Is where we choose to write important? In the past I have written on crowded trains, hiding out in my old van with no heating through a bitter winter, in crowded cafe’s with kids screaming all around. If you are in the moment you can pretty much write anywhere. But, where would you choose to write? I have also had the good fortune to live on beautiful nature reserves which I had to myself in the evening and have written in cliff top bird hides with the light ever changing across a lake, in my caravan as the wind howled over head, in a beautiful hotel room on the Scilly Isles with a view of the bay before me. Was my writing better because of the beauty set out before me, probably not.
These days I write in the cellar. I like the fact that when I walk down the stone steps I leave the house above. I like the fact that, down in the cellar, my phone displays ’emergency calls only.’ and there is no internet signal. When I go underground there is nothing to do but write.
I have spent three days in the cellar with the candles on, intoxicated by the smell of burning sage grass and home brew. 10,000 words written so far. The cellar is working for me.
Estuary Life notebook and scallop shell
“I liked the idea of this journey being a pilgrimage, it was, it was a journey into my past, to sing up my songline by touching the places which had been important in my life. Not to bring that life back but to see who that life had produced.”
6000 words written so far and another lovely day of writing in the cellar ahead of me.
Artist Amy Sharrocks is building a Museum of Water and is urging people to choose a water that is precious to them, find a vessel to put it in and tell her why you have chosen this water. The resulting collection of water and stories is currently touring the country before being exhibited in Somerset House by the River Thames from Friday 6th – Sunday 29th June.
The day before the start of my pilgrimage along the Estuaries of the Thames, Medway and Swale it seemed somehow fitting and right to visit the river and collect a bottle of estuary water. I guess the reverse of the traditional pilgrimage offering to the river but still hopefully auspicious.
So at 8am on a rainy Saturday I found myself down by the Medway in my wellies, clambering over seaweed slippery rocks and through the ooze of grey mud to the rivers edge. The tide was just coming in and the water looked decidedly murky and foaming. I ignored the fear of riverbourne nasties like Weils Disease and the many cuts and scrapes on my hands and dipped my IKEA bottle into the river, fishing out a typically estuarine mix of water and sediment.
The water then toured Medway with me as I went about my Saturday errands before being dropped off at the LV21 at Gillingham Pier, the current stopping point for the museum, where my Medway was due to join my friends bottle of Swale and be exhibited along with water from Tasmania, the Baltic, Lourdes and a bottle of election day water from a puddle outside a poling station and stored in a old bottle of daddies sauce (my personal favourite.)
To find out more about the Museum of Water and the exhibition visit the website
Estuary by MLP
After months of planning and research I am finally taking off tomorrow on the first leg of my walk across the North Kent Marshes for my book Estuary Life. First stop is going to be the church of St Mary’s where Charles Dickens daughter got married. This little church on the edge of the marshes is a very important and peaceful spot for me and it feels fitting to set off from here and ask for a safe journey as generations of pilgrims have done before.
From there I am heading to the former plotlanders settlement of Cliffe Woods to meet the daughter of writer Lena Kennedy at the last remaining plotland shack in the woods. After this I hope to spend some time with two women who have possibly done more to protect and save the marshes than anyone else. Joan and Gill run the campaigning group, Friends of the North Kent Marshes and having successfully defended their homes against the airport threat which plagued the area 10 years ago they are now heading the fight to prevent the destruction of the marshes by Boris Johnson’s island airport.
Having accosted a farmer on the marshes a few weeks back I then hope to visit my old caravan bought by Keith a local sheep farmer for his daughter. I haven’t stepped foot in my former home since I was evicted from the marshes back in 2007 so going home will be an odd experience. I hope to finish the day camping with my oldest and dearest friend at a secret location on the marshes.
Today in preparation I visited this spot and hid my sleeping bag, camping mat and some porridge oats, well wrapped up in several layers of plastic. I felt like I looked deeply and worryingly suspicious as I headed across country with a heavy bin bag slung over one shoulder, but thankfully I encountered no one.
Hopefully, despite a day of heavy rain, they will still be ok when I get to them tomorrow night. I sent my friend a message with instructions on where to find this bounty. “Go to the old witch tree and then up, where old meets new, there you will find my stash.” I’m keeping my fingers crossed that no nosy hound or badger finds it first and snaffles my porridge oats.
After my nights camping, I am heading to the Medway and visiting Alex an eighty something houseboat owner and former DJ for Radio Caroline before taking a mammoth walk along the river, passing the location where Sir Francis Drake spent his childhood. By nightfall I hope to make Rochester where my friend Martin has promised me a sailors supper aboard his boat.
Alex and Martin
I am so excited to finally be setting out on this adventure and to begin the bigger adventure of writing my book.
Beer made from stinging nettles might not sound the most palatable beverage but, try it, and you will be harvesting this handy plant every spring.
- 100 nettles (young or nettle tips are best)
- 12 litres of water
- 1.5 kg sugar
- 50g cream of tartar
- 15 g yeast
Boil the nettles with 12 litres of water for 15 minutes (in batches if you don’t have a big enough pot). Strain and add the sugar and cream of tartar. Heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Wait until tepid and then add the yeast. Stir well, cover and leave for a few days, otherwise it can have too much fizz. Bottle and cork.
Like all home brewing nettle beer is a bit hit and miss. I have made some excellent supplies with a heady alcohol content and have also made some dud batches which were stinky enough to clear a cinema when opened surreptitiously during a Harry Potter film (the closest thing to a potion I had). Just be careful when you uncork, they can go off with quite a bang!
Spring is well and truly underway, which must mean it’s time to undertake my regular Naughty Nuns and Nightingales walk for the Explore North Kent walking festival.
But before you ask.. No, I don’t dress as a Naughty Nuns. Every year legions of men seem to be disappointed at turning up and finding..well, just me in walking boots. Really, the habit would rather get in the way of leaping the stiles and encouraging the feral ponies, which inhabit the marsh, to leave us alone.
Still, this walk from St Mary’s Church in Lower Higham in Kent (ME3 7LS) and across the marshes to the Thames is one of my favourites, full of interesting stories, plummeting lapwings and, if we are in luck, warbling nightingales.. and, yes there is a tale of nuns led astray.
The walk costs £1 and begins at 10am on Saturday 24th
To book a place e-mail; firstname.lastname@example.org