Folk songs and Footpaths: Part 5 & 6

Recap of Research Questions:

  • How might folk songs and footpaths be considered as related, and relational?
  • If public bodies move to protect intangible cultural heritage, or living traditions, is such an aim possible? Which songs do they chose? Which version of that song? Which singer? What particular version, as no singer sings the song the same twice?

Listen here ->

‘Singing English folk songs is as crucial to me as walking the Sussex landscape … When I sing, I feel past generations standing behind me – and I hope I’m a conduit for them – those farm labourers and their wives who kept the songs going for us. The songs are social history and their beauty and power undeniable’- Shirley Collins, 2015

‘The paths offered (Edward) Thomas cover from himself: proof of a participation in communal history and the suggestion of continuity, but also the dispersal of egotism … folk songs and footpaths are, to his mind, both major democratic forms: collective in origin but re-inflected by each new walker. Radical, too, in their implicit rebuke to the notion of private property’ – Robert MacFarlane, The Old Ways, 2012: pp. 309, 307


St Peter’s Church, Rodmell

Day 5 – Rodmell to Alfriston, 10 miles.

Thank you to my companions Emma, Anna, Moira, Dave, Mike, Jackie, Rachel, Sarah, Sarah Wales, Louise and her partner Andrew, and their daughter Arwen, Mum, and Lily and Bertie dogs, woof!

The recording begins with a stunning song The Sussex Shepherdess written by Charlotte Oliver, which I’ll allow her to introduce. We sang this late in the evening the night before, in Rodmell Churchyard. It’s a beautiful setting and adjoins the Woolf’s home, Monks House

Charlotte and Richard’s website:

The following morning I was at the church with my fellow walkers for the day; this incarnation of Cold Blows The Wind was collected in Rodmell. The person it was collected from is unknown, however it was collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams at The Inn (presumably The Abergavenny Arms, also known to feed hungry guests staying with Virginia Woolf) on the 10 Jan 1906 Only the tune was collected, so I looked elsewhere in Sussex for the lyrics and used some collected in Trotton in 1911, these were taken down from a Mrs Brown, helped by her son Jimmy, and Clive Carey notes that George Parrot in Minsted also sang this version

Thirdly, we have the brilliant Bob Lewis back, for a delightful duo of Blackberry Fold and Young Collins. Blackberry Fold is thought to refer to Uppark Park, the grand house near where my route began in South Harting. One of the owners:

‘Sir Harry Fetherstonhaugh spent his youthful years in wild carousing. He was a close friend of the Prince Regent and his entourage included Emma Hart (the future Lady Hamilton, best remembered as Lord Nelson’s lover), who allegedly once danced naked on Uppark’s dining table for Harry and his guests. Middle-age saw Sir Harry become something of a recluse, but in 1825 the then seventy-year old scandalized his social circles once again by marrying Mary Ann Bullock, his twenty-year old dairymaid’ (

Here are the references for where they were collected: Young Collins, Blackberry Fold, Mr Baker, Southease, 9 Jan 1906, Ralph Vaughan Williams

The only Mr Baker of Rodmell/Southease that I can find on the 1901 Census is a Mr Robert Baker, who is a noted as a Blacksmith at The Forge in Rodmell. He appeared to be deceased by the 1911 Census. I managed to find out from The National Archives, that he had died in 1907 aged 73. He had carried out repairs on Rodmell church with his business partner

Here is a much longer historical profile of the Bakers of Piddinghoe and Rodmell

After that, by Firle trig point, is The Lark In The Morning, sung by Lily Cook in North Chailey 1954/5 collected by Bob Copper for the BBC:

Sung here by me, with a collective effort of wind shielding and Arwen the baby, and Bertie the dog joining in! I tried to stick as closely as possible to Lily’s rendition, without mimicking it.

Here is an excerpt from Bob Copper’s book Songs and Southern Breezes: ‘When Lily Cook opened her door and ushered me into the front parlour, I stepped back forty years. The chiffonier with lace-edges lined runners, the heavy damask curtains faded into vertical stripes between the folds, the table-cloth to match … loved and tended, since she and her husband had moved in as newly-weds in 1909 … she with a proud tilt of the head, and her dark hair swept up into a large, over powering hat trimmed with ribbon and an ostrich feather … now, in carpet slippers  and a blue and white spotted pinafore, hair streaked with silver … over her shoulder I could look out across the gorse and the heathy expanse of Chailey Common right down to the steep escarpment of the South Downs at Plumpton … We started to swap songs and she was clearly delighted to learn that there were still people about who were aware of and in fact cherished the kind of songs that she had loved ever since she heard her parents and other members of the family singing when she was a tiny girl’ (Copper 1973: pp. 43 -46)

Lily Cook also sang variants of The Merchant and The Servant Man (she calls it The Iron Door) By chance, and happily, she also sang the next song on the recording, Pleasant and Delightful, another choice inspired by the skylarks of the day, sang here by my mother Catherine Bennett. (Lily Cook, Pleasant and Delightful)

Dear Father, Dear Father, Pray Build Me A Boat (a variant of Sweet William) is the next song, again I learnt this from a source singer. The beautiful voice of Sheila Smith, a seven year old gypsy girl was always going to be hard to do justice to. Do get the C.D and have a listen, it feels like you are there with Peter Kennedy in the roadside encampment of barrel top wagons near Laughton in 1952

I’d also like to raise here the vast contribution to our oral and cultural heritage that travellers have made. It’s not possible to cover it here but I would like to link the The Song Collectors Collective who are doing a fab job of keeping the profile and enormous value of the traveller community alive

My mother Catherine Bennett, and a family friend Rachel Cooper, can be heard singing Shepherds Arise, in close harmony. The wind was beginning to be pretty ferocious by then, even though we were in a dip on Firle Beacon, so it’s only a snippet that came out well. The arrangement is that of the Copper Family, but Michael Blann is also know to have sung it!

Copper Family (and Michael Blann)


Catherine Bennett, Rachel Cooper, Sarah Wales, Elizabeth Bennett, Emma Miles, Sarah Bennett, Anna Trostnikova, Dave Reeves + Lily the Dog – Firle Beacon (Moira Faulkner, 2015)

After that an interview with Will Duke, so modest and such a super voice. He’s the person you always look around for in a folk club and hope he’s there (he would dispute this, I’m sure). He sings Ground For The Floor. As we can see form the archives, it was collected from George ‘Pop’ Maynard, who Will had learnt it from the singing of. However,  Charles Moseley (who may be the husband of Betty) of Redford, Sussex and a Johnson of Fittleworth, Sussex, appear to sing a related song

Day 6 – Alfriston to Eastbourne, 7 miles (plus a detour to Glynde)

The next morning was a site for sore eyes. Although gail force winds were blowing, Alfriston was looking exceptionally beautiful in dappled sunshine. I decided to break my folk roots/routes and sing the hymn Morning Has Broken. The famous hymn was written in Alfriston (1931) by Eleanor Farjeon after she was inspired by the beauty of the village and the surrounding countryside. There are some folk motif Blackbirds in there, so I felt it had links and branches. I sang it in the early morning piece of St Andrews.

Following this is Suzanne Higgins, singing the song she composed The Shepherd’s Token. An arresting piece about the English practice of burying Shepherd’s with a piece of wool or fleece in their hands or on their chest, so that St Peter would know why they had often been absent from church. The practice was in use in Alfriston up until the 1930s. Suzanne was inspired to write a song about burial rights after the passing of a family member.


Firle Beacon from Windover Hill (Elizabeth Bennett, 2015)

After a spell of sitting in Jevington church and churchyard and enjoying the peace and shelter, I was joined by the charming Nick Cant and we made for the Eight Bells in Jevington. There I sang The Foggy Dew, a version collected from East Dean singers Mark Fuller and Luther Hills by Peter Kennedy in 1952 (Thanks to Vic Smith for introducing me to it) Nick, a singer and bell-ringer, sang a song from a group called The Pig’s Ear, which I’ll allow him to introduce.

The interview with Steve Matcham, and spotless performance of a song associated with the naval career of his uncle, although it has a West Sussex theme, felt appropriate for my final view of the sweeping bay of Sussex blue and chalky white from the hills. Young Sailor Cut Down In His Prime was collected not too far away in Portsmouth, 1907, by GB Gardiner and John F Guyer

I stopped off in Glynde on my way home to sing in Glynde Church. The first song is The Week Before Easter, I learnt this from a recording of Harry Burgess who was from Glynde. Harry Burgess also sang The Foggy Dew, The Life Of A Man, and Pleasant and Delightful amongst others.

Here are links to Harry’s speaking, and gorgeous singing, voice

The Glynde History site has more on the Burgess family, as well as being a treasure chest of Glynde, and Sussex, social history

Peggy Angus, with her landlord at Furlongs Farm, the Shepherd Dick Freeman (source unknown)

The second song is The Raggle Taggle Gypsies, learnt from a film made about the life of Peggy Angus. Peggy was by all accounts a woman with gumption, and whilst lots of people know her for her work as an artist, and her friendship with Eric Ravillious, there are aspects of her life that are less well know. She rented a cottage, part of the Furlongs row, in Glynde from the Freeman brothers, who were farmers at Furlongs (who in turn rented it from Glynde estate, thanks to Andrew Lusted for this piece information). She’d been living in Eastbourne and teaching, and she wanted a place of her own in the countryside. The Freemans said no at first, and so she camped outside for a few weeks until Dick gave in. Although born in abroad, and raised in North London, Peggy’s family were Scottish. She was famed to have held wild midsummer parties, where she served her guests homemade Elderflower champagne and sang folk songs around the fire. She was something of a radical too, earning her the nickname Red Angus from Ravillious’ wife’s father, I like to think of a hive of Socialist activity between Rodmell and Charleston. Here are a few links for Peggy Angus and Furlongs. Here is a link to an article on William Freeman, a relative of Dick (Richard) Freeman

Thank you to Paul Holden for playing me the following version on the guitar also, although I didn’t have time to learn it! It’s Mrs Moseley of Treyford again, with some quite unusual words!


St Mary’s Church, Glynde (Elizabeth Bennett, 2015)

My Great-Great Grandmother, Mary Martin Page, was adopted by a couple called Leonard and Susannah Page. Leonard and Susannah lived in Glynde, he was a shoemaker and she was a servant at Glynde Place, they were married in Glynde Church in 1836. Mary was raised there, and met her husband at Lewes Grammar School. Mary is said to have been Russian, and we are still researching her life to see if this the case.  In my Great Uncle Don’s memoirs, I thought I had read that Mary’s favourite hymn to sing around the house was Hark! Hark, What News The Angels Bring, so I decided to sing that to finish my journey. Sadly, I later read it was not Mary’s hymn (it was in fact Hark! Hark, My Soul! Angelic songs are Swelling). However, as luck would have it, it is a Sussex folk hymn (although thought to originate from the South Yorkshire carols tradition), collected from two of the singers on the walk no less, Mr Samuel Willett and Mr Thomas Bulbeck. I can’t remember having known that before, but a seed must have been planted at some point on my research.


 (The gravestones of Leonard and Susannah Page, Glynde, and Raymond and Leah Bennett, Shoreham)

Glynde Church was such a beautiful place to sing, and finish my wayfaring, and it meant I could sit and think about my lovely Grandma and Grandpa, who loved May, Sussex, country lanes, and their family, and would have loved hearing about this walk (minus some of the more saucy songs, being Strict Baptists after all).

I”d like to finish with particular thanks to my Step-Father Tony, who was unwell for this week and couldn’t join me, but has been my companion (and bird spotter, botanist, geologist, and historian) for many other walks.

If you like these songs then please learn them, sing them, and keep them alive. Thank you for listening.

The Ones That Got Away:

Mervin Plunkett appears to have collected from a Mrs Jarrett of Rodmell in 1959 (The White Cockade, Sing Ivy)

Geordie, As I Walked Over London Bridge Mr Deadman,  Rodmell, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Jan 1906
Young Edwin (possible the same as The Servant Man and The Iron Door?), The Ship’s Carpenter, Mr Norman, Rodmell, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Jan 1906
The Long Whip, Come All You Worthy Christians, Mr Back, Rodmell, Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1906
Pretty Betsy, collected at The Inn Rodmell, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Jan 1906, could be same performer as Cold Blows The Wind?
The Baliff’s Daughter, Mr Walter, Southease, Ralph Vaughan Williams, 10 Jan 1906
Come All You Young Ploughmen, Mr Baker, Southease, Ralph Vaughan Williams, 9 Jan 1906
Copper, B (1973). Songs and Southern Breezes: Country Folk and Country Ways. London: William Heinemann Ltd.
MacFarlane, R (2012). The Old Ways: A Journey On Foot. London: Penguin
Frazier, C (2006). Cold Mountain. New York: Grove/Atlantic

Footpaths and Folk Songs: Part 3


Day 3 – Amberley to Upper Beeding, 14 Miles

Listen here ->

Sonnet V. To The South Downs – Charlotte Smith

AH! hills beloved!–where once, a happy child,
Your beechen shades, ‘your turf, your flowers among,’
I wove your blue-bells into garlands wild,
And woke your echoes with my artless song.
Ah! hills beloved!–your turf, your flowers remain;
But can they peace to this sad breast restore,
For one poor moment soothe the sense of pain,
And teach a breaking heart to throb no more?
May, 1915 – Charlotte Mew
Let us remember Spring will come again
To the scorched, blackened woods, where all the wounded trees
Wait, with their old wise patience for the heavenly rain,
Sure of the sky: sure of the sea to send its healing breeze,
Sure of the sun. And even as to these
Surely the Spring, when God shall please
Will come again like a divine surprise
To those who sit to-day with their great Dead, hands in their hands, eyes in their eyes,
At one with Love, at one with Grief: blind to the scattered things and changing skies.

The Silvery Tide (tune), John Searle, Amberley, Lucy Broadwood, 1901,

The Silvery Tide (lyrics), John Searle, Amberley, Lucy Broadwood, 1901,

Silver Tide, Mrs Moseley, Treyford, Clive Carey, 1912

The Old or Rich Merchant (lyrics), Walter Searle, Amberley, Lucy Broadwood, 1901,

The Old or Rich Merchant (tune), Walter Searle, Amberley, Lucy Broadwood, 1901,

Young Jockey (lyrics), Mrs Humphrey (given here as Mr Humphrey), Storrington (Sullington), Dorothy Marshall, 1912

Young Johnny (tune), Thomas Bulbeck, Harting, G.B Gardiner/John F Guyer, 1909,

The Merchant, Harvey Humphrey, Storrington (Sullington) Clive Carey/Dorothy Marshall, 1912

The Seasons Of The Year, John Burberry, Lyne (Sussex), Lucy Broadwood, 1892,

Vic Gammon

South Downs Yarn

Benjamin Hoare, father of John (I believe)

Bob Tailed Mare, Irish Girl, Shepherds Health, Jack Williams, Seventeen Come Sunday, Bonny Bunch of Roses, Preety Ploughboy, Gallant Poachers, Mr Hoare, Houghton, Lucy Broadwood, 1901

The Ones That Got Away:

Spanish Ladies, Mr Cooper, Washington, George Butterworth and Francis Jekyll, 1907

All Round My Hat, Edmund Knight, Washington, George Butterworth, 1907

Our Captain Calls, Seeds of Love, Mrs Golds, Washington, George Butterworth, 1907

Jack Of The Game, Mrs Golds, Washington, George Butterworth, 1907

Down In Our Village, Black Velvet Band, Just As The Tide Was Flowing, Mr Standing, Washington, George Butterworth and Francis Jekyll, 1907

Folk Songs and Footpaths: Part 2


Day 2 – Cocking to Amberley, 13 miles

Listen here ->

may I be gay – e.e. cummings
may I be gay
like every lark
who lifts his life

from all the dark who wings his why

beyond because
and sings an if

of day to yes

(listen) – e.e. cummings 


this a dog barks and
how crazily houses
eyes people smiles
faces streets
steeples are eagerly


ing through wonder
ful sunlight
– look –


,come quickly come
run run
with me now
jump shout(laugh
dance cry

sing)for it’s Spring

– irrevocably;
and in
earth sky trees
where a miracle arrives


you and I may not
hurry it with
a thousand poems
my darling
but nobody will stop it

With All the Policemen In The World

A – Maying (Heyshott)

Oh my daddy has gone to the market a mile and my mammy she’s minding the mill all the while.

In comes my dear Johnny and this he was saying, go with me my Betsy and we’ll go a-maying

Oh no dearest Johnny it’s a folly to ask for my mammy’s a spinning she’s set me a task,

Says he cut the tyre let the cows go a-staying, for the time will go sweetly while we go a-maying

My daddy he asked oh where had I been? My mammy she told him I’d the cows to fetch in.

My mammy she said somewhere I’d been a-playing, but she never had no thoughts that I’d been a-maying

If my Johnny proves true, which I hope that he will. Then we will get married and honour the mill.

My daddy and mammy we will leave them a-staying, for the time went so sweetly while we were a-maying.

David Miles / 12 Nov 1912 / Heyshott / Dorothy Marshall


The Bee Worsle, Duncton

The Apple Worsle, Duncton

Link to Dorothy Marshall article –  Marshall (many thanks to EDFSS library)
Halnaker Mill, Stane Street
David Miles, Heyshott
Oakscroft, Heyshott
May celebrations 1904, Heyshott
The Cobbler, Henry Burstow
The Spotted Cow, John Rowe
Green Bushes from the Edwin Spooner who we mentioned, collected from the workhouse in Midhurst, this is one song of many
Barbara Allen tune, Mr Dearling, West Burton
Barbara Allen lyrics, David Miles, Heyshott
FYI A version of BA collected from Terwick Sussex
What’s the Life of a Man, Frank Dawtrey, Crowshole
Green Bushes, Mr and Mrs Stemp, Trotton
Cruel Father and Affectionate Lovers, Mr Viney, Houghton
The Servant Man tune, Walter Searle, Amberley
The Servant Man lyrics, Walter Searle, Amberley
The Servant Man lyrics, John Searle, Amberley
Interview with Bob Lewis by Vic Smith:
The Ones That Got Away:
As I was Going Up Cocking Hill, Jim Madgwill, Henry Hill, Clive Carey 1911
The Hounds Are All Out in The Morning, The Spanish Shore, Barley Mow, Will Of The Waggon Train, Frank Dawtrey, Clive Carey 1911
Come All You Worthy Christians, Green Broom, The Nutting GIrl, The Miller Of Staffordshire, Lord Thomas and Fair Elenor, Van Dieman’s Land, I Am A Brisk And Bonny Lass, Twanky Dillo, Old King Cole, Nothing Else To Do (all lyrics only), David Miles, Heyshott, Dorothy Marshall 1912
Old Reynard, Seven Long Miles, Sober Jenny, Little Mary, Pretty Sally, The Murderer (all lyrics only), John Rowe, Duncton, Clive Carey and Dorothy Marshall 1912
Highland Soldier, Ploughboy’s Glory, You Seaman Bold, Barbara Allen, Jolly Ploughboys (all music only), Mr Dearling, West Burton, George Butterworth 1907
The Cobbler and The Miser, The Irish Stranger, Farmer Waterloo, Amberley, John Searle, Lucy Broadwood 1901
Bonny Bunch Of Roses Oh!, Come My Own One, Amberley, Walter Searle, Lucy Broadwood 1901

Folk songs and Footpaths: Part 1

Day 1 South Harting to Cocking, 7 miles

Listen here ->

‘… And they must be the footsteps of our own ancestors who made the whole landscape by hand and left their handprints on everything and trod every foot of it, and its present shapes are their footprints, those ancestors whose names were on the stones in the churchyard and many whose names weren’t.                                                                                                                                          And the tales of them and of men living I would take with me and the songs in my mind as if everything I thought and felt had to be set in words and music – everything that was true in me” – From To Live Like A Man, by F C Ball (Given me to with kind permission by his relative Shirley Collins).

‘ … And that we shall go singing to the fashioning of a new world’ – The Envoi, Woodcraft Folk

The Full English The Full English was a major national digitisation and education project celebrating England’s cultural heritage through traditional folk songs, dances and customs. The project brought together the most important archival collections of folk material, held in numerous libraries and archives around the UK, and made them freely accessible through a single online digital archive. The material was drawn from Victorian and Edwardian folk collectors such as Ralph Vaughan Williams, Lucy Broadwood and Cecil Sharp, and includes manuscripts of notated songs, dances, and tunes, printed broadsides, lectures, notes and correspondence. These items were conserved, digitised, and catalogued before being uploaded to a central digital archive accessible through the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library website. Alongside our exisiting digitised collections, catalogues and indexes, the site now provides the largest, most comprehensive, searchable, database of English folk songs, dances, tunes, and customs in the world, with over 80,000 digitised items from 19 seminal collections. It is rich in social, family and local history and provides a snapshot of England’s cultural heritage through voices rarely published and heard before.   Aims Promote the Study and Practice of the Folk Arts EFDSS’s mission statement includes “To promote, preserve and develop the folk arts”. Through providing this information in an easily accessible way, we hoped it would lead to an increase in the study and practice of the folk arts Folk is an unusual genre in that it is based in heritage. By providing access to this material, it instantly creates a wealth of material for singers, musicians, and dancers to add to their repertoires. We’ve been able to put the original MSS material online. As compared with published works which have been selected and edited, these collections are relatively unmediated. Therefore it provides an accurate look into what exactly “the folk” were doing. Access

  1. Provide access to materials previously difficult to access.

Digital surrogates of original manuscript material hosted on the VWML website – has a world-wide reach (where internet provision exists). Library users no longer have to travel to London to access materials, but can do so from the comfort of their own homes or singarounds, at any time of day or night. To make access even easier, we have started a programme of transcriptions of the text and music from manuscript material, which allows for full-text searching.

  1. Communities where this material originally came from have instant access to records of their own cultural heritage.
  1. Provide the information in a useful and meaningful way

From experience of how library users had wanted to access material in the past, we used this information to dictate how we catalogued and indexed the materials. E.g., performer’s names, where the information was collected; whether manuscripts contain text, music, or both; Alternate titles, etc.

  1. How the information is presented

Options to sort results by ref no., place, performer, collector, and relevance. Options to browse material visually by collection, or geographically through a map function. Preservation of original manuscripts If fewer people need physical access to the originals, then the strain on them is lessened. Conversely, it also means that awareness of the material is heightened and serious researches are still keen to view the original documents!


Lady Maisry, Thomas Bulbeck

Unquiet Grave, Helen Boniface

A Farmer there lived in the North Country, Frank Hutt

Mother, Mother Make my Bed, Mrs Ford

Barbara Ellen, Mrs Moseley

How Cold The Wind, George Tilson

Unquiet Grave, Mrs Stemp

The One’s That Got Away:

Thomas Bulbeck, Harting: The Highway Man Outwitted, Bushes and Briars, When First Apprenticed, The Nobleman’s Wedding, Deep in Love, Cupid the Pretty Ploughboy, Come all you Worthy People, The Golden Vanity, The Mermaid, You Seaman Bold.

Mrs Moseley, Treyford: The Drunkard’s Child, The Sailor’s Grave, The Golden Glove, Sheffield Park, Will of the Waggon Train, Now tell me Mary how it is, A Fair Maid in the Garden, The Blind Beggar’s Daughter, The Turkish Lady.

Mr Carpenter, Elsted: The Sun is Just A-Peeping Over the Hills, Master’s Health, Come All you Worthy People That Dwell Within the Land, Both Sexes Give Ear to My Fancy, The Irish Recruit, Merry Boys Merry, The Smuggler’s Boy, The Miller’s Dog.

George Tilson: Pretty Susan the Pride of Kildare, Hunt the Squirrel, On the Banks of the Sweet Dundee, General Woolf, The Bonny Bunch of Roses, The Princess Royal. (The Wife of Ushers Well, sung by Gerald Moore) (The Sheep Stealer, sung by Diane Ruinet)  


May Preview

Waysinging: Come Ye All

*‘A walk is only a step away from a story, and every path tells’

For the first week of May I’m off the walk the Sussex stretch of the South Downs Way, along the route I’ll be singing songs that are collected from, or associated with, the places I pass. I’m using my preview post to give details of the walk for any one interested in joining. The best way to let me know if you’re coming along is email How you would like to get involved is entirely up to you – you can come just to keep me company, get me to teach you bits of the songs, walk with me for an hour, meet me at the pub …

Each day will then be made into a podcast available on this site, and I hope very much that people will comment and discuss underneath the posts. I’ll almost certainly say something that people want to debate, they’ll be other versions of the songs people know, they’ll be other walks I could have attempted, they’ll be a chorus of voices; I’m only one. This is exactly as it should be. With that in mind here are a few of my research questions that will act as a backdrop to my journey:

  • What are the archaeologies of intangible cultural heritage/living traditions? How might classification, UNESCO or other, benefit or hinder these practices?
  • Is there a relationship between folksongs and footpaths? How might both be seen to travel, to be acts of ‘consensual making’*? If so, how might this relationship serve to demonstrate the importance of imagination and creativity to how we relate to, and with, our world outside of doors?

The Route:

I would imagine with stopping to sing I’ll be averaging about 2 miles an hour, below are key points of the walks.

South Harting to Cocking , 7.5 miles, 30th April

1pm – The Warren Car Park, Harting

Forty Acre Lane, Two Beech Gate, Pen Hill, Buriton Farm, Devil’s Jump, Didling Hill, Cocking Down, Cocking Hill

5pm – The Bluebell Inn, Cocking

Cocking to Amberley, 12 miles, 1st May

10am – The Bluebell Inn Cocking

Heyshott Down, Littleton Down, Scotcher’s Bottom, Stane Street, Bignor Hill, Westburton Hill, Bury hill, Houghton.

5pm – The Sportsman Inn Amberley

Amberley to Adur, 13 miles, 2nd May

10am – The Sportsman Inn Amberley

Springhead Hill, Kithurst Hill, Sullington Hill, Washington, Chanctonbury Ring, Steyning Bowl, River Adur.

6pm – Upper Beedimg, tbc.

River Adur to Rodmell, 16 miles, 3rd May

8am – Upper Beeding, tbc

Beeding Hill, Truleigh Hill, Fulking Hill, Devil’s Dyke, Saddlescombe, West Hill, Pyecombe, Keymer post, Ditchling Beacon. Plumpton, Black Cap, Mount Harry, Lewes

Train from Lewes to Southease

6pm – Abergavenny Arms, Rodmell, Brighton Vox Choir sing

Rodmell to Alfriston, 11 miles, 4th May

*sunrise on Kingston Hill

11pm – Monks House Rodmell

Southease, Itford Hill, Beddingham Hill, Firle Beacon, Alciston, Bostal Hill

5pm – The George Alfriston

Alfriston to Eastbourne, 10 miles, 5th May

10am – The George Alfriston

Littlington, Windover, Cuckmere River, Charleston Manor, West Dean, East Dean, Seven Sisters, Birling Gap, Beachy Head.

3pm Eastbourne Beach Promenade

*MacFarlane, R (2012). The Old Ways. London: Penguin pp. 17 – 18

A Legend Landscape

Every journey conceals another journey within its lines: the path not taken and the forgotten angle. These are journeys I wish to record. Not the ones I made, but the ones I might have made, or perhaps did make in some other place or time. I could tell you the truth as you will find it in diaries and maps and log-books. I could faithfully describe all that I saw and heard and give you a travel book. You could follow it then, tracing those travels with your finger, putting red flags where I went.

Jeanette Winterson, Sexing the Cherry (1989)

I often find myself quoting Winterson in relation to my background research, and will again later. This passage appealed because it adds shade to what follows. It speaks of walking in terms of myth, alternative dimensions, and lines! As my project moves into another phase, to recap the story so far… geometers

During my doctoral research I developed a precarious interest in the notion of ‘earth energies’ as a way of conceptualising and mapping landscapes, especially ones that are treated as ‘sacred’ and attract ritual and/or artistic behaviour. Thankfully, I avoided that immediate abyss, but Public Archaeology 2015 has provided me with the impetus to develop this idea through art practice. So my project is the archaeology of an idea, where I look closer at one element of a continuous ‘deep map’, if you will, of Avebury’s ritual landscape. After a hesitant gestation during the first half of the 20th century, the myth of English earth energies (subsumed into the myth of ‘ley’ lines, as prehistoric pathways) gained traction during the mid-to-late 1960s and the countercultural beginnings of the New Age movement. I don’t subscribe to the view of some academics that this antistructural ideology sits in opposition to “the mainstream”, because New Age ideas have by now atomised to the extent that many are integrated into wider society. One of these is that of the St. Michael ‘ley’ line, which stretches some 350 miles from Carn Lês Boel in Cornwall, through Glastonbury, Avebury, Bury St Edmunds and other holy sites, to Hopton-on-Sea on the East Anglian coast, in alignment with the path of the Beltane sunrise. As a postmodern movement, the New Age is distinctly pre-modern in its leanings. Its fascination with cultural archaeology via the performance of ritual practice is first and foremost an nostalgic escape from modernity to a time conceived of as a prehistoric (i.e., mysterious) past, a tabula rasa on which to inscribe new histories. Winterson again: “The past is another country, but one that we can visit, and once there we can bring back the things we need”.

The Michael line is a quasi-object that acts as a way of reclaiming that past and making it real. As such, it shows the importance of place in these mythospiritual negotiations. Yet, in drawing attention to the imaginary nature of the Michael line, it would be unfair to describe it as non-physical and to allow it on that basis to be thought of as non-existent, because it does have a material, visible dimension. Memories, even false ones, are [observed Edward Casey in Remembering: A Phenomenological Study (1987)] ineluctably place-bound. Just as archaeology is a useful method of ‘re-membering’ something we have not lived as direct experience, ritual processes of remembering are a way of articulating our relationship with the people who lived the past, a kind of ad hoc living archaeology but performed, in the present, as futurological wish-fulfillment. The task of place is to congeal this poetic imaginary into a provisional reality. Casey advises that rather than thinking of memory as a form of re-experiencing the past, it can be conceived of as a kind of re-placement activity, where we re-experience past places.

A map of English scheduled sites showing the St Michael 'ley' line as visualised by John Michell.

A map of English scheduled sites showing the St Michael ‘ley’ line as visualized by John Michell.

And so it was that John Michell conceived of the St. Michael line as he stood on top of Glastonbury Tor, a terraced, natural prominence in the Somerset levels that stands as an icon of the local mythos. At its summit is a ruined tower. Visible some 11 miles to the southwest is a solitary hill, or mump, similarly adorned with a ruined church dedicated to St Michael. Michell noticed that:

The Tor and the Mump have another feature in common, their orientation. The axis of the Mump is directed towards the Tor, where the line is continued by the old pilgrim’s path along the ridge of the Tor to St Michael’s tower. This line drew attention to itself and demanded investigation, so I extended it further east, and the result confirmed its significance. The line went straight to the great stones at the entrance to the megalithic temple at Avebury.

John Michell, review of Broadhurst & Hamish Miller’s The Sun and the Serpent (1989)

In Michell’s hands, the line and an ancient track called the Icknield Way were one and the same. This is a typical ‘New Age counterfactual’ which makes sense only in its own legend context, but gives validity to the myth. Michell was unconcerned with being proved wrong by mainstream historians, only, in line with his antistructural aims, in persuading his readers that conventional history is wrong. He identified the ‘ley’ as a fragment of lost knowledge of a bygone Golden Age, consistent with Newton’s and Stukeley’s, and subsequently Blake’s vision of a British Eden: Old Albion.

Jerusalem the Emanation of the Giant Albion! Can it be? Is it a Truth that the Learned have explored? Was Britain the Primitive Seat of the Patriarchal Religion? If it is true: [it] is also True that Jerusalem was & is the Emanation of the Giant Albion. It is True, and cannot be controverted. Ye are united O ye Inhabitants of Earth in One Religion. The Religion of Jesus: the most Ancient, the Eternal: & the Everlasting Gospel – The Wicked will turn it to Wickedness, the Righteous to Righteousness. Amen! Huzza! Selah! ” All things Begin & End in Albion’s Ancient Druid Rocky Shore.”

William Blake, Jerusalem (1804)

Inspired by this revelation, in 1988, at around the time Jeanette Winterson was writing the epigraph above, Michell’s friend Paul Broadhurst and a dowser, Hamish Miller, set off on an expedition to map the Michael line. The resulting book, The Sun and the Serpent became an instant cult classic, a sacred text which galvanized this assemblage of quasi-religious ideas under the aegis of Earth Mysteries, a ‘scientific’ tributary of New Age thought. Michell, of course, wrote the Introduction, where careful reading reveals a clever method of circular referencing: Broadhurst & Miller’s expedition and findings are used to validate an idea of which Michell himself was the source. This process of accretion is how myths are made, and survive. It’s also worth noting that Michell came up with the idea on Glastonbury Tor, and that the direction of the line was determined by its geography, and because of that it happened to end up in the places it did. Somehow, by starting at one end, it seems more significant (there’s no such thing as coincidence in New Age thinking) that the Tor is situated upon it. (I was surprised too, until I thought about it.) That is not to diminish its coincidences, however.

Today’s conception of ‘ley’ lines as electromagnetic currents maintains a geographical bearing in terms of Watkins’ ‘old straight track’ as together they make a spiritual map of the land, binding a demesne of the mind in which ‘lost’ ancient wisdom is preserved in code within the landscape. Crucially, it draws attention to the Avebury complex, which to Michell was a major place of convergence of ancient tracks and energy lines. Accordingly, as Delphi was to the Greeks, so was Avebury to the ancient tribes. As Broadhurst writes elsewhere, “it is almost as if [this code] was intended to reappear to us at a time when most needed, to remind us of the higher principles that guided our ancestors.” This premise carries the inference that these lines and currents formed networks and nodes, which dictated where the ancients had located their monuments, or added to existing topographical features (such as Glastonbury Tor) and this is the path the myth of ley lines has followed over the last thirty years or so. But it was more than inference: “We can only conclude that these sites were discovered using some form of divination”, wrote Michell in an article for International Times in 1968. Miller, as an expert dowser, provided a tangible link to Britain’s prehistoric past that is perceptible by the senses, especially the sense of touch, and capable therefore of being treated as fact. However, in this era of thingness I would argue that these vestigial man-made remains, themselves cultural, semiotic objects, are performative in that they influenced Miller to perform, leading Broadhurst and him, and their readers, to imagine flowing currents undulating like rivers between sites that not only mark but also effect their course. Again, a circularity of logic that excludes the possibility that dowsing might be at once both the technology and the product of enchantment. (Let’s be mindful here that herms are boundary markers that show where the mythical Trickster figure Hermes has trodden.)

Avebury Avenue

The Avebury Avenue

Psychologists who study this topic (notably Prof. Christopher French at Goldsmiths College) have identified this circularity as the ideomotor effect, subtle non-conscious movement of the human body caused by dual senses of expectancy and receptivity, which combine to influence and even drive this process through reciprocity. In his poem Description Without Place (1945), Wallace Stevens defined this kind of creative response as “an expectation, a desire … a little different from reality, the difference that we make in what we see.” Obviously, this contradicts the dowser’s own belief that the rods move independently of human influence; accordingly, these sensitives merely channel the flow of energy to the rods. This may be exacerbated by the popular notion that, in the right hands, measuring instruments are assumed to confer non-interventionist objectivity over human fallibility. But, as extensions and enhancements of the body they can also magnify subjectivity. The camera and dowsing rods are both examples of tools that are thought not to lie but are utilized to that end when regression to less perceptive reasoning is required to interpret occult phenomena. (As Pennick & Devereux observed in 1989, “dowsing rods have become the implement to authorize the acceptance of subjective ideas as factual statements.”)

Or is it more perceptive? This is where Winterson’s journeys concealing other journeys is so relevant, and to the wyrd turn that I can sense my contribution to PA2015 is about to take. Let’s consider Phil Smith’s model of mythogeography in this context, where we, as counter-tourists, and occasionally zombies, subject the sites we visit to our own unique associations, stories and reconstructions – rather than passively consuming official information, we become the agents of our own interpretations. The Situationists defined psychogeography as ‘the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment on the emotions and behaviour of individuals.’ Mythogeography opens this up to include the effect of myth and legend on the way we perceive certain environments and how this affects emotions and behaviour. On the strength of this, I would regard Miller as a proto-mythogeographer. Mythogeography is indigenous to the countercultural realm of the wyrd that Michell, Broadhurst and Miller inhabited. As do I, hence my decantation: Mythoarchaeology – likewise, mythoarchaeology deploys ways and means to change or heighten existing perceptions of place, utilizing the myth of archaeology as a science through the use of material evidence, instrumentation and data. In parodying science it actuates performativity and subverts orthodox knowledge. This kind of exploration embraces Glyn Daniels’ refreshing disrespect for the servitude to received wisdom implied in his remark that “the problem in archaeology is when to stop laughing.” [(1961) Editorial, Antiquity 36: 63-4].

The Site

My choice of site is in the area where Broadhurst & Miller discovered the ‘feminine’ Mary line as it deviates from the route of the Michael line along the avenue of standing stones that links the Avebury henge to the Sanctuary (see photo above), and snakes (sashays?) through Silbury Hill, Swallowhead spring and West Kennet long barrow before rejoining her consort at the Sanctuary. Here’s how Broadhurst describes their immanent, animistic, zoomorphic vision:

From Broadhurst & Miller's The Sun and the Serpent, showing where the Michael and Mary lines' convergence at Avebury. This is the precise location where Inesa reported feeling an energy hotspot.

From Broadhurst & Miller’s The Sun and the Serpent, showing where the Michael and Mary lines’ converge at Avebury. It was here, on our first day, where Inesa reported feeling an energy hotspot.

We had followed this serpentine energy for 150 miles. It had performed many strange contortions on its route across country. Here, for the first time, marked out by rows of standing stones, was a graphic display of how the energy actually operated. It was organic; it flowed without regard for human perceptions of symmetry and order. One minute it could be wide and gentle, the next narrow and sinuous. Like a river, it formed curves and eddies, all of which were accurately laid out in stone. […] The serpent ran right though the circles. There was some confusion. Another current joined it, crossing at the centre. The reactions were checked. There was no doubt. There was another serpent. One that appeared to be a different frequency but just as powerful. It entered through a group of prominent tumuli over the road, ran through the gate and the only remaining original stone, and […] head[ed] off to the south-west. The St Michael serpent entered at the neck of the stone avenue and ran towards the south-east.

Broadhurst & Miller, The Sun and the Serpent (1989)

Miller's diagram of the intertwining serpentine movement of the Michael and Mary lines at Avebury. The site of our geophysical survey sits between Swallowhead Spring and West Kennet long barrow.

Miller’s diagram of the intertwining serpentine movement of the Michael and Mary lines at Avebury. The site of our geophysical survey sits between Swallowhead Spring and West Kennet long barrow.

The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1912 pithily observed that once numinous experiences are localised, pilgrimages necessarily follow. This may be doubly true, I suppose, when the place itself is imbued with creaturely life. Today, Avebury’s ritual landscape area is as popular a place of spiritual refuge and enquiry as any other holy site, and the annual arrival of hundreds of thousands of mystical tourists suggests that the place, as setting, represents an interface where human conceptions of occult otherness exist to be revealed. Michell, Miller and crop circle-makers have all played a part in this transformation. As an artist, I don’t see my role as debunker; quite the opposite, I would aim to subvert the kind of order-directed explanationism that modern society tends to manufacture, in favour of a healthy plurality of ideas. Isn’t that what artists are for?

From here until my walk, as images become available in the next few days I’ll let them do my talking. My hope is that in one way or another they contribute to the ontological and epistemological tensions I’ve described above by encouraging public engagement. Hopefully laced with dispute, because dispute lies at heart of my subject matter. Folklorist Linda Dégh observed that this is more than a feature of legend: “it is its very essence, its raison d’être, its goal, for legend demands answers, but not necessarily resolutions.”

I’m walking and talking this landscape on 1 Feb, a Sunday. Anyone is welcome to join me – please see A Geophysical Study of ‘Earth Energies’ in Avebury’s Ritual Landscape using a Magnetic Susceptibility Field Coil or Mythoarchaeology on Facebook for details.

Mythoarchaeology: Going With the Geopoetic Flow

Clue: Legend (4); Answer: Myth
Quick Crossword, London Evening Standard 02/06/2011

Contemporary folklorists would challenge this tendency to treat ‘myth’ and ‘legend’ as identical, and with (I think) good reason. For the sake of brevity, however, and because the difference between myth and legend is so critical to my project, I shall begin with a simple set of definitions, which I might add to as we go.

Myth: An accumulation of stories telling of unobservable objects of belief in terms of observable phenomena (e.g., ghosts, unicorns, ley lines), which are not expressed as truth propositions but are latent, and cannot be told in any way other than by story.
Legend: A story (or object) from which is inferred experience of unobservable objects of belief in terms of observable phenomena (e.g., that a ghost, unicorn, or ley line was witnessed at a particular time in a particular place).
Ostension: From the Latin verb ostendere, meaning ‘to show’. Linda Dégh and Andrew Vázsonyi introduced this term into the contemporary legend genre as ‘legend telling by action’, where people mimic or re-enact a myth in a form likely to invite inference, persuading others, or even themselves, of its veracity. Its etymological relationship to ‘phenomena‘ (from the Greek verb phanein: ‘to appear; to show’) should also be noted.

29 December, 2014

Looking north towards Silbury Hill

Looking north towards Silbury Hill

My cohort Terry Hall and I had hardly begun our work when we were approached by a young woman who had traveled to Avebury from Latvia, via a bus ride from Swindon. Having walked the mile or so from Avebury, past Silbury Hill, to the West Kennet long barrow, Inesa needed directions to a Neolithic site known as the Sanctuary. And no sooner had I asked after her first impressions of the Avebury complex, where industrial agricultural utility competes with a curious pre-apocalyptic New Age intimacy with the vestigial ruins of a past-most-wished-for, that Inesa was telling us about the energy hotspots she had sensed here and there. The veil shifted and myth became legend.

To briefly recap, my project looks at the modern myth of ‘ley’ energy currents that are associated with certain places as spiritual power centres. I am interested in the value of emotion and aesthetic sensibilities in the relationships people develop with things and places, and indeed with our own experiences and memories of place. The questions this raises cannot be answered satisfactorily by simply reducing the problem to its material constituents and containing it within what is already known. To me, as an artist, this just panders to another myth of a particular rhetorical ‘straw man’: Science (note capital S) conceptualised as scientism – namely as a monolithic institution that considers itself superior to all other knowledge systems and refuses to entertain new ideas. But social science and the arts must, of necessity, go further… into the unknown.
I thought it would be interesting to combine the evolving ‘leys’ myth with a mixture of standard and non-standard surveying and imaging techniques. Hence, mythoarchaeology. Whether it becomes legend or not depends upon public engagement, so we shall see. Meeting Inesa was a good start.
Our first task is to conduct geophysical surveys of targeted areas. In weeks 2 and 3, I’ll collate and convert this data to visual imagery which I will then superimpose onto maps and aerial photographs. Maps in hand, around the end of the month I will invite anyone who is interested to join me on a walk through this alchemical landscape. Mythogeographers, dowsers, sceptics and other legendeers are particularly welcome.

West Kennet long barrow

West Kennet long barrow, a key element of the Avebury complex of prehistoric monuments.

It is strange, yet encouraging, that the first day of my project would be beset by the kind of mythical problems that are so redolent of its subject. Usually these stories concern camera batteries: mine worked fine, but the Total Station and drone batteries, both fully charged at home, mysteriously failed on site.
That site is an area on either side of the path leading to West Kennet long barrow.
My project utilizes the myth of telluric currents, commonly conceptualised as ‘ley’ lines. A core principle of New Age belief is that these were used by our ancient ancestors to fix the location of magical, and subsequently ‘sacred’ sites. How they knew to do this is lost to history, part of the ‘long-lost Truth’ Isaac Newton wrote about 300 years ago, when his friend and biographer, the Rev. William Stukeley, a doctor-turned-vicar who became Chief Druid, devised a mystical association with Avebury that continued through the works of the visionary poet William Blake and later through John Michell’s writings on UFOs, crop circles, sacred geometry, ‘leys’ and dowsing – the kind of arcane material to be found in Glastonbury bookshops under the heading: Earth Mysteries.

Clouties hung in a nearby oak tree.

Clouties hung in a nearby oak tree.

Of the confusion of such lines that is believed to exist in Britain, the best known are the Michael and Mary lines. These pass through Glastonbury and Avebury on a bearing of 242°, or 28° north of east, between Hopton, Norfolk, and somewhere in the vicinity of Cornwall. Since it was revealed to John Michell in the late 1970s, the Michael line was thought to be ruler straight, tracing the course of the Beltane sunrise, but, following troubling observations about its (in)accuracy, nowadays it is depicted as intertwined with the Mary line on a serpentine course that flows between subsidiary sites – e.g., in dowser Rory Duff’s map of the Avebury complex both are shown coursing between sites in a non-linear fashion.

PA2015WK3a(web)These “concentrations of magnetic energy”, asserts Duff, measure 36 paces wide, and are also kinetic inasmuch as they are said to be quietly and continually moving… breathing… alive.
Anyway, in my line of business I’m used to moving targets and in setting up our survey grids we got by with a map and compass, using old-fashioned triangulation. I’ll go back another day with the drone to get aerial photographs and hope that the battery holds out.

Until then…

I’ve published a Facebook page to disseminate news and invite discussion about this project at – please feel free to join in.