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

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

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


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

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


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


And picked blackberries – called ‘blackites’ up here.


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


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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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

Kittiwakes wheeled around below us, with their delicate beauty.


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

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


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

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

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

The Economist concludes its editorial:

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

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

The Guardian’s article here is sober reading.

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

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

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


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

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

The terns would lay
                                    would lay
                                                would lay again.

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

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

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


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


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


The Isle of Man to be seen …


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

This privacy policy is subject to change without notice.


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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



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

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

I noticed that men and women do such things differently.




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


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

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


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

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



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


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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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



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


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

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

In Skipton castle, three lurchers.


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

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


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

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