I spent this Bank Holiday weekend as a guest of the British Druid Order at their hideaway in Shropshire. My brief? To bard about, playing tunes and songs in the valley and round the fire, and to teach the odd Breton dance or two. Robin Williamson (who, to my mind at least, has the greatest claim to being the Chief Bard of Britain, the Nightingale, if such a title existed) was their guest the weekend before. It was an honour to be following in his footsteps. (Indeed, when I began my musical journey and picked up my first instrument, the tin whistle, it was Robin Williamson's warm and encouraging Penny Whistle Book that got me started - he set me on my way and consequently I owe him a lot.)
I was also booked to do a late night set on the Saturday and when I discovered that they'd recently finished building a replica Iron Age Roundhouse there was no choice: I knew that was where I wanted to play.
The building nestles in the woods.
Apart from the doors, which I think are made from reclaimed timber, all the structural materials are local with poles and clay taken from the surrounding woods. The thatch is made from specially sourced ancient varieties of wheat: the BDO volunteers sowed, harvested, threshed and prepared it all themselves. From start to finish the project took about two years to complete.
The round house looks more like a person than a thing.
It's rather dark inside and so hard to take photos, or indeed to capture the atmosphere. But at night with the fire lit, smoke rising up and disappearing through the blackened recesses of the ceiling, and the light just revealing the outlines of the audience, it's hard not to feel time slipping away. A house of the spirits, the air crackles. You are inside and outside all at once (a bit like bardism itself, which begins to make sense in such a place). I felt myself taken as I sang. The room shifted and we were away.
The only problem is that now I want one, not to live in, but to sit and ponder and sleep and dream. There really is no better place to play.