‘The choice as a defensive site was perfect, the marshy land at the base was commanded by a 60 foot rise of Keuper rocks terminating in a small plateau about 300 feet above sea level … Not until the mediaeval period were the original defences augmented, in the case of the manor house, by two moats lying west and east of the site. These still remain to protect the Manor Farm which replaced Bildr’s original stockaded Thorpe.’
Bilsthorpe – A History; Bilsthorpe Heritage Society
We live in a very special, ancient place, perched on the side of hill with the old church as our near neighbour, and the remains of mediaeval moats at the top and bottom end of our field.
There’s a lot of local folklore about the house and land, from the Civil War going way back to its early Danish settlement past.
When we first bought the field (returning land to the farmhouse after a 10 year separation), I walked it over and over to get a sense of the history of the site as well as its suitability for a smallholding venture.
As I roamed the field at all times of day and night, many questions ran through my head: who first settled here? Were they warriors? What made them decide to make their home on this spot, and move from being invaders and restless conquerors to farmers, tied to the land? Was it an easy change? And how comparable was this to my own lifestyle shift from Managing Director to Poet/Smallholder – obviously no bloodshed involved in my case (well, not much!) but definite similarities in moving from a roving role to a more settled state of being, and a more reflective mind-set.
When I do readings from the folklore and history section of Reward for Winter, I often open with my poem ‘Bildr’s thorp’ to set the scene. It picks up on these themes of displacement and shifting perspectives – how to determine your own fate with the conscious decision to become something ‘other’. I’ve reimagined a scene at daybreak on the side of our hill, as a young boy runs from an early version of our farmhouse to playact being a Viking warrior like his ancestors, unwilling to rid himself of his genetic past even as his parents conscript him to a more safe and certain future:
He ran from the farm like he was learning to slay,
great grandfather's hounds snouting his heels
with low battle howls, an invisible axe twirling
through grass downhill to the ditch. The half-
remembered hearthtale of severed hands
hovered somewhere north, somewhere hard
and cold and red, somewhere near a shore
far from here, when boats were more
important than carts and jewels as big as
skimstones pinned the eyelids of the dead.
Nothing was owned or held, only wanted.
Movement was everything and settlement a
rumour of old age few would see, or wish for.
He ran from the softness of straw and the comfort
of cattle. He ran because his mother called him
darling, kept him closer than the hounds and
tighter than the bindings on his fox fur boots.
And as he ran, something small and fierce burned
through his chest until it burst on his tongue,
sprayed through the story of the morning in
one long eulalia, herald warrior in waiting
for a past buried under this rocky mound, safe
behind the ramparts of his father's steading.
Reward for Winter is available from Valley Press http://www.valleypressuk.com/book/15/reward_for_winter