Monday, 30 May 2016


Phil Smith heading into the woods

Some walkers and Phil on the stony beach

empty 1930s swimming pool 
ready to roll
Yesterday I went on an artist walk in the Dartington estate led by the Mythogeographer also known as Phil Smith. The event was organised by artdotearth. Just a small group of people gathered at the car park of Schumacher College and walked from there into North Wood, a plantation of huge conifers that must have been started in the 1920s, a wonderful space with giant red trunks pushing up to the sky. Here and there in the wood are various handmade structures, frames of shelters, gathering places with seating, odd sheds, and what looked like a Jules Verne space ship stuck up in a tree. We walked around North Wood and Newground Plantation, taking a meandering route, sometimes into patches of deciduous trees with undergrowth of ground elder, wild garlic, ferns, nettles, brambles, and bluebells now past their best; there was no undergrowth beneath the conifers, just a deep mulch of needles.
     We walked into Stillpool Coppice and Staverton Ford Plantation getting down onto the stony beach at Staverton Ford on the river Dart where there was a group of youngsters playing games by the water and cooking a barbecue. We walked close to the estate boundary on the edge of farmland and woodland, following the route of the river Dart and then taking a path in towards the centre that joined Warren lane and then past Chimmels, Blacklers, The Hexagon, Aller Park and into Blackler's Copse. It took two and a half hours to go round. All of the woodland walk, the bathing place on the Dart, and the path at the edge of the boundary wall was new to me, though I recognised the buildings at the end where some of my friends used to have offices when Dartington College was still in existence. I've given various readings and performances in Dartington, invited at different times by Caroline Bergvall and Larry Lynch, and a Dartington Space residency event in 2012.
     So the walk was rewarding because I got to see more of the Dartington estate but the main interest was Phil Smith's mythic reading of the landscape, first of all in terms twentieth-century Utopian experiments and then thinking about different aspects of the history and prehistory of the area. This was coloured by Phil's own experience of the place, since he was a teacher of performance for a time at the college, working with different groups of students, mostly outside in the landscape. So the various locations we went to had been the scene of student performances some time back. The ford was particularly rich as a location and I was much impressed with the empty swimming pool at Aller Park. We joined in with a number of low key workshop-type things (that I won't report on here) as we went round the walk and Phil is an excellent leader and storyteller guide to the landscape. It was good to see friends Richard Povall and Nancy Sinclair along with the other participants.