On Top Of The World
Us Against Irton Pike
We left our room and made our way to the foot of Irton Pike.
We paid the landlady who was hoovering the detritus from the previous evening’s party. I happened to leave my iPad on the bar as we were saying goodbye and she was kind enough to catch us up to return it even though she was weighed down with a full head of thick curlers.
We breakfasted in a pleasant cafe along the street, guests of the landlord who, with forward vision, had realised he was not going to be able to face cooking it himself.
A good call and we had a lovely fry up, thank you very much.
We were going to need it.
The pike itself is 230 meters high and we were to push our Dolly along the road that skirts the top.
As I mentioned previously this was always going to be the section of the journey where we would need to drive some of the way. That said it was rather peculiar looking up at the tip of the pike knowing that we were discarding a perfectly healthy van at the bottom of it.
The secret to pushing a heavy wheeled theatre up a long steep rise is pace. Always stop before you need to, have plenty of water, hope for a pub at the bottom and careful on those blind bends.
We managed to make the summit with just 17 stops. Not bad at all.
Along the way we were treated to stunning views of the pike itself but also the deep woodlands either side which were carpeted with bluebells and wild flowers. We also spotted something you won’t see from a passing car or probably even a whilst cycling.
A small monument dedicated to William Malkinson a local preacher who died suddenly on this very spot February 21st 1886. We doffed our hats to a fallen fellow traveller who wandered around telling his own stories.
A footnote to the stone carving said “Be Ye Also Ready”, we exercised extreme caution from there to the summit.
Once there we took a moment to enjoy the stunning views of long lush valleys leading to steeper distant mountains, pikes and peaks.
Then slowly down. Taking our time, proud of our achievements and in the hope of a pub and pot of tea. We were rewarded at the base with just that and having spent an hour sipping tea and blogging we pushed on to Eskdale Green and our next appointment. A ride on La’al Ratty.
Ratty is a steam locamotive built in 1876 to ferry iron ore from Boot to the coast at Ravenglass. It is now run as a passenger railway and ferries tourists and local travellers along the same line. We arrived a full hour before our 2.25 departure booking and were lucky enough to check in advance with another driver heading east that our Dolly would indeed fit into her carriage reserved for wheelchair users. We gave a small performance for some fellow travellers and met with Janice who manages Headzup with me and Blez who joined us to capture some photographs for future publicity shots and archiving.
Our journey aboard Ratty lasted just half an hour or so and every inch was a joy. The countryside unrolled before us through the steam. The weeks and weeks of rain recently endured has caused the grass to explode into the deepest green and created an abundance of wild flowers of every colour. I doubt the county could ever again look as fine.
What a treat!
We detrained at Ravenglass and thanked our driver and guards before pushing on to our venue, a pretty hall on the promenade of the estuary.
The local committee presented us with a lovely picnic and we feasted on butties, home made scones and cakes with Janice and Blez.
Later our families arrived, Maxim’s wife Rosie, then George, Alfie, Ah Mam and our friend Boomdang T.
Later still other people joined us for the show. Local folk but also a few people who had received messages from friends who had seen our show previously.
Our performance went well. The begging of the second half stood out for me. In this segment we invite audience members to join us for a Mummers play. We had a particularly spirited group that evening featuring actual Mummers, a story teller and percussionist.
Our show ended as the sun began to set over the estuary through the hall windows and all to soon we were saying goodbye and packing the van at the end of the Cumbrian leg of our journey.
This is not the first time I have Vagabonded Cumbria and I already know it won’t be my last.
Thank you to our venues, our promoters and of course audiences. Thank you to everybody who tooted, waved and slowed down for us as we wandered West Cumbria. Finally a massive thank you to Bob and Caroline from Arts Out West.
Maxim and myself will next travel Yorkshire as performing for Holnfirth Festival.
Heres the news.
Come and join us at a gig if you can or please pass news onto your friends if they live local.
From Maxim, Dolly and me Thank You Cumbria
The Golden Fleece
June 1st Rambling On
After breakfast with Jenny and Malcombe we pushed along for Haile. This is a pretty village probably a short three mile shunt.
Apologise for the brief traffic jam we caused on exiting Bekermet
A couple from the previous nights audience stopped to wish us well and offer directions. We gathered on a narrow road and a backlog of cars soon began collected behind them. Shortly more gathered on the opposite side locking the road. This being Cumbria nobody seemed to mind the delay and all waited patiently then waved as we made our right turn and eased the congestion.
Onwards to our matinee.
Outside the pretty village hall in Haile we set up our street theatre show.
We have two shows with us. One is our Story of Stories we show this in village hall venues, our second collection of stories we perform by the side of the road to passing punters.
News of our arrival sped quickly around the village and soon enough we had 15 people sat on a beautiful patch of grass behind the hall. Our audience ages rained from six to ninety years old and our show went very well indeed. So well in fact that half our audiences were to follow and join us later for our performance in Calder Bridge.
A lovely walk followed and the entire shunt we were bathed in glorious sunshine. The journey was void of a single car.
Wilkinson himself would have enjoyed the tranquility and respite from what he often described as ” Those infernal machines that will never catch on”
Dolly has recently developed a noise.
A peculiar knocking sound.
Sure enough Maxim noticed a buckle in her right wheel. Further inspection revealed a loose nut holding the wheel in place. A few twists and we were back on the road. Aside from two flat tires and a cracked handle taken during another Headzup tour this is the first time I have had to look under the bonnet. Testament to the incredible talent of Dolly’s creator the artist Luke Burges.
She’s still rolling fella.
The hall in Calder Bridge is huge compared to previous venues. We met with our promotor Yvonne and her family as we blogged outside the local pub enjoying a tall chilled lemonade.
Later they took us back to their house for a meal. They were celebrating the first anniversary of buying local pub the Golden Fleece and are looking forward to the monumental task of renovating the entire building themselves. The highlight of the tour for me was when we were shown into the pig cellar where in the past animals were bled to make black pudding. I don’t believe I have ever been a guest in a home that boast a black pudding room.
Later the committee gathered en masse to transform the hall into a theatre and our audience arrived.
We gave our performance to a full house and our show was much appreciated by all. I was even lucky enough to win a prize in the raffle. Sadly I lost out on the whiskey and wine but I did bag myself a box of well scented draw liners. Lucky for me as it is soon to be Maxims 62nd birthday and as yet I had been unable to find a suitable present on the road.
Happy birthday Maxim. You are now be the proud owner of scented draws.
Invaluable to a vagabond bloke.
We were always to travel in the van for a short while during this journey, our map reading suggested that the A595 is far too treacherous for those of us pushing of traveling theatres. Locals also advised us against this and so it was that after our show we loaded Dolly into the van and drove the short distance to Gosforth and spent the night in a wild pub.
If your ever passing Gosforth and want to enjoy at least one local boozer that is thriving have a look for The Lamb and Lion. Great beer, strong whiskey and grand banter.
A thriving pub that thrives well into the night.
We breakfast in the shadow of Irton Pike, where we will face our biggest challenge, a long drag to the top and Dolly’s steepest altitude to date.
Fingers crossed we will overcome this monster and take Ratty to our final Cumbrian performance in Ravenglass.
Thanks Calder Bridge. another excellent day.
It’s All About The People
Rambling On 1st June.
Story tellers need people and thankfully Cumbria has plenty of people, and grand folk they are too.
Alongside the continuing beauty of the landscape our second day rambling on featured a fine collection of afore mentioned grand Cumbrian folk.
Peter the manager of Florence Mine collected us from our accommodation in St Bees and whisked us back to the theatre where Dolly had spent the night. Once inside we passed a pleasant hour packing up and getting ready for the road. Turns out that Peter has another job working on the popular television series Doctor Who. A program I am very fond off.
Peter is one of the blokes who takes the film and is largely responsible for lighting and filming the models used to animate the stories. He showed us some backstage movies from a past episode where he and his colleagues were shooting. The Doctor was aboard a Russian submarine facing up to the fearsome Ice Warrior. We learned a great deal about the special effects used. How they filmed the submarine upside down and lit the models from below. Diced chicken feathers are then sprinkled to give the illusion of floating plankton.
Clever yet simple effects to create a wonderful story.
Curiously I remember watching that very episode of Doctor Who with Rimsky the artist who designed one of our own special effects for Rambling On our Viking long ship. I happened to be collecting the model from him round at his house as that particular episode started so we watched it together before I left with the ship.
Peter also worked on the forthcoming 50th anniversary episode to be shown later in the year. He wouldn’t give away any details and we would rather wait to watch the story unfold live at broadcast anyway.
You should never spoil a good story.
Thanks Peter. Fine venue and lovely people.
We pushed on through Egremont and selected the back lanes for our journey to Beckermet. A number of people advise us that the road ahead was closed, but also that we would have no trouble squeezing our Dolly through the concrete barriers.
Along the way we passed a small row of houses where families were sitting in their gardens enjoying the glorious sunshine. We stopped and gave a short performance in return for a cup of tea and a couple of delicious home made sausage rolls.
Pushing on we passed a ruined sandstone folly that a local farmer told us once belonged to William and Dorothy Wordsworth. We passed the roadblock with ease and having lunched on a bench with views of the Isle Of Man we pushed down into Beckermet for the evening show.
We were met by Simon the village halls next door neighbour, promotor and licensee. Having massaged Dolly through the small doors he took us to meet his wife Janice and their three daughters for a meal. Simon is a fine cook and we enjoyed seafood and a selection of salads from his allotment. We discussed our past adventures and were advised caution when we meet Irton Pike. A large hill that Simon has struggled with when our riding his bike. This will prove to be our biggest challenge.
We meet with Irton Pike on Sunday as we journey to Eskdale Green to rendezvous with Larl Ratty.
Our audience gathered and promptly at 7.30 we were showing.
Our performance built well and by the end of the show our final applause lingered. Many from our audience lingered longer and after the show we shared more stories, anecdotes and pints of real ale beyond midnight.
Later we were taken to our accommodation and spent another hour in the company of Jenny and Malcombe who very kindly gave us each a room for the night. They also gave us fine cheeses and a welcome glass of Grouse.
A fine days vagabonding and despite the continuing beauty of Cumbria a day I shall remember for the people we shared it with.
Once More Into Breech
Rambling On Day 1 30th May
It’s a funny old world.
Last night I found myself in the back of a car driven by a bloke called David who alongside Hans Blix works for the United Nations as a nuclear inspector. He was there when they didn’t find anything. I was sat in the back of his motor eating pasta off a china plate with some lovely olive bread that I had been given at the close of our show.
David (One of our audience members) very kindly drove us to St Bees where we were to spend the night. Along the way we we discussed wether or not the wind turbine viewed from the right hand window was a blot on the landscape or not.
Curiously if I looked out of the left window we were in the shadow of Sellafield Nuclear reprocessing plant.
It remained unmentioned.
We had just performed our premier at a beautiful and intimate theatre called The Florence Mine near Egremont. This ex iron ore mine now boasts a thriving community of artists all gathered in various workshop spaces.
They have a gallery, a coffee shop, a bar and theatre space. Our audience gathered around small tables cabaret style, or relaxed at the back of the orchestra stalls on comfortable sofas near the bar.
Congratulations to Peter the manager and all his team who have created a vibrant Phoenix from the red dust and residue of a now lost industry.
And so to our first night.
As a showman I am at my happiest performing to audiences when offering something new.
There is a glorious mix of excitement and fear involved in premiering a new show. Audiences and artist all to soon gauge the measure of each other and both swiftly realise what kind of evening we are each heading for.
A new show can go either way.
We hope that each routine will entertain in its own right but also that our collection of stories knit together seamlessly into one long tapestry of tails.
We hope our audience are in the right mood. We hope our audience feature the perfect balance of ages and characters.
We have a lot of hope.
As time passes and our shows evolve us story tellers naturally alter the pace of our delivery and we will constantly tweak and fiddle with a show from our opening night until our final curtain.
Hopefully to its benefit.
And that first night when you stand in front of an expectant paying audience you can only hope your show is good. You never actually know this to be the truth until your on stage.
Thankfully at our premier in the Florence mine both Maxim, myself and audience were quickly able to relax. Surely enough a quarter of a way into our first show I enjoyed that familiar tingle that tells me it’s OK and our audience are engaged. Thankfully each routine worked as we had hoped and our palate of songs, stories and routines worked well together as one whole.
Later at the bar our audience shared with us there favourite bits and thankfully again most of our routines earned a mention.
Earlier we had our first shunt.
Five miles of glorious Cumbrian scenery. Up hills, along pretty avenues with lush green canopies then up hills again. We had lunch at the side of the pretty church in Haile which was opposite a large hill entirely washed with blue bells and wild flowers.
We passed babbling rivers atop ancient stone bridges.
Cumbria is indeed a beautiful and hilly part of the world. Our first push covered five miles in glorious sunshine.
Along the way Maxim enjoyed his share of puffing and panting up the big hills as much as the gentle strolling along the flat lush lanes. After a few miles we had done away with the politeness of asking whether each would care for a break from shoving and had sunk into just knowing when to stop or handover.
The secret to pushing a heavy load a long way is stop and rest before you need to. An easy enough job when you are lucky enough to tramp through glorious Cumbria, always encouraged by what delights might await our viewing at the top.
Finally down hill and into the mine complex itself, a well earned coffee, meat pie and first fit up.
Inside we met with local artists Jenni and Marie who specialise in making paints both oil and pastel from ore cut in the mine. This delivers a wonderful sandstone red hue and exhibits of work using these bespoke materials were hung proudly in the venue by myriads of artists both local and national.
During one of our routines I use pastels to illustrate one of Maxim’s stories. I know proudly use a pot of Egremont Red hematite to colour and shade with great effect.
So a grand long walk, glorious weather, beautiful landscape and a successful premier. Interesting and kind people plus a few pints of Buttcombe and the promise of a fry up in the morning.
All in all a perfect start.
We are truly on the road.
Beckermet reading rooms tonight. We have five more miles to shunt and the weather is again lovely.
All I need to do now is return the plate.
Here We Go Again
It has been two years since Headzup delivered our first peripatetic story telling adventure.
In fact I write this blog on the second anniversary of our performance in Sparkbridge an idilic village in South Cumbria.
That night we were to perform on a beautiful lush patch of grass by the gently flowing river. However the weather had taken a turn for the worst and as a result we were invited to take shelter and perform in The Royal Oak as guests of the landlady. The show went very well indeed despite the shallow ceiling, so shallow in fact that we had to drop our marionette routine from the set.
A shame really because after the show a man approached us who had been in the audience and asked if we would like to view his collection of puppets. He then brought in a car load of antique marionettes that had been built and operated by a double act performed by his dearly departed Aunts.
The puppets were quite amazing. The attention to detail was stunning. There were characters from all over the world clad in elaborate hand stitched costumes. There were exotic animals, lions, bears and more familiar creatures cows, sheep and birds. Human figures too. Kings, Queens, soldiers and children. Young old, rich and poor. So many characters that his ancestors would surely have been able to perform any story imaginable.
Perhaps being local they might have performed in that very pub in some distant past.
The puppets were each individually bagged and catalogued and after a lengthy inspection the inheritor asked if I would like them. Anybody who has witnessed my marionette manipulation skills will be relieved to learn that I thanked him politely and suggested that he would be best finding a true scholar of historic puppetry and have them displayed in a museum.
Still this was an amazing offer.
Also that night we were gifted a meal and copious amounts of beer from our landlady. We enjoyed whisky courtesy of our audience and a full hat of coins from our collection. At last orders we were even given the keys to the village hall on account of the bad weather and we were free to bed down for the night and shower in the morning.
And make tea.
This reminds me of the incredible generosity and sense of value we received everywhere as myself Lord Gregg and Dolly tramped and performed during that first walking project.
Our show Vagabonding lasted for three weeks and in that time we covered over 120 miles largely on foot performing in a myriad of locations. We delivered our show on village greens, in pubs, on railway stations, in pubs, in village halls, schools and well … pubs.
It was a rather wet that particular May.
Our show was commissioned by Lakes Alive the company famous for delivering an outstanding three year project of outdoor work in Cumbira as part of the cultural Olympiad.
The show featured a collection of Cumbrian stories.
We explored the history of Piel Island, how it was invaded by Lambert Simnal and his army during the 1600’s. We told how the town of Dalton was ravaged by a wicked medicine pedlar by the name of Doc Lancaster, a man who sold poison to the locals claiming that it was in fact a cure for the plague.
Another Dalton story talked of Commando the pigeon who was awarded the coveted Dikin medal for assisting british secret agents by flying home with warnings of nazi military tactics.
From our home town in Barrow we told of two lovers who would meet for lunch on the very tips of two cranes that they operated in the shipyard during in the second world war and how they eventually married and grew old together.
Two years later we are to embark on a second journey.
Dolly and myself will this time be joined by Mike Betson of Blaize a theatre company based in North Yorkshire.
Blaize deliver all manner of projects working in both rural and urban locations. They make films, burn spectacular bonfires and tour village halls with finely crafted plays telling stories in the most remote venues.
We are directed by the celebrated playwright and songwriter Jim Woodland.
Mike and Jim were two members of The Fabulous Salami Brothers, probably the finest street theatre and festival act of their generation.
I remember being so excited watching their shows that when my school careers officer asked “What do you want to to be when you leave school” I replied “Sir I want to be a Fabulous Salami Brother”
I recon this is as close as ill get.
Ill talk more about the content of this show as it develops. We are entering our last week of devising and rehearsing and this new collection of songs, stories will soon be ready to show.
Dolly our cart is oiled and ready to be shoved and shunted into whatever kindness or catastrophe awaits us on this next Vagabond adventure.
The new Headzup website has been designed by the visionary web wizard and sound artist Shaun Blezard. He and the ever excellent co director of Headzup Janice Benson will be steering us and keeping a watchful eye from the Dalton command centre.
The first leg of our journey takes place in venus promoted by Arts Out West in Cumbria. Later we will tour Yorkshire for the Holmfirth Festival and then Lancashire for Spot On.
The dates and venues for Cumbria are below.
Please come along, pass it on or just follow the blogs as we Ramble On.
Hopefully no hospitals this time.
Venues and dates Cumbria
Thu 30/05/2013 7.30 The Florence Mine, Egremont CA22 1NR
Fri 31/05/2013 7.30 Beckermet Reading Rooms CA21 2XN
Sat 01/06/2013 7.30 Calder Bridge Village Hall CA20 1DH
Sun 02/06/2013 6.30 Muncaster Parish Hall, Ravenglass CA18 1SF