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Llewelyn Powys: Dandelion Fellowship Gathering!

Posted Friday, November 11, 2011

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`The Friends of Llewelyn Powys'

Celebrating Llewelyn Powys’ 127th Birthday!

Saturday August 13th 2011 marked the 16th anniversary of the Llewelyn Birthday Walk, inaugurated by John Batten in 1995 after discovering a bequest in Llewelyn’s will that the sum of £100 be deposited with the Landlord of the Sailor’s Return, `so that on each successive occasion of my birthday, my friends may drink to my memory’.

At that first meeting to raise a glass to Llewelyn at the Sailor’s Return in 1995, four or five of Llewelyn’s `friends’, amongst them John Batten and Morine Krissdottir made the exhaustive climb up over High Chaldon to pay their tributes by laying a posy of Alyse’s wedding flowers at Llewelyn’s Memorial Stone, and thus, the Llewelyn Birthday Walk was born.

I suppose if the Powys Society Annual Conference can accurately be described as a `literary convention’, then the Annual Dandelion Club* Gathering and Llewelyn Birthday Walk which takes place every year on August 13th at East Chaldon in Dorset, could just as equally lay claim to being a `literary un-convention’; for this annual event is more a fellowship, a loose gathering of old friends who share a poetic vision than a convening of academic literary minds. An almost tangible kindred spirit conviviality dwells at its heart, which beats in rhythm to the unconventional tune of Llewelyn Powys’ earth-rooted pagan philosophy and poetic faith, and therein perhaps, lies the secret of its continued success. *(see end notes)

This year’s gathering was exceptionally memorable, even if the weather wasn’t, for it was a day typical of this Jeckyl & Hyde summer with intermittent spells of sunshine and heavy cloud as the Friends of Llewelyn Powys met at the Sailor’s Return to celebrate the 127th anniversary of his birth.

Chris Gostick opened proceedings by welcoming everyone, and in reminding us all why we were here paid special tribute to John Batten, the founder of the Birthday Walk. In light hearted response John accepted full responsibility, lamenting that he was entirely to blame and offered his humble apologies.

After raising our glasses (and in my case, a tea-cup) to Llewelyn’s memory, Chris proposed the toast to `absent friends’, especially remembering Janet Pollock (nee Machen), a regular at our annual gathering who had for many years rented Chydyok and kindly accorded many of us the memorable experience of staying in Llewelyn and Alyse’s half of the house. Indeed, a number of us had visited St. Nicholas’ churchyard that very morning to pay our respects and to lay a bouquet of dandelions on the stone which bears Janet’s name.

Chris then introduced a very special visitor, and we were delighted to welcome Janice Gregory, the niece of Llewelyn’s wife Alyse, who had joined us all the way from her home in Concord, New Hampshire, USA to raise a glass to her Uncle Llewelyn, and who proved herself an entertaining and endearing walking companion throughout the August afternoon.

Seventeen were present to raise a glass, but following an excellent lunch John Batten had to attend a prior engagement, and John and Jayne Sanders left to continue the holiday they’d interrupted, John being unable to complete the walk for the first time in a dozen years owing to a back injury.

It was good to see Frank Kibblewhite, and we left him in the amiable company of Richard Burleigh and the bar-staff as once again, and for the tenth time in sixteen years, thirteen of us - the almost inevitable `Baker’s Dozen’- set off at 1:30pm in good spirits, bound for High Chaldon.

A fresh south-westerly breeze kept us cool as we crossed the village green to the Chydyok Road, and began the long steep climb up the deeply rutted, flint strewn track which winds its way up to join the Coastal Path about a mile to the west of Dagger’s Gate, and almost adjacent to Bat’s Head.

We paused at Chalky Knapp, as Llewelyn often did, to admire the splendour of the surrounding landscape and the broad sweep of the ewe-cropped emerald valley below, and gazed with some trepidation at the thin grey ribbon of chalky flint track ahead, as it curved its way ever steeper upward toward, and beyond, the familiar tall chimneys of Chydyok.

My son Jason, known to Central TV viewers as `Jason the Druid’ led the way up past Chydyok and along the Gypsy Track which Llewelyn sometimes referred to as the `Roman Road’, alongside Dennis White, who once again had kindly driven Rosemary Dickens and her father Norman down from Salisbury for the occasion. Skilfully dodging the herd of curious young bulls which seemed intent on joining the party, Chris Gostick and Linda Goldsmith led a following group which included walk regulars Rob & Honour Timlin and Bruce & Vicky Madge, whilst alongside walked Janice Gregory with Byron and Eirlys Ashton once again gracing our company all the way from Caerphilly in Wales.

The weather remained kind to us as we reached Llewelyn’s Memorial Stone, facing south and set against a dramatic backcloth of ocean and sky; and as dappled sunlight streaked the English Channel with shimmering sheets of silver along the tops of the dark rolling troughs of the cloud shadowed sea, Janice Gregory placed the traditional posy of her aunt’s wedding flowers on the large rectangular block of Portland Stone which marks the final resting place of her late Uncle, Llewelyn Powys.

We lingered awhile at the Stone, and a couple of cows helped to swell the ranks of listeners as I read entries from Llewelyn’s 1911 Diary, written exactly one hundred years previously during that `long hot Edwardian Summer’, courtesy of Peter Foss who had graciously given his permission and had supplied the appropriate text at my request. As we were celebrating his 127th birthday, it had been my intention to look back to this very day a century earlier, to Lleweyn’s 27th birthday, and Peter had kindly sent me copies of the diary entries which covered the 2nd and 3rd weeks of August, but unfortunately there was nothing entered on 13th, and frustratingly Llewelyn’s birthday was the only blank page!

From the other pages we learned that Llewelyn was at Montacute, where he was intent on regaining his health and strength by `walking ten miles every day’; his favourite walk being along the lanes to Tintinhull. One entry records that `it was the hottest summer ever in England’, …the temperature recorded at Kew Gardens was 100 degrees in the shade’. Llewelyn describes visits to a variety of village hostelries for refreshment along the way, and in one of them we learn that his preferred tipple is ` a pint of gin and ginger ale’ Very refreshing!

As we sauntered back across Chaldon Down along the old Gypsy Track in the afternoon sunshine, we paused in sight of Bat’s Head, and Chris Gostick read a section from Llewelyn’s essay of that name, (Dorset Essays pp 23&27), and the second paragraph captured the mood of the moment quite perfectly:

Men have sought for the secret of life in temples and in cathedrals. They have worshipped in moonlit groves and before the sacrificial stones of monolithic circles. With closed lips and shut eyes they have waited and listened for God in corn fields and vineyards. I think there are few places more fitted for such moods of religious receptivity than is this undisturbed sea cliff. Here for thousands upon thousands of years the sunlight and the sea and the masterless winds have held tryst together, and nature, under the sway of so mighty a trinity, shows without reluctance her hidden moods; moods violent and material; moods of a severe and chaste beauty; and moods that are full of a deep and tremulous earth poetry”.

We stopped at Chydyok on the way back and chatted to David Simcox who lives next door, the side of the house once tenanted by Gertrude and Katie Powys. Janice was eager to view the words, `Good Hope Lies at the Bottom’ which Llewelyn had inscribed in the concrete at the bottom of the pond in the front garden, but the pond held not only water, but a burgeoning abundance of ornamental water reed, which made it impossible to see beneath the surface. However, any disappointment that this may have caused was immediately dispelled and replaced with a buzz of excitement when David Simcox pointed out something that most of us had never noticed before – the distinct shape of two ankhs built into the brick pathway which led from the front gate to the door of the cottage. One ankh was clearly defined, whilst the other had been damaged and had become misshapen over the years, but the figuration was still readily discernible. For the majority of us, this was a fascinating new discovery.

Rosemary and her father, Norman (aged 95) said their goodbyes for another year and were whisked away from Chydyok in Dennis’s car, whilst the remainder set off back down the track to the Sailor’s Return, where Richard Burleigh had been `holding the fort’, and Bruce Madge kindly provided us all with tea – ten pots of it!

A memorable day, and also a day of change, for following the handing out of certificates to Dandelion Club members, Chris Gostick pointed out that the use of the term `Club’ was a misleading definition, and commented that `surely, what you describe as a loose gathering of the friends of Llewelyn Powys’ constitutes more a `Fellowship’ than a `Club?’

The suggestion gained favour, and it was agreed unanimously that henceforth we shall be known as `The Dandelion Fellowship’; (The Friends of Llewelyn Powys)’. We were delighted to welcome Janice Gregory as our latest member, and can now claim an albeit small, but worldwide membership which includes members in the USA, Canada, Tenerife and Australia! Of course, I will be sending out new Dandelion Fellowship certificates to all members of the former Dandelion Club……

Finally, as many may be aware, next year in 2012 the Olympic Games comes to Weymouth from July to September and access to certain areas may be restricted for security reasons; enquiries are being made, but as yet it remains unclear whether or not we will be able to undertake the Birthday Walk. However, should this be the case and the walk cancelled, for those who wish to join us in raising a glass to Llewelyn’s memory on his birthday, the Dandelion Fellowship we will be gathering as usual at noon in the Sailor’s Return at East Chaldon, where all will be warmly welcomed.

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