Clare Viner

The Beginning

Hello, I’m Clare. I’m setting off this week on a journey to discover and weave stories about the River Culm.

The preparation began a few weeks ago with some webinars made by the Connecting the Culm team. One particularly inspired me with Rob Hopkins asking the question, ‘What if….’ He invited participants to use their imaginations – unedited – to vision a world, and in this case, a River, as we would really love it to be – no buts, just an open door. My ‘What if…’ was ‘What if we have the power to believe in beauty’…I want the river to be really seen as beautiful, precious, again, humming and buzzing and wriggling with life – nourishing and inspiring both the human and the natural world.

And if we can start to see it that way, in our imaginations, we take a step towards making it a possibility. So this week I’ve been seeking to get a general overview of the whole river – to ‘see’ it both in my imagination and in reality.


I had a fascinating conversation with Marine Archaeologist Antony Firth. He encouraged me to think about the relationships in the landscape between one thing and another. We talked about the constant movement that has always been going on in the land for thousands of years. The flow of people, boats, plants, creatures and water. How sometimes us humans work with what is there and sometimes we seek to change it.

He told me about five holy wells that have been identified along the river. I like stories about wells – wells are sources of fresh drinking water but also remind us of something ancient, mysterious. The wells are all ‘Eye Wells’ as far as is known. Eyes – are how we see, perceive the world. I’m wondering, what does the River what us to See right now?

And he mentioned a book, ‘River Kings’ by Cat Jarman. I’ve started reading it and there’s a very injured Viking warrior at the beginning. He’s reminding me about some of the warriors, maybe King Arthurs warriors, fierce tribal men who fought against Saxon invaders on the Blackdown hills.

Antony reminded me about maps! Ah, maps – are such a wonderful tool for a storyteller! And he mentioned the possibility of a ceremonial or very ancient pathway between Killerton and Rewe. And as I look at the maps, the questions begin……Why? Why Killerton to Rewe? Why is there said to be a Dragon at Killerton that flies to Cadbury? Why is the church in Cullompton dedicated to St Andrew? Why are there so many hints at Arthurian legends?…..and more

A vintage map showing a section of a river and field boundariesLidar data showing former catchwork system near Sampford Peverell scaled
Jewelry - a pearl necklaceThree horses in a fieldPool of water in a horses hoof imprintClose up shot of horse head & eye

To the Source

Yesterday I set out on a field trip – to the source of the Culm – always good to start at the beginning. A pearl – a string of pearls. As I rushed out of the house, I glanced at my chaotic sitting room, strewn with OS maps, pens, pencils and my totally not to scale ‘Storymap’ – it’s helping me to organise my ideas and possible stories as they rise up. But there, in the middle of pens, with a lump of gunk stuck to the back, was a pearl earring I thought I’d lost. I picked it up carefully, turning it over in my hand. How did it get here? I was reminded about the novel, ‘Perlycross’ by RD Blackmore, about the River Culm. He describes Hemyock, Culmstock and Uffculme as being like pearls on a string…..It’s a tenuous link…but I like it….

The Holman Clavel and Horses

I realised that I’ve been very close to the source of the Culm before, because there is a pub at Culmhead called ‘The Holman Clavel’. In my book ‘The Emerald Dragon’ I touched on the story about a ghost who is said to haunt this pub, Chimberly Charlie. I’ve always known there is magic on the Blackdown Hills – I get lost nearly every time I go there, and I go often! I rarely get lost in other places. But there are tales of people being ‘pixie led’ here. Chimberly Charlie and the very mysterious stories about him are all part of the magic. More about him later.

Yesterday as I walked up to the source, it seemed to be guarded by three horses. They came right up to me, one pushing her head into my chest, once she’d checked me out, as if to say, ‘You can go now’. I was reminded that in folklore Dragons and Horses are often linked, both seen as Primal Ancestors, going right back to our early history, both with their powerful strong necks. I was also intrigued to see that the only evidence of water in the field, just a stones’ throw away from the pub, was in clear pools made by the deep indentations of horses hooves. Like the Dragon, the horses are maybe guarding the very beginning of this river, holding her waters.

In the pub the really friendly staff, especially, Tamar, told me about the history of the building. For a long time people rode up on horses, leaving them in stables while they went in to drink. And there used to be a bowling alley, which is now a storage space, where the ghost of Chimberly Charlie used to join in with the games. Tamar took me into this space and it made me shiver! Goose bumps all along my arms…And yet, the pub felt so welcoming, Tamar brought me a really delicious mackerel salad. I had a feeling of wanting to stay, that I could just walk and eat and write in this place for a long time and be very happy. The source…something powerful here…it’s not immediately obvious, just a boggy field on first view, but if you don’t believe me, go and have lunch at the pub, take a bit of time, chat to people there, venture past the geese and into the horses field, brave the stinging nettles and the soggy mud, pause a moment, look into your reflection in the water, the little puddles made by the horses hooves.

Cullompton, St Andrews, Weaving and the song of the Mermaid mothers

And then I stopped in Cullompton on the way back to Exeter. Here the Culm flows with a busy road by her side. It felt a bit shocking. I met a family feeding the ducks and I wanted the traffic to go away – and knew I was also part of it. I wanted to visit St Andrew’s church. St Andrew is one of the apostles or friends of Jesus in the Bible stories. But I’m interested that he was chosen for the church dedication here, as Andrew was a fisherman. I remembered that Jesus said ‘Let us be Fishers of Men’. It seems likely that the Culm was used for fishing for a very long time. It also reminds me of an Arthurian story called ‘The Fisher King’ – which makes me think of Kingfishers…the workings of a story seekers mind!

In Cullompton I felt a connection with the wooden trade, I walked past a converted mill – and a beautifully croquet hat on a letter box! I liked the reference outside the church (which was sadly locked – another visit needed) to the name of Cullompton being recorded in the 800s as Culm tune- Ha! I thought, the tune of the Culm, the song of the river. This took my thoughts back to the pearl and the mermaids.

All the way home I sang what I imagined to be a sewing songs, the songs passed down from mother to daughter to son, as the clothes were woven or the fishing nets mended. Next week to Clayhiden to learn more about the Pixies here, the Springline Mire at Simonsburrow, Battle Street and Geriant, the Arthurian hero, Hemyock, St Margaret and the first clear Dragon clue…

The top of a post box with a knitted 'hat' on itDucks swimming in the riverDuck house on the Culm next to the main road in CullomptonPost it note on a post box which reads "I hope this brightens up your day" - the post box has a knitted hat on it

Read Clare’s blogs from other weeks here.