Friday, 4 June 2021

Walking with Fay and Ted - a touch of writer's block on a writer's retreat in Yorkshire

Poetry by Ted Hughes and photography by Fay Godwin

I wanted to get away. Somewhere different. To see some new scenery.

Somewhere with hills.

So where better that Lumb Bank, for a writer's retreat with the Arvon Foundation. Five days of peace. To write.

Or not, as the case may be.

Lumb Bank, Yorkshire

Lumb bank is the former home of Ted Hughes, the poet. His wife, Sylvia Plath is buried in the graveyard just up the road. Fay Godwin, the legendary landscape photographer, and Ted Hughes created a book together 'Remains of Elmet'. Ted Hughes wrote poems in response to photographs by Fay Godwin.

I found the book in the library and was taken by the words and images describing the local landscape.

I felt sure I would find inspiration here.

With a view like this what could go wrong?

The view from Lumb Bank garden

My fellow companions were writers in ernest.

Autofiction, a comic travel novel, a wellness book and the story of a goldfish on adventures in the Gulf of Mexico were all being worked upon seriously and diligently.

I felt a fraud. I was really there for the scenery.
I tried to write.

I really did.

I wrote some 'morning pages' every day before so much as  a cup of tea passed my lips.

I wrote some 'breakfast pages' too. Mainly about how I was not really enjoying breakfast 'in my room'. Something to do with covid...... and featuring a banana and a soggy croissant wrapped in plastic.

After recording my daily temperature......taken by me, myself and I, I set to work.

covid daily temperature chart

I sat at my tiny writing table with its puritanical hard wood chair, and tried to write.

a writing table

If in doubt. Go for a walk. That is my motto.

Something always comes from walking, even if it is just a calmer frame of mind.

So I loaded up my OS map onto my phone, and away I went.

Up hill and down dale. Along the Rochdale canal and up onto the moor.

up on the moor, following the Pennine Way

I talked to cows and sheep.

Stepped in bog.

Walked by lush, peaty rivers.

moorland sheep
ancient stone path
I strolled by the Rochdale canal.

towpath, Rochdale canal, with dog.
back yards beside the rochdale canal
Rochdale Canal

And then, when I was completely exhausted, I tried to write.

I learned a lot about writer's block. I read self help books for writers.
I felt frustrated.
I went for more walks.

I got my typewriter out.

Olympia Splendid typewriter

Eventually I gave up trying and instead made a book about writer's block. The cutting, typing and sewing were very therapeutic.

artist book - writer's block

Having completed that, I allowed myself to give up trying to write, and to spend my remaining day beside the river, in the damp beech forest, and watching cherry blossom drift by on the Rochdale Canal.

There is a moral to this tale......

Creativity cannot be forced...... it comes when it is ready, and while I can work at it daily, first and foremost I need to feed my soul .

I had a wonderful time. And if nothing more comes of it, then at least I am refreshed and ready for my next adventure.

wild garlic and beeches

In wild places

I went on a ‘writer’s retreat’.
To Hebden Bridge; the home of Ted Hughes.

But really, all that I wanted to do was to see some hills and green fields,
running water and moors.

To step out in a different landscape,
climb on boggy paths and feel the wind on my face.

I needed to walk beside rivers and streams;
to leave my footprints once more upon the Pennine Way.

I didn’t write.
No words came.

Instead I walked
and walked,
and walked some more.

There, in those wild places,
I was reunited
with my true self.