The House: The Poetics of Space

A house constitutes a body of images that give mankind proofs or illusions of stability.  We are constantly re-imagining its reality: to distinguish all these images would be to describe the soul of the house; it would mean developing a veritable psychology of the house.

To bring order into these images, I believe that we should consider two principal connecting themes:

  1. A house is imagined as a vertical being. It rises upward. It differentiates itself in terms of its verticality. It is one of the appeals to our consciousness of verticality.
  2. A house is imagined as a concentrated being. It appeals to our consciousness of centrality.1411799121938


These themes are no doubt very abstractly stated. But with examples, it is not hard to recognize their psychologically concrete nature.

Verticality is ensured by the polarity of cellar and attic, the marks of which are so deep that, in a way, they open up two very different perspectives for a phenomenology of the imagination. Indeed, it is possible, almost without commentary, to oppose the rationality of the roof to the irrationality of the cellar. A roof tells its raison d’etre right away: it gives mankind shelter from the rain and sun he fears. Geographers are constantly reminding us that, in every country, the slope of the roofs is one of the surest indications of the climate. We “understand” the slant of a roof. Even a dreamer dreams rationally; for him, a pointed roof averts rain clouds. Up near the roof all our thoughts are clear. In the attic it is a pleasure to see the bare rafters of the strong framework. Here we participate in the carpenter’s solid geometry.



As for the cellar, we shall no doubt find uses for it. It will be rationalized and its conveniences enumerated. But it is first and foremost the dark entity of the house, the one that partakes of subterranean forces. When we dream there, we are in harmony with the irrationality of the depths.


Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space (Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 1958)

Edition quoted from: Penguin Classics, London, 2014

Translation: Maria Jolas

Cover illustration: Nick Misani


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Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London by Lauren Elkin

The flâneuse does exist, whenever we have deviated from the paths laid out for us, lighting out for our own territories.

ncs_modified20160728091228maxw640maxh427ar-160729175Lauren Elkin is well-qualified to write this book, not only has she lived in Paris, London, New York, Tokyo and Venice, but she has walked the city streets of all of them. If the female manifestation of Baudelaire’s flâneur really does exist, and Elkin contends that she does, then the writer herself is a personification of the idea.

Elkin is an American cultural critic and is currently an academic at the University of Liverpool. Her book is an exhilarating conflation of her personal journey and her wanderings blended with a wider reflection on the female experience of the modern city. In doing so she invokes the works of a host of female writers, including Virginia Woolf, Jean Rhys, Mavis Gallant, Martha Gellhorn and Doris Lessing and, with a refreshingly light touch, she draws on the works of academics such as Griselda Pollock and Homi Bhabha.










Walking is mapping with your feet. It helps you piece a city together, connecting up neighbourhoods that might otherwise have remained discrete entities, different planets bound to each other, sustained yet remote.

Baudelaire’s flâneur, of course, was invariably male. He had leisure time and displayed a somewhat detached attitude, being characterised by his creator as a dandy or dilettante. The flâneur, therefore, was a device that examined the city through exclusively male eyes. Chris Jenks, in his Visual Culture, refers to an ‘imbalance of ocular practice’ in nineteenth-century writing whereby ‘women do not look, they are looked at’. Until the rise of modernism there was little or no literary depiction of urban street-life from a female viewpoint. Until the early twentieth-century and writers like Woolf, Elkin seems to suggest, the flâneuse was invisible and her narrative was silent.

Women have always featured in the street-life of the city, but these were almost exclusively working-class women going about their work and, in a society dominated by wealthy men, their voices went largely unheard. Women were excluded from the literary streetscape of the nineteenth-century city; only those women whose sexuality could be commodified attracted the attention of male writers.


Unwanted attention: American woman in Florence, 1951. Ruth Orkin, Orkin/Engel film and photo archive

Woolf, Dorothy Richardson, Djuna Barnes and other female modernist writers broke new ground by presenting female characters who were free to move through, to gaze at and to explore the streets of the city. The early twentieth-century was a time of rapidly expanding horizons for women, or at least for middle-class women. They moved from the drawing room to the thoroughfares of the city and, soon, fiction began to reflect this development. The change encompassed expanding opportunities in work and leisure activities and included everything from transport, shopping, and fashion to employment, education, and politics.

Elkin takes issue with those commentators who suggest that the word flâneuse is meaningless because flânerie, by its very nature, is an exclusively male occupation. It’s true that this was the case in the time of Baudelaire and with the leisured wanderers of the arcades of nineteenth-century Paris. But Elkin offers ample evidence to suggest that the flâneuse was alive, well and walking in twentieth-century London, Paris, Tokyo and New York.


A woman strolls past the Trocadero and Eiffel Tower in 1920s Paris, H Armstrong-Roberts Classicstock/Getty Images

Lauren Elkin suggests that flânerie, in its guise of psychogeography, has become something of a male club in recent years. More specifically middle-aged British men, Will Self concedes, each of them to a man Gore-Tex clad and prostate-swollen. But women walkers are still there she argues, citing Laura Oldfield Ford as a contemporary London example. But perhaps it is the case that the flâneuse does not shout about it as loudly as her male counterpart. Women city wanderers, Elkin contends, still feel themselves to be the object of the male gaze and their bodies subjected to sexual commodification:

And it’s the centre of cities where women have been empowered, by plunging into the heart of them, and walking where they’re not meant to. Walking where other people (men) walk without eliciting comment. That is the transgressive act. You don’t need to crunch around in Gore-Tex to be subversive, if you’re a woman. Just walk out your front door.

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An Unreliable Guide to London

This is a guide to a city you never knew existed, right on your doorstep.  Blink and you’ll miss it.
















We live in London.  We come from Monserrat and Mexico, India and New Zealand, Horley and Hastings, but this is 2016 and we are all Londoners now.  We live in the parts of the city other guidebooks do not reach: in Willesden, Hanwell and Colliers Wood.  We write about the places that are unloved and ill-served.

We travel from Dalston to Staples Corner on the 266.  We search for optical illusions on Islington street corners and discover that London’s ‘scars are worn inside’.

Mrs Dalloway goes to Mulberry’s to buy flowers and Katherine Mansfield’s Rosemary browses for antiques in Curzon Street.  We, on the other hand, shop at Curry’s and PC World, and in doing so discover that both shops are one and the same.

We are the writers of whom some will claim they’ve never heard.  Perhaps we do not even exist.  But we map this city with our words and fill its spaces with our breath.  We are London.



About the book

An Unreliable Guide to London brings together 23 stories about the lesser known parts of a world renowned city. Stories that stretch the reader’s definition of the truth and question reality. Stories of wind nymphs in South Clapham tube station, the horse sized swan at Brentford Ait, sleeping clinics in Islington and celebrations for St Margaret’s Day of the Dead.

An Unreliable Guide to London is the perfect summer read for city dwellers up and down the country. With a list of contributors reflecting the multi-layered, complex social structures of the city, it is the guide to London, showing you everything that you never knew existed.


M John Harrison; Chloe Aridjis; Yvvette Edwards; Courttia Newland; Will Wiles; Noo Saro-Wiwa; Nikesh Shukla; Juliet Jacques; Salena Godden; Stephen Thompson; Irenosen Okojie; Sunny Singh; Paul Ewen; Tim Burrows; George F.; Gareth E. Rees; Aki Schilz; Tim Wells; Koye Oyedeji; Eley Williams; Stephanie Victoire

Buy From:

Influx Press here

Or any good local bookshop





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T.S. Eliot and the Flâneur


Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? …


Tom Eliot was not a flâneur, or at least not in the sense that he was an idle wanderer and observer of the city streets. But he used the device of the flâneur in his poetry, particularly in The Waste Land and Prufrock. The London he wrote about was the one he observed as he walked to and from the office, before and after each day’s work. Eliot was consciously not an idler, but prided himself on being a producer of wealth at the heart of London’s financial core. Nonetheless, ‘outside of hours he was a poet. And watching, witnessing, writing about the crowd, he was a poet’.[1] Whether consciously or unconsciously, Eliot gave the nineteenth-century flâneur-observer ideas of Baudelaire a modernist psychological interpretation in works such as Prufrock. In his poetry, he fuses the realistic with the phantasmagoric and the everyday with the fantastic.

Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent


For Eliot London was not just any city but the supreme city of the modern age; the heart of a great but decaying empire and still the world’s commercial and financial capital. He settled in London in 1917 having found both his home city of St Louis and his almae matres of Harvard and Oxford far too provincial for his tastes.










London fired Eliot’s imagination. But, when we read The Waste Land, we do not see a world illumined by light but one of fire-revealed darkness:

  Unreal City,
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.


When Eliot arrived in London he discovered a city ground down by war and with many of the best of its younger generation already sacrificed on the battlefields of France and Belgium. He found a London that was indeed the cultured, urbane society he had longed to embrace while still a young man in Missouri, but at the same time he sensed a rising tide of something that was spiritually and morally degenerate.


















The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is the centrepiece of Eliot’s first collection of London poems and in Prufrock we see his proto-flâneur. He is a wanderer of the city’s night-time streets and an observer of the denizens of its darker reaches. Prufrock, perhaps like his creator, is at once bold and also reticent and he invites us to join him in his nocturnal wanderings:

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,


But he is torn between the drawing room with its ‘porcelain, among some talk of you and me’ and the grimy city streets of the city where he yearns for ‘the yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes’.   The genteel world indoors represents conventionality and respectability whereas the streets suggest something freer, darker and a whisper of sexual possibility.
















In Portrait of a Lady, another poem in the Prufrock collection, the narrator takes tea with his would-be lover, conjuring up a vision of bourgeois respectability, but he longs all the while to take her out with him into the streets; for the two of them to share all that the shaded underbelly of the city represents:

— Let us take the air, in a tobacco trance,
Admire the monuments,
Discuss the late events,
Correct our watches by the public clocks.
Then sit for half an hour and drink our bocks.


In the same year that Eliot brought out Prufrock he also published a prose piece in the Little Review titled Eeldrop and Appleplex – I. The essay centres on an imaginary conversation between the two protagonists of the title, characters whom one suspects are thinly disguised versions of Eliot and his friend Ezra Pound.

Eeldrop and Appleplex’s conversation ranges over their mutual interest in experiencing the more visceral aspects of the city. The only meaningful point of contact, or moment of shared understanding, between the human psyche and the modern city is in the steady, sustained gaze of the flâneur. We cannot inhabit a city, Eeldrop suggests, but through our spectatorship we can bear witness to it. More than that, he suggests, the actions of the flâneur allow us to decode the city.

By the time he published The Waste Land in 1922 Eliot’s modernist conception of the city was fully formed. In this work he abandons any pretence of presenting a temporal sequence of events and instead lays before us an array of images linked only by their spatial form. These images do not follow on one from the other, rather they are arranged one next to the other in a seemingly random manner.

This sequence of images, Eliot seems to suggest, is analogous to our experience of the modern city.  We cannot comprehend the city as a whole.  Like the flâneur, we can only experience the city as the handful of images at which we gaze.  At best we can attempt to piece together a puzzle that can never be completed.

And this new character living in a modern metropolitan time and place seemed to demand new techniques. The job of the ‘modernist’ artist was not to represent the modern panorama but to render the shifting internal lie of an individual consciousness, to present the spasmodic, the obscure the fragmentary, the failure.[2]


[1] Peter Brooker, Modernity and Metropolis: Writing, Film and Urban Formations (Basingstoke and New York, Palgrave, 2002) p. 25

[2] ibid. p. 52

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The Ladies of Llangollen

Wordsworth knew them, the first time he met the ladies was in the garden at Plas Newydd.  Their maid showed him through the house and out into the garden where he found them standing arm-in-arm before a luxuriant spread of wisteria which had cloaked itself over a wall in the kitchen garden.  Sitting at his desk years later he could still see them, albeit through the lens of memory.  It must have been May or June, he recalled, for the wisteria was in full flower; and such flowers, a profusion of open, wanton blooms.  Each flower quivered gently in the breeze as if anticipating  the caress of a lover, and to the sound of sweet buzzing endearments, each bloom’s pollen is swiftly taken leaving her alone and bereft.


















As one the ladies turned to face him and he noticed that tears filled both pairs of eyes, though the face of each had opened into a welcoming smile upon seeing him.  We are so pleased that you came Mr Wordsworth, are we not Sarah?  We are indeed, Eleanor, we are indeed.



They showed him around the garden explaining how they had transformed it from a place of wild rockiness into one of floral profusion and, flushing with excitement, they shared their ideas for the work that still needed to be done.  Eleanor and Sarah spoke in the manner of a musical duet, delighting in the contributions of the other but constantly clamouring to take the lead.  Eleanor was tall and slim, Sarah shorter in height and broader of figure.  Both had a soft Irish lilt to their words that gave a Celtic musicality to even the Latin names of their plants.






img_0548Their walk took them to a stream.  Were they still in the garden, or had they strayed beyond its boundaries?  Wordsworth was not sure, he made to speak and then realised that the ladies were silent and had been so for some seconds.  They had reached a glade amongst the trees and stood before a glassy pool.  Silently, so it felt, they were imploring him to stand, to look and to meditate upon air, water, rock and plant.


Such love: Wordsworth stayed with the ladies of Plas Newydd for several days and, though the word was never mentioned, that would be far too vulgar an affectation, he felt that love pervaded everything about that place.  Afterwards he wrote about their meeting in a sonnet:

A stream to mingle with your favourite Dee,

Along the vale of meditation flows;

So styled by those fierce Britons, pleased to see

In Nature’s face the expression of repose;

Or haply there some pious hermit chose

To live and die, the peace of heaven his aim;

To whom the wild sequestered region owes

At this late day, its sanctifying name.

Glyn Cafaillgaroch, in the Cambrian tongue,

In ours, the Vale of Friendship, let ‘this’ spot

Be named; where, faithful to a low-roofed Cot,

On Deva’s banks, ye have abode so long;

Sisters in love, a love allowed to climb,

Even on this earth, above the reach of Time!


To The Lady E.B. And The Hon. Miss P, William Wordsworth


The phrase ‘sisters in love’ particularly pleased the ladies, though they took exception to their home being described as a ‘low-roofed cot’.  They chided him about this on his next visit.  Though, with a soft brush of the hand along his arm by one lady and a shining-eyed smile by the other.

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The Buried Giant

The rocks they had discussed from below now loomed before them and Axl could see, as they came ever nearer, how they were arranged in a rough semi-circle around the top of a mound to the side of their path.

Buried Giant 7Buried Giant 10Buried Giant 4Buried Giant 5Some of you will have fine monuments by which the living may remember the evil done to you. Some of you will have only crude wooden crosses or painted rocks, while yet others of you must remain hidden in the shadows of history. You are in any case part of an ancient procession, and so it is always possible the giant’s cairn was erected to mark the site of some such tragedy long ago when young innocents were slaughtered in war.

Buried Giant 3

Buried Giant 6Buried Giant 8Buried Giant 9This aside, it is not easy to think of reasons for its standing.  One can see why on lower ground our ancestors might have wished to commemorate a victory or a king.  But why stack heavy stones to above a man’s height in so high and remote a place as this?

Kazuo Ishiguro, The Buried Giant

Buried Giant 1
Buried Giant 2



Words: Kazuo Ishiguro

Images: Grimspound and Broad Barrow, Devon and Humbleton Hill Fort, Northumberland by Bobby Seal



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The Polish Embassy

It’s very easy to walk straight past the Polish Embassy in Wrexham without noticing it.  It’s a narrow, understated and not particularly distinguished building on the town’s High Street.  It also happens to be pub called the Royal Oak.

Polish Embassy 1

The earliest record of a pub by that name on this site dates from 1780, though the present building was completed in 1913 and replaced the original timber-framed structure.  In terms of architectural style I would describe it as Elizabethan-pastiche: pointed gable, leaded windows and a black and white-timbered façade.  The Royal Oak’s connection with Poland dates back to the Second World War.  Units of the Free Polish Army were stationed in the Wrexham area, and the pub became a favourite watering hole of the exiles.  Since that time it has been known locally as the Polish Embassy.

Polish Embassy 2

Polish Embassy 3

A number of Polish soldiers previously based in Wrexham expressed a reluctance to return their homeland after the war because of the Soviet occupation and many of them chose to settle in the area.  This population was added to in 1946 when the Polish Army Medical Corps, who were based in Italy, decided en masse that they did not wish to return to their native country.  Several hundred Polish service personnel and their families were, therefore, relocated to a former US Army hospital site at Penley, just outside Wrexham.

Polish Embassy 4
Polish Embassy 5
Polish Embassy 6

Before the Polish servicemen began to use the Royal Oak it was the haunt of American soldiers from the 33rd Signals Construction Battalion and 400th Armoured Field Artillery Battalion who were billeted at Acton Park.  The US Army, to its shame, was racially segregated at this time and the Royal Oak was one of the few Wrexham pubs African-American soldiers were free to attend.  The US Army left Wrexham in 1944 shortly after D-Day.  It was around this time that the Royal Oak’s connection with Wrexham’s Polish community began.

Polish War Memorial, Wrexham

Polish War Memorial, Wrexham










The Royal Oak today is a very pleasant pub with a jukebox, open fire, a host of CAMRA-approved real ales and, weirdly, an enormous stuffed antelope head on the chimney breast.

Polish Embassy 8













What there doesn’t seem to be, however, is any reminder of the pub’s once intimate connection with the town’s Polish population.  The Polish hospital at Penley no longer exists either having finally closed its doors in 2002.

Polish Embassy 9
Polish Embassy 10

Wrexham had a thriving Polish community throughout the 1950s and 1960s and the Royal Oak, by all accounts, maintained its Polish connection throughout this period.  In subsequent decades, however, Wrexham’s Polish community began to lose its unique identity as the wartime generation died off and their children and grandchildren were steadily assimilated into the local population.

Things changed, however, in 2004 when Poland and a number of other new countries acceded to the European Union.  Wrexham’s economy was booming during this time with an unemployment rate well below the UK average and a plethora of manufacturing jobs in the area.  As a result a steady stream of workers from Eastern Europe and Portugal were attracted to the town.  Wrexham’s Polish community has been rejuvenated and is estimated to form upwards of five per cent of the town’s population.

Wrexham now has several Polish supermarkets, most of the town’s pubs and off-licences stock Polish beers and the Polish language is now vying with Welsh and Portuguese to be the second most widely-spoken tongue in the area.

Polish Embassy 11

But, in concrete terms, there is very little to connect the current Polish community with the wartime generation.  On several visits to the Royal Oak, obviously just for the purposes of research, I never heard an Eastern European accent: the Polish Embassy is still waiting for a new generation to reclaim its heritage.


With full acknowledgement and grateful thanks to Zosia and Jurek Beigus’s excellent book Polish Resettlement Camps in England and Wales, 1946-1969 (2013)

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Permanence and Impermanence: Auggie’s Pictures

This gallery contains 2 photos.

They’re all the same, but each one is different from every other one.  You’ve got your bright mornings; your fog mornings; you’ve got your summer light and your autumn light; you’ve got your week days and your weekends; you’ve got … Continue reading

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The Fairy Mount

For in one sense Faerie represents a species of limbo, a great abyss of traditional material, into which every kind of ancient belief came to be cast as the acceptance of one new faith after another dictated the abandonment of forms and ideas unacceptable to its doctrines. The difference between god and fairy is indeed the difference between religion and folklore.

Lewis Spence, British Fairy Origins: The Genesis and Development of Fairy Legends in British Tradition (1946)


Poring over a reprint of a 1909 Ordnance Survey map of Wrexham I noticed something odd. On the corner of Belmont Road and Fairy Road, in an area close to the town centre, I noticed that a tumulus was marked in what appeared to be the garden of a large house at the point where the two roads meet. I know Fairy Road reasonably well; it’s a conservation area with some striking examples of Arts and Crafts architecture and was once home to the offices of the Football Association of Wales. But I’d never noticed a tumulus there before and, according to the 1909 map, it looked like quite a large one. Strangely though, I couldn’t find anything marked on the current OS Explorer map nor was there anything on Google or Open Street Map.


OS Map 1909










But the coincidence of the presence a prehistoric burial mound and the fact that the street is named Fairy Road intrigued me: what resonances of myth and memory had led to the area being given such a name? Having a free afternoon that day, I decided to take a little field trip. The first thing that strikes you about Fairy Road is the wealth of quirky Victorian architectural features, such as turrets, towers and curved walls, and the overall unity of the feel of the street that comes from the universal use of Ruabon red brick. The effect is spoiled, however, by the fact the street is part of Wrexham’s inner ring road and the noise and smell of traffic is ever-present.

Fairy Mount

Just past the corner with Belmont Road was something I hadn’t noticed before – a large detached house called Fairy Mount. The house sits behind a high wall of Ruabon brick on one side and a stone wall topped with a wooden fence on the other. Stretching to peer over the fence I saw that the house was set in extensive lawned grounds. I also saw that there, in the middle of the front garden, was a large grassy mound with the unmistakeable shape of a barrow. Sitting on top of the mound, like some strange obelisk, was the hollowed-out trunk of a dead tree. Leaning my camera on the fence I managed to fire off a couple of pictures.


Reading about Fairy Mount later, I learned that the house was built on a plot called Fairy Field and that the barrow was once topped by an oak tree. According to legend the fairy folk would dance around the mound on sacred occasions. It was excavated in 1882 prior to the construction of Fairy Mount and bones and pottery dating back to the Bronze Age were found. Unfortunately these remains have since disappeared.

Fairy hills feature prominently in Welsh and Irish folklore and tended to be regarded with a mixture of reverence and caution.  For the pre-Christian Celtic peoples a belief in the supernatural realm was an integral part of their world view, as was the existence of beings from this hidden world. In Scotland and Ireland these beings were known as the Aos Sí, which means the  Good People or Fair Folk.  To trespass onto their sacred places such as a fairy mount, known to them as a Sidhe, was to ask for trouble.

Of course we now know that such earthworks were constructed by our human ancestors more than two millennia ago. But even as I leaned on that wooden fence gazing across at the Fairy Mount with cars passing by behind me, I could still sense a certain ethereal beauty permeating this haven of earth, grass, trees and memory.


All images by the author other than:

Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing – William Blake

Street view of Fairy Road  – Google Street View

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The Castle of the Raven King

‘Relic of Kings! Wreck of forgotten wars,

To winds abandoned and the prying stars.’

William Wordsworth, 1824

He keeps calling this a thin place which, to be honest, I find a little presumptuous. It’s true that a soon as we pass through the gate by the school and start to walk up the hill I find all sorts of thoughts and imaginings bubbling up to the surface, but is that really because of the place or is it just something I’m carrying inside me? Or maybe it was a book I read or something someone once told me?


You can see Dinas Brân from a long way down the valley: its conical hill dominates the view as you face upriver and the gnarled fingers of the castle’s outline seem to beckon and draw you in. I taught at the school at the foot of the castle hill once, just for the autumn term many years ago. Funnily enough, I never bothered to take the walk up to the ruined castle during that time, although I have done so several times since.

Castell Dinas Bran 2
Castell Dinas Bran 19

It’s a steep climb, the grass is slick with rainwater and the path a lumpy gruel of mud and small stones. Historians will tell you that they built the castle here because the hill provides a strong defensive position, but for me the choice of this site seems to be as much about asserting a claim to dominance: the hill isn’t just a point upon which to build a fortified position, but it is statement, a declaration of male dominance over the valley landscape and all who live within it. Thus the local lord was able to keep his own population in check and remind them who was in charge – Man dominating nature, or rather a handful of men dominating other men and women.

There’s a certain joy that comes from reaching the top of a hill and finding that there is no one else around when you get there, just my companion and me; and he seems to be more interested in checking the settings on his camera than in making idle conversation, which is good. I drink some water, not because I’m particularly thirsty but to disguise the fact that I’m out of breath and need to rest.

Castell Dinas Bran 3
Castell Dinas Bran 6
Castell Dinas Bran 4
Castell Dinas Bran 10

From the summit of the hill, standing amongst the castle ruins, you can see the River Dee below as it winds along the floor of the valley. I used to do a lot of wild swimming and I once swam in that stretch of water. It was quite a challenge to swim against the flow of the river just downstream of the town and it didn’t help to have so many crows constantly circling and swooping as I swam.

The name Dee is derived from the Brythonic word for goddess – the River of the Goddess. Castell Dinas Brân, I’m told, is variously translated as the Castle of the City of Crows, Crow’s Castle and Brân’s Fortress. Brân, of course, is the Raven King of Welsh mythology, hence my name for it: the Castle of the Raven King.

Most of the castles we now see in North Wales were built by the Normans to suppress the followers of the native Welsh princes; but Dinas Brân is different in that it pre-dates the invaders by at least a couple of centuries and was the stronghold of the princes of Powys Fadog. The site, however, was occupied long before that with evidence of Iron Age earthworks and ditches at several points on the summit.

Castell Dinas Bran 11
Castell Dinas Bran 14
Castell Dinas Bran 12
Castell Dinas Bran 16

Legend has it that Brân, the Raven King of Welsh mythology, had his head buried on Tower Hill in London after he was killed in battle. Brân, together with the ravens of the tower, then lived on as the symbolic protectors of the kingdom. King Arthur, the legend continues, had Bran’s head removed and re-buried at Dinas Brân where it remains until this day. Another Arthurian legend suggests that the Holy Grail is buried somewhere on the hill.

I don’t know the truth behind any of these stories, but I suppose that’s the whole point of mythology. This landscape certainly provides fertile ground for the weaving of legends: Dinas Brân’s imposing setting above the valley is reminiscent of something out of Tolkien and the facts of the castle’s earliest days are lost to recorded history, which leaves us with just the tales we read in the Mabinogion.

But I know this place, it lives in my dreams. I never dream about my time at the school, but the dark, glowering hill which looms above it frequently haunts my slumbering journeys. I am drawn to the sight of the jagged teeth of its wind-blown ramparts, and in my dream the crow flies and then everything makes perfect sense.

We are archaeologists of our own past lives, curious observers prodding away at the cooling embers of what we once experienced. All is cold and dusty, beyond any hope of responding to a despairing breath. It’s six years since I last swam in the River Dee, one day I will allow myself to think about why I stopped. We are creatures who look for patterns, trying to connect disparate elements, unwilling to accept the randomness of reality.

This is a guest post by Julie Baptiste. Any views expressed are entirely those of the author, Psychogeographic Review accepts no responsibility… ever.

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