It Was Like This

Performance and artefact.

‘It was like this…’ is the account of a place as experienced navigating its coastal boundaries, canals and hidden watercourses: A revelatory journey by kayak, aided and formed by local legends, oral storytelling, and St Eanswythe herself. This project combines documentation of real events and real myths to explore the role of story in the identity of a place.

Beginning with a number of ad-hoc performances in September 2021, and culminating in a live lecture at Urban Room Folkestone in October. Updates about the project, including documentation, dates and times will be posted to this page as well as social media.

This project is generously supported by Folkestone Fringe, funded by Arts Council England

UPCOMING DATES: The kayak is currently making ad-hoc intermittent journeys around Folkestone’s waterways. Keep your eyes peeled around water and you may see it. Details and times of live events to follow as the project progresses.

October 19-24 – Exhibition, Urban Room Folkestone

October 21, 6pm – End of project performance lecture, Urban Room Folkestone

DOCUMENTATION:

Document 1:

I had heard stories about the town I had never corroborated, histories and secrets that were almost too strange to be real but seemed so much a part of what the place was and what it meant to be a part of Folkestone.

The hidden waterways like the Pent Stream, St Eanswythe’s Water, and other routes fascinated me. Some said Eanswythe’s water was dried up (if it had ever existed). Others said it was built centuries later to support the story, and that the Bayle pond was all that the public could reach anymore.

It was in basements that I began to see for myself, water running below the ground in Folkestone; and to my disbelief, some streams that seemed to flow against the current. Reminiscent of the stories of St Eanswythe, and the spring she made flow uphill toward the priory. I began to wonder if there might be ways to access these routes. So I began my search around the outflow of the Pent, amongst the boats that bob about in the harbour alongside Triennial artpieces, keeping their difficult balance between what was, is and will be. All of folkestone flows down to here, it seems as good a place as any to begin searching.

As something of a gesture, I painted Eanswythe’s icon on the boat, and a motif of geese in homage to one of her miracles. I am not sure what lead me to paint this, some quiet impulse. Perhaps I have spent too long in research, in listening to these stories and clinging to scraps of evidence. Perhaps some part of me thought finding these routes was as much an act of ritual as study.

This first search turned up nothing – nothing tangible anyway. But I feel a deeper connection to the stories now. I dont know if I can describe it adequately, but I feel as if some greater perception of the life of this place is awakening. It is still unclear, but I feel as if I am on the edge of epiphany and I will find an entrance to the hidden waterways beneath the town.

DOCUMENT 2 –

Many of the stories and folkloric tales of this town come back to the idea of approaching Folkestone from the sea. Whomever the folk were that originally met at the stone and gave the place a name must have come from somewhere. Eanswythe too would have originally come to Folkestone from further north in Kent, but her Jutish ancestors would have come from Europe, making journeys not like the belgian war-time refugees, or the modern day refugees that still make their difficult passage across brutal waves.

Franzoni, Fredo; Landing of the Belgian Refugees; Folkestone Library

Thats why I took to the open water, setting off from a stony beach below Eanswythe’s church, and a location I took to have been not far from the location of the original priory. Before ruin and waves took that of course. I thought that it made sense to try and understand the perspective that backgrounds many of the tales.

I am not a confident paddler, and so there was some worry about the idea of heading away from the land – not to mention that I was not going to rediscover the entrance to any hidden waterway across the gull’s road. But before I embarked on this journey Eanswythe appeared to me in a dream, and instructed me to paint boars around the hatch of the kayak, to protect me as I went. That was a strange thing for a Christian saint to instruct I thought, to reference a totemic creature of her father’s beliefs. But then the intervening years do tend to make history more simple. And in my experience belief is never simple.

The Kayak before the second trip.

After a short time getting used to the waves (it was a choppy day on the water) – I struck out past the sheltered beach into the open sea. Each stroke dragged me further from land. Sea foam licked around the paddle and hissed like nicaras awaiting a meal. It was at this point that all I could really think about was that this wasn’t really the right kind of boat to take out this far.

A cormorant landed on the water ahead, and seemed to be watching. So I headed for it. It kept its distance but lead me on. I soon found my bow turned back toward Eanswythe’s church though I’d hardly felt the boat turning. The church tower on the high cliff looked small from that distance, and the cliff became thin. All of Folkestone was small, like a jewel. Eventually the bird lead me back in safely to the beach, and sat on a post at the end of the rocks as it watched me drag the kayak up the beach. As I did this I wondered to myself if there was really any point in looking for these stories -i’d found nothing! But, I felt grateful that I was at least back on land. Somehow Folkestone’s soil felt more like home than ever, now that it equalled safety.

Before I left I left I thanked the bird, and the strangest thing happened, it shook out its feathers then bowed low as if it understood it was being addressed.

DOCUMENT 3 – coming soon, check back regularly for new updates.