

Does the technology disturb you?

Not at all because you can carry on a normal conversation if you’re walking with somebody but then you just get this additional… kind of stimulus without having to do anything, without having to engage with anything if you’ve just got earbuds in, it just … comes in of its own accord

Participant 2:

I think it really does add to a place, it’s a very original way of putting the poets back into the landscape; I love the way that landscape art like this can not be physical (ie ‘has no physical element’), especially in a protected landscape like we have here; and that you can have it in your pocket and just stumble across and discover a whole layer of semi-imagined scripts and conversations about Coleridge and Wordsworth that really adds to what you might already know, or already have read

Does the technology intrude?

No I don’t think so – my headphones are really useful because they’re keeping my ears warm, which is a bonus today…

You get the stereo effect, too, don’t you?

Yes … that’s really nice … and also I think today is really busy and there’s lots of people around and yet you can pop your earphones on and just be immersed in it – no-one seems to be bothered by it, they can see you’re listening to it, they’re fine to let you carry on, but, yeh, you can just immerse yourself in it and carry on

Participant 3:

Further observations, I know you’ve done one before, haven’t you? How does it compare to the last one  … which was very rural, whereas this is very gusty, very windy, a busy holiday atmosphere?

I think it gives you more of a connection to what Watchet was at the time. It would’ve been a small fishing port, and the kind of characters who would have been here at the time and the kind of imagination that would’ve developed as a result of the circumstances, the mariner, the whole image of sea-life which was such an important part of everything at the time .. particularly in this part of the world … business, folk-lore … the centre of people’s lives. These different classic folk stories would come up and it’s obviously those which were filling Coleridge’s ears that perhaps partly inspired the poem .. for example, the Flying Dutchman from Europe, obviously, but I’m sure there’s many many local legends which would’ve inspired it as well .. it’s just lovely to see where it was actually conceived, and people often just drive through these places and don’t get a feel for what has gone on there and this helps you take a step back, away from our mad world, and get into the past and experience it more … and it’s nice that it’s dramatized and that you’ve got a real sense of wonder at how they viewed things and how .. as I say, how the ideas flowed from one to the other … and the dramatization from the biographical side helped to bring it alive as well .. and I really loved it when The Ancient Mariner started, walking towards the front of the harbour, it worked really nicely, I thought, it helped you looking out at the view and where they started out from … it just goes with it really well

What do you think about the density of content – more or less content? How did it work for you in this space?

It’s pretty OK, you might want to add a bit more, maybe more by the actual pub

(RH goes on about coverage issues … if I’d wanted, for example, to make a scape JUST for Watchet, I’d’ve made it much more dense, but as the idea is to get people to go explore many different places associated with the Romantic poets, the content is much more spread out..)

Good idea, nice idea … helps people, so long as the word is spread … students, foreign students especially, would help them

Many thanks to Rachel, Ben, Dan (?) for coming along!

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Utter Joy

Countisbury Church (variously of St John the Baptist or St John the Evangelist) lies at the top of the very steep A39 as it climbs out of Lynmouth with all the Foreland stretching out beyond it, plunging at last to the sea. When I was last down here, I parked at OS 758495 and walked along the lighthouse road to the lighthouse at Foreland Point (a rather long trek), then, on the way back, diverted onto the coastal path towards Lynmouth/Lynton, following it as it climbed behind the Foreland promontory, up Great Red, then Butter Hill, and so back. I had intended to have a look at Countisbury but it was getting dark.

As the walk was so beautiful, with extended sea-views and a working lighthouse at the Point I was considering locating soundpools along it (possible downside - the long asphalted track on the walk in to the lighthouse).

From Foreland Point towards Porlock Bay

Walk-in to Foreland Point: road to Lighthouse (not for cars) at bottom

massive hill of shale

Foreland Point Lighthouse
But the walk needed something more: Countisbury (pub & church)! Luckily able to stop on most recent test-outing at Countisbury. Just as we got to the top of the hill, rain and sea-mist came drifting in. Luckily.

I mean - just look at that! A savage place ! as holy and enchanted / As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted / By woman wailing for her demon-lover ! I expected to find Coleridge lurking in the church porch, complaining his stomach hurt, with Dorothy and William sitting beside him, holding hands.

Then he got up and declaimed an ode to the churchyard, one hand on the gravestone above: And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far / Ancestral voices prophesying war ! 

They walked out to the edge o'erlooking the precipice, whilst the howling wind and rain battered them in the face:

And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething, / As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing, / A mighty fountain momently was forced : / Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst / Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail, / Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail :

Then turned to look back at the church

.. inserted into a dimple in the landscape, its four-cornered horns beckoning, 'come to me, come to me': 

To such a deep delight 'twould win me, / That with music loud and long, / I would build that dome in air, / That sunny dome ! those caves of ice ! 

There was another visitor to the church, a tourist who had been told it was 'not to be missed'. He looked around a bit, harrumphed, and said, 'it's nothing special, is it', and went off, disappointed, leaving its charged emptiness to me and Phill. The Devon County Council site , funnily enough, also says, "Countisbury church (St. John the Baptist) is of little interest. Well, if it leaves the church for those who appreciate her, fine by me.

O Wedding-guest! this soul hath been
Alone on a wide wide sea:
So lonely 'twas, that God himself
Scarce seemed there to be.

O sweeter than the Marriage-feast,
'Tis sweeter far to me
To walk together to the Kirk
With a goodly company

Coleridge - never without a sense of humour (often at his own expense) would've appreciated this, too.

So I think it's a definite. I want the RomLitScape to have a mixture of 'easy tourist routes' (eg The Valley of the Rocks), but for it also to entice people away from all the other grockles, out into the sacred, wide-open spaces, where sublime Nature gives you wings, and hope, and utter joy. This is such a walk.