Archive for March, 2013


From the corner summerhouse set in the wall,

the towering lime trees between the canals –

at the eastern end of the formal garden –

are still leafless, like jet lace work, like nets

disentangling, against the light blue skies

and the white, driven, cumulus clouds of March.


This was a medium-sized business. They made

their money the usual gentry way from rents

plus coal, were typically self-sufficient,

using and selling their managed timber,

were unusually innovative in

hydraulic projects, exploiting Afon Ddu,

the stream that flows through the estate, named black

for the coal dust gathering in its bed.

The pit they owned was a couple of miles

away, its slagheap, now greening, still

clearly visible from the west front.

Factories took the small tenant farmers, wars

the gardeners and nationalisation

literally undermined the house. The last squire –

Oxbridge, of course, then priest manqué, thespian,

war service, holiday tour courier

before inheriting –  bequeathed house, gardens,

park, his redundant patrimony,

to the National Trust’s service industry

of conservation, crafts and carrot cake.


In October when the apples and the pears,

in all their traditional varieties,

have been harvested and the grounds are full

of diverse families and music plays,

there is a sense of something shared – not a

common culture but a moment of ease

and tranquillity, an event of order

and fruition before the sweet dusk enfolds.






For John Huddart


Whichever way you approach the town of Fflint,

on the coast road east or west, down Halkyn

Mountain, from the Dee Estuary, you see

the towers first – Richard, Bolingbroke and Castle

Heights, three 1960s, multi-storey

social housing blocks – not the castle.


Richard Plantagenet, Richard of Bordeaux,

King of England, surrendered to his cousin

and childhood friend, Henry of Bolingbroke,

in the inner bailey of the castle,

nearly seven hundred years ago.

Richard’s great grandfather had it built –

by engineers, carpenters, charcoal burners,

diggers, dykers, masons, smiths, woodmen

from the counties of Chester, Lancaster,

Leicester, Lincoln, Salop, Stafford, Warwick –

based on a French model. Logistically –

being merely a day’s ride from Chester

and having the estuary lap its walls –

it was well placed to punish the Welsh.


In the ‘70s, as well as the Heights,

Courtaulds dominated the town, its mills

employing ten thousand. Now there is

MacDonalds, Sainsbury’s, a Polski Sklep.

The castle ruins have been preserved, of course,

made accessible, and its setting landscaped.

Across the wide river are the white houses

of Parkgate, where the packets to Ireland

would moor offshore in the roads.

Canalising the Dee to keep Chester

a port for sea-going fly boats and cutters

silted that side of the estuary,

transformed Liverpool and the Mersey.


A purpose-made barge passes, Afon

Dyfrdwy, taking an A380 wing

from Airbus at Broughton to the port

at Mostyn, some twenty miles, for shipment,

by purpose-made ferries, to Bordeaux.

As if on cue, a Beluga, an Airbus

Super Transporter, its nose like the fish’s

head, banks south east for Airbus at Toulouse.


The castle was closed for a time because of

vandalism and under age drinking.

Two teenage youths, wielding a six-pack each

of Sainsbury’s St Cervois lager,  pass

beneath the curtain wall. Laughing,

they offer the cans to two elderly

anglers returning from the river,

who decline, embarrassed, and move on.  It is

one o’clock on a weekday. The two lads,

both opening a can and showering

each other, run towards the shore, cursing.






On liberty’s last morning, he said mass

in the Great Tower – the chapel was cold

as winter. August’s sun warmed the rebels

riding along the estuary shore,

their drums silent. He watched from the walls.

At his back, the seas breaking on Ireland. King

and Usurper, first cousins, exchanged

purple words in the base court, a surfeit of

epithets: bombast, self-pity. Serfs

were indifferent but Richard’s dog fawned

on new majesty. The epicure

who bespoke a coat of cloth of gold

rode captive from Fflint to London in the same

suit of clothes. Through Chester he was jeered, stoned.


Twenty miles inland,  a sandstone hill

– sheer to the west – rises from the plain.

Parliament’s army sacked the castle.

Westwards there is the estuary’s mouth,

the livid sea. Above twitching fern,

a hawk stoops. Stones, flung into the well’s blackness,

fall through the hill seawards and never sound.



Note: the poem was originally published on the site September 2009.




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A dirty night in the Menai Straits…

a paddle steamer on a sudden sandbank –

pounding itself, pounding itself, pounding…

seas silencing the hullabaloo.


For the last time, the lifeboat pulls for the shore.

Two lovers, roped to the mast, drown their joy.


All turned to chalk on the dark sea bed.

Far, far above was the muffled cry

of gulls, the cormorant’s swift shadow.



Note: the poem was originally published on the site in November 2009.






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This March day is replete with the bright warmth

of spring and ewes bleating for their lambs.

Cropped, walled grass rolls like a green, chequered sea.

The name translates: ‘Hillock of the black grove,

the dark cell’.  The sacred trees have gone:

with the Druids, out-run by Rome’s legions;

and the wheat fields, which fed all of Cymru

before the Plantagenets came. High ground

and megalith survive:  sign-posted, fenced.


A passage of shale slabs opens on a round

chamber, holding this afternoon’s sun

like a child: stones dressed five thousand years ago

and angled exactly north east south west.

My fingers explore incisions that could be

accident or arcane inscriptions.

South east, beyond the straits, the horizon

is mountains – volcanic, sandstone, slate, shale –

unmoved for hundreds of millions of years.


Working – with bone, flint, empiricism

in wood, earth, stone –  death is imminent

and a nonsense.  Graffiti are triumph

and denial. This pasture was arable,

oakwood, ice.  This hand’s span, which dies with me,

stretches from long, long before the Flood.



Note: the poem was originally published on the site in September 2009.





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