Solvitur Ambulando

The 16th September is the day the church celebrates St Ninian.

There’s a wall picture of him in St Michael’s Church.

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St Bede writes this in Chapter 4 of his Ecclesiastical History:

In 565AD when Justin the younger, the successor of Justinian, ruled the Roman empire, there came to Britain a renowned priest and abbot, a true monk by habit and by life, whose name was Columba. He came to preach the word of God in the kingdoms of the northern Picts, who are separated from the southern parts by steep and rugged mountains. It is said that the southern Picts, who live on this side of those mountains, had long before forsaken the errors of idolatry and embraced the truth, by the preaching of Ninian, a most revered and holy man of the British nation, who had received orthodox teaching at Rome, in the faith and mysteries of the truth. His episcopal see is famous for its church dedicated to St Martin the bishop, where he and many other saints are buried; it is now held by the English. The place belongs to the kingdom of Bernicia, and is generally called the White House [Whithorn], because Ninian built a church of stone there which was not usual among the Britons.

Ninian was probably born about 360 in Galloway and as Bede says, he was educated in Rome. Tradition holds that Pope Damasus trained him, and after he died, his successor, St Siricus consecrated St Ninian as Bishop and commissioned him to return to Britain. As he travelled back through France he visited Marmoutiers, having heard of the great work being done by St Martin de Tours (316-397). Ninian stayed at the abbey and became friends with St Martin, from whom he absorbed the teaching of the desert fathers, and particularly St Antony. When he returned to Scotland at the beginning of the 5C he was accompanied by masons from France who helped him build his church. Instead of the usual wooden structure, Ninian built a stone building, which was whitewashed and named Candida Casa. Recent archaeological excavations have found remnants of a white plastered wall which could possibly be from the first church and community at what is now called Whithorn. This was just the time of the withdrawal in 410 of the three Roman legions, taken to defend the Rhine border – the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire and its cultural hegemony in Britain. It is also the time when St Augustine of Hippo was living and writing. There’s not very much about Ninian, apart from the passage from Bede above, and also a biography of him written by Aelred in the 12C, and a Life by the Archbishop of Armagh, James Ussher, written in 1639, where he claimed that Ninian died on 16 September 432.

The remains at Whithorn give evidence that Ninian was a key figure in the first establishment of Christianity in these regions. Butler, in his Lives of the Saints tells us that ‘from it St Ninian and his monks set out not only to preach to the Britons of the neighbourhood but also to the Picts of the former Roman province of Valentia; they may even have penetrated to the northern Picts beyond the Grampians. The mission received an impetus from Ninian’s cure of the blindness and subsequent conversion of a local chieftain. The Britons and Picts were baptised in large numbers and Ninian consecrated bishops to minister to them.  Through the foundation of Whithorn, St Ninian’s effect on Celtic Christianity was considerable … he paved the way for St Columba and St Kentigern.’

Here’s a map of churches dedicated to St Ninian, all through Scotland.

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It didn’t look like he came down into Cumbria, but I wonder if, subsequently, Christian folk here made their way to his shrine.

As I look across the Solway Firth to Galloway, I’m keen to make pilgrimage to Whithorn. I’ve never been. I also wonder whether there was any pilgrimage traditions around this coast, taking in the many crosses that pepper the map from Black Combe to Bootle, to Waberthwaite, to Ravenglass (an ancient Roman port), to Irton, then Shelagh’s wonderful cross at Gosforth, Egremont, St Bees, Whitehaven, Workington, and Maryport. Perhaps from the port dedicated to St Mary they crossed to Whithorn to venerate St Ninian. Who knows? Whithorn is tantalizingly close, across the Solway. Here’s the sunset over where it is, taken as we drove, one time, back from Loweswater.

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There’s a story about the monks of the religious community that was originally where St Michael’s Church is today, which had been founded by Cuthbert from Lindisfarne.  One time the monks attempted to cross to Ireland, but they met with disaster as a gale blew up, and the Lindisfarne Gospels they were carrying were lost overboard. The monks were forced back to shore. Tradition says that the Gospels, which were probably inside a wooden box, were discovered water-stained but safe in the sea near Ninian’s Candida Casa at Whithorn.

Making pilgrimage. Making tracks and paths. Walking.

Walking is something to write about these days. Lots of books written about it.

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I love the thought of Solvitur Ambulando – “It is solved by walking.”

Perhaps first coined when Diogenes walked out on Zeno, as the latter contemplated the philosophical problem of the reality of motion, thus proving that it is indeed solved by walking. Then St Augustine of Hippo is meant to have written about it – which has prompted me to read The Confessions again, in the hope of finding where (does anyone know?)

Soren Kierkegaard wrote somewhere (and quoted by Ian Bradley in his book Pilgrimage, p. 75)

Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Every day I walk myself into a state of well being and walk away every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. If one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right. 

Walking – like narrowboating – takes you along at three miles an hour. Slow enough to absorb our environment, fast enough to get us somewhere, eventually. With attention to your horizons, and attention to your feet, it holds together the right and left hemisphere and makes us whole.

16 September also happens to be my birthday. After lunch with Tilda and Jonty, we walked from Ravenglass along the estuary – not far, as Peter and I needed to be back for evensong. We walked.

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Jonty sailed.

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The light was wonderful.

The path took us through the marshes and onto the pebbles and mud.

There’s a great passage from the prophecy of Isaiah that ends with the words:

And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’ Isaiah 30: 8-21

This is the way, walk in it.

We are path-makers. It doesn’t take long to create a path. It’s been formed by use; by folk walking it regularly, tracing the footprints of others. I give thanks for paths, and for those who create them. For the fact that they come and go, over the terrain, appearing and disappearing over time as people need them. A gift for all of us, to guide our feet.  Using a path is a communal activity. Of course, we could all branch out and forge our own way over the ground. And sometimes we have to – the first along a path will have done this – whether around a field on the outskirts of a town, or over a hill, or a mountain, or one of the long, old paths that criss-cross our land – the Ickneild Way, the Coast to Coast, the Cumbrian Way. Robert MacFarlane’s book The Old Ways explores ancient paths over land and sea. A fascinating account of how humans interact with their natural environment, marking, and being shaped, by the land.  For once a path is there, we will naturally follow it, pleased to be spared the trouble of treading down nettles and docks, avoiding trees and brambles. Glad that we don’t need to concentrate completely on where our next footstep will be, but able to look up, and enjoy the scenery, or study the weather. This is the way. Walk in it. We have others to thank, and then we also contribute to the making of a path, its history.

It’s a powerful metaphor for life: that our individual journeys from birth to death are shaped by others; that we follow in the footsteps of others. Yes, occasionally we will branch out, we must branch out, and cross unmarked territory; but on the whole we tread well-worn paths. One of those who branched out was the founder of our faith, our Lord Jesus Christ, who showed us a new way to understand God, and God’s love for us, forgiving and reconciling us. It’s no accident that Jesus said of himself that he is the way, the truth and the life, for he was encouraging his followers to take the way, to follow the path that he himself laid out. A path, a way that leads to eternal life, by way of the cross. As we make our way along that road, we listen to the word which guides us, which helps us to see when we deviate, to the right, or to the left.

The world can seem a wilderness at times. A place of confusing cul-de-sacs and empty promises. We can struggle to find our way through life, and find it difficult to encourage others, particularly young people, to live fruitful and meaningful lives. This is the way; walk in it. The way of our lives, from birth to death. Accompanied by the Holy Spirit, we follow the way, the truth and the life, Jesus Christ. Christ who guides us from God, to God.

Peter and I did a glorious walk on Saturday morning from Rydal Hall, along the Old Coffin Road along Rydal Water until we were above Grasmere, and then up Loughrigg Fell.

Stunning views. Peter said this was one of William Wordsworth’s favourite spots.

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as he walked up from Rydal Mount, where he lived from 1813 to his death in 1850.

We climbed above Grasmere

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and saw Windermere from the top of Loughrigg Fell.

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One of the few swallows still with us swooped below, among the meadow pipits, and wheatears.

On our way down we explored the old slate mine

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We passed a tree stump that had been covered in coins – why?

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More fungi

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and conkers

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and oak leaves

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… Autumn is here.

I’d been there to teach the evening before – indeed, I think the first time the revised and expanded Theological Reflection: Methods book has had an airing, pre-publication!

The grounds have a wonderful little chapel where Peter and I said morning prayer on Saturday, with a waterfall through the window

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– captured in oils on the dining room wall.

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An angel, too,

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by Shawn Williamson, painted here by Josefina de Vasconcellos in 1987, with whom he collaborated as assistant in Ambleside. The stone for the angel comes from York Minster, and was made by Williamson in 2007-2009.

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Rydal Hall looked after us well.

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Back to this coast which stretches, in my mind, from Black Combe, near Millom, to Workington.

It’s Norman Nicholson country, caught between the mountains and the sea. More about him in another blog to follow.

One winter Peter and I did the same walk up Black Combe on two consecutive days, on 10 and 11 January 2013. We were interested in whether we would see the same things. I wrote a pair of poems to describe what we experienced.

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Here’s the first, dated 11 January 2013

We walked Black Combe from Whitbeck yesterday.
Above the road, a newish path through bramble
And bracken to Whicham where Wainwright’s path,
The carpet slipper one, begins. Long rambled,
Foot trod, it takes you to the top. Or not quite;
Bypassing the trig point in haste to be gone down
Again, or off to those distant hills; the Gable, Old Man,
Esk Hause, Scafell Pike. It pays off, this relentless route.
Or did for us. Clear above the haar that up the Valley came
The sea to west, the mountains east, a flock of golden
Plovers and silence like you never heard before.
Christmas cake at that familiar cairn
And before we got too cold we strode, Bootle
Town below, sweeping down on cracking ice
Above the loamy bog until the lovely green velvet
Road, the ancient road, corralled us down
To that distinctive field. Then left. We contoured round
Following the wall over becks and passed the old
Derelict farm that once was grand. A fell cottage.
Hollies, old thorns, stoved-in dinghy, intriguing;
With its windows and its padlocked door, it seduced
Us. We wondered to whom it belonged. Would they
Sell? But we’ve fantasied like this before.
The Combe from here allows you in now
And then as steep-cut becks sheet their white
Way down and leave one imagining what was
The top, so secret now. Whitbeck Mill, fire embers
Smoking hot. And then a micro-climate; a garden full
Of flowers: unseasonable periwinkle, lily, wallflower,
Cyclamen, all out. Puddles, potholes underfoot, and
Please don’t let your dog foul this lane.
The church, St Mary’s, full of residents who once
Lived in those farms and houses we’ve just passed.
Snowdrops. Churchyard celandine, daffodils a promise.
We walk in faith and knowledge this path today. Wondering
The difference. It traces itself in memory; does it remember
Us? What do we know that can’t be known elsewhere?
We shall walk this route, we said, every day, when we retire.  

And now the second:

The following day we sat in bed and decided
To walk Black Combe again. To retrace our steps
To see if the hill remembered us. Colder, and cloud.
Both in a different mood, we argued; one wanted to take
The high route; the other to follow yesterday’s path.
We did. Resistance, internal, when you know
What’s ahead; anticipating the steep places, forgetting
The joy. We walked in cloud, more slowly; comparing
our tracks, matching our prints. Displaced rocks still
displaced; orange peel freshly dropped. The dog
happier, less timid. My blackthorn stick, old, familiar,
forgotten the day before. Purple leather gloves restricted
my grip causing muscle ache, upper arm. We met two men
as we emerged from the cloud. Glorious, glorious.
White waves of cloud below, we flew above, on
Upward; that steep last pull; and then again the cairn;
The view: big hills like islands in a sea of white.
The last of the Christmas cake and an orange for lunch
And the cloud again. No Bootle; sheep bounding away
In the mist. We drank again at Holegill beck, under the
Sycamore trees, and paused again at that old Fell
Cottage. This time the fantasy stronger. What if? Should
We ask at the farm? At Monk Foss Farm? (We later gather
That no, the Wilsons don’t own it; a hermit, Rigby, once lived there.)
This time we detoured above Whitbeck Mill to discover the pond.
The black hill, tickled lightly, that we’d returned. I’ve seen
It shudder, violently, moodily; stirred by ancient memory.

Perhaps one day I’ll organise a pilgrimage from Black Combe to Whithorn. With Norman Nicholson poetry, and stopping in churches and at crosses along the way, it could be a great event. Arriving at Whithorn for St Ninian’s day. We’d need to charter a boat across from Workington. The seas would need to behave. Or we would need Jesus in the boat, stilling the storm.

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Oxford, Ely, Ponds and Fungi

Peter is in Northumbria, on a mission to the North East, with the Diocese. He was on Lindisfarne last evening, and met with folk and old friends – including Pete, now Bishop of Sheffield. He also fell into conversation with Bishop John Packer, who used to be archdeacon of West Cumberland – at the time of the fire at St Michael’s Church in 1994. Bishop John was wearing a wooden cross – and Peter was thrilled to hear it had been made from wood from the remains of the Church, made by Malcolm Stilwell, a local priest here in Workington. Bishop John says he wears it all the time.

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With Peter away, some peace and quiet and the chance to blog, after a while.

He’s not the only one to be off and away. I’m now back in Workington after a jaunt to Oxford for the Maude Royden dinner.

Who was Maude Royden? A devout Anglican all her life, born in 1876, by 1913 she was campaigning for women to be ordained in the Anglican Church, having already helped establish the Church League for Women’s Suffrage in 1909.

After the First World War, campaigning resumed in all seriousness against the Anglican Church’s refusal to consider women’s participation in Church Councils above parish level. Maude argued that given their work as missionaries, women should have an equal voice – and not only that, priesthood was the only thing that would do in the long run.

At William Temple’s suggestion (he was then Rector of St James’ Piccadilly) Maude was appointed to the council of the National Mission of Repentance and Hope, formed of Missioners, men and women, who were to speak to groups to inspire and re-kindle faith. Archbishop Davidson said each bishop should decide how women Missioners should speak. Winnington-Ingram, Bishop of London, said he would only permit women to speak in church if there were no other suitable place, only while the Mission was taking place, and only to women and girls in the aisle in front of the chancel step.  The Bishop of Chelmsford said he would not sanction women to do even this and the Bishop of London changed his mind and followed suit. This was only a hundred years ago.

Maude continued through her life, campaigning and arguing for women in the priesthood, and today the Maude Royden Club meets on an annual basis, made up of equal members of ordained and lay women, to celebrate her achievement and honour her passion and determination. There’s more about her here and here.

We began with a Eucharist in Corpus Christi College, at which Professor Sarah Foot presided, and over dinner, Sarah told me the story of her faith, and said she’d be delighted if I included it here.

She’d chosen Newnham, Cambridge, to read history, a devout atheist then. She recounted how angry she’d been, when the chaplain accosted her in the corridor, welcoming her by name. He’d learnt all the names of the new students. She found this a real invasion of her privacy – how dare he! She had chosen Newnham because it had no chapel, after all.

Then late one night, she had come back to her room from the library, and gazing out over the garden, she had seen a door, open ajar, with a light shining through. A voice had called to her, ‘Sarah, come home!’ The experience was so profound that she began to explore what it might mean, and found herself at St Ben’et’s Church, where the Francisan monk, the vicar, Brother Tom (whom I remembered from my time at Westcott when I was on placement at St Ben’et’s) – enabled her to discover more.

She told me how much she loved the Frost Prayer that often is used as the post-communion prayer at the end of the Eucharist, with its reference to home.

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Sarah now is based at Christ Church, and presided at the Eucharist the following morning, and used the prayer. I think it’s one of the best.

The Cathedral in Oxford is also the rather grand Chapel for Christ Church. Tom Quad looked particularly wonderful in the early September morning sun.

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Then as one enters the Cathedral, the light comes through, down the choir and nave, from the East window.

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I loved the halos of red in the Lady Chapel,

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and the memorial stone to Fridsewide.

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There was John Locke as I left, reminding me of the PhD ahead – a key figure, between Richard Hooker and Edmund Burke.

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Being in Oxford offers the opportunity to look for books – particularly on Richard Hooker. My host Edmund showed me his library and made some suggestions (as well as kindly lending me the top book) and I headed off for Blackwells and bought the rest.

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After a coffee and catch up with Dean Martyn, I admired the pond in the centre of Tom Quad. It’s about the same size as ours

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in the Rectory Garden at St Michaels – one of the reasons I haven’t blogged for a while, is the effort that’s gone to creating it! Hopefully, before long, it will rival this. There’s a way to go!

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I met Kate Charles, the author, at the Maude Royden club. We talked of Dorothy L Sayers, as I was reading The Nine Tailors on the train journey down.

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– largely because, for the Larkrise to Skipton book of the canal journey, I want to use her description of the flooding fen, after the sluice gate gave way. Her Fenchurch St Paul is based on the church in Upwell, near Salter’s Lode, on Well Creek where Viv and passed on our way to Prickwillow at the beginning of May.

Dorothy L Sayers – hard to beat for writing style, for intelligence, for her Lord Peter. Rachel Mann reflects on his post-war experience in Fierce Imaginings.

DLS would have known Maude Royden. The Nine Tailors has Lord Peter supporting the young Hilary Thorpe in her desire to go to Oxford and be a writer – against Hilary’s prejudiced old fool of an uncle.

DLS also gives us a portrait of a parish priest, such as her father was at Bluntisham, near Earith, for a while. How hard he worked to care for the souls of the parish. When she was born, he was headmaster of the Choir School at Christ Church.

The love of campanology runs through the book as the bells chase themselves through changes.

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The train from Workington to Carlisle, at the beginning of the six hour journey to Oxford, had come to a stop at Maryport. We were told that there was a broken rail ahead and that the guard would keep us informed.

Opposite me was a woman about my age, reading Five Red Herrings. ‘Where are you off to?’ she asked, as I evidently looked worried at the delay. ‘Oxford,’ I replied. ‘The connections are eight minutes in Carlisle, eleven minutes in Wolverhampton. I’m not sure I’m going to make it.’ There was little slack. The train was stationary for a good half an hour. It became clear I wasn’t going to arrive when I hoped I would. I emailed Edmund, to say I’d be an hour late, if all was well. (It was.)

So we got talking. She was off to Dumfries, to pick up a picture she’d painted, a self-portrait, that had won a competition in an exhibition. We found more and more in common – including friendship with Pete Wilcox and Catherine Fox. She’d read PPE at Oxford, and then done a PhD, and then gone to art school, and now lived near Workington, copy-editing and proof-reading to support her painting. She showed me the picture that had won. It was really good. We exchanged names, mobile numbers and addresses, and delighted in the fact we were both reading DLS. I texted her later to ask if she minded if I blogged about our encounter – ‘Not at all’, came the response.

Her name: Fliss Watts – her website shows how good she is. She’s coming for supper next week.

It’s been a while since the last post. Life has been full – particularly with the work we’ve done on Theological Reflection: Methods. David at SCM is pleased.

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Full of Character is at the proof reading stage, and they wanted a photo of me for the back cover.

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Then, I’ve been to Cambridge for a meeting of the Littlemore Group, to take forward our writing of the next book, on preaching, for Canterbury Press, which Richard Sudworth and I are editing. The publishers would like to launch it at the colloquium on preaching, planned at Christ Church next September.

I stayed in Ely, which gave me the opportunity to hear Choral Evensong in the Lady Chapel. The girls’ choir was stunning in that fantastic acoustic. There was an exhibition of sculpture  which was rather good, I thought.

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But, oh, I can’t get on with the Madonna. I really can’t. I’m not sorry the photo is so dark.

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The little imp is still there (of course) so I paid my respects – a familiar face from the 1970s.

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The Littlemore Group said ‘good bye’ to Sarah Coakley. On her retirement as the Norris Hulse Professor, she had decided to step down from the group too. It was her inspiration, with Sam Wells, that had led to the invitation to a number of theologians to gather in 2005 to Littlemore, to reflect with Archbishop Rowan, on how best to re-capture the imagination of the nation. Pete Wilcox was a member of the group then too. We gave her a copy (4th Edition) of John Henry Newman’s Grammar of Assent  and an ornate silver spoon, made in the 1870s.

Visiting Ely gave me the chance to catch up with old friends – Louise and Cat from Bury St E, and Philly Jane – who is soon to visit us in Workington. Her mother was a Curwen – the oldest family from hereabouts, who owned Workington Hall.

Workington feels more and more like home. I’ve preached and presided a number of times lately, over the summer. Peter is going down really well, as he does a great baptism, and finds his stride with funerals too.

The pond has emerged – a real labour of love.

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And now with a liner, and some water, beginning to fill …

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A warm spot for dogs, particularly our Cleo, now formally adopted as ours …

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There’s me, in the background, lugging rocks and stones around.

We’ve planted it around, so hopefully by next spring it will explode into life. There’s a water lily too, which should take off next year.

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We’ve continued to walk – including old favourites, such as along the Duddon River,

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from Seathwaite, to the Airman’s bridge, under Wallowbarrow Crag

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where traditionally, we take pictures of our dogs …

Here’s Phoebe, from years ago

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Cleo now. She wouldn’t sit and stay, so you’ve got me too …

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and Cora, Tilda and Al’s springer spaniel, who is much more obedient.

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Peter, Hugh, Tilda and I walked to the stepping stones, submerged in the flow

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to the watersmeet, where the Seathwaite Burn joins the Duddon.

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Had Jonty been with us, he would have thrown himself in. He always does, what ever the season.

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The path diverged. Guess which we took.

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This walk was punctuated with the most wonderful fungi. Peter knew them better than I, but as he’s in Northumbria, I can’t name them, I’m afraid …

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and beauty of beauties

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Today, I’m going to concentrate on the book from the Larkrise to Skipton blogs. A day of writing, with some exercise up over the slag bank at some stage. These days of September are ‘given’ days – and must be enjoyed. The wind and the rain, the wild sea and cold, dark nights will soon be upon us.

Our blackite jam will keep us going.

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Fleswick

It’s been raining and cloudy here in Cumbria over the last week or so. As the rest of the country continues to bake.

We took off, on Friday, to Grange in Borrowdale, via Keswick. They say it always rains for the Keswick Convention – and yes, it poured.

As we walked from Grange to Seatoller, along the River Derwent, Peter started to calculate how long this water, passing us now, would take to reach Workington. He reckoned about 10 hours.

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We found an old slate mine, and just as she was leaving, an Australian woman from Adelaide. Her accent, and the atmosphere of the quarry, took me straight to Hanging Rock. When I was in Oz in 1979 the first film was not so old. I remember driving to Hanging Rock. There was the sign for the town, and beneath it – an expression of Aussie wit – a hanging rock. The BBC version is rich and enjoyable – but like the 1975 film and the 1967 Joan Lindsay novel – frustrating in its hints at the supernatural.

A good quarry, though. It was around here that the graphite for the Derwent Cumberland pencil was first mined.

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We visited the church in Grange. I love the view of the yew tree through the East window.

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And picked blackberries – called ‘blackites’ up here.

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As we drove home over Honister Pass, stopping in Buttermere for a pint on the way, the light was dramatic on Loweswater.

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The sun shone on Mark and Kimberley as they were married on Saturday at St Michael’s. Mark is our organist and this wedding has been owned by the whole congregation over recent weeks.

The priest said not to post anything on social media until after 8 pm  so I’m safe to share these few photos, of Kim arriving in the sweetest little white mini … (which, I gather from someone who knows better than I, ‘looks like a beautifully preserved example of the rare 1275GT’!)

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and looking gorgeous as she waited to process down the aisle.

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And here’s St Michael’s in all its glory as the wedding began.

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A lovely touch – lighting a candle for each of the families as the service began, and one for them both, once married.

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Later that day, Peter and I headed off to St Bees Head. We’d heard that Fleswick beach was worth visiting, with its RSPB reserve.

We parked at Tarnflatt Hall and walked a circular route, around the cliff, with views of Workington to the north. Lots of yachts out sailing from Whitehaven.

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The cliff fell away, not a yard from the path.

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Cleo strayed uncomfortably near the cliff edge a couple of times. I really didn’t know if she realised quite what a drop there was. But no point worrying, really or keeping her on the lead. As Peter said ‘If not duffer, won’t fall …’.

Kittiwakes wheeled around below us, with their delicate beauty.

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The views were great – to Scotland, to the Isle of Man. Up here, on St Bees Head, we worry about the lack of sand eels, the warmth of the water. Kittiwakes are now on red warning. Their numbers have plummeted.

I share with Peter my reading of the latest edition of The Economist.

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The Economist is written corporately – no one writer takes the credit for any particular article. It’s a good policy. The journalist who wrote the article “In the Line of Fire” argues that the world is losing the war against climate change. Wild fires spread over St Bees Head in mid June. They are flaring up all over the world. 18 currently sweep through California, near Athens, from Seattle to Siberia. Heatwaves are killing people: 125 in Japan as temperatures soar above 40 degrees C.

Global warming causes weather patterns to go haywire. Whatever Trump believes, human use of fossil fuels has set this process in motion. Without urgent action now, it will only accelerate. As the Economist quips we are ‘living in a fuel’s paradise’.

Yes, the use of alternative energies and low-carbon technologies has increased, and public concern is much more aware than before. Many American cities and states have reaffirmed commitment to Paris, despite Trump’s withdrawal. 70 countries or regions now price carbon. Research is developing in ‘solar geoengineering’ which is designed to reflect sunlight back into space.

The Economist concludes its editorial:

Averting climate change will come at a short-term financial cost – although the shift from carbon may eventually enrich the economy, as the move to carbon-burning cars, lorries and electricity did in the 20th Century. Politicians have an essential role to play in making the case for reform and in ensuring that the most vulnerable do not bear the brunt of the change. Perhaps global warming will help them fire up the collective will. Sadly, the world looks poised to get a lot hotter first.

The Church of England is doing its bit. It will disinvest from fossil fuel companies by 2023 unless the latter can prove they are tackling climate change in line with the Paris Agreement.

The Guardian’s article here is sober reading.

It is hard to know what to do, personally. And hard to anticipate a world where biodiversity is diminished even further through warming seas and hotter lands. Where water becomes increasingly politicized as a commodity, a precious resource we take so much for granted. As I prepare The Lark Ascending for friends from Suffolk to use, we hear that the Leeds Liverpool canal has closed from Wigan to Skipton this month – a small drop in the immense worldwide ocean of a problem that humanity faces.

And so we turn off, and turn to stuff to entertain us, rather than face into the bleak scenarios that are coming fast over the horizon, like wildfires that overwhelm.

The seas off Cumbria are too warm for sand eels. The kittiwakes, guillemots, razor bills and cormorants are suffering. I wrote this poem a year or so ago, about the terns that used to be numerous on the Esk estuary.

Mayday

Eskmeals dune creates the lagoon
            of highwater tide
                        where once the terns
            dipped
                        and tipped
                                    sand eels
flashed
            whitebait
                        up and away – 
but now no more.
            No more
                        little, arctic, common
                                                swallows of the sea
                        where once
            they swerved
                        and turned
            hovered        
                        delicate
                                    in sea breeze
                                                plummeted quick
            to lift
                        silver from the sea.

Local people say the RSPB will disagree
but local people say the terns are no more
because they used to take the first clutch
two, three eggs. Local people turned out
to take the eggs, but not beyond Mayday.

The terns would lay
                                    would lay
                                                would lay again.

When the chicks had hatched, by then
                        there was food.
                                    Sand eels.
                                                Whitebait from the sea.

A London delicacy. Terns’ eggs: the harvest
stopped by law, and those first chicks hatched and died
of hunger too late for terns to lay again.

Who knows? It’s also true
there are no sand eels any more.

 

The RSPB at Fleswick suggests a number of birds to find  but August is not the best time, now the breeding season is over. We descended to the beach

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which is a gem – indeed, there are reputedly lots of semi-precious stones to be found there.

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The Isle of Man to be seen …

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The water was clear and cool and Peter and I skinny dipped. And again, Cleo practised her swimming, splashing her paws up as the waves met her, and settling down to serious doggy paddle as she came out to circle us.

We walked back over Hannah Moor, and along Hannahmoor Lane. Who was Hannah? I wonder. My imagination started to write her story. The daughter of Tarnflatt Farm, perhaps, who made the fields around her own. A herd of Guernsey cows and calves graze the new grass – only six weeks after the head was ablaze with wild fire. We walked and talked with a bloke who had two springer spaniels. They were ever off into the fields, flushing up partridges. He told us of a lurcher he’d owned once, and how she was the best of dogs. ‘You’ve a grand dog there’, he said, as Cleo jogged along with us, checking us every few minutes.

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I’ve been blogging for over three months now. It’s a fresh and immediate way of writing, and I’ve enjoyed taking photos. One’s mind thinks differently: events and happenings become potential material for the blog. It starts to inhabit your mind.

I’m learning too that this is not a private journal, such as Lady Anne Clifford kept. And so it’s time for me to have a privacy policy. Like so much of today’s world, it’s important to cover yourself – but also to ensure that friends and family can trust me that I’m not going to make them vulnerable or expose them in ways that leave them uncomfortable. If I’ve done that already – sincere apologies. Please do let me know.

I’d also value your comments and thoughts on the wording of this policy. Let me know – if you have more experience of this than I – if there’s a better wording I could use, or if I’ve left anything out, as I prepare to include it in Larkrise to Skipton.

I use with care and permission any personal data belonging to other people. If I have unwittingly infringed your online privacy, please inform me immediately and I will remove any image or material that makes you uncomfortable. 

I do not share personal information with third-parties nor do I store information that is collected about your visit to this blog for use other than to analyse content performance through the use of cookies, which you can turn off at anytime by modifying your Internet browser’s settings. I am not responsible for the republishing of the content found on this blog on other Web sites or media without my permission. 

This privacy policy is subject to change without notice.

Cleo

I’d been to Keith Singletons, a garden centre between St Bees and Egremont, and as I drove back along country roads, there it was. The Animal Rescue Centre that I’d visited a number of times on line, wondering what dogs they had to rehome. I called in on spec, and ended up giving my details to Vicky, a member of staff there.

The next morning: ‘you said you were looking for a two year old. How definite is that?’ said the voice on my mobile. ‘It’s just that we’ve got a seven year old lurcher that’s just come in this morning. She’s lovely, and might be just what you’re looking for.’ We arranged a time for us to visit.

Hugh and Sammy were with us, and Peter came along too. Cleo was very anxious indeed, shut in the ‘meet and greet’ room at the Rescue Centre. She was salivating, and couldn’t focus at all on us. We weren’t who she wanted. ‘It’s normal behaviour’, said Lisa (another member of staff). ‘Take her up the road. See how you get on.’ Cleo walked nicely to heel. She sat when she was told to. She wee-ed and poohed. We took her into the exercise field, and she chased a ball, half-heartedly, for Hugh. We’d seen enough to arrange a home visit. Difficult to tell her real personality under such circumstances.

Lisa and Caz brought her. Caz was a trustee of the Centre, and lived across the road from Cleo, so knew her and her background. ‘The son rescued her from drowning, when she was only 6 weeks old. Then when he left home a couple of years ago, his mother was left with her. She’s out all day, and doesn’t really like dogs much. Though she’ll miss Cleo. But she can’t really look after her, what with work.

She was still anxious as she explored the house, but started to focus a little on us, once Caz went to sit in the car.  I sat on the floor, talking quietly to Cleo, fondling her silky ears that were as expressive as Dobby’s.

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Lisa asked questions. ‘Do you work? Will you be away from the house for long periods? How would you discipline a dog? Is your garden fenced?’ We went out to see how Cleo responded to the chickens. She was too nervous to notice them. We arranged a trial period for the following Monday, 23 July. If it went ok, then Cleo would stay with us, permanently adopted after a month or so.

‘If we’re getting a dog, at least she’s not a puppy,’ said Peter, as we prepared for the book club weekend meeting on the Friday.

Our book club’s been going a good few years now. When we were in Bury St E, we’d meet every six weeks or so – Lillias and Adrian, Gaby and Mark, Peter and me – at each other’s homes, for a light supper and to share our impressions of the books we’d taken it in turns to choose. Memorable evenings – like the one on the eve of Brexit – when Mark was the only one to predict the way it went. Memorable – so we decided to continue with three meetings a year, residentially. In the Spring, a cottage somewhere in the country, organised by Adrian and Lillias. In July, based at the narrowboat in Skipton. Then in October, in Portugal where Gaby and Mark have a home.

So they all came to us, having booked themselves into a B&B in Cononley. We ate on board – taking it in turns to cook. So haddock on lentils, with asparagus and tomatoes was our offering on the Friday evening.

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Mark cooked Mexican chicken on Saturday, as we drank GnTs moored up on the tow path near Kildwick

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and Adrian produced a great salad, followed by summer pud, on the Sunday evening.

We walked the towpath and sorted the swing bridges for which this stretch of the Leeds Liverpool is renowned.

I noticed that men and women do such things differently.

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We talked about much besides books (Peter’s and my choice: Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and his Emissary and Alice Oswald’s Dart.)

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It’s a long and dense read – the McGilchrist – but we discussed his thesis, and made it our own – how Western culture today is dominated by the left hemisphere, with its attention to detail and process and ever tighter control of information, losing what the right hemisphere attends to: the Other. Adrian shared some great quotations.

We were rewarded with fireworks on the Saturday night for all our hard work, courtesy of some wedding in Skipton.

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On Sunday we thought we’d chug up towards Gargrave. We’d heard news that the Leeds and Liverpool was to be closed for August, from Wigan to Skipton, as the water levels are so low. So let’s take the chance, while we can, to see that stunning countryside up the Airedale valley.

Mark and Gaby thought they’d head off for the day, to walk in the Pennines.

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Adrian and Lillias joined us, and off we went from Skipton. The engine wasn’t happy though. Splutter, judder.

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We were just outside Pennine Cruisers of Skipton, so I managed to persuade Wayne to come and look. It didn’t take long: ‘You’re out of diesel.’ ‘We can’t be! I thought we’d be good until we’d done 250 hours!’ He sold us 40 litres, and came back at the end of the day to bleed the engine of the air it had sucked in. I booked TLA in for a service, the following Wednesday, so all would be just right for Susan and Mark, Alice and Jed who were going to spend a week on her, from Sunday 6 August.

An afternoon free in Skipton and we headed for the castle. It was impressive – not least because the displays and enactments going on.

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It was a feast day – St Mary Magdalene – and the food was authentic. Marzipan cakes, chicken, elaborate breads.

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We listened to a lecture on mediaeval medicine, which thrilled Adrian (retired orthopaedic surgeon) and Peter (retired paediatrician). Many of the herbs are still used, still efficacious. The surgery was gruesome. The big round knife is to circle the bone, cutting off gangrenous flesh.

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We heard how Henry V had an arrow head removed from behind his face after an entrepreneurial surgeon, John Bradmore, devised and made just the instrument needed, as Henry V lay in agony. This video is really worth watching.

Earlier in the week we’d had supper, along with the other curates and their spouses, at the Bishop’s House. Alison Newcombe had prepared a brilliant meal for us all, and beforehand the Bishop and I had had a chat about my ministry in the Diocese and future plans.

I told him of my current work with Elaine Graham and Heather Walton, on revising and expanding Theological Reflection: Methods, and particularly the two chapters I’m updating on how to reflect theologically through diary, letter, and now blogging, and the chapter on corporate theological reflection – as part of a faith community. It’s been fun, including Richard Rohr’s blog, and the work of Nadia Bolz Weber, the Lutheran preacher and the new work that’s emerged of theological life writing – Heather Walton’s own work, and Claire Wolfteich, on being a mother.

Full of Character – we’re at the stage of choosing a cover design. Lillias has agreed to paint me a picture for it, which the publishers love. At last we’ve decided on the subtitle, which now reads A Christian Approach to Education for a Digital Age. It’ll be launched in March next year.

As we came down from his study, there, on the wall, was a portrait of Lady Anne Clifford. ‘Formidable,’ was Bishop James’ verdict. ‘She owned five castles – Skipton, Appleby, Brough, Brougham and Pendragon – but only after a decades’ long battle for them.’ I’d been intrigued, particularly as Ruth, who’s married to Mark, another of the new curates, said she’d like to do the Lady Anne’s Way one day. I said I’d join her. We both have dogs. Mark and Peter both are less enthusiastic – about the dogs, that is.

So while at Skipton Castle, I bought the new edition of the autobiographical writing.

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She was impressive. Born in 1590, she’d been thirteen, as she remembered the funeral of Queen Elizabeth I and wrote of the account in her diary.

When the corpse of Queen Elizabeth had continued at Whitehall as long as the Council had thought fit, it was carried from thence with great solemnity to Westminster, the lords and ladies going on foot to attend it, my mother and my aunt of Warwick being mourners. But I was not allowed to be one, because I was not high enough, when did much trouble me then, but yet I stood in the church at Westminster to see the solemnity performed. Queen Elizabeth’s funeral was on the 28th day of April being Thursday. (p. 17)

Lady Anne married Richard Sackville, Earl of Dorset, who died in 1624, leaving her with two daughters. She then married Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke, and outlasted him too. He sided with the parliamentarians during the Civil War, she remained loyal to the King, and so they were estranged. Throughout her life, and against her two husbands’ advice, she remained determined that her lands in Westmorland and Cumberland were hers, not her cousin Henry’s. When he died in 1643, without surviving male issue, her lifelong battle was won. She spent the post-civil war years restoring and expanding the castles, particularly Skipton, to grandeur. Although I suspect the long drop predated her, and she couldn’t improve on it.

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The yew tree she planted in the 1650s flourishes in the Conduit Courtyard.

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I’m loving her writing; reading about that most interesting of centuries. She didn’t die until 1676. Pretty good going, I reckon. A woman who achieved some formidable stuff. She heard John Donne preach, too, when she was resident at Knole, the family seat of the Sackvilles. Lucky woman.

The 27th [of July, 1617] being Sunday I went to church forenoon and afternoon Dr Donne preaching and he and the other strangers dining with me in the great chamber.

In Skipton castle, three lurchers.

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The owner offered advice. ‘They need half an hour exercise, morning and night. They’ll sleep the rest of the day. They’ll chase to kill. Cats, sheep, rabbits, deer. It’s what they were bred to do, when this castle was being built. Keep her on a lead.’

Home from Skipton, and Cleo arrives. After a tortuous night in the kitchen, she won and now sleeps in her bed in our room. She follows me everywhere.

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We went swimming in Crummock Water, and she followed me out, suddenly finding no ground beneath her feet. Back to land, and then back out to me – three or four times. The first time she’d swam, we reckoned. It was a pleasure to see her begin to enjoy it.

‘Not only lurcher,’ the vet said. ‘I reckon there’s collie in her too’. So we keep her on a lead around sheep. The lurcher’s impulse to tear the throat out. The collie’s, to herd. Neither option a risk worth taking.

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Starfish

16 July 2018

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Tilds and Al came over on Saturday evening, and with Hugh and Sammy, we walked on the Workington beach at low tide with Blisco and Cora, their dogs. The tide was just on the turn, with a fresh south-westerly wind. The manmade cliffs of slag shaped the land,

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with St Bees Head in the distance as we walked.

Tilda called me over. ‘Look at this!’

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She pointed at an orange starfish, and picked it up. I’d never seen starfish washed up – and of course it brought that simple parable to mind:

One day, an old man was walking along a beach that was littered with thousands of starfish that had been washed ashore by the high tide. As he walked he came upon a young boy who was eagerly throwing the starfish back into the ocean, one by one.
Puzzled, the man looked at the boy and asked what he was doing. Without looking up from his task, the boy simply replied, “I’m saving these starfish, Sir”.
The old man chuckled aloud, “Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?”
The boy picked up a starfish, gently tossed it into the water and turning to the man, said, “I made a difference to that one!”

We too threw it back – and the others we found. One was there, regenerating one of its limbs.

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Later I googled starfish, and found out that they are the species that first led to the designation ‘keystone species’. If you’ve read George Monbiot’s Feral, you’ll know that he argues convincingly that wolves also are keystone species – their presence in an environment controls other species that are likely to become dominant and diminish biodiversity – like deer. Keystone species enable diversity. The term was first used by Robert Paine in 1966 as he studied the low intertidal coasts of Washington State. Paine found that the predation by a particular starfish controlled the mussels that, when the starfish was removed, out-competed other organisms.

Starfish also clean surface films and algae, so enable regeneration of organic matter that fish, crabs and sea urchins feed on.

That evening, on Workington beach, the water was clear, the sea weed clean, with oyster catchers crying.

It’s been quite a week. Trump throwing his weight around Europe, the UK, even HM the Queen. Theresa’s Brexit blue print unravelling; and now Justine is calling for another referendum. We could do with some keystone species in our political systems to enable diversity, such is the monochrome boringness of it all. Boring, if the sort of populism Trump – and Boris, and Jacob – represent wasn’t so dangerous for Western liberal political systems. And there’s Putin, too, gnawing away at the West, undermining the foundations. I dread to imagine the Helsinki conversation between him, with all his 18 year’s experience of political Machiavellianism, and Trump’s baby naiveté.

There’s been no escaping the sport. Even I watched the England/Croatia match, and Djokovic winning, as I pulled my rag rug. At least that won’t unravel any time soon.

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‘We must walk to St Bees’ Head from Workington some day’, Peter and I agreed. The coast looks intriguing, over those slag cliffs and through Whitehaven, and up onto that prominent head land. On Friday we’d been in St Bees, and seen, in the rain (so welcome), how the headland had been affected by fire.

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The ground is seriously dry still. We need more rain.

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Though the rose-bay willow herb, and native willow herb are in full bloom.

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And the chickens enjoy a moment in the shade.

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St Bees was disappointing. A great café above the beach (somewhere to go for a quiet, anonymous time to read and reflect).

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But I’d been looking for a craft shop at least to satisfy my insatiable desire for retail therapy. Especially when it’s raining.

No matter, though – as we had been on our way to the Animal Rescue Centre near Egremont. There we met Cleo. She’s being rehomed because her current owners don’t have time to walk her properly. She’s an unfit lurcher, aged seven, black, with white paws, a white breast and tip to her tail – the size of a medium sized labrador. We walked along the road with her and were pleased that she didn’t pull, that she sat when asked to, and chased a ball with a lurcher’s turn of speed. She was so anxious though, at the separation from her owner, it was difficult to tell what she’s really like. Lisa, the staff member who organised the visit, has arranged to do a home visit on Tuesday, and bring Cleo with her. It’ll take her a good month or two to relax though, if she comes to us.

Peter is resigned – no, more positive than that. Mainly he’s relieved it’s not a puppy we’ll end up with. Cleo’s gentleness appealed to him.

As we walked on the beach, I imagined her running with Blisco and Cora. It would be good to give her the exercise and attention that a dog needs. Something makes me think the owner may change her mind, though, so I’m not building up my hopes.

I dreamt about Joe Hawes last night. A good, affirming dream about the good impression he makes as he meets all sorts of people. He’s been installed as the next Dean of St Edmundsbury now. He preached well, I’ve been told. I’m sure he’ll be great, with his excellent experience in Fulham and his lively, positive outlook and sense of fun. I sent a card, wishing him and Chris all the very best. He’s in my mind all day Sunday as he’ll be presiding for the first time.

It’s been a week of settling down into our new home. Peter’s been out and about, visiting people, and at various meetings in the Mission Community. He’s finding his feet. On Sunday we had the visiting priest and his wife for lunch. David and Anne had been in Cumbria all their ministry together, and have now retired to Aspatria. It was good to get to know them, to hear of their experiences.

I’m beginning to work at the blog book, which will be titled Larkrise to Skipton – (obviously) as it relates the voyage on the narrowboat through May and the first half of June.  I don’t have a publisher yet, but will write it first – not the usual way around, for me. Putting all the blogs together – there are twelve, and the word count is 33,000 words. So that’s well on the way. There are aspects I want to research more deeply, and it’s a book that I hope will be about transitions and coming to terms with what has been, a meditation on the Psalms, drawing on the wide range of human experience found there, particularly where water is the element.

Richard Sudworth and I talked on the phone about the next Littlemore group book, on Preaching. We’ve got to persuade the contributors to write their chapters by the beginning of September. My chapter is on the encounter with Christ that each sermon should enable. Each of us is engaging with a classic sermon, and I’m going to work with St Paul, as he preached to about the Unknown God at the Areopagus, in Acts 17. I also have in mind the statues to unknown soldiers that are all around us, in towns and villages across the country, as we remember the war a century ago. Ecce Homo. And then Nietzsche wrote a short book with that title. I can’t find my copy, so have ordered another from Abebooks.

I preached on Sunday evening at St Michael’s. About the daily office, and how important it is. Peter and I have been saying Morning Prayer, with his training incumbent, establishing a routine on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 7.30 am. We’ve had people joining us each time, building up a core group.

I borrow a story to begin – one I heard ordinand Jill use in a sermon at Mirfield, where it went down particularly well.

A new monk arrives at the monastery. He is assigned to help the other monks in copying the old texts by hand. He notices, however, that they are copying copies, and not the original books.
So, the new monk goes to the Abbot to ask him about this. He points out that if there was an error in the first copy, that error would be continued in all of the other copies. The Abbot says, “We have been copying from the copies for centuries, but you make a good point, my son.”
So, he goes down into the cellar with one of the copies to check it against the original. Hours later, nobody has seen him. So, one of the monks goes downstairs to look for him. He hears sobbing coming from the back of the cellar and finds the Abbot leaning over one of the original books crying. He asks what’s wrong.
“The word is celebrate not celibate,” says the old monk with tears in his eyes.

The sermon I preach continues, with the reading from Deuteronomy in mind (28.1-14).

It’s a story about handing on traditions, isn’t it? How we shouldn’t just do things blindly, because that’s the way it’s always been done. We should ask ourselves, why do we do it this way? We should think it through, and check back, as the Abbot did, into the past. Ask questions about now – as the new monk did. And wonder what’s going to be the best thing for the future.
In a world – and church – where there’s much change, and much talk of change, it isn’t always easy to work out what changes are right and good, and which changes are just for the sake of it.
Take this service of Choral Evensong, for instance. There will be those who argue that it should be allowed to die. That it’s old-fashioned and doesn’t speak to today’s generations. And in many ways, such people are obviously right. Gone are the days of the photo on the choir vestry wall from the 1920s when there’s a choir that most Cathedrals would be give their eyeteeth for. Culture around us has changed; surely we should change too?
I’m not so sure. When it comes to change, the pattern of our prayer and worship isn’t just about what culture around us is doing. The prayer life of the church is altogether more important.
Choral evensong belongs within the daily round of prayer that has traditionally been called the offices – morning and evening prayer. The daily office has for centuries been the bedrock of the church. Priests and deacons take a vow to say the office – and hopefully they are joined by others too, and that’s a good tradition – because it means that the church, on a daily basis, is filled with prayer.
Choral evensong is the service where we offer that much more, because it’s Sunday. We sing hymns, listen to two readings from the bible, sing the responses, we have a sermon. It’s special, because it’s Sunday, and it’s special because it belongs within the observance of the office through the week.
If we look back, as the Abbot did, to the original texts, we find good reason to pray the office on a daily and weekly basis.
You can’t go much further back than Deuteronomy. There obedience to the commandments of God means blessing on our lives.

If you will only obey the Lord your God, by diligently observing all his commandments that I am commanding you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth; all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the Lord your God.

If we pray – daily, and weekly – God will bless us. We will grow and flourish.
I wonder, sometimes, if all the talk of change and all the new initiatives in the Church of England today are really about a loss of heart in God. A fear that we’re going into decline because the old traditions don’t work anymore. Some old traditions don’t work anymore, but prayer will always work. It’s always worthwhile to pray. To come together, as the Church of England has done through the ages, to pray, to say or sing canticles, to listen to the bible, to share thoughts.
Because when we do, we recognise God’s blessing amongst us.
You’ll know that Peter, Julia and I and others are saying morning prayer at 7.30 on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays in the Lady Chapel. On the other mornings, Peter is out at Harrington Church. We’re continuing that tradition of prayer that goes back as far as Deuteronomy. Hopefully, before long, even more will join us, so it becomes a habit in our lives. The ancient texts support regular corporate prayer – so we’re in no danger of being caught out in our celibacy. Indeed, it’s a reason to celebrate – the gift of prayer.
For prayer takes us to the heart of the God of grace and love.
It’s very hard to continue to pray off our own bat. Unless we realise that we depend on God’s support and love, we soon dry up. If it’s just down to us, it’s really hard work – particularly when it’s cold and dark on a winter’s morning, or the World Cup  is on. When we know, though, that our prayer life is a gift, that God gives us the structure, handed down to us through the ages, then our prayer life becomes something we celebrate.
So I celebrate that we gather here, every Sunday evening, to worship God. Let us continue to give thanks for the living tradition of prayer in this church. Because it does bear fruit, as Deuteronomy says. It bears fruit as people come to know that that’s what we’re about. Prayer and worship of God, first and foremost. Fellowship and togetherness, and service of the world around us. Deuteronomy had it right, all those centuries ago.

Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading-bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out. The Lord will establish you as his holy people, as he has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in his ways. All the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord.

Last week, Peter told us the story of Paul’s travels, when he had got as far as Malta. Now, Paul has got to Rome. He meets with the Jewish leaders of that great city. He tells them that their hearts are hardened. He quotes Isaiah back at them: “Go to this people and say,

You will indeed listen, but never understand,
and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.”

When we pray together on a weekly, on a daily basis, we open our ears and eyes to God. We continue to seek God’s guidance and presence in our lives. We are open to what God brings to each of us, to this church, to this town and to our nation. The daily office, which includes evensong, is our offering to God, that keeps us fresh and attentive to the God of grace, in whom we celebrate all our days.

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I liked throwing the star fish back into the sea. It felt like giving back something to the immensity of the ocean. That hymn came to mind, the one about hands that flung stars into space.

Perhaps our prayers are like that.

Offering into the immensity of God’s love our own selves – our confession, petition, intercession, thanksgiving and praise.

 

 

An Abbey, Cathedral and Minster … and Little Gidding

Monday 9 July 2018

It might be turning into a routine, swimming in Loweswater after evensong, on Sunday evenings. Well, obvs, a summer routine …

Yesterday evening was just as glorious as the previous Sunday – the water inviting, the mountains surrounding. In the pub afterwards we had a pint of Loweswater and a bowl of plum crumble. ‘You’ve been swimming too. There’s been quite a few this evening.’ Said the bar attender as she took our order. ‘Not sure.’ She said in response to Peter’s encouragement that she should go after work. ‘It’s not so romantic when it’s just you.’ The water was dark, less playful, this time. I took the odd mouthful as I swam, to taste its depths.

Between swims in Loweswater, much had happened in the week. I’ve travelled all over the country, and worshipped in three of the most prestigious churches – an Abbey, a Cathedral, a Minster. I’ve also been to Little Gidding, which has its own contribution to make to the spiritual wealth of this nation. All a good distance from Workington.

Last Monday saw me heading south to stay at Westminster Abbey with Jane, to be there for Viv’s consecration as Bishop of Bristol on Tuesday at St Paul’s.

Jane is Canon of Westminster and Rector of St Margaret’s Church, which means she is often in and around the Houses of Parliament, at the heart of government. She chairs the Westminster Institute, which fosters engagement between the Church and public life. I’ve asked if Full of Character can be launched there when it’s out.

On Tuesday morning we went to Morning Prayer in the exquisite St Faith’s Chapel. ‘It used to be a store room’, she said. Built as part of the development from 1245 by Henry III, your eye is captured by a large feminine form above the altar, carrying what looks like a chart or table. ‘Who was St Faith?’ I ask Jane. ‘No one really knows. It seems she was martyred on a girdle’. Now the painting is lit beautifully and the walls resonate with prayer.

We look around Poets’ Corner, and bemoan the lack of women there. Where’s Dorothy L. Sayers? Rose Macaulay? Iris Murdoch? Jane told me of a series of lectures, Excellent Women, they’d held here, in Poets’ Corner, to celebrate Anglican Women Novelists from Charlotte Bronte onwards. There’s a book of this title, edited by Judith Maltby and Alison Shell, that’s coming out shortly, to be published by Bloomsbury.

We wandered over to see the memorial stone to Stephen Hawking – “Here lies what was mortal of Stephen Hawking, 1942 – 2018” – between Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.

Then off to St Paul’s in a taxi, with cassock, surplice and red stole. Before the service, the Dean and I caught up with family news under the shadow of John Donne. This memorial belongs here, the only stone to survive the Great Fire of 1666, that destroyed the 17C St Paul’s. I love it – just as I love John Donne. His fascination with death and dying, and life and love.

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Paula Gooder was there to preach. She invited me to Birmingham to talk of being a freelance theologian.

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Then the service began in the cool of Christopher Wren’s great St Paul’s. It’s not a building I get on with, somehow. It performs itself too ostentatiously.

Paula preached on Doubting Thomas, and how he didn’t really deserve his nick name. The acoustic in St Paul’s is notoriously hard; and it was not always easy singing the hymns.

We sat as we were reminded of the role of the Bishop.

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Then hands were laid, rings blessed and given, and crooks received. Viv explained later that hers was made of the last oak to remain from the 1984 fire at York Minster.

Some clergy can’t switch off. Someone in earshot provided a running commentary on the service to his neighbour all the way through.

I was left reflecting on the Church as the means of God’s grace in Word and Sacrament – the real presence of Christ in bread and wine – and how lacking in reverence we are, so often, in our worship; how little we prepare in silence to receive. Anglicans are so good at chatting, at making light, at being messy. I’m sure we would have more impact if we took it all more seriously, more formally. The Church as the means of God’s grace, through Word and Sacrament. A Church that bears the weight of holiness, in its worship and practice. At Mirfield we were in silence before the service – a deep well of communion, as hearts and minds become still before the Lord. I miss that.

The weight of holiness lightened with joy, of course.

Here’s Viv, on the steps of St Paul’s.

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Here you see her crook and ring.

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And then to Lambeth for lunch.

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The chance to catch up with old friends over excellent food in the marquee.

Rachel was there. I haven’t seen her since she was a priest in Manchester. She’s now married to Mike – who was also a priest at that time in Manchester.  It was a delight to see them both again and hear their news.

John and I fell into an animated conversation about the Lakes and his familiarity with the fells at the head of Borrowdale. He spoke of his wife’s death of MS, some years ago now, while he was with his small children in Borrowdale. How there was nothing to be done, but walk and spend time with them.

The Dean of Bristol is absolutely delighted that Viv has been appointed.

I walked to the Tube with Bishops Frank and Alison and we talked all the way. Euston, and the train journey home.

Wednesday morning, and great Cathedral number three, as I travel the train to York.

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Twice a year the cell group I belong to meets – in December for the day at Westminster Abbey, and overnight in York, at the time of General Synod.

Cell groups often establish at Theological College, and many continue with the same membership for decades, each with their own pattern of meeting. I’m not sure how long this one has been going, but it evolved to include me about four years ago. The members take about 40 minutes or so each to talk through the priorities, concerns, hopes and fears of their life at the present, and listen with emotional intelligence to each other. A meal out at a restaurant in York that evening, and we talk of the bishop’s ring, made of amethyst – traditionally, to signify no drunkenness – following the injunction in 1 Timothy, chapter 3, verse 2, that bishops be sober. We enjoy that. We talked of mitres, and how they should be worn; how ridiculous they look when worn on the back of the head. Of moves and transitions, and the state of the world and the Church.

Morning Prayer on Thursday is in the Zouche Chapel, and to my delight I’m accompanied by stained glass birds.

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The scaffolding beyond is a nice reality.

We see the East Window, revealed in May after 12 years of scaffolding to enable repairs.

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The website says ‘All 311 stained glass panels were removed from the 15th-century window, which is the size of a tennis court, in 2008, so York Glaziers Trust could begin the mammoth task of restoring the fragile masterpiece.’

The space below is waiting for new furniture, to pull it all together as a glorious place to be and to worship. We examined the marble altar that used to stand against the great East wall. What to do with it? It belongs there, but perhaps not as an altar any more.

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The Cell Group talked of our future pattern to meet. I’m now the only Northern member. Previously we’ve tied it into General Synod, meeting in York. They all said they’d be happy to come to Workington. I’ll have to hold them to that.

Home on the train – through Durham, to Newcastle, and then across the north, through Hexham to Carlisle, and onwards around the coast, through Dalston, Wigton, Aspatria, Maryport and Flimby, in time to spend time with Theo and Hsuan, and to listen carefully to their views on the football. There’s a big match coming up on Saturday against Sweden, I gather. We watch it, when the time comes. Or at least, they head off to a pub in town, as we don’t have a TV, and Peter and I see the highlights, drifting in and out as I work at way at the garage, and Peter chops up an old chest of drawers for firewood.

Our new chickens are now settled enough to be allowed out to free range the back garden.

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They are Wyandottes – so will look rather glorious when they are mature. One of them is a cockerel. That could be fun.

And in the Lady Chapel at St Michael’s Workington, the cock crowing in the St Peter window.

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A bit late in the day when I return from York on Thursday, I prepare my report for the Little Gidding Trust AGM, which I chair.

It’s a long drive across the A66 and down the A1, on Friday, to get there – but a good meeting. We’re making progress as we oversee the properties and improve their quality as homes. That’s been the main priority of the last year. Soon, we need to turn our attention to developing the place further as the spiritual resource it needs to be. The T S Eliot festival happened there this Sunday.

It’s a great place to visit. After all those wonderful Cathedrals, a delicious taste of tranquillity and peace that leaves its enchantment long after you’ve left.

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It’ll mature nicely …

That was a weekend to remember.

One of the delights of blogging is that it’s all about catching the drift. The ongoing passage of time, with its highs and lows, is captured and shared with others – instead of just receding gradually into the background of our minds, and then into the mists of forgetfulness.

I don’t want to forget Peter’s ordination, or his first sermon at St Michael’s and the lunch that followed, or the weekend of gathered loved ones. Life is rich, full of gifts, and writing it, catching its drift, is a deeply satisfying pleasure.

And now my phone has just reminded me to say the office – West Malling Lauds – as the sisters sing it at 6.50.

Instead of a sense of interruption, and irritation, I remember that my time is not my own, but belongs to God.

 

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I became an oblate last year – making West Malling my spiritual home. It is a deep river of prayer that holds and carries me. The River she is flowing, flowing and growing. The River she is flowing down to the sea. Mother Earth carry me, a child I will always be.

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Sunday evening – let’s begin at the end of the weekend – saw Peter and I swimming in Loweswater. The water was delicious; the scenery stunning.

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We’d already swam there, during the afternoon on a lovely walk that saw us noticing the wayside flower.

Elder – just going over towards its blood red berry:

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the thistle, reminding us that Scotland isn’t far:

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Rosebay Willowherb in full song …

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an Umbellifer that isn’t cow parsley (which is finished now) – let’s call it Queen Anne’s lace –

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Meadow vetch –

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clover in a meadow

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and harebells reflecting the sky.

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Nor should we forget the humble nettle and dock in flower:

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The walk took us alongside the lake on the wooded south side.

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Through Hudson’s Place, with its parquetry dating from 1741

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and hay all gathered in.

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Alongside ancient hedgerows

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and over double stiles.

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We walked to the lake

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and found a spot

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to skinny dip in a quiet spot in the woods.

After choral evensong – at which a PhD student, studying at Workington branch of the National Nuclear Laboratory joined us – we were back for more, this time in suitable garb, with Theo and Hsuan who watched us from the bank.

Very quickly you’re out of your depth. I swam out a good distance and then lay there, on my back, with eyes open to the skies, allowing the water to carry me, buoyed up by the heavy depths below. The water plays with your body, rippling over and through you, nudging and reminding you that we are largely water ourselves. I breathe in, my chest fills, and I rise noticeably; then out, and I sink slightly, back towards the depths. My ears are full of water; I have entered another element. I trust it so, I could fall asleep, cradled in all the oceans of time and space. Walt Whitman comes and goes, as my thoughts sink away from words.

On the beach at night alone,
As the old mother sways her to and fro singing her husky song,
As I watch the bright stars shining, I think a thought of the clef of the universes and of the future.
A vast similitude interlocks all,
All distances of place however wide,
All distances of time,
All souls, all living bodies though they be ever so different …

I close my eyes, and the sun shines red and gold through my eyelids. I feel myself turning in the drift, and wonder if I imagine it; the water taking me, and turning me, as a boat turns with the tide. It is an element I love – water. I love its risk, its weight, its potential and power. My frailty in its depths.

I’m thinking I should write up the blogs of the canal trip for book publication, interweaving that travelogue with engagement with the psalms, and particularly those that use watery images.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.

The book would also be a reflection on transitions; on the Church of England today; on failure and the future, on seeking to know God’s will when one has come to terms with one’s sense of drive. I’d be interested in whether loyal readers think that would work.

The best way of saying yes is to encourage more to follow the blog! A potential publisher will want to see at least 100 followers. At the moment, larkrise to Skipton has 51 … so do sign up if you haven’t already by clicking the black button and giving your email address.

We went on to the Kirkstile Inn for a pint after our swim/float.

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They had baked scones in the kitchen.

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Theo and Hsuan are here for a month, and it was lovely to spend time with them after the busyness of the weekend.

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We talked of their plans to marry and the difference between Taiwanese and British traditions. Theo is doing some research about whether UK marriage is legally recognised in Taiwan, and vice versa. They have booked a venue in Taiwan for October 2019 for family there (would this be marriage? Or an engagement party?) to which we’ll all go; and plan to come and live in the UK, as Theo hopes to begin a PhD in 2020. We talked of their being married here in April 2020 – perhaps in Carlisle Cathedral? Perhaps at St Michael’s? Theo thought he’d like to explore further with the Cathedral staff what might be possible.

Hugh and Sammy had left after lunch, and Tilda and Al a little later. Lunch was provided by the parish – a great spread. And even better puddings.

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St Michael’s folk are full of life. Al and Tilda think they might start coming on the Sundays when their local church at Waberthwaite doesn’t have a service. They were – we all were – impressed by the Sunday school with its good number of children, by the warmth and reverence of the liturgy, with Julia (Peter’s training incumbent) as president, and yes, by the sermon.

A gathering before they all went their own ways …

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Peter preached on the gospel – the healing of the woman with a haemorrhage and of Jairus’ daughter – Mark 5. 21-end.

Here it is. It was very good indeed.

It is a privilege to be here among you the lovely people of Workington as your Curate, preaching for the first time. Thank you for your welcome.

It never ceases to amaze me that God speaks to us through the words of the Gospel in ways that hit the spot every time.

Today’s Gospel speaks of the love of God, shown as fully as is possible in the person of Christ, among the people, answering their need for healing and insight.

We have not one but two healing miracles. Wonderfully set alongside each other. And in each one we learn how Jesus unfolds the mystery of healing in two very different ways. He is the supreme Physician, listening and responding to each person and each situation to show what the power of love can achieve.

These miracles of healing are a challenge to Doctors. The first poor woman had spent all she had for twelve long unsuccessful years going to Doctors. And they had failed to cure her. In fact, she was getting worse.

The second, even more challenging to me as a former Paediatrician, a young girl of twelve short years, critically ill and then apparently dead. Here just taking her by the hand, and saying ‘Talitha cum’, ‘little girl, get up’ was enough to revive her.

They are wonderful stories that ask us to go deeper than simply taking things at face value.  At first, without this more profound reflection on these two encounters, if we fail to see the deeper meaning and miracle of the encounter, we might respond with scepticism or even with doubt and disbelief.

The disciples, especially in Mark’s Gospel often give us this superficial misunderstanding.  Someone touched you! Jesus, you are pressed in on every side by the crowd, of course someone touched you!  They don’t see the deeper truth of the transforming touch, the special nature of this particular healing encounter. The humble reverence of the woman’s approach, her faith invested in that touch that it would offer her health and wholeness.

 And when Jesus asserts that the child, Jairus’ daughter is not dead but sleeping, the crowd of people weeping and wailing for her simply laugh at him. What nonsense he is saying.

These two stories tells us a deep truth about how we can be transformed, healed, made whole, made beautiful again by being touched, by the closest of encounters with God. When we are loved, when we are cared for, we become beautiful, gracefully made real.

Twelve long years of suffering, twelve short years of life. Each transformed in an instant by Jesus’s healing touch.

And each situation teaches us more about the truth of God’s love for us here and now and how our lives can be transformed just as radically as the woman and the little girl.

The healing is available for all. For rich and poor alike.

The synagogue leader; an important figure in the community; able to order and command people; rich perhaps, but with all his status and money, he could do nothing for his sick child, nothing to bring her back to life, to ‘wake her’ from a death like sleep. Only Jesus hands and words could. Freely given, in the quiet stillness of her bedroom with all the commotion dismissed.

And for the destitute woman, ground into poverty by her long illness, amid the great tumult and crowd of people, she has the insight to know that she needs the the briefest of encounters with Jesus to help her. Just to touch the hem of his cloak and immediately she is cured, healed of her disease.

Rich and poor, young and old, realising their need or oblivious of it. In the business of a crowd or in the stillness of a private room. In each case the encounter is powerful and immediate. The situation is transformed.

For us, the message is clear, coming close to God, recognising our illness or debility without God’s healing presence in our lives, encountering God through Jesus the Christ, his true Son, fully human, fully divine, is what can meet our deepest need.

St Augustine once famously described how we all have an aching and a longing for something in our lives in our very souls that is only really satisfied by a closeness to God. Our souls are ‘restless until they rest in thee’. Made in the image of God, we have a God shaped hole inside us. An aching for love which so many of us try to fill in other ways until we recognise the truth.

What makes us healthy and well? Healthy relationships.

Healed and transformed by God’s pattern, God’s good news to us, shown to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What did Jesus keep banging on about- Your sins are forgiven, the Kingdom of God is at hand. God loves the world, the universe into being, creates miraculously all the fabric of the universe, sustains and creates human beings as part of this great mystery and gives us the freedom to chose between right and wrong between right relationships with God, with each other and with the beautiful creatures of the created world, and wrong ones where we put ourselves in the place of God, think we are the ones controlling things, controlling others, living for simply selfish ends.

But even when we make mistakes and wilfully selfishly think we can do things our way, for our own selfish narrow needs, even then God never stops loving us and offers us a way back to restore healthy relationships in the life shown to us by Christ.

A pattern of selfless service to others of generosity of forgiveness.

And that presence of Christ in the world, at our best, is ourselves, we are the hands and feet that go out into the world in the power of the spirit to show the world the truth that love is stronger than death and that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Christ’s real presence, his body is here, in symbol and in reality, in the sacrament freely given to us. We are invited to come and touch and take the presence of God into ourselves, to be offered his healing presence and to take that out into the world. We are invited to become the Body of Christ present in the world.

Al said it was one of the very few sermons he listened to all the way through.

 

And so – as we seem to be going backwards – we come to the Ordination.

It was a lovely service – moving and wonderful in Carlisle’ Cathedral’s Quire, holding us in the holiness of the place. Peter looked suitably calm, excited, trepidatious before hand,

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and afterwards we gathered for a photo – all the friends and family that had come for the occasion. A joyous time.

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‘You use the word ‘lovely’ a lot’, said Thelma, an old friend from Bradford.

‘Yes, and ‘absolutely’ is another word I use a lot’, I reply. ’Today’s absolutely lovely.’

We gathered then, with members of the Cathedral Chapter, for a short and sweet ceremony in which the Bishop licensing me with a general licence across the Cathedral and Diocese to be a theologian to resource and serve as best I can.

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Then Susie – Al’s mother – very kindly offered refreshment at her hotel.

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Where she caught up with her son, discussing the football that was happening over our heads (over mine, certainly) …

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Tilda caught up with her godfather, Bill – an old friend of Peter’s from Cambridge days …

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Julia enjoyed herself

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And Peter practised his listening skills.

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We repaired to the Ristorante Adriano for a meal, before heading for home and cake, made by Lorna, St Michael’s parish administrator.

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A fruit cake. It will last.

‘Give the remainder a bit of time and it’ll mature nicely,’ Lorna said.

Words that go in all sorts of directions.

 

Ordination Day dawns

Peter is on retreat, as I write on this beautiful Saturday morning – the day of his ordination.

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He’s at Rydal Hall in the most beautiful country side you can imagine.

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The grounds were the work of renowned landscape architect, Thomas H. Mawson, who, in two short years from 1909 to 1911, transformed the garden to make the most of the view down the valley.

A retreat is a time away – retreating from the cares of everyday life – to enable thinking and praying about the deeper things of life. What’s my life really about? How do I open myself to what is Other to me? What are my hopes and fears for the future?

I imagine questions such as these have been in Peter’s mind.

It’s largely been in silence, but every so often he’s broken silence to WhatsApp.

It seems he has spent some of his time throwing himself into water, or contemplating doing so. “Am breaking the retreat silence to show you scenes of Rydal Hall,” he writes. “Decided to take a swim in Rydal Water just before my interview with the Bishop.”

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Renewing his baptism in the deep waters of life.

The Bishop’s Charge – which is the inspirational address the Bishop gives them – was about being as sheep among wolves. Shame the number of clergy in Cumbria doesn’t match the number of herdwicks. Perhaps the Church needs some wolves instead – just as George Monbiot argues, in Feral, that we need more wolves than sheep on these hills.

I always loved the Bury St Edmunds story of the wolf that guarded Edmund’s head until his followers could reunite it with his body after the Danes slaughtered him. Here’s my poem, that was turned into an anthem, with music by Janet Wheeler in 2014.

The Danes came by great fleet of ship, under Hingwar,
to plunder the Angles’ coast. Edmund the King
will never bow in life
unless first Hingwar bow to Christ, he said.
He stood in hall raising no sword. Bound to the tree
He called on Christ.
Mad with rage, they bristled him with arrows
And still with steadfast faith he called
On Jesus Christ.
Hingwar’s order, and the blow beheaded him;
His soul departed joyfully to Christ. 
The grey-eyed wolf
Stood guardian to holiness; until 
Head and body one. Holy Edmund
revealing Christ.
(after Aelfric of Eynsham (c955-c1010), The Lives of the Saints)

The grey-eyed wolf stood guardian to holiness …

I don’t know why Edmund is in my mind. Though as I think about Peter’s vocation, and the fact he could be nicely and easily retired now, doing his own thing, sinking into a well-deserved rest, I guess the sense of commitment to Jesus Christ is there. He’s putting his faith first, above personal interest. That’s impressive.

The family have gathered. First Jonty arrived on Thursday evening. We walked to the pier and lighthouse. Jonty is known for hanging from things. Remember the shot of him suspended from the bridge on the River Lark? Here he is again.

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He also jumps into water whenever he can. (Photo used with his permission!)

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Jonty has a wild side. Or two.

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The sunset was tremendous over Kirkcudbright.

Jonty’s with a year 12 school trip to Blencathra this weekend, so will join us for the service, but must be with the kids the rest of the time.

Then on Friday I picked up Theo and Hsuan from Carlisle. They had flown in from Taiwan and caught the train up from Manchester. By this time my father Hubert, and Judy, were at their hotel in Carlisle, so we all filled the car and came back to Workington for lunch and an afternoon in the garden.

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It was hot. Cumbria has a heat wave. Dad doesn’t enjoy the heat at all!

Jonty left about three; Hubert and Judy left on the train to Carlisle, and Hugh and Sammy arrived.

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We – Theo and Hsuan, Hugh and Sammy – had fish and chips in the only cool place we could think of – yes, back on the pier – watching six collies cavorting in the surf and sand, with St Bees Head in the distance.

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So – don’t tell Peter – I’ve gone on the Animal Rescue website and found a nice looking mongrel to check out. Her name is Breeze, and she’s two years old. It’s a complicated process to adopt, so most likely won’t come to anything. I have registered to visit and meet her, that’s all. (Honest, Peter …) She does look rather fun though.

On Thursday evening I asked Julia to come for supper. Julia is Peter’s training incumbent, and Peter had mentioned that she had a really hard day on Thursday, with two funerals with difficult pastoral issues.

Julia is the vicar at Harrington and has responsibility for the Salterbeck estate. Salterbeck was built in the 1930s to house steel workers and their families. It also housed those who were relocated there after the decision was taken in 1965 by Workington Council to demolish the Marsh and Quay. The Marsh and Quay was a residential area down by the harbour that was purchased under compulsory order in 1969 and demolition started soon after. There is a Facebook page of memories of those who lived there. This area was in St Michael’s parish – and significantly increased the population. The parish now has only about 3,000 souls. Perhaps when the new houses go up where the old steel works were, St Michael’s should bid to have responsibility for them.

Salterbeck now has some great people living there, according to Julia. It also has 50 known drug dealers on this small estate. And it’s not soft stuff. She does a number of overdose funerals each year.

She also told me that Workington is the town where, if you’re a child, there’s a higher probability than elsewhere that you’ll to be taken into care. I can’t find the statistics to support this, so must ask her when we meet later today. She’d just been to a community meeting – again, no details, but we both thought how much Peter will have to contribute to this work.

Lunch at the Bishop’s on Wednesday followed the ordination rehearsal in the Cathedral. It’s a building steeped in history. The guide was really helpful.

In 686 Cuthbert visited Christians in Carlisle. In 1102 Henry I granted the site for a religious house and an Augustinian priory dedicated to St Mary was founded, becoming the cathedral in 1133 for the new Diocese of Carlisle. It was dissolved in 1540, and a year later, Henry VIII incorporated ‘The Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity’.

It’s had a chequered history since the 12C, and now has two bays in the nave where originally there were seven. Five were demolished in the early 1650s. The impact inside is concentrated and intense, with some stunning mediaeval paintings …

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organ casings …

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a remarkable ceiling …

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and misericords of intricate and intriguing design.

While the rehearsal was going on I visited the Castle.

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It had a Poppies Weeping Window, part of the installation ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ – with the poppies and original concept by the artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper, originally at HM Tower of London in 2014.

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A poppy for each person from Cumbria who died in the 1914-18 war.

Carlisle Castle wears ‘a dour and pugnacious look’, says the guidebook. It’s never been converted from its purpose as a fortress, and was still occupied by soldiers within living memory. It was the mighty border stronghold against the Scots of the later Middle Ages, and in the 19C was used to control political unrest, so was largely renovated. It’s a building that has changed and developed in response to need through the ages.

When Viv and I were on the River Nene we visited Fotheringay. Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned there for seventeen years. She started her incarceration at Carlisle. Defeated by rebellious subjects in 1568, she fled to England, landing in Workington and enjoying the hospitality of the Curwen family for a few days, before being housed in the Warden’s Tower at the Castle. Sir Francis Knollys was appointed to ensure she didn’t escape. He allowed her to walk on the grass in front of the castle – thereafter known as ‘the Lady’s Walk’. There’s a Ladies Walk in Workington, too – was it her? I wonder.

Eventually Mary was persuaded to leave for Bolton Castle in Yorkshire, there beginning her southward journey to Fotheringay, where she was beheaded in 1586.

There’s a legend that when she landed in Workington, she used a tunnel that went from a funny little construction called Billy Bumbly Bee’s House to Workington Hall. Unlikely, I’d say.

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Onwards from Carlisle to the Bishop’s House in Keswick where we enjoyed lunch with the other ordinands and their spouses.

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The Bishop’s wife, Alison, has done a stunning job on the garden, transforming it from a wilderness into a delight.

‘A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot’.

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She’s planted trees galore, built terraces and beds, and a pond. The compost is turned over properly from one great box to the next. The bird life, and hedgehogs, and tadpoles thrive. It left me with fingers itching green to work hard at our garden at St Michael’s.

So, while Peter has been on retreat, the family has arrived. The day has dawned. This time tomorrow Peter will be ordained, and will be nervous about preaching his first sermon. He will be a wonderful deacon and priest, with an enormous amount to contribute from his experience.

It’s an extraordinary thing to do – to give your life to serve others, publicly and boldly, in today’s world. It’s to say ‘My life is not my own. It’s a gift I have received, and a gift I give to others.’ When the Bishop lays his hands on Peter’s head this afternoon, it has the same significance as getting married. He will change, as a single person changes to a married one. Once ordained, always ordained – for he will take vows that are binding on him for life, vows that are a public statement of his commitment to be as Christ to others.

Brother, sister, let me serve you; Let me be as Christ to you.
Pray that I may have the grace to/ let you be my servant too.
I will hold the Christlight for you in the nighttime of your fear;
I will hold my hand out to you, speak the peace you long to hear.
When we sing to God in heaven, we shall find such harmony,
born of all we’ve known together of Christ’s love and agony.

God bless you, this day, dear Peter.

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A Day without Peter

Monday 25 June 2018

‘Peter, it’s 5.30!’

The response was almost Hugh Grant’s at the beginning of Four Weddings and a Funeral. Peter’s off to a school reunion in London on the 6.05 train. Folk he’s not seen for years. His new grey suit looks great, and he’s off, not needing my offer of a lift to the station. I settle back to contemplate a day without him.

We’ve spend almost a month constantly in each other’s company. That’s seldom happened in our 30+ year long marriage. It’s working surprisingly well.

Neither of us is retired – I resist that, when people suggest it. Peter’s going to have his work cut out, with his curacy across the mission community in Workington. He’s a little anxious that expectations might be hard to manage, coming at him from different directions.

I’ve got various projects on the go before the PhD starts in the Autumn: revising the Theological Reflections Book, which needs to be done this week, and which is spinning me into a small whirlwind of panic, as I haven’t yet unpacked the book itself. Then there’s a book on preaching that I’m editing with Richard Sudworth – the latest Littlemore contribution. SCM, the publisher, want that out by the next Preaching colloquium that will happen next year at Christchurch, Oxford.

Archdeacon Richard called around on Friday, with a lovely bagful of wines. We sat out in the garden and talked of many things. I asked him what he thought I could best contribute to the Diocese as Canon Theologian. He came up with various ideas – off piste, as he said. The best was some reflection on what priesthood is for, in a church that is putting so much emphasis on setting God’s people free – which was a paper that came to General Synod in February last year. See also this website Thinking Anglicans, for further comment and discussion. We wondered if the Church was concentrating too much on the first two of the Five Marks of Mission, and not enough on the others. We talked of what happens in the Diocese about engagement with the environment. I want to be a Canon Theologian that contributes worthwhile work that is helpful to the Diocese.

We showed him around the house. He made appreciative sounds at the colourful approach we’ve taken, though he did blanch rather at the Coral Flair of Peter’s study.

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What I like about this house is how so many of our things are finding their place in that satisfactory way you know when things are just right, somehow. Our chaise longue and armchair in our bedroom.

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Chesterton, our pig by Kate Denton, in pride of place.

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Too many books, of course.

But a great opportunity to do some serious pruning. I phone Mr Moon from Whitehaven who has the most extensive second hand book shop you can imagine, stretching through passageways and rooms of an entire house. He’s an institution, an experience, in himself. He needed convincing. ‘We’ve thirteen rooms of books already,’ he growled at me, down the phone. ‘I know,’ I said. I tempted him with the six volumes of the Lyttelton Hart-Davis Letters, first edition. He said they couldn’t come that day as they were at a book fair in Lancaster, but he’d get his son to give me a phone.

I emailed Bishop James, to see if he wanted my books on interfaith and Islam for the Reconciliation Centre at Rose Castle. The Diocese might want others for Ministry Training. We’ll see. At the moment they are on our dining room table, all ready to be viewed by any interested.

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Our first Sunday at St Michael’s yesterday. I presided and preached – the first time the congregation had experienced a woman at the altar. Some have waited for this for years, I was told. Others were not so sure. Everyone received, though. I preached about how God calls us, often in surprising ways – the sermon can be found elsewhere on the blog.

This is a lovely, warm congregation where we will quickly feel at home. After over two years of vacancy, they have kept the show on the road magnificently. A wonderful example of God’s people set free. They want a priest, though. It does beg the question of what the priest is for. Why have priests?

Sunday 24 June – Midsummer’s Day. My mother, Pix, had she lived beyond her 67 years, would have been 80 today.

After Church, Peter and I headed for the hills, and after finding the road closed to Loweswater, came in by Lorton Vale to Buttermere.

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Lunch of butternut squash and goat’s cheese risotto at the Bridge Hotel,

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then we walked around the lake.

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‘In Devon, they’d call this day “given”’, said Peter. ‘A given day’.

Warm, a light breeze from the west. People come to enjoy this wonderful spot, in different ways.

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People were swimming, though none skinny dipping.

And in the air.

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The woods gave the air that lovely heavy smell. The air is clean. No sign of Ash Die-Back at all. This an old tree, but covered in healthy growth.

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Haystacks high above – Wainwright’s favorite mountain. Where his ashes are scattered.

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The path through woodland

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and through a tunnel! Which reminded me of Braunston, Harecastle, Foulridge …

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We loved the wall built on the rock.

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The herdwick ram.

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The foxgloves in the gorse.

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Peter and I remembered walks we’d done here, over the tops. Though we don’t know these mountains as well as the Wasdale ones – so it felt good to anticipate the years of exploration ahead. Mellbreak was there, alongside Crummock Water.

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Melvyn Bragg’s daughter, Marie-Elsa, who is a priest, has written Towards Mellbreak. It’s there, somewhere in a box in the garage, ready to be read.

The walk rounded off with some Buttermere Ayrshire home-made icecream.

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Back in Workington, Peter and I have made the walk out to the Lighthouse a few times now. Twice on Saturday.

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Saturday evening, we watched a ship dock reverse into the Prince of Wales dock, ready to unload timber for the paperboard factory, Iggersund, that’s just north of Workington. Then, as we walked, the overwhelming sound of skylark, and scent of honeysuckle, combined.

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The green beacon at the end marks the starboard entry to the harbour, and is, we reckon, the most north-westerly point of England.

There’s Criffel, only 20 miles away;

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and we could see the Isle of Man and Snaefell – though too indistinct for a photo. It looked different to the more familiar view we have from Waberthwaite. Again, we walk to the Lighthouse on Sunday morning, and watch the fishing boats motor out, as the tide begins to come in.

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How I love the sea. Living in a town that’s also a port is a treat.

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A day ahead without Peter. ‘You won’t get depressed, will you?’ He asks.

Saturday had been a down day for me. I just feel heavy inside, for no reason. May be unpacking books left me feeling how little I knew, and I guess I was anxious about Sunday morning. Depression has never debilitated me – but sometimes it comes close. Nor does it last long – and is often countered by an enthusiasm that grabs me for a day or two. I’m not seriously bipolar at all, and I think I have a mild form. Stephen Fry calls it cyclothymia, a form of bipolar disorder. His honesty has done wonders to raise awareness. Read this.

No, I won’t get depressed. Or if I do feel low, I’ll imagine the dog we’re going to get. Peter has pretty much accepted that it’ll happen. ‘Just imagine,’ I said as we walked in Buttermere, ‘how much more fun it would be if we had a dog with us.’ He grunts, or groans – can’t tell which. ‘The right dog will choose us’, I say. Perhaps this Monday, with him in London, I could find a rescue centre, and just have a little look?

Chickens are altogether easier. Irene came up to me before the service on Sunday, and told me she got hers from a farm up at Winscales, inland of Workington. She said she’d drop the address by; that she’d already been in touch with them. We could wait for youngsters, or take hens too old for commercial laying almost immediately, as she does. It will be great to have chickens again. They make such  wonderful companions.

It’s another given day. That’s the best answer to depression – the recognition that all is given. When you live with a sense of gift in life, even depression is a gift.

So onwards and upwards, as Eric Robson says, in his Cumbrian accent. Nothing like the dialect that Robin, at church, offered as we sat waiting for evensong to begin yesterday evening. I told her of a funeral visit I’d done as a curate in Westhoughton. How the old bloke and his friend had had great fun at my expense, conversing in broad Lanky, knowing I’d not understand a word. Rob said she’d drop round. ‘Let’s have an evening of it at the Rectory,’ I said.

Moving In

It’s early on Tuesday morning, and we’ve slept a couple of nights on the floor in front of the new, super-efficient wood burner.

The house is empty – gloriously empty – and we’ve been able to get on and do a few jobs – little things, like new loo seats, curtains up in the dining room, a bolt on the gate –  while two men work to install the new boiler. Visits, too, and cards – so a lovely warm welcome.

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The colours we’ve chosen for the walls and carpets work. We needed to persuade the archdeacon to allow us to depart from the pastel colours that vicarages normally receive with a promise that we’ll return to magnolia when we leave. But that’s not going to be for a while yet.

It’s a friendly house, well built, and feels like it’s responding well to the colour. It’s ready to be lived in and loved.

There’s a garden all around – a good size, with a section fenced off. That’s where the chickens will go. The dog (don’t tell Peter) will have the run of the rest. There will be a pond, eventually, and rose gardens. The gardener whose been looking after it has done a great job indeed. Large trees all around. Peter’s a little concerned the removals lorry won’t fit.

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We walked down towards the port yesterday evening. Lorries were taking off wood from the dock, perhaps to the local cardboard making factory.

The Vanguard sailing club had some yachts at mooring.

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There were fishing boats, and all sorts, moored against the sea wall of the harbour.

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This is where the River Derwent (that flooded so disastrously in 2015 (and 2009)) flows into the sea.

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The website tells us that the Port of Workington is owned and operated by Cumbria County Council, which is the Statutory Harbour Authority, and is an independent Municipal Port established in 1975, serving as a strategic hub for Northern England & Scotland. The Prince of Wales Dock is a modern enclosed dock with a total water area of 2.6 hectares and a quay frontage of 773m providing 7 berths plus a roll on-roll off facility. The great advantage of the Port is its rail freight services via its main line connection. All the berths are rail-connected, with an extensive internal rail system.

There’s history to it, with the port dating back to Roman Times when there was a Hadrianic fort here.

During the 14th century Workington Hall was the hereditary seat of the Curwen family. St Michael’s Church has a tombstone to them. Our good friend Philly-Jane, who is due to visit us in September, comes from the family.

As Viv and I chugged the River Nene, we stopped at Fotheringay – where Mary Queen of Scots had been imprisoned and executed. I hadn’t realised then that she began her long 19 years of captivity here in Workington. On 16th May 1568 she took refuge in Workington Hall after sailing across the Solway Firth from Dundrennan Abbey. Three days of care and sanctuary, before she was escorted to Cockermouth, then to Carlisle Castle. This was the beginning of her 19 years of captivity which ended with her trial for treason and execution at Fotheringay.

The port was used to export coal for Ireland at the beginning of the 17th century. A wagonway from Seaton Colliery was opened in 1732. The Harbour Accounts of the 1730s show that there were buoys, marker posts, beacons, dredging work and new stone paving and the port was further extended by a tidal cut of 1763-9. On the south side were a series of staithes linked by wagonways to local collieries. This was extended seawards by the Dock Quay of 1798, and the Merchants Quay on the other side of the cut.

It was at Workington that Henry Bessemer introduced his revolutionary steel making process. During the 18th and 19th centuries more than thirty pits were in operation, and Workington remained the centre of steel production in northwest England for 100 years. A favourite local saying referred to the railway tracks made in Workington and exported through the Port to other countries as “holding the world together”. Lonsdale Dock was built in 1864 to handle the trade, able to accommodate vessels of 2,000 tonne dead weight.

By 1927 the iron and steel industry in West Cumberland had grown rapidly, and after the First World War the Lonsdale Dock was improved and extended. The new dock was renamed the Prince of Wales Dock, being officially opened on 30th June 1927 by HRH the Prince of Wales. In 1975 the Port transferred from a subsidiary of British Steel to Cumbria County Council.

We walked on, out towards the sea, to the lighthouse structure at the end of the harbour wall. A boy and his father were fishing in the wind, as the tide poured out. There is a distance marker, showing how far Workington is from the rest of the world.

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London is 263 miles away. 271 miles to John o’Groats.

The town looks different from here, with St Michael’s Church surrounded by trees.

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Up along the coast path, with meadow pipits around us. Two cormorant flew out to sea. We weren’t sure if we could hear a skylark or not.

We decided to walk to what looked like a trig point. As we approached it was a crucifix, with Christ looking out over the town. Workington’s San Paulo.

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Later, in the fish and chip shop, we asked about it. ‘He lives just over there. He put it up in memory of his wife. They used to walk their dog along that stretch’, we were told. This BBC news item has more detail, describing how in 2015 Peter Nelson built it, 9ft tall, a crucifix in tribute to his late wife. “I was just in a bad place at the time and something made me go and put a cross on the top of a lonely hill in Workington.” Mr Nelson said there was “almost divine intervention” when he and some friends erected the crucifix on a Sunday morning last year. “We were surrounded by mist and fog and nobody could see us,” he said.

It was controversial at the time as he didn’t seek planning permission, but a retrospective application for permission was approved after about 1,800 supporters signed a petition. Allerdale Borough councillors decided it could stay.

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Now the base is surrounded by padlocks, inscribed with names of those who have died; and perhaps boats that have gone down. Peter and I wondered if any church services happen up there at dawn on Easter day.

The coastal path opened in 2014.

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The views are good southwards, towards St Bees head – beyond Whitehaven.

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A skylark was singing, bravely into the wind, as we descended. White bladder campion, too.

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As we walked so many people greeted us; stopped to talk. St Michael’s was there, a quiet, steady presence in this interesting town. There’s so much to discover as we begin to put roots down, to settle, after all the changes of the last year or so.

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The chippy is just along from us. The lady there was surprised that it was so busy; that more folk weren’t watching the England Tunisia game. We took our cod and chips home, and ate them, sitting on the kitchen floor. Then lit the woodburner, and read Murdoch’s The Black Prince aloud.

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Today starts shortly, with the boiler men returning to finish the installation; a joiner coming to sort the skirting, and shave the doors to fit over the carpets … and then the lorries arrive.