Nestled into steep woods on the slopes of a Cotswold valley stands a manor house built of stone the colour of pale honey. It has tall chimneys and gothic windows and a walled garden full of vegetables and fruit trees and flowers. Its name is Hawkwood and it’s easy to imagine the hawks that once skimmed, or maybe still skim, through its dense green domain.
Last weekend, though, it was writers, not raptors, who gathered there, their prey those elusive moments of inspiration when a new idea strikes, or words ripple into alignment like a sudden movement in water, or an unexpected emotion tightens the throat.
If there were wings they were metaphorical, bearing thirty Dark Angels aloft on rising currents of comradeship, thermals of goodwill and gales of laughter. This was above all a gathering of friends, a weekend house party with a sequence of gentle literary games as conversation starters.
It was John Simmons’ idea to bring us all together in this magical place over the summer solstice weekend and pay homage to some of his favourite writers: Charles Darwin, John Berger, John le Carre, George Orwell, William Shakespeare, and not forgetting Laurie Lee who walked out that midsummer morning from his home village of Slad, over the hill and not so far away, a 45-minute ramble through sun-drenched woods and fields and lanes.
There was food and wine, and there was music too. The day began with it, a chant on the lawn below the house to bring everyone together for the day and invoke the spirits of Hawkwood, asking them to look kindly on our congregation. For those who gathered around the grand piano, in the late hours and in varying states of refreshment, to reprise the Beatles songbook, the day also ended with it.
And then there was conversation. On the first evening there was an explosion of connection in the lovely light-filled library where we gathered before dinner, as old friendships were renewed and new ones kindled. The connections strengthened swiftly and by the second morning, when we joined hands on the lawn after singing our day into life, we were truly enchanted, the sense of kinship almost overwhelming.
Hawkwood is a place that seems to draw on some deep wellspring of love. It’s there in the preparation and serving of the food, the tending of the gardens and grounds, the quiet, calm air that pervades the public rooms, the simple comfort of the bedrooms, and the easy welcoming manner of the staff. Perhaps it bubbles up through the spring below the house where local people come for a supply of pure water.
Dark Angels is also founded in love. Love of the connecting power of language, love of truth and decency and striving for meaning as pure and clear as the bubbling Hawkwood spring, love of the words and stories that allow us to express what matters to us most about being human.
Bring them together, Hawkwood and Dark Angels, and as we discovered at the weekend, something rare and alchemical transpires.
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