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On the southern edge of the Isle of Mull in the Inner Hebrides there is an arm of land, the Ross of Mull, that reaches out westwards towards the holy island of Iona. On the map, the end of this peninsula looks a little like a hand wearing mittens, or perhaps a cat’s paw reaching towards a mouse. The inlet between the hand and the thumb is Loch na Làthaich, and on the shores of the loch sits the village of Bunessan. This is a landscape defined by the brown-green of the hills and the grey-blue of the sky and sea. It is a beautiful landscape but also a harsh one, where crofters scraped out a precarious living. Bunessan village viewed from Lower Ardtun © JaneMcArtney [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons Just outside Bunessan is a stone monument commemorating a woman named Mary MacDonald. In some ways Mary’s life was unremarkable: in outline it was the same as hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other women who li
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Vaughan Williams appears frequently in my book  and has cropped up not a few times in this blog too, probably more than any other composer. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, he's one of my favourite composers. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, his influence on hymn music in England is enormous, thanks to his work as Music Editor of important books such as The English Hymnal and Songs of Praise . Some of the best-known hymn-tunes owe their success to RVW, and indeed many of them would not have become hymn-tunes at all if it had not been for him. Most of the folk-songs that he adapted for use as hymns were given names referring to the place where the tune was collected, so this means that his work is a rich source for someone who is interested in the link between the place and the music. While I was researching the book I contacted the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society for some information about the origins of FOREST GREEN . The Chairman of the Society, Simon Coo


I have not often been to Ireland, I am sorry to say, but whenever I have it has been a delightful experience. The first time was in 1984, when as a newly-graduated fresh-faced lanky youth I did a sailing trip starting and ending in Poole and taking in the Channel Islands and Brittany as well as Baltimore in the south-west of Ireland. Since then I have visited Dublin a handful of times, and visited places along the east coast including Howth, Dún Laoghaire, Wexford and the wonderful Carlingford Lough, right on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. In each case I have arrived by sailing boat, which perhaps contributes to the fact that the experience was in every case a delight. The profile picture of me that you can see on this blog was taken in Dublin. It is my first and - to date - only selfie. The expression on my face is a mixture of satisfaction with the haircut I have just had, and frustration with the fact that my friends insisted on eating at a pizza restaurant,

More book reviews please!

Many thanks to the two people who have reviewed my book on Amazon and Lulu, both of whom have kindly given me a five-star rating! It has also been favourably reviewed in the latest edition of the journal of the Vaughan Williams Society. I am also expecting a review to appear in the next issue of Church Music Quarterly, though I don't yet know if that will be favourable! If you have read and enjoyed the book, please do contribute a review on Amazon or Lulu - the more the merrier! If you haven't read the book, click on the link to get your hands on a copy for just £10 plus postage! I will continue to add to this blog from time to time, so if you haven't already done so do please enter your email address in the box opposite, to receive automatic notification when I post something here. This will not give me access to your email address. Thank you

Without a city wall: the ‘little towns' that inspired Passiontide and Easter hymn-tunes

'Hymn-tunes that are named after places' is a bit of a mouthful to say and a handful to type, so I've been trying to think of a single word that I can use instead. 'Toponhymn' suggests itself, but perhaps looks a little like a character from Gulliver's Travels . Do any readers have a suggestion? Assuming, of course, that there are some readers out there... A journey to the places that inspired the tunes is, I suppose, a 'hymnodyssey'. My journey this week must, of course, take in the little towns whose names are enshrined in Passiontide and Easter hymns.  HORSLEY Without thinking I set out (in my imagination, at least) for Horsley in Gloucestershire, hoping to find there some trace of the tune HORSLEY, which is used for C F Alexander's There is a green hill far away . The hill referred to in the hymn is, of course, Calvary, and the city wall is that of Jerusalem; but Mrs Alexander had the hills of Northern Ireland before her when she wrote t

Please review the book

Thank you to everyone who has read this blog and been encouraged to buy the book. If you have read and enjoyed the book, please could I ask you to write a review on Amazon and/or on . You don't have to write much, just a brief appreciation of the book, and a rating of one to five stars. Of course, in the interests of balance I should mention that you can also write a review if you didn't enjoy the book - but I hope there will be fewer of these! Thank you.

In the fen country

The Leys School is an independent school in Cambridge, founded in the 19th century by the Methodist Church. Its grounds are extensive and its red-brick buildings are handsome. It has an air of being a safe haven of learning, an atmosphere it shares with the colleges of the University. Notable alumni include the author J G Ballard, the journalist Martin Bell, tennis star Jamie Murray and assorted members of the Tongan royal family. Another former pupil was the author James Hilton, whose book Goodbye Mr Chips was made into a film starring Peter O'Toole. It tells the story of a teacher at an independent school in the Fens, presumably based on the Leys. The Leys School, Cambridge From 1953 to 1980 the music master at the Leys School was Kenneth Naylor. Naylor was born in Sunderland but educated in Bath at Kingswood School, before going on to read music at Magdalene College, Cambridge. He was the composer of a number of works, but for our purposes the most significant of the