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Llewelyn Powys’ 126th Birthday Party at East Chaldon

13th August 2010

 Neil Lee-Atkin

 

Llewelyn Powys’ 126th Birthday PartyThe Llewelyn Birthday Walk, incorporating the annual meeting of the Dandelion Club, (The Friends of Llewelyn Powys) took place on Friday August 13th when a happy throng of celebrants from far and wide gathered at noon at the Sailor’s Return in East Chaldon, to celebrate Llewelyn’s 126th birthday. 

 

Considering that this annual event, inaugerated in 1994 by John Batten, is free of any membership requirements and is open to all, it would be expected that attendances would fluctuate from year to year, and indeed they do; yet it is remarkable that on no less than ten of the previous fifteen occasions there has been the proverbial ‘Baker’s Dozen’ of us in attendance, and this year was no exception: `Thirteen Worthies’ once again constituted the birthday party!

 

The Dandelion Club welcomed new members Byron and Eirlys Ashton who had travelled from South Wales, and Sean and Debbie Lowe who had driven down overnight with me from Derbyshire, and it was good to renew old friendships with Ged Redman from Somerset and Richard Burleigh, and John and Jayne Sanders from Wellingborough. It was a nice surprise to find that Rosemary Dickens was well enough to attend and we were grateful to Dennis for driving her down from Salisbury, along with her father Norman, who at 93 is possibly the oldest person to walk up the hill from Chydyok to Llewelyn’s Stone high on Chaldon Down, and who surely deserves our heartiest congratulations on his achievement. Well done Norman! As those of us who are familiar with the long and sometimes steep climb up the uneven, rutted flint strewn track have discovered, the older one gets, the steeper it seems - and the greater the sense and feeling of triumph upon finally reaching the Stone …

 

Prior to the meeting several of us walked to the churchyard and paid our respects beside the small cluster of stone tablets, one of which bears the names of Valentine Ackland and Sylvia Townsend Warner, whilst another alongside marks the final resting place of Janet Pollock, with beside it the simple wooden cross bearing the initials K.P.

 

Back to the Sailor’s Return and Chris Gostick opened proceedings by welcoming everyone, and paying tribute to John Batten who first discovered the request in Llewelyn’s Will that … the sum of £100 be deposited at the Sailor’s Return, so that on the occasion of my birthday my friends may drink to my memory, and who instigated and led the first party to fulfil that request, but who sadly couldn’t be with us on this occasion, having been kidnapped by his grandchildren and spirited away to the Norfolk Broads for a fortnight. Apologies were also received from Rob and Honor Timlin who were absent owing to a last-minute family crisis, and our sincere good wishes were expressed in return.  Chris invited us to raise our glasses to Llewelyn’s memory, and we then drank a toast to 'absent friends’ before setting off over the village green towards Chydyok Road and the climb up and over Chalky Knapp to Llewelyn’s Stone high on Chaldon Down.

 

Nine of us paused and moved aside on the first steep climb up to Chalky Knapp to allow the car driven by Dennis to bump its way slowly past…… and looked enviously at Rosemary and Norman waving gleefully from the back seat as they disappeared up the track in a cloud of dust.

 

We gathered outside the gate at Chydyok and listened as Chris read an excerpt from The Diaries of Sylvia Townsend Warner (edited by Claire Harman, 1994) for the dates 1st to 3rd July 1961, which record an evocative weekend spent with Janet Machen shortly after Janet had taken over the lease at Chydyok: she writes of the horse-drawn hay-carts carrying the harvested barley, rattling down the lane in the late mid-summer twilight.

 

Chris paid a special tribute to Janet (Machen) Pollock whose leasing of Chydyok from the Weld Estates over a fifty year period, and generosity in renting it out, had allowed many of us the privilege of staying in Llewelyn and Alyse’s side of the house and experiencing its unique atmosphere. As he spoke we gazed up in admiration at the splendid new roof, wondered if the recent refurbishments had changed the atmosphere inside, and speculated about the cost of a week’s rental in what is now an upgraded and improved `holiday cottage’. Ged Redman also expressed concern about the whereabouts of Llewelyn’s iron ankh, which for many years had stood resplendent above the old fireplace in the front room and has now been removed.

 

The weather had been kind to us so far, but as we walked up over Tumbledown the storm clouds began to gather. The warm August sunshine disappeared and was replaced by a leaden sky as we crested the hilltop and went though the final gate onto the coastal footpath above Bat’s Head, with Portland still in clear view to the south-west. Fifteen minutes later as we turned the corner by the Obelisk Field and Llewelyn’s Stone came into view, Portland had completely disappeared as the first raindrops began to fall, and by the time everyone had gathered around the Stone and I had opened Elwin’s The Life of Llewelyn Powys’ to read from, the heavens opened and in seconds everything — and everyone — was soaked. There is no shelter from the elements on High Chaldon, so those of us who had the fortitude to bring coats quickly donned them, whilst those who didn’t got very wet indeed!  The rather hurried reading was taken from p. 192-3 of Malcolm Elwin’s The Life of Llewelyn Powys and consisted of a review of The Cradle of God by Percy Hutchinson, published in the New York Times Book Review in the late Autumn of 1939.  It concluded:

 

From the ranks of the many authors of the day possessing talent, possessing great talent, and using it greatly, Llewelyn Powys stands out as having little of talent, but as gripped by that rare and indefinable thing we call genius.

 

Granting the unsafeness of prophecy, it is all but safe to say that long after much of what is written today has passed to dust and been forgotten, page after page of this Dorsetshire poet who writes in prose will claim literary attention, as many writers of the past claim attention still, for understanding and for strange beauty of utterance.

 

An about-turn and swift retreat ensued as the final words were spoken and the rain chased us away, ceasing only when Chydyok came into view as we crested Tumbledown and started down the track back to East Chaldon. Richard Burleigh had gallantly held the fort in our absence and welcomed us warmly back to the Sailor’s Return where, wet and somewhat bedraggled, we reflected happily on the day’s events, before saying our goodbyes and pledging to meet again one year hence, once more to raise a glass in memory of Llewelyn Powys, and to share the pleasure of renewed friendships.

From The Powys Society Newsletter, No 71, Nov 2010

Neil Lee-Atkin

Llewelyn Walk -125th Anniversary, August 2009

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