Sunday, June 29, 2014

Wild swim at Gaddings Dam, Todmorden

On the website of the Gaddings Dam Group they describe the path to Gaddings Dam as “a steep, poorly defined footpath.” This doesn’t really get across the effort involved here or give you any indication of exactly how long it will take someone to hike up to the dam while toting an overstretched old carrier bag full of buckets and spades and jollying understandably hesitant three and six-year-old girls up what is definitely the biggest hill they’ve ever climbed. The answer: approximately 30 minutes. At the top be sure to point out your car which is now a tiny speck, parked outside the Shepherd’s Rest pub (not great, nice play area.) Pack a picnic and whatever else you think you’ll need because there's nothing but water and rocks and bleakness up there.

Gaddings Dam is billed as the highest beach in England. This is kind of a joke, but there’s enough sand to amuse a bunch of children and provide a soft place to sit in what would otherwise be a rocky, inhospitable moorland setting. The dam is a stone bowl of cold, clear, black water at the top of the moors. An industrial reservoir built in the early 19th Century, it was purchased in 2001 by a collective who preserve it to be enjoyed by the people of Todmorden and the surrounding towns. When you dive in the water actually smells like ozone, like the sidewalk after a summer thunderstorm, and it brings home the fact that you’re swimming in rainwater that’s probably closer to its original source than anywhere you’ve ever swum before.

On a hot sunny day in June the water was plenty warm enough to go without a wetsuit, but I pretty much always think that and am aware that other people have different ideas about what is and isn’t too cold. The reservoir is a very quiet place – all you can hear is the occasional bleat from a lamb somewhere on the fells and the soft lap of water against the stone. There are cows actually standing in the water at the far end, but at 4 square acres it’s a pretty big body of water, so don’t let that faze you. After you’ve swum, be sure to allow some time for lying in the long grass in the adjacent meadow and gazing in awe at the incredible views dropping down across the Calder Valley – cloud shadows and green hills and pastures disappearing into the haze. Weirdly, dam base camp is accessible by public transport, though with one bus an hour heading up Lumbutts Road it’d require crack timing. Highly recommended.

Monday, June 09, 2014

First Draft and Next Draft

First Draft is good. It's a Manchester-based cabaret event, with people performing music, poetry, stories, comic monologues and short plays on the same stage. Great idea that. One format nights are all very well, but for those audience members with shorter attention spans (hand going up) changing up the kind of work being performed can really help keep things engaging. Your brain does sometimes start to wander a bit after the fifth flash fictioneer takes the stage, or the seventh slam poet, no matter how fantastic they might individually be, and that's only natural.

The idea is that this really is the first place to perform stuff that's still very fresh, so there's an off-the-cuff, low-risk feeling about it that can be quite freeing. The organisers (including the lovely Abi Hynes, above) work very hard putting the regular night together, and they really took on a big project with last month's Next Draft: a two-day event at the King's Arms produced with Studio Salford, aimed at giving past performers a chance to perform works that were a bit further along in its development.

I went along and enjoyed Jez Hewes and Andrew Williamson's daft mashup of three songs, a lovely nonfiction essay from Nija Dalal, a funny performance from Anjali Shah, a cheesy story from Fat Roland and Faro Productions' one-woman play about the fascinating Mata Hari. Unfortunately I had to leave before the second half so missed out on Papermash Theatre’s Happy Birthday Without You, from playwright and performer Sonia Jalaly. But they're back to their bi-monthly-ish slot at The Castle next Monday night with a fresh batch of performers ready to rise to the Empyrean heights of the challenge set by the theme 'Songs of Praise.' Come along, or get in touch if you're interested in performing here, the next one's in August.