A walk in the wild woods?

Listen to any good traditional storyteller and, sooner or later, you will find yourself walking into the woods.  Woodlands are full of immediate life, colour, sound, scent, and danger, no matter what the season. They are worlds away from the barren, unforgiving desert, or farmland all tamed and neat; they don’t have hidden kingdoms like […]

The battle for the heart of Albion

In Plymouth, past the Barbican and past the point where the Mayflower is meant to have set sail, along the coast towards the Hoe beneath the harsh angular stone of the Citadel, look out over the ivy-clad concrete wall to the sea, and then look again with your eyes tuned to the wild. On the […]

Magical meadows

Every place holds its own stories: echoes of people, wildlife and the land itself. Widecombe-in-the-Moor looks like a rural idyll, a thriving small community tucked away in a Dartmoor valley surrounded by heath and moor and woodland. Any student of Devon folklore will know this place holds some great stories, of Dewer the devil, of […]

The art of wild plants

Before 2017, the last time I remember sitting down with a sketchpad and specifically drawing plants was on the Scilly Isles when I was about 11. We were on holiday on St Mary’s, marvelling at exotics like Datura, the strange new discovery of ‘Whistling Jacks’, the corn marigolds everywhere. I drew plant after plant, experimenting […]

Tree tragedy

Elm hateth man, and waiteth Till every gust be laid. Rudyard Kipling (1906) There’s a particular book on my bookshelf that’s been high in my mind recently.  Written by Gerald Wilkinson and published in 1978, it’s called Epitaph for the Elm. I found it in a little bookshop in Norwich in the 1990s, when the regenerating […]

Weeds and wonders

I spent all of yesterday in Great Torrington in north Devon. The good people of Torrington, and arts company Wolf and Water, are holding a festival to celebrate the Reverend Keble Martin, sometime vicar of the parish and author of The Concise British Flora in Colour. This groundbreaking book was published in 1965, and had […]

Rich connections

More of the Devon coast to coast walk today. In early summer, Devon is bursting with greenery and birdsong and life of all kinds. We are truly blessed to live in such an abundant part of the world. Everything out there has its own story. The baby bird, just fledged, a tiny scrap of belligerent life, vulnerable […]

Plant folklore, plant folk tales

What is a ‘folk tale?’ When does modern become traditional, and anecdote become received wisdom? For my book Botanical Tales, I’ve been researching the traditional folk tales recorded from many different parts of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, looking for stories where wild plants and trees play a central role, and relating these stories back to […]

Direction of travel

It’s the Spring Equinox, the time of equal day and night, that will tip over into the summer months and warmer times. It’s meant to be a time of balance, equilibrium, and calm. Allegedly. Looking around me, I see very few people in a state of balance. Over the last few weeks, I have been drawn […]

Attention to detail

I started the Devon coast to coast (Two Moors Way) walk today, as a little project to tackle through the year. We started on Wembury beach, and made our way through the muddy countryside of south Devon, and the occasional snow shower, towards the southern edge of Dartmoor. Some way to go on that yet… […]