Ordination Day dawns

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


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


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.”


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.


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


Jonty has a wild side. Or two.


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.


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.


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.


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 …


organ casings …


a remarkable ceiling …


and misericords of intricate and intriguing design.

While the rehearsal was going on I visited the Castle.


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.


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.


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’.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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


then we walked around the lake.


‘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.


People were swimming, though none skinny dipping.

And in the air.


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.


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


The path through woodland


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



We loved the wall built on the rock.


The herdwick ram.


The foxgloves in the gorse.


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.


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.


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.


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;


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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



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


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.



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.


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.



Sunday 17 June 2018

We awake to the sound of curlews. It’s an evocative cry, or more a whistle; drawn out and melancholic.

The bird life is good, here at Snaygill, even with the A65 just there, on the other side of the canal and hedge. Two pairs of swans with three cygnets each; one pair are good parents; the other much less experienced, we’ve gathered. Lapwings in the fields; and yes, larks as well. We can hear warblers churring away. Yesterday evening there were a good number – at least 30 – swifts wheeling high above, and swallows fast and skillful, alongside as we walked the towpath to Bradley, the next village.

Our mooring is alongside another boat which is painted almost exactly the same colours. We’re looking forward to meeting its owners. One of their friends popped along to have a chat on Friday evening. Once we get to know folk, we think we’ll be happy here. It’s almost exactly 100 miles from Liverpool.IMG_0539

As we arrive, we’re thinking of Hugh and Sammy who are on the other side of the world, visiting Theo and Hsuan in Taiwan. It’s Father’s Day today, and WhatsApp is busy.



With Tilda and Al – we’re blessed.

Skipton is a great town.

We set off from Gargrave on Friday morning early, the wind still significant, but nothing like Hector the day before.

Six locks – this is the last one, number 219 that I’ve gone through, with Viv, or Jenny or Peter’s help –


– and three swing bridges and we were into Skipton, with three more swing bridges, lifting the roads, making cars and people wait.

There was Black Velvet, moored up (Steve and Linda’s boat, that we went up the Wigan Flight with). No sign of them. And lots of other boats. A great atmosphere. We passed the junction of the Springs Branch, which is restricted to boats under 35ft, unless you’re confident you can reverse out avoiding moored craft.

The branch was opened in 1797 (the year Edmund Burke died) to enable Lord Thanet, who lived in Skipton Castle, to load his limestone, brought from the quarries by tramroad, to be taken to Leeds. It runs for half a mile, then becomes a ravine through ravishingly beautiful old woodland, now managed by the Woodland Trust. Peter and I walked up later that afternoon, after we’d enjoyed pies and mushy peas (Skipton is famous for them – the pies, that is. Mushy peas are not necessary something to be famous for).




Then we visited Holy Trinity Church, where once I preached when I was at Bradford, and Adrian Botwright was Rector. The church is lovely. We’ll go back on Sunday morning.


We’d walked into Skipton from Snaygill, once we’d met Sean and moored up, and signed a contract to say we won’t live aboard, or have too many cars in the carpark. He’d directed us to a laundry, tucked away behind the Plaza Cinema, which saw us lugging heavy bags up and down steep streets, until we found the laundry who managed to wash and dry everything in a couple of hours. Giving us time to wander. The Oxfam bookshop was a great place. I managed to find a copy of Lark Rise to Candleford.


It’s been in my mind, to read it again. Horribly sentimental as the TV adaptation, but a really interesting piece of social history – and also, it gives a baseline for biodiversity, then in the 1880s. The introduction by Hugh Massingham worth reading again.

George Monbiot, in his book Feral, explains that the natural world we grow up with is the one we think is normal. That’s the baseline we use to decide whether the natural world around us is degrading or improving. So the baseline Peter and I have is from the 1970s, before farming intensification really set in. Our memory is of species – flycatchers, hawfinches, corn buntings, butterflies – many of which are now rare, or have faded out.

Our children, on the other hand, have no such memory. What they think of as normal is ash die-back, no elm trees, and exotics, like Japanese knotweed. To read Flora Thompson gives another baseline – hers, from the 1880s: ‘stoats crossed the road in front of the children’s feet – swift, silent, stealthy creatures which made them shudder; bands of little blue butterflies flitted here and there or poised themselves with quivering wings on the long grass bents; bees hummed in the white clover blooms, and over all a deep silence brooded’. (p. 35).

Lark Rise to Candleford. Larkrise to Skipton.

I’ve been trying to work out what this blog is really about. It’s been a travelogue, of course – tracing the daily, onward chugging from Prickwillow to Skipton, up through the heart of England, along a route that isn’t the normal one, any more, to get from A to B. Six weeks, and blessed by the weather. It’s been idyllic – the chance to think deeply about my life, and sense of vocation, as Peter and I begin a new chapter in Cumbria.

The canals are a delight – and should be a national park in their own right, dedicated to preserving and developing the biodiversity that flourishes in these corridors of wildlife. You see a different country from them, often high above, or contouring around, the local landscape; or taken directly into the heart of cities, unseen by the traffic and busyness around.

They were built for one purpose, and now have another – which is to provide the opportunity to slow down – whether on a boat, or a cycle, or on foot. The water and the towpaths are extrordinary. They give the chance for a different attention to the world around to grow and be nurtured.

As I’ve travelled with Viv, then Jenny, then Peter, it’s been a personal journey too. I’ve been surprised by my continuing sense of loss, even of lament. Reading Mark Cocker certainly focused my sense of lament for the losses sustained by the natural world around (and how long can that continue?).

But also the loss of an England that has passed – many Englands that have passed – from the 18C when the canals were being built, through their heyday in the 1830s, and then the development of different travel and communications systems, to the world of speed and instantaneity that we rely on today. There’s a loss to that – of care, community – which I believe was expressed significantly as people voted Brexit. I’ve been wondering about the deeply felt yearning for a past England, for different baselines, that motivates people today, who find themselves living either too fast, or too crowded, or too lonely. This isn’t nostalgia. It’s a desire for belonging.

And the Church. The way it offers belonging is so often the old-fashioned sense of rootedness; of living along others; of caring. The Church doesn’t thrive in a world where all is instrumental and contractual. And it’s not found a way to commend its traditions to generations who have not been formed with church-going, choir-singing habits.

The churches we’ve visited have held a sense of the Other, of God – Ely, Wadenhoe, Peterborough, Brinklow, Manchester, Wigan, Blackburn, Accrington, Skipton. It takes attention though, allowing the right hemisphere to soak in the encounter; the left hemisphere to stop analysing, controlling.

Perhaps that’s what I’ve been seeking, as I’ve undertaken this personal voyage. My own re-engagement with what is other to me – in the natural world around; in the different element of water; in the built environment of village, town, city; in the churches I’ve visited, the conversations and people I’ve met.

In Why Rousseau Was Wrong I explored how Roger Scruton explains the importance of a sense of loss. In Gentle Regrets, he describes how he regained his religion, and writes movingly about loss. He concludes the book with his reflections on the Jubilate Deo, Psalm 100. ‘Once we came before God’s presence with a song; now we come before his absence with a sigh’, he laments. What might it be like to lose religion, to lose what the Church of England brings to national life? Scruton writes in his final chapter ‘Regaining my Religion’:

If you see things in that way you will find it difficult to share the view of Enlightenment thinkers that religious decline is no more than the loss of false beliefs; still less will you be able to accept the postmodernist vision of the world now liberated from absolutes, in which each of us constructs guidelines of his own, and that the only agreement that counts is the agreement to differ. The decline of Christianity, I maintain, involves, for many people, not the freedom from religious need, but the loss of concepts that would enable them to assuage it and, by assuaging it, to open their knowledge and their will to the human reality. For them the loss of religion is an epistemological loss – a loss of knowledge. Losing that knowledge is not a liberation but a fall.

In our civilisation, therefore, religion is the force that has enabled us to bear our losses and so to face them as truly ours. The loss of religion makes real loss difficult to bear; hence people begin to flee from loss, to make light of it, or to expel from themselves the feelings that make it inevitable. . . . Modern people pursue not penitence but pleasure, in the hope of achieving a condition in which renunciation is pointless since there is nothing to renounce. Renunciation of love is possible only when you have learned to love. This is why we see emerging a kind of contagious hardness of heart, an assumption on every side that there is no tragedy, no grief, no mourning, for there is nothing to mourn. There is neither love nor happiness – only fun. For us, one might be tempted to suggest, the loss of religion is the loss of loss . . . Except that the loss need not occur. (Scruton, Gentle Regrets, pp. 225–239 passim.)

It’s a passage that’s stayed with me since I first read it. It begins to come close to a constant sense of lament that I feel  – particularly as I contemplate the natural world around under such pressure; but also as I think about the Church and what it has meant, and could offer more, to enable the encounter with what is Other in our lives.

In my next book Full of Character I explore the distinction between autonomy and heteronomy. The engagement with what is other to us is the key. That’s what’s been the main thing I’ve gained from the last six weeks. Letting go of that all-pervasive sense of autonomy that we value so much in Western culture today, and embracing what heteronomy offers – the engagement with otherness.

Friends are the most obvious. Friendship is one of the best places to be.

We celebrated our arrival not with a large gathering, but with six old friends from Lancashire and Yorkshire – Harry and Eth,IMG_0534

whom we’ve met before as they’ve helped with laundry, and opened lock after lock up the Wigan Flight. Harry, bless him, has provided us with a shore to boat electrical line out of one of his four sheds.

Thelma has been a constant friend since we left Bradford, and David and Sally too.

Here’s Thelma and Sally …


Jacquie is the reason we’re at Snaygill. She and her brother have a boat here.

So they all came for lunch on Saturday, and a walk along the towpath. Unfortunately, David, and Jacquie, had to leave straight after lunch. But here’s the rest of us.


Today, Sunday, Peter and I leave for Workington. So the trip is over. I need to get up, now, to go to Church!

Thank you for following the blog thus far. I’m thinking of continuing …

but not from The Lark Ascending, as she now is at rest (for the time being) at Snaygill.




The first day of real wind, as Storm Hector blows across the British isles on Thursday 14 June.

Stein Connelly, Operator Manager for Transport Scotland has said, “The strong winds and rain may lead to difficult driving conditions, particularly for high-sided vehicles.  As always, motorists should take extra time to plan journeys, follow police advice and drive appropriate to conditions.  The strong wind may impact rail, air and ferry services, so travellers should check with operators to see if their journeys will be affected.”

Narrowboats are surprisingly susceptible. You’d think their weight and power would simply plough on through any wind – but it’s easy to be blown off course, and end up on a lee bank. Then it’s very hard, sometimes impossible, to manoeuvre off, with the wind holding you there.

So Thursday dawned with the gale still raging, and we set off from Foulridge northwards towards Barnoldswick – Barlick, as the locals call it – and from there, towards Gargrave, where we thought we’d stay the night. If we got there.

The Met Office has started naming storms. It helps to alert people that they need to be ready for this one.

And it was wild at times – with the trees thrashing around, threatening to drop branches on us as we chugged along. Thankfully not many other boats. Some near misses, as the wind drove us towards moored vessels.

This stretch of the canal is beautiful – perhaps the most beautiful of the whole Leeds Liverpool – so we’ll have to be back to enjoy it without the strain and concentration required, thanks to Hector.


The countryside is green and rolling, with the canal contouring around through fields and villages.


Were we still in Lancashire? It didn’t feel like it, anymore. It felt like Yorkshire. Pendle Hill was still brooding over us behind, but very soon the Yorkshire moors could be seen in the distance before us, and the Pennine Way joined the canal towpath for stretches, on its way to the Scottish borders (or, if you’re Simon Armitage, walking home from Scotland, described in his excellent 2012 book).


We pulled up in Barnoldswick. A bloke with his dog stopped to talk, to commend the town. The Rolls Royce social club was the place to eat, if we were here overnight. There was a real, traditional grocers in town. The dog – a staffy (true, not American, with a lovely smile and boisterousness) fell in the canal as she misjudged the boat distance. He warned her of a shower when they got home. She knew the word.

The town is obviously competing for the ‘town in bloom’ award. Flowers everywhere; local businesses supporting ‘Barlick in Bloom’ – because, of course, the name is shortened (even more than Oswaldtwistle is. (Ossletwistle).) The Civic Hall had it


The local Indian more colloquially.


We wandered, looking for the grocers, and found some delightful shops, and a market square, thriving with life.

The grocers was run by Sikhs, with a range of vegetables – some you’d expect, others not.  Then a coffee at a cake shop.


On our way back to TLA we passed the Rolls Royce works.


Just on the day when cuts of 4,600 jobs are announced. One of the reasons Barlick feels so resilient are the number of businesses we came across. Let’s hope Rolls-Royce here won’t be too affected – it looks like the head office in Derby is going to take the brunt, according to the Lancashire Telegraph.

Back to the boat and the canal has white horses. Never seen that before. The wind is hectoring – a good name. It leaves me tired, disgruntled, irritable. I think of that poem Wedding Wind by Larkin of the wind of disappointment through the wedding joy of a new bride. And also of L M Montgomery’s character Emily, who would imagine the Wind Woman bringing her poetic soul to life, in Emily of New Moon.

L M Montgomery, Emily of New Moon, 1928, p13ff: Emily is talking to her image in the mirror.

She loved the spruce barrens, away at the further end of the long, sloping pasture. That was a place where magic was made. … And the barrens were such a splendid place in which to play hide-and-seek with the Wind Woman. She was so very real there; if you could just spring quickly enough around a little cluster of spruces – only you never could – you would see her as well as feel her and hear her. There she was – that was the sweep of her grey cloak – no, she was laughing up in the very top of the taller trees – and the chase was on again – till, all at once, it seemed as if the Wind Woman were gone – and the evening was bathed in a wonderful silence – and there was a sudden rift in the curdled clouds westward, and a lovely, pale, pinky-green lake of sky with a new moon in it.

And then, for one glorious, supreme moment, came ‘the flash’.

Emily called it that, although she felt that the name didn’t exactly describe it. It couldn’t be described – not even to father, who always seemed a little puzzled by it. Emily never spoke if it to anyone else.

It always seemed to Emily, ever since she could remember, that she was very, very near to a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside – but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered it, and then it was as if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond – only a glimpse – and heard a note of unearthly music.

This moment came rarely – went swiftly, leaving her breathless with the inexpressible delight of it. She could never recall it – never summon it – never pretend it; but the wonder of it stayed with her for days. It never came twice with the same thing. Tonight the dark boughs against that far-off sky had given it. It had come with a high, wild note of wind in the night, with a shadow-wave over a ripe field, with a greybird lighting on her window-sill in a storm, with the singing of ‘Holy, holy, holy,’ in church, with a glimpse of the kitchen fire when she had come home on a dark autumn night, with the spirit-like blue of ice palms on a twilit pane, with a felicitous new word when she was writing down a ‘description’ of something. And always when the flash came to her, Emily felt that life was a wonderful, mysterious thing of persistent beauty.

I try to persuade myself this wind is exhilarating.  That it opens up other worlds.

The Lark Ascending looks ready to battle on. The wind doesn’t feel on our side.


After Barlick there are locks – the Greenberfield three,


and then a double-arched bridge at East Marton,


and the locks descending into Gargrave.

We had help with these, from CRT volunteers, who are always keen to talk. It’s dairy country – good to see cows – a dairy herd, with a bull for added measure – out grazing as cows should.


The volunteer had a view. He didn’t rate the local farmers – the ones that weren’t organic. ‘They take a lot of water out of the canal, for a start,’ he said. ‘Then there’s the farmer, locally, who keeps 900 cows in his barn. They never see the grass. The grass is cut into silage and taken to them in the barns. Then the shit they produce is sprayed all over the grass, to make more grass. It doesn’t make sense. The cows never see the grass.’

Many of the bridges along the canal have rope marks. Rather beautiful. Not good for the ropes, though, and not good for the bridges either. So rollers were used. Most of them have gone now, but along this stretch we saw one or two.


And even one around a bend in the canal



Hector means – I fear – the end of the lovely settled weather I’ve enjoyed all trip. I’m reading Mr Lear at the moment, by Jenny Uglow.


She describes how Edward Lear visited the Lake District in 1836, when he was 24. He was already a fine painter of birds; perhaps he could become a landscape artist. A trip to the Lakes, then, was a must for any aspiring artist. But it rained. And rained!


I must read more of Alexandria Harris on weather. Her latest book, Weatherland: Writers and Artists under English Skies is, she says, ‘an exploration of imaginative responses to the weather in England across centuries. I wanted to lie on the grass and watch the sky with Chaucer, with Milton, with Turner’.

I’ll lie with her. The weather is so moody, so powerful an aspect of living in this country, and countryside.

Embracing the rain, after the glorious May we have had, and as we now have left East Anglia with its gentler, sunnier climate, is part of this move up to the north west.

We moored that night, Thursday, over the aqueduct over the river Aire and saw a dipper below. You don’t get dippers in Suffolk. Nor do you get Wainwright beer.


The Other Side

14 June 2018

Foulridge Tunnel is traffic-lighted. We had a green light in our favour as we approached, and followed a hire boat in, that we’d paired up through the Barrowford Locks.

It had been the second tunnel we’d done in two days as higher and higher we’d risen, passing through Gannow Tunnel as we left Hapton and came towards Burnley.

This is Gannow Tunnel, looking back behind us. The light at the other end of the tunnel, with the same distance yet to go.


As we chugged through Burnley and Nelson, the terrain began to feel high country. Foulridge, the second tunnel, didn’t mark the border between Lancashire and Yorkshire (that comes later, after Barnoldswick), but somehow felt as if it did.

This hire boat, from Silsden, towards Keighley, was full of Kiwis – six of them – three couples, all in their 70s and 80s, who had known each other for over forty years. The boat was no bigger than ours – so they were hugger-mugger. The blokes – Ted, Terry and Wayne – had sung together at national and international level, winning awards in a Barber Shop quartet. Barbara, Christine and Sue decided everything, Ted told me.

They’d done this before – come over for a narrowboat holiday. It’d had been the Severn ring last time. Ted, Terry and I – on the boats – talked of Christchurch after the earthquake, and how the city couldn’t decide what to rebuild, and what to leave. We talked of how Ted had come out with his mum and dad, who were following his older brother and sister, who’d emigrated after WW2, and made their life there. Residency was easy then. Now they come back to the UK often, when it’s winter there, summer here.

As soon as we were in the tunnel they chimed up with ‘In Dublin’s Fair City’. The sound echoed around, filling the length of the almost-mile-long tunnel. ‘And her ghost wheeled the barrow, through streets broad and narrow, crying cockles and mussels, alive, alive-o’. Our turn.

Peter and I gave ‘I sing you one-o’. All the verses, so plenty of opportunity to give it all they had on ‘Three, three, the rivals’. I mean all they had. The rounded walls, that dripped and ran with water and salts, had a great acoustic. The extended harmonies bounced off water and reverberated, embracing the boat that came behind.

They were off down towards Leeds – for Foulridge tunnel marks the summit of the Leeds Liverpool. The water sheds here, and the flow will be with us, as we make our way down with locks that empty now, the lark descending, through Barnoldswick, through Gargrave, and to our final destination, Skipton.

On Ilkley Moor bar t’hat came next. All verses. Soon worms will come and eat thee up. And we will come and eat up ducks. We sang. As the light at the end grew greater, ‘Should auld acquaintance be forgot’ was their way of saying goodbye.


The idea of a tunnel between Leeds and Preston was first conceived in 1765 by John Stanhope of Calverley, near Leeds. A public meeting in Bradford, the following year, and by 1767 the proposal now was for a canal from Leeds to Liverpool. in 1768 the Lancashire side met, and Liverpool promoters suggested that the canal should pass through Burnley and Blackburn instead of via Whalley. 1770 saw the first Leeds and Liverpool Act passed, authorising a line via Skipton, Gargrave, Colne, Whalley, Walton-le-Dale and Parbold.

In 1773 the canal opened from Bingley to Skipton, and the following year, from Liverpool to Gathurst, and then by Douglas Navigation to Wigan. Skipton to Gargrave opened, and Bradford to Shipley and Bingley. in 1777 the canal from Skipton to Leeds was completed, but all the available capital ran out, so construction ceased on the main line. Meanwhile the canal opened from Gathurst to Wigan in 1780, and the branch canal from Burscough to Rufford and Sollom Lock in 1781.

A second Leeds and Liverpool Canal Act passed in 1783 to raise more money, and a third in 1790, authorising the line to be altered to avoid an aqueduct at Whalley Nab. In 1791 building recommenced west of Gargrave, and a third Leeds and Liverpool Act was passed in 1794, permitting a new line through East Lancashire. In 1796 the Foulridge Tunnel was completed, allowing the canal to reach to Burnley.


In 1799 the Lancaster Canal stretched from Haigh to Wheelton, and in 1801 the Leeds and Liverpool from Burnley to Henfield, and in 1810 to Blackburn. In 1816 the canal was completed, and opened throughout, with the Leigh branch joining to the Bridgewater, in 1820.

We moored up outside Café Cargo, in Foulridge, after a long day of the tunnel, and before that, the locks through Barrowford. Cafe Cargo was booked for a meal that night, and so we walked, back over the route of the tunnel, looking for the three air shafts that illuminated us briefly with light from above as we made our way through. We found two of them, with brick surrounds, on the old towpath which is now a cycle route.


The cycle routes that criss-cross the country are impressive, managed by the charity Sustrans. The old route for the horses, as the boats went through the tunnel, is now route 68.

The flowers are different, now that we’re in mid-June. The elder in full bloom, and the dog roses too.


Peter and I found orange hawkweed in the churchyard of St Michael and All Angels, Foulridge.


Eric and I spoke on the phone – Eric from the other St Michaels, in Workington – about our plans to arrive on Sunday, and await the furniture which should be with us on Tuesday. There’s a new boiler to go in, but basically the house is ready. A week’s time, and the Rectory will be our new home. I need to start to prepare a sermon for Sunday 24 June. Both Peter and I are looking forward now. The trip is almost over.


Back on The Lark Ascending, and we settled down to watch the cruiser moored behind us get ready for a coach from Huddersfield. The care and patience was commendable, that enabled a number of older folk, with their mobility walkers, to negotiate the flagstones of the wharf, and make their way down onto Marton Emperor. Off she went, when they were all seated at their tables, down towards Barnoldswick. ‘Someone saw an otter yesterday’, said Martin, the owner of the boat. He’d wondered if it were a mink, but no, ‘it was too big and brown for that’.

Now I don’t have to work at Peter’s stole – and I’ve embroidered the Christogram from Mirfield on to its reverse side, using the threads that were blessed at the last Mass –


I’ve turned my hand to a rag rug for the boat. So I sat, and tugged strips of rag through hessian, attracting attention from the old ladies. ‘Good to see that’s still happening’, said one.


Peter read aloud Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and his Emissary, from chapters about the Enlightenment and the beginning of Romanticism.

McGilchrist explores how, at different times, Western culture has been dominated by either the left hemisphere or the right hemisphere of the human brain. He’s very clear that this is a metaphorical way of reading cultural history, and it makes a lot of sense to Peter and me. It’s the book we’ve chosen for our book club, which will meet in Skipton, on The Lark Ascending, in a month or so.

When the left hemisphere is dominant, the attention becomes focused on detail and systems. It seeks to control and categorise, to differentiate and manage. When the right hemisphere is in ascendency, culture and the mind is more aware of that which is beyond, and other, and which cannot be grasped, but only encountered. It’s a great book, offering a ground breaking way of seeing the human condition.

It felt strange to leave Lancashire behind. We looked back over the last few days, as we’d climbed steadily from Hapton, near Accrington, onwards. The view of Pendle Hill always with us.


We hadn’t stopped in Burnley – though were impressed by the signs of regeneration, especially of the wonderful great mills and warehouses that line this canal, reminders of the industrial past.


Burnley football ground was on our left, and the bus station painted in claret. Large churches,


terraces of houses, seen from the canal as it makes its way through Burnley –


and the canal with too many shopping trolleys and even derelict boats.


As we filled up with water, there was a boat with a bed base attached to his stern. ‘It’s all around my prop’, he said. ‘It’s burned out the engine and the gear box. It’s too tangled to remove. We’re not going anywhere’, he told us as we chugged past him. What would you do? We wondered. Very glad that wasn’t our fate.

Tuesday evening we’d moored just beyond Reedley marina.

The towpath was beautiful, and used by lots of people. One Asian-heritage man was delighted that we’re growing coriander on the roof.

We’d come on from Hapton as soon as I’d returned from Frodsham, where I had met, overnight, with old friends Heather and Elaine, to plan our revision of Theological Reflection: Methods.

It was great to see them both again. I’d lost touch since moving south. We explored the Church at Frodsham, and had a drink at the Ring O’Bells, and worked hard at each of our chapters, deciding what to leave out; what to include. Since it was published in 2005 much has changed, including our priorities and interests.

Elaine is doing research on the archive of Don Cupitt, which is housed at Gladstone’s library. We talked of the ways the Sea of Faith movement had been significant and Cupitt’s role in it all. I speculated that the questioning of the reality of God might have encouraged the development of a post-truth society. Elaine rejoined that people tend to blame the post-modern condition for the state we’re in, but for her, it’s all economics. ‘But neo-liberalism welcomes philosophical non-realism with open arms’, I claimed. It was good, engaging again.

I’ve travelled in my thinking since Elaine supervised my PhD at Manchester in the late 1990s. I tried to convince them that Edmund Burke, with his hatred of the exercise of arbitrary power, was worth studying for the PhD I’m starting in the Autumn. ‘Chris Insole’, I said, in reply to Elaine’s question of who would supervise.

Heather said to me as I became restless at one point, ‘that’s your wild side coming out’. ‘Wild at heart’, I grinned. ‘Not just your heart’, she said, affectionately. ‘I thought of coming to see you in Suffolk’, she said. ‘But a sign came up in my mind that said ‘Impossible’. She’s based in Glasgow. We’ll see each other more often.

As I sit, moored up at Foulridge on Thursday morning early, with no signal to send the blog, but typing the first draft, there’s a gale blowing outside. The trees are wild; the boat pulling against its lines. We’ve been blessed with so little wind over the last six weeks, it’s strange to feel its force.

Yesterday evening and the meal was lovely at the Cargo Café. We were sorry to have missed


For this is Pendle country, here where Lancashire becomes Yorkshire. It would have been remote in the 17C. Awful roads, where they existed. No canals. A strange and different spirit in the air.

That whole era of the so-called dawn of Enlightenment had far-reaching social, religious and psychological impact.

John Buchan captures it brilliantly in his novel Witchwood, set in remote Scotland.

How the old Catholic order, that seemed so natural, gave way to the forensic puritanism of the new religion, which didn’t know what to do with what it didn’t understand and control. The right hemisphere, taken over by the left. The ‘uncanny’ is born, says McGilchrist, drawing on the work of Terry Castle, and her book The Female Thermometer: Eighteenth-Century Culture and the Invention of the Uncanny.

McGilchrist explains how Castle looks back to Freud’s essay of 1919 on ‘The ”Uncanny”’  as she explores the phantasmagoria, grotesquerie, carnivalesque travesty, hallucinatory reveries, paranoia and nightmarish fantasy that accompanied Enlightenment.  McGilchrist believes that the Enlightenment, its rationalism and culture so left-hemisphere dominated, had no room for the magical, the wild side, the poetic, the strange. (2010: 350)

The same argument applies to that earlier time of the 17C when witches were hunted down as the magical, old rituals became suspect and strange, as Buchan describes so brilliantly. And all around here, in this wild land and brooding hill, witches were uncanny, beyond the ken.

I get restless when things are too forensic. I begin to wonder what’s being lost.

So much is being lost today, it feels unbearable. I live with a constant restlessness for the loss of abundance, of biodiversity. Canals, with their locks, and tunnels, with their narrow waterways that burgeon all around with wild life, with dereliction and untidiness, are places where loss is all around.

And yet all sorts of people use them today.

They offer the opportunity to discover a wilder side to life.


Accrington Brick

11 June 2018

IMG_0077 (1)

When we lived in Westhoughton, our house was on a housing estate built in the post war period. It was built – the whole estate – of Accrington brick.

It’s a bright, hard, red brick that gives little to the eye, and even less if you want to drill a hole or two in it.

That and the name of the football club – Accrington Stanley – was all I knew about Accrington.

We enjoyed the excitement of the aqueduct over the M65


and then moored up at Church, on the outskirts of Accrington, having appreciated the Canals and Rivers Trust welcome.


Nice to see a secular organisation welcoming folk in such a way. But the church in Church is sad, very sad.


The mooring wasn’t so hot either – given that this is exactly half way between Liverpool and Leeds.


There’s a sculpture to mark the spot.


We litter picked the stretch.

And wandered into town, through terraced streets and tired looking shops of Asian clothing and fabrics, with a great, gleaming mosque in sight from the Blackburn Road. It’s the 8.6 million super mosque that caused so much controversy, and opened its doors in December last year.

We walked down to the viaduct that carried the railway line, and then up again, through terrace after terrace, following my phone’s directions.


One street we walked was full of St George flags.


‘For the world cup’, said Peter. I thought they’d been up since Brexit.

We were looking for the Church of St Mary Magdalen to check the times of services for Sunday. They had a website, but that insisted that we join Facebook, which I don’t want to do. I called the AChurchNearYou number and left a message. Fr Lawrence got back to me later. We said we’d be at the Solemn Mass at 11.

The church was next door to an Aided primary in the middle of steep terraces that ran in parallel down to the town. This was a largely white area, it appeared. We walked past a couple of children, with another inside calling out ‘is that mum come home?’ Perhaps she was the tired women we asked directions, who looked like she held down two or three jobs, and had very little energy for what waited for her at home. Peter surmised her husband, or partner, would be unemployed and depressed, and not much use at all.


There was a kingfisher at the mooring which we watched, fishing, on Saturday evening. We’re reading Iris Murdoch’s The Black Prince out loud to each other – enjoying her irony and characterisation.

Sunday morning before church. Peter met Dan who used to be in the army and now works at Travis Perkins. ‘I used to fish here when I was a kid’, he said, as Peter picked litter around him. He loves wildlife, he said. Often takes his nephew and nieces to learn the different trees, birds and flowers. Most weekends he heads off down the towpath, rambles along the canal. ‘My wife doesn’t come; she doesn’t want to. I’m happy by myself.’ Broad Accrington accent, that’s hard to capture in print. He was thrilled that Peter was collecting the rubbish.

Towpaths are used more than you’d think. Joggers, cyclists, of course. But also families out walking. One woman and her two boys had walked all the way to Rishton and back. Took nearly two hours. Stunning views out over the Calder valley and to the Pennines to the North.


As we came towards Accrington, we saw strange ovens or kilns alongside the canal and wondered what they were. The answer is here.

I thought they might have been old brick kilns. But no.


The bricks were produced on an altogether bigger scale. Accrington brick is often called nori – why? Because the letters IRON were accidentally placed backwards in the brick moulds thus spelling NORI. Well – that’s the story.

They were produced here, at Altham near Accrington, from 1887 to 2008 and – good to know – again from 2015, in response to the need for building materials. The bricks are famed for their strength, and were used for the foundations of the Blackpool Tower and the Empire State Building. The bricks are also acid resistant, so are used for the lining of flues and chimneys.

Why here? At the end of the Ice Age, the River Calder was blocked and formed a large lake in the Accrington area. The sediment from this lake produced the fireclay seams and local coal was available to fire it.

There were four brickyards originally, producing engineering bricks (Enfields, Whinney Hills) and specials. Specials were hand thrown into plaster of paris moulds. They could be extremely decorative.

The site had its own mineral railway connecting with the East Lancashire Line at Huncoat Station, and was once managed by Marshall Clay Products, then bought out by Hanson, a subsidiary of the multi-national Heidelberg Cement group, in 2005. The 2008 recession hit and the factory was mothballed, with the loss of 83 jobs.

Following an upturn in new house building, Hanson reopened the Accrington factory. Production started again in January 2015, with the factory having capacity to produce 45 million bricks a year from the adjoining quarry which has between 30 and 40 years of clay reserves. It’s worth reading this. A BBC report on the re-opening of Hanson, with an explanation of how bricks are made by crushing the clay and mixing with water, to mould into different shapes and sizes, and then firing at a very high temperature to make the product hard and weather-resistant.


Sunday morning, and we made it in plenty of time for church at St Mary Magdalen, finding a faster route through a much newer housing estate. It was the walk of witness that afternoon, we were told, explaining the empty pews. ‘We’ll just have to move around a lot’, said Harry, just in front of us, as he caught up with three women in front of him. The choir of four women sang lustily, holding the tune in the absence of the organist. ‘He’s got the lurgy,’ explained the vicar at the beginning of the liturgy.

The service was serious religion, taken seriously. No fresh messiness here.

But no youngsters either.

As we left, Fr Lawrence was thrilled to hear that Peter had trained at Mirfield. I’m not sure he’d have been as thrilled had he known I was ordained. ‘That’s a pretty dress’, one of the women said to me.


Onwards, as the canal contours around fields along the M65.

Junction 8 was our turning as we drove home from the Lakes, down the A56 to Bury, when we lived there. ‘Do you remember we saw a boat when we were driving along the motorway? How surprised we were there was a canal so high up?’ Said Peter. ‘Who’d have thought we’d be here, now.’ ‘I reckon that car, there, is saying exactly the same about us.’ I conjectured.

Derelict farmhouses, and swing bridges – and swing bridges that were really tough to open – heavy to get to swing, and once swinging, hard to stop.

Onwards, slowly, to Hapton. ‘Best on this mooring’, said Dave (who we’d first met at Botany Bay, giving us a lift into Chorley), as he chugged past. He’d been at the party the night before in Blackburn. ‘There’s gypsies just around the corner’. We had already moored. We were tempted to move, and find that further mooring.

Instead we wandered into town, over the motorway to find the station, and then stopped at the Railway for a pint of Theakston’s on the way home.

I’m off, on Monday, for an overnight session with Heather and Elaine, to revise Theological Reflections: Methods. Elaine lives in Frodsham, so it’ll be a bus back to Accrington, then train to Preston, then to Warrington Bank, and then to Frodsham.

Peter’s looking forward to the peace. But he better not read any more Murdoch until I get back.

The Tale of A Stole

9 June 2018

It’s three weeks to Peter’s ordination, and I have been seriously panicking about his stole.

The usual thing is that this piece of ecclesiastical kit is given to the ordinand as a present, to mark the beginning of their public, ordained ministry. It derives from the towel that a servant would carry over their shoulder in classical times, and for a deacon it’s worn over one shoulder and joined at the waist. When someone is ordained priest, it goes around the neck and hangs down on either side towards the knees.

When I was ordained deacon in 1989 I was given a stole made by Philip Manser. He lived in the Rectory at Westhoughton, where I served my curacy, and made the most beautiful embroidered clerical robes. He made me a chasuble when I was ordained priest in 1994, depicting Mary Magdalene with long red hair, and a whole set of stoles for each of the seasons – green, purple, red, white – which I still have.

Philip had moved to South Africa, and we’d lost touch over the years. I googled him, to see if he was still making them – but couldn’t find any address for him, or sign that he was. I had it in mind that it would be good to give Peter a stole that Philip had made.

When the search came to nothing, I then thought I’d make the stole myself. I had a vague idea of what the design might be, based on a stylised image of grapes that Tilda and I found in a book of William Morris art work. I set to, sewing away.

But to be honest it never really worked in my mind. I kept changing the overall concept. To be honest, there wasn’t an overall concept.

So when it came to the blessing of the stoles at Mirfield after the last Mass a week or so ago, I bought some embroidery threads and gold linen and Fr Peter blessed them, to be incorporated into the eventual stole. Even that didn’t help.

We arrived at Blackburn Cathedral on Friday afternoon, to meet Canon Rowena for tea at 3.30. She showed us around beforehand.

It’s a lovely, airy, light building, with some arresting art work.


Blackburn was carved out of Manchester Diocese in the 1920s. From the 1930s onwards, an extension scheme was devised to turn the former parish church into a Cathedral worthy of the name, including a central tower of Gothic proportions. With funding sources compromised by the Second World War, the plan was simplified to a concrete central corona, designed by the architect Laurence King, with art work by John Hayward.


It was all completed by 1977, when the Cathedral was consecrated to serve Blackburn Diocese as its mother church and the seat of the Bishop’s apostolic ministry.  Canon Rowena’s tour included the artwork that’s all around.


The Passion – the story of Christ’s agony, trials, suffering and death – is vividly portrayed in a sequence of figurative Stations of the Cross, painted by Penny Warden and installed in 2005, entitled The Journey. Mary, and Veronica, particularly caught my eye.


John Hayward’s Christ the Worker is above the West Door, suspended on a loom, a reminder of Lancashire’s cotton and weaving past.


There’s a Madonna with child by Josefina de Vasconcellos


and the Resurrected Christ in the Jesus Chapel was modelled on Hayward’s niece.


The seraphim that soar above in the lantern were also designed by John Hayward.


The overall effect is lovely. Feminine too, as befitting a Cathedral dedicated to St Mary the Virgin.

The best thing of all – personally – is that there in the shop were some stoles for sale. Made by Philip Manser.


Peter and I returned for Mass on Saturday morning, and Canon Rowena arranged for the shop to be opened.

Bishop Philip explained how the Cathedral came by them: that a woman from Haslingden had contacted him, saying she had these stoles made by Philip Manser from ages back and perhaps ordinands might want them?


It’s a lovely thought that Peter will be ordained in a stole made by the same person who made mine, all those years ago. And wonderful that Bishop Philip had time to bless it too.


Blackburn museum hosts a great collection of religious icons and manuscripts, collected by Robert Edward Hart (1878-1946). The Blackburn Psalter is there, made in Oxford around 1260, by monks trained in Paris.

Psalm 1, known as Beatus Vir, which begins ‘Blessed is the man who walks not in the ways of the ungodly’ shows the capital B illustrated of King David playing the harp with the judgement of Solomon below.


Those psalms, which Peter and I say together as we pray every morning, have shaped people of faith in the Judeo-Christian tradition since time immemorial.

It’s a blessing to be shaped in that tradition today.


1    Blessed are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the assembly of the scornful.

2    Their delight is in the law of the Lord and they meditate on his law day and night.

3    Like a tree planted by streams of water bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither, whatever they do, it shall prosper.


We leave Blackburn accompanied by Lois, who will be ordained at Blackburn Cathedral next year. She is training at Mirfield, and we talked of her excitement at the prospect of ministry in Lancashire. She’ll be a great priest.

We left Eanam Wharf and headed east towards Accrington. stopping for lunch on our way. Lois left us, and on we went, through industrial landscape that turned to fields.

Blow the Wind Southerly

7 June 2018

We pulled up at Withnell Fold, intrigued by what the Nicholson guide had said. It was indeed a village built (around an older farm) in 1843 to support the paper mill that was founded by the side of the canal by Sir Thomas Blinkhorn Parke. Peter wasn’t sure why we were bothering. But as with so many aspects of this voyage, our days and places are full of surprises.

For a start, the old aqueduct (now underground) built to bring water from Thirlmere Reservoir to Manchester, ran through the village.


It’s a 95.9-mile-long water supply system built by the Manchester Corporation Water Works between 1890 and 1925, to carry approximately 55,000,000 imperial gallons per day of water from Thirlmere Reservoir to Manchester. The first water to arrive in Manchester from the Lake District was marked with an official ceremony on 13 October 1894. It is the longest gravity-fed aqueduct in the country, with no pumps along its route. The water flows at a speed of 4 miles per hour and takes just over a day to reach the city. The level of the aqueduct drops by approximately 20 inches per mile of its length. In the Museum, the next day, we saw a picture of Thirlmere.


The horseshoe of cottages that Blinkhorn Parke were built from stone extracted from the ground when he dug the lodges (water reservoirs) needed to supply the paper mill.

Kathleen Ferrier (1912-1953) had lived at number nine,


after her marriage to Bert Wilson. She first came to public notice when she lived at Silloth where he was the bank manager, and she won the gold cup at the 1938 Workington Festival. Radio work followed, and her national and international career took off, to be curtailed by her early death from breast cancer. We caught up with her again, later that day, in the Museum in Blackburn.


It hadn’t been a happy marriage. Unconsummated, in fact. Though they kept up appearances until after they were amicably divorced. Kathleen told a friend later that she’d once said to Bert that she’d hope he’d make more fuss of her. He’d replied ‘Why chase a bus when you’ve already caught it?’

Blow the wind southerly, indeed.


Withnell Fold Methodist Chapel was the centre of life in this little village of about 300 residents. We were shown around by Lorna, who explained that Blinkhorn Parke was Methodist, so there was a reading room in the village but no pub.


The reading room is now a private home, so the chapel is used every day for an after school club, and various functions and events. The WI. The AA.

Kathleen Ferrier sang and played the piano there, often, said Lorna. And again, that evening, when we had supper with Jonathan and Emma, Emma told us how her grandmother, Beatrice Livesey, who was a concert pianist, accompanied Kathleen – Klever Kath, as she called herself, KK – often at King George’s Hall, in Blackburn.

Those were days of such musicality within our national life. As Scruton argues, just part of our common culture.




Lorna said how difficult it was to build up the young families even though there is a village school (which used to be Methodist). The staff are really helpful and do as much as they can for the church, but church members have to be very careful about what might be perceived as proselytizing. There were parents who’d chosen the school because it wasn’t a church school.

‘But at least some of the families go past us to the Methodist church in the next village.’ She said there was a Scout troop there, too, at St Paul’s CofE, that had 80 members.  It has seen tremendous growth over the last year or so.  All the churches were doing well in the next village – the RC, the CofE, the Methodists. But they were going to lose their minister soon – moving on, as Methodist ministers do. She worried he wouldn’t be replaced.

The paper mill stopped work in 1967. The tower has been saved from demolition by the villagers, and there are plans to restore it.


A strange, manufactured place, with soul as long as the chapel lasts, I thought. It seemed that Lorna – and the 12 or so others who worship there every Sunday – held much of the continuity for the rest of the 300 residents of Withnell Fold.


Onwards to Riley Green for the night. Peter and I took it in turns to walk the towpath. We saw a deer


some beautiful fungi


and three men on a boat.


‘Where’s Montmorency?’ Peter asked. Only one of them got it.

Then under the M65.


A visit to Hoghton Tower, the home of the de Hoghton family since the Norman Conquest. It was there, on the hill above, just waiting to be visited.


They were flying my shower curtain.


Peter posed. I couldn’t persuade him to bare his buttocks, though.


The house gave stunning views over the surrounding countryside towards the Wirral. ‘You can see Snowdon when the air is clear. Either when it’s just rained, or just about to,’ an elderly guide told us.


He wanted the Long Walk opened, but it’s too overgrown. Pendle Hill away to the north. Blackburn to come, in the East.


Hay that looked perfect in the warm sunshine, as we walked alongside a wall, a thing of beauty.


A cow lick that no doubt came from Cheshire.


It’s beautiful countryside, this West Lancashire cotton country. The accents change from place to place for those with ears to hear. Walking it at the pace of a narrowboat, and you hear the rhythms, much as you do when you read the psalms slowly. The joggers and cyclists speed by; the fishers find their places to settle for the hours ahead.

Then Peter walks for a bit.

When we walk together, I’m always out in front. ‘I’m worried’, I say to him, ‘that if I slow down to your pace, you’ll slow down even further, and we’ll gradually stop.’ An interesting reflection on our marriage. He lives with his frustration that this is what I do, just as I live with the anxiety. Then, when we read the psalms together at morning prayer, I leave much longer pauses. He’s more likely to cut them short, and hurry on to the next verse. I live with frustration too.

Pace. Rhythm. So important. ‘It feels like I’m finding a different pace and rhythm to my life’, I say to Peter. As he is. We’re learning to walk together after years of walking differently. He has strode the corridors of hospitals at a pace I can barely keep up. I know. I’ve tried. Now he wants to go too slow.

‘A home is not a home without a dog.’

We’re at the Royal Oak (Riley Green, having just descended from Hoghton Tower), drinking Wainwright.

‘But you won’t be there to look after it. I tell you, if you’re away for more than a couple of nights, it’ll be in the local kennels.’ ‘It’s a great way of getting to know people,’ I say, as we continue this perennial argument. ‘I have in mind a Patterdale terrier’, I say. ‘They are impossible to train’, says Peter. ‘A mature dog’, I say. ‘We can take it for walks. I really miss not having a dog while we walk the towpaths, don’t you? Besides, it’ll keep you company while I’m in Durham’. Peter looks like he knows he’s not going to win this one. But he’s giving it all he’s worth. It’s a peculiar look he has. ‘You loved Phoebe’. The dog who had to be put to sleep last July, aged 17 and a quarter. ‘I loved Phoebe’, Peter conceded.  I left it at that. We sat in silence for a while. ‘There’s a buzzard’, said Peter. ‘We could choose it together.’ I said. ‘There’s a swallow.’ Said Peter. ‘Lots of them’, I say. We smile at each other.

The next morning, and we’re at the first lock in Blackburn by nine am. ‘That was a bit of a bugger’, says Peter, as we walk to the next. The paddles were hard to lift. But then we meet another boat coming down the flight of six, and both grin. That means all the other locks will be in our favour – empty. Lock 3 opens as if by magic, while Peter is still behind me, closing the paddles on lock 2. There’s a lock keeper.

I ask him where’s best to moor. ‘Best to go on through Blackburn’, he said. ‘No, we really want to stop in Blackburn for the night’, I explain. ‘That last boat moored up at Eanam Wharf. They had no trouble. There’s nowt else’. He leaned on the gate as the lock filled, and the Lark ascended, slowly, surrounded by muddy water and plastic bottles. I muse on the psalms, and water. Peter catches up, and leans on the other gate. “Where’s a good place to moor?” I heard him ask. I could hear, above the sound of the engine, and the swirling of the water around, ten feet below, the lock keeper repeat what he’d said to me. ‘Eanam Wharf is just beyond bridge 103. You won’t miss it.’

There’s a couple of other boats there, so we moor up right outside the Calypso Restaurant, where we’ve already arranged to meet Jonathan and Emma for a meal. Jonathan is training at Mirfield – end of his first year of three – and Emma is a teacher. She’s Blackburn, born and bred. He was born on a housing estate on the hill over there, now demolished. His father had been a midwife – ‘the only male, but not the only one with a beard’, said Jonathan, repeating what his father used to say. His father is now a priest in Bolton. His mother was a teacher. They’d met on a mission in India. Emma’s grandma – the one who’d played for Kathleen Ferrier – had encouraged her to develop her music. ‘She bought me my first flute’, said Emma. She was a Livesey. Emma and Jonathan now live in the suburb we’ve just passed through, near Livesey Bridge. That’s the same family, said Jonathan.

We have a wonderful platter of Caribbean food laid before us,


and talk of Mirfield, of the seriousness of the life there, its disciplines and routines, its communal life and prayer. Jonathan and Emma have loved their first year.

Emma has noticed things and people, as I have, that you do when you’re on the margins.

We talk about the psalms, and how frustrated Jonathan was to begin with, saying them so slowly. But now, how he loves it. It’s like you chew them over, I say, tucking into jerk chicken.


Jonathan’s on placement in Ribchester. They are both relaxed about where he’ll serve his curacy, though Emma wonders whether she’ll have to find another job. We talk about somewhere people, and nowhere people, and I can’t remember the name of the person who wrote the book last year (The Road to Somewhere, by David Goodhart). We talk about institutions, and how they suffer from a hermeneutic of suspicion, to the extent they are no longer trusted at all. I think of the Methodist Chapel at Withnell Fold. How trustworthy it is, but how it’s not trusted to share its faith. We talk of the Cathedral in Blackburn, and the latest news that’s struck the press.

Earlier, before evening office, Peter and I had caught up with Canon Rowena, who had been a tutor at Mirfield, and is now a Residentiary canon.


She’s settling happily, though straight into a time of difficulty. The new Dean, Peter, will be glad of her as a colleague, I said to Peter. Rowena showed us around the new house she lives in. It’s a bit bizarre as a house. ‘But I’ll make it work,’ said Rowena.

We’ll be back for the Eucharist the next morning, we promised. It’s Bishop Philip presiding, who’s a Residentiary canon too. It’ll be good to catch up with him.

And then, tomorrow at 12 noon, we tell Jonathan and Emma, we’re seeing Lois – another ordinand at Mirfield, who’s going to join us for lunch – as we eat pineapple and banana in a wonderful Jamaica Rum sauce, before returning for tea on the boat. Not far to go. Just over the fence.


‘I must talk to her’, says a rather inebriated young woman, sitting outside the pub. ‘I’ve always wanted a boat like that,’ she slurs. ‘When I grow up, I’m going to get a boat like that’. Her boyfriend encourages her to come along.

We say good night to her and hope she finds her dream. We say our good byes to Jonathan and Emma and descend, closing the hatch doors over our privacy.

More of Blackburn to come. There’s the Cathedral. And the Museum. And a city that’s filling its 4000 holes with much evidence of regeneration and vibrancy.







Botany Bay

6 June 2018


As you travel up the M61 you know you’re passing Chorley by two distinctive landmarks.

One is the tall spire and imposing church of the Latter Day Saints to your left, called The Preston England Temple.

It was dedicated in 1998, the 52nd such temple across the world, an impressive complex of Olympia white granite from Sardinia and a zinc roof. The site includes a missionary training centre and a family history facility and is the largest Mormon temple in Europe, serving Latter-day Saints from the Midlands and northern parts of England, the whole of Scotland, the Isle of Man, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The other is a converted and restored Canal cotton mill, now a shopping and entertainment complex, called Botany Bay.

The original mill was built in 1855, for Richard Smethurst, a pioneer in the Chorley cotton industry. Despite the Cotton Famine and closure in 1861, the mill continued to manufacture until the end of the 1950s, when it eventually closed for good.

In 1994 a local entrepreneur purchased the mill and after a complete renovation and restoration, Botany Bay opened on the 1st December 1995. It features five floors of shopping, a garden centre, restaurants & coffee bars, and an indoor play centre, which draws people from near and far. Peter’s idea of hell.

Why “Botany Bay”?

There were a number of mills here from the late 18C, as the area developed as the main port for Chorley. As the nearby Lancaster Canal was built (originally to run from Walton Summit to the Bridgewater, but it never happened after a temporary (then permanent) tramroad was built to connect Preston to the rest of the system) Botany Bay was where the Irish navigators, or navvies, lived. The “navigations” – or “eternal navigations” – they built were intended to last forever.

By the 1830s most navvies were building railways.

It’s now recognised that the great majority of navvies in Britain were English, with only 30% Irish – but the prejudice has stuck. Locals saw it as an area to be avoided – much as you’d avoid the penal colony in Australia. Hence the name.

Botany Bay wharf became an important hub for traded cotton, transport and communication with services running to Manchester, Wigan and Liverpool. When the Lancashire Union Railway opened in 1869, it ran through Botany Bay, over a viaduct across the canal, and began to supersede the canal in coal transport between Wigan and Blackburn. The railway, in turn, remained in service until 1968 until demolished for the construction of the M61. Canal, rail, road.

We were given a lift into Chorley by Dave and Judy, and Sue – off to the market for Rufford new potatoes. ‘Just rub them and the skin comes off a treat’, said Dave. He lives aboard with Judy in a widebeam moored just under the motorway. Sue is a cancer care nurse at the Royal Bolton Hospital, and recognises Peter’s name from the time he was there too. She lives aboard her boat too.

‘I couldn’t stand the noise’, said Peter, as we had a pint of Wainwright at the Lock and Quay on our way home. We drank from Wainwright glasses that instructed us to ‘find your mountain’. Alfred’s words were there – the latest manifestation of the marketing phenomenon he has become – ironic, given his churlish misanthropy. ‘You were made to soar, to crash to earth, then to rise and soar again’, the glass told us. This we must have. ‘I didn’t pay for them; why should you?’ responded the publican, as she gave me two clean ones to take away.


The market was on in Chorley – the Flat Iron Market which dates from 1498 (named that either because the weavers used to hold down their wares with flat irons, or because the space it used to occupy was shaped like a flat iron – or both)  – and we wandered through, hoping for some remnant of the haberdashery trade that would provide me with some further material for Peter’s stole. No joy. Hopefully Blackburn will provide. Time’s running short to the ordination on 30 June.

A good book shop, though – one to browse in. Something caught my eye.

One of the reasons – I reckon – that I love being on water is that I went by ship three times from Australia to England when I was little.

I was seven on the third trip in 1966. The three liners we sailed in were the Castel Felice, The Northern Star and the Himalaya.

And here was a book, all about the days of the £10 assisted passage – that took many thousands of folk to Australia in the 1950s and 60s – seeking a new life far away from the austerities and smog of post-war Britain. The voyage took a month.

The 27,955 ton Himalaya was built in Barrow by Vickers Armstrong in 1949, owned by P&O, and from 1958 until 1974 transported migrants and cruised the seas. It must have been the Himalaya that we sailed on the final voyage to England for good in 1996, because it had a swimming pool. I had my birthday on that trip, and remember, while mum and dad were doing their own thing, that I’d have the run of the ship, wandering all over.

I watched the swimmers in the small pool, shaped rather like the locks we’ve been in, with no shallow end and a swell like the sea all around, and thought to myself – ‘people can swim, so there’s no reason why I can’t. If I stick near the side, so I can hold onto the rail if need be, and kick and doggy paddle, I’ll make it from one end to the other.’ Ten yards, maybe. It can’t have been far, but it was certainly out of my depth. I taught myself to swim. No one watching. No one to tell me not to.

The 24,733 ton Northern Star was built in 1962 by Vickers Armstrong in Newcastle owned by Shaw Savill, specifically for the carriage of British migrants. She was plagued by engine problems throughout the 1960s as she settled into a routine of four round-the-world voyages a year. Eventually, in 1975, she was sold to Taiwanese shipbreakers.

The 12,150 ton Castel Felice began her life in 1930 as the Kenya for the British India Line. During the 2WW she was transferred to the Royal Navy for deployment as an infantry landing ship under the name HMS Keren, capable of carrying ten landing craft and up to 1,500 troops. She was then laid up for three years, but broke away from her moorings in Holy Loch, in Scotland during a severe storm. After extensive repairs in Glasgow she was renamed Kenya, then Keren again, and then again, Kenya. She was converted into a cruiser in Falmouth, Antwerp and Genoa and assumed her last name, the Castel Felice, with a new bow, funnel and masts, she saied from Genoa on her maiden voyage in October 1952. With her sister ships, the Fairsea and Fairsky, The Castel Felice belonged to the Italian Sitmar Line – and between them carried migrants from all corners of Britain, to fulfil the Australian government hope of 65,000 migrants a year.

Here’s a blog from someone who did the voyage in 1964. It could have been me, and mum and dad, in these photos.

It would be great if Jen were still here to discuss this. We did talk a bit about Australia and immigration today and its draconian reputation. That’s not always been the case.

Hundreds of thousands of displaced Europeans and over a million ten pound poms immigrated after WWII – when the fear of Japanese invasion stirred the government into a policy of ‘populate or perish’. There was a White Australia policy in place then, until it was repealed in 1966, and Australia began to become the multinational nation it is today. Then all you needed to be was white, of sound health and under 45.

My mum, Pix, remembered the terrible prejudice against the Irish as she grew up in Geelong in the 1940s. That’s all changed, particularly in the cities, where all nationalities are to be found. Now, it’s said, Melbourne is the largest Greek city outside Athens.

In the mid 1960s when our family sailed from Australia to England and back again, we were accompanied by £10 poms off for a new life. It was exciting. I remember the flirtatious charm of the Italian waiters on the Castel Felice; enjoying kippers – and still the taste takes me back; the smell of tinned orange juice, which even now conjures up the other smells of the ship; being dressed up as the Queen of Hearts (I much preferred swimming), and the crossing of the Equator, with a visit from Neptune.

I don’t know where my certificate is now.

We stopped at Columbo, at Mumbai, at Aden, went through the Suez, and at Nice.

I loved being on board ship. Watching the flying fish, the porpoises that accompanied us. Visiting those exotic places, like Aden where we couldn’t go ashore, so the traders came to us, and we bought a table and a leather poof. Watching elephants work in Colombo.

I loved the perpetual motion, the roll and rock at night; the constant power and throb of the engine. Above all, all around the sea, extending to the sky.

To counter her homesickness, mum threw herself into the English countryside. We’d go for blackberries; we’d learn the English birds, trees and flowers. We’d find out-of-the-way spots for picnics, and get lost on walks. She grew to love England almost as much as her native Australia.

Thursday morning early on the canal.


This is the top lock of


So, yesterday, Wednesday, a short distance up seven delightful locks at Johnson’s Hillock.


The bottom lock goes right, as the remains of the Lancaster Canal goes left. Now, to get onto it, you need to continue beyond Parbold, and turn up at Ruffold to the Ribble Link. The link is only open 50 days a year, so the Lancaster is even quieter than the L&L. One day we’ll explore.

The countryside falls steeply away to the left now as the Pennines beginning to climb seriously to the right.


We moor at the Top Lock, where the CRT are supervising Prince’s Trust volunteers to repaint the woodwork and metal of the lock its distinctive black and white.


There’s some good information on this flight about the way the horses worked. One bridge has no towpath, so a hook in the wall enabled the horse to pull in the opposite direction, so the barge came out of the lock. The wear from the rope was there to see.


When the horse was towing out of locks going uphill, the tow line was passed around the shaft of the upper ground paddle. The grooves made by ropes in cast iron are beautiful.


A long afternoon in the sun, and I get on with the revisions for my chapters in Theological Reflection: Methods and then walk with Peter through Wheelton Village and then on in wonderful countryside just under the M61 where a sign for Botany Bay meant we hadn’t travelled as far as it had felt.



The stream below us has nothing in it – no fish, no dippers – which worries us.

There’s a few lapwings in the field, chasing off the crows – so obviously with young.  Swallows and housemartins finding insects on the pounds between locks –

… and an abundance of flowers.


Ragged Robin (not to be confused with campion);


grasses galore …


cuckoo flower …


Meadow vetch …


The may is over; now the elder is in bloom. I used to gather elderflowers when mum made wine.


Blackburn is just around the corner. One of these days Peter and I will do all the Cathedrals we can, by canal or navigable river. This lies before us.