This weekend I used the excuse of attending a residential writing workshop to enjoy two 65-miles winter cycle rides. As a bonus I met nine fellow writerly residents at the Dane Valley Centre (DVC) with imaginations bigger than the planet. Back to cycling – I’d bubble-wrapped my laptop and, after a previous experience finding it switched and hot, removed its battery before packing it with non-cycling clothes in my panniers. I could have just used a notebook and pencil but I use a word-processor as a thought processor. I also wanted to use free time at the weekend to forward Xaghra’s Revenge a few thousand words. I knew that after cycling the 65 miles from Chester to the Dove Valley, the latter half all uphill including some pumping one-in-six gradients, I wouldn’t be a productive energy generator at the course so I booked a youth hostel. A new hostel, which is a comfortable bunkbarn with lounge, kitchen and store, is at Sheen near Hulme End. I met John Martin there, who as the YHA archivist is travelling the Birtish Isles photographing and recording every hostel that had ever been in existence. We had a great chat on Thursday evening.
Friday I spent the dry cool day hiking Wolfcotedale and Milldale. The ten miles hike included watching a heron scoop a roach out of the River Dove. I felt sorry for the fish flapping in an escape bid, but Nature had given the Heron greater flappability and it took it’s dinner over the hills. Later, I cycled the remaining miles to the Dove Valley Centre at Under Whittle, about 10 miles southeast of Buxton. No wonder it is called Under Whittle: the tarmac changed to gravel as the gradient became negative. It was so steep that even with the brakes full on, my bike skidded with wheels finding ruts and drainage channels. Accustomed to danger, I could see me heading for the brambles on either side but luckily a barking dog announced I was approaching the safety of my destination. But, no. Alex Davies had booked a centre that entailed more slip slithering downhill. Once there, I knew why he’d chosen it. A marvelous stone-built building on two floors and farm outbuildings as a cycle store.
Inside were fellow writers, who when all were assembled included Carla, Paul, Michaela, Brian, Trudi, Mark, Marc and Richard, along with organiser Alex Davies and Emma, who I wanted to smuggle home to cook vegan meals for the rest of my life! Alex makes a great workshop leader in that plenty of time was created for our own writing, talking, and exercises cunningly designed to make us feel at ease yet take us forward. Most of the writers were into Fantasy games and more zombie-ness mess than I am but many too enjoyed science fiction and the kind of magic realism my Xaghra’s Revenge is based on, so we all had aspects of our imagination in common.
I couldn’t stay a weekend in the Dove Valley without taking in the scenery. It rained most of the time, but even so, Carla and I put on coats and hats and trampled wet grass, hopped bogs and climbed stiles to enjoy the fresh air and the views of the upper Dove. It is on such walks and cycle rides that many of us have plot and characters slip into our heads. Becoming a temporary part of scenery is the best way to appreciate it.
Two literary visitors deepened our cultural experience. Conrad Williams and Kim Lakin-Smith are both best selling British authors in fantasy and they both gave us quite different but equally stimulating exercises and discussion. I’ve been on many writing courses so the most useful aspect of the weekend was meeting those fantasy writers, learning about what they believe makes them tick, their unusualities and intriguing characters, warm and with enviable edges that make each so interesting.
My return cycle journey was a Wagnerian ride. I’d stayed at the Sheen YHA on Sunday night and set off at dawn for Chester. The weather forecast promised a narrow band of dry weather but with up to 75 mph gales along the route I was to cycle. Wrong. Dry for an hour and then sleet and rain showers, but at least the gales blew over my head. The first few miles were mostly uphill, a steady slog until I thought I’d reach above the cumulo nimbus clouds, but at the top I had a surprise. At The Mermaid Inn, so called after the ghost of a lady who drowned in the nearby lake, the view was amazing. The rain stopped and beyond the jagged hills of The Roaches, a sunbeam hit Jodrell Bank radar dish. Surreal. I’d neglected to take a camera but the view from the same spot is on this page http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/453755
Thanks, Alex and my fellow writers for a great weekend.
Aaargggh, I have my Exit, Pursued by a Bee book signing at Cheshire Oaks Borders this Sunday afternoon!