I had seen North Devon regularly (albeit at a distance) ever since I started going to Beyond the Border www.beyondtheborder.com in1993. On a clear day you can see the North Devon cliffs across the Severn Estuary from the lawn in front of St. Donat’s Castle but it has taken me twenty years to actually visit them. By a neat symmetry it is ten years since Lynne, Stacey and myself were commissioned by David Ambrose, the festival director, to prepare a version of Culhwch and Olwen and five years since we started to tour the revamped version Hunting the Giant’s Daughter which has brought us here.
This trip took us through the farmland and moors that I had expected but the real excitement came when we scaled the slope down to the sea with hairpin bends all the way, through thick oak woodland and the smell of the van’s brakes filling the cab.
We were made more than welcome by the people we met and thoroughly looked after and spoilt, as ever. It seems that in this part of the world home-made cake seems to take a prominent part in social interaction – well it seemed rude to refuse!
This was the first time we had run workshops for schools based on the themes in the show in communities where we would be performing and we had a higher percentage of young people (some very young!) than ever before. The quality of their listening and participation was quite different to what I had experienced before with a rapt attention and recognition that was both deep and playful. They also sat together in their own group and were able to combine high spirits with an appreciation that they were part of a larger listening group.
Another first was our storywalk to Heddon’s Mouth (a venture facilitated by our rural touring partners Beaford Arts) which was a shortened version of the show told in selected locations along the path from the Hunters Inn down to the sea (a fork in the road; in the shade of giant beech trees by a small lake; between two oak trees beside a field; leaning on a near horizontal branch of an oak just off the path; a grassy area by a wooden bridge and a little natural stone shelter by the cliffs). The biggest treat for me was telling the Oldest Animals in an oak woodland with most of the audience touching, holding on to, or leaning on the trees and actually becoming part of the landscape.