Reading Water: ink

Wood oakgall postcard sm7th January 2021

The banks of the Exe are lined with oaks, both majestic and tiny, and I am constantly finding acorns, of all sizes, newly fallen or blackened from years in the river’s mud. Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris include acorns in their ‘Lost Words’ spell book of poems and illustrations. Some of the acorns have galls from different species of wasp; I make oak gall ink for the first time and am so excited when it works.

It makes me think of a poem by Bruce Bond, called ‘Ink’ about the sacking of the library of Baghdad:


‘When, in the dark ages of the East,

the Mongols took the heart of the city

and poured in, room after room…

they loaded up the illuminated books,

the many wildflowers of Islam hand-sewn,

penned, edged in gold…’


‘…once a library fell into the Tigris,

and these waters, that are a widow’s friend,

ran black with ink, mile after mile.”

(‘Ink’ – Bruce Bond)


The Cathedral and St Nicholas’ Priory, among other places, would have had scholars scribing manuscripts in oak gall ink on vellum and decorating them with gold. The river is a conduit for learning, bringing in new ideas from all over the world.


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