17/6/22 (Nature writing at Arvon)

If you’ve been watching my instagram recently you’ll have seen I’ve been away! Last week I ventured out all the way to Yorkshire (the furthest I’d been since about March 2019) to take part in a Nature Writing course run by the Arvon Foundation. Making the booking was a bit of an impulse buy in a cocky moment, and I’m sooooo glad I did it.

I don’t want to go on too much about the specifics of the course, but it was facilitated by Jay Griffiths and Tom Bullough, who were both incredibly generous and kind and encouraging. We were also visited by Rob Cowen one evening. The centre, Lumb Bank, once belonged to Ted Hughes. It perches on the steep slope of the Colden valley, which leads into Hebden Bridge, and is beside Heptonstall, just along from the top of the hill. It’s a gorgeous place, and peaceful despite being markedly busier than what I’m used to in the Borders – go to the top of a hill and it’s full of houses and dog walkers and footpaths, not sheep and grass and sheep and grass. Actually, there’s so much more in both. Go and see for yourself. Or wait till next week and I’ll write some more about it then.

(thriving metropolis)

I came away with some big lessons learnt about approaching nature writing, and a whole lot of inspiration and comradeship from the other writers on the course. We had a wide range of writing and life experience, from poets to novelists and my fellow non-fictioners, travelling from places from the most developed cities to other middles of nowhere around the UK. We felt connected by our desire to really communicate about nature in order to save it, and will be keeping in touch for a long time to come.

I’d like to share these few notes from an exercise, where we all wrote a little on the same landscape, through the eyes of someone of our choice. Most of us chose something familiar, and I was pleased with the notes I came out of it with, looking at the Lumb Bank garden through the eyes of a knitting pattern writer:

See chart for brickwork. Swiss darn roses in Fuchsia Pink once complete.

(K1, P1), repeat railings to beginning of wall.

Continue until whole tree measures nineteen metres. Place remaining leaves on a stitch holder until winter is complete.

Of course, being a filmmaker, I found myself using some of the free time on the course to explore with a camera as well as a notebook, and found myself editing a new work the evening after I returned. I’ll share it as a work in progress at the next Moving Image Makers Collective meeting in Hawick, and in the meantime try to distil what I’m writing about this film that’s about exploring a new place and finding safe spaces in that; a small cave, a large flat rock surrounded by cliffs and beech trees, and the valley’s golden/Colden river itself. Being in nature is wonderful and restorative, and so much more important than getting things you’re supposed to be doing done.

Links links links

The Arvon Foundation run LOADS of writing courses, about almost everything you could imagine. Take a look at what they do here.
Jay Griffiths’ website is here. (reading Why Rebel at the moment, go read it!)
Tom Bullough’s website is here. (I thoroughly recommend reading Addlands!)
Rob Cowen’s website is here. (There’s a copy of Common Ground on my shelf with a hare looking impatiently at me…)
Find out about the next MIMC meeting on our website here
and do join my mailing list here if you’re not subscribed via wordpress! ❤