Fleswick

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

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

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

IMG_1260

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.

IMG_1285

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

IMG_1257

And picked blackberries – called ‘blackites’ up here.

IMG_1266

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

IMG_1295

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’!)

IMG_1307

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

IMG_1321

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

IMG_1322

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

IMG_1353

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.

IMG_1326

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

IMG_1327

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.

IMG_1338

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.

IMG_1350

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

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

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

The Economist concludes its editorial:

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

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

The Guardian’s article here is sober reading.

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

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

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

Mayday

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

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

The terns would lay
                                    would lay
                                                would lay again.

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

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

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

 

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

IMG_1340

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

IMG_1342

The Isle of Man to be seen …

IMG_1341

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.

IMG_1276

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

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

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

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

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

This privacy policy is subject to change without notice.

Cleo

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_1201

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.

10573615-64B3-492C-8AA4-6B2EA5D4E6BC

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

f86c5b8f-3ecb-4103-9702-56d4a9cf0402

 

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.

c064a296-6718-4422-8452-2d56a8e29a0f

33D0474F-2D70-4E50-8AD6-E313D46B36A9

F364ACF3-9290-4740-AA06-319287226D6A

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

7d0cb7e1-7aa4-4f21-9428-6ae349438d90

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.

IMG_1109

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.

d7294f0e-9338-4dbe-a880-4cb34b478151

621e629e-b057-45c6-914a-5da6e78e0250

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

2b6e105b-529b-4ba5-846b-25663b1b5d9e

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.

80ef37a7-072b-4a7e-9275-a1fcfccbeef2

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

65C007FF-0953-48E8-B351-9F69C780F70F

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.

31597081-2a80-4cb1-978d-694cf21c9438

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.

IMG_1251

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.

A3CD82E4-9DC9-49BF-BC8F-A260D7B58220

IMG_1131

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

IMG_1128

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.

3dc1b5e6-ea75-4d97-a518-0923bc54990b

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.

IMG_1219

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.

2F4BF846-C1D8-45E3-9481-4ADC4C66F9A8

Starfish

16 July 2018

IMG_0981

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

IMG_0988

with St Bees Head in the distance as we walked.

Tilda called me over. ‘Look at this!’

IMG_0980

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

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

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

IMG_0986

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_0989

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

IMG_0966

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

IMG_0948

IMG_0949

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

IMG_0951

IMG_0950

And the chickens enjoy a moment in the shade.

IMG_0955

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

IMG_0963

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_0947

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

Perhaps our prayers are like that.

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

 

 

An Abbey, Cathedral and Minster … and Little Gidding

Monday 9 July 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_0891

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

IMG_0930

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

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

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

IMG_0931

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

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

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

The weight of holiness lightened with joy, of course.

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

IMG_0899

Here you see her crook and ring.

IMG_0892

And then to Lambeth for lunch.

IMG_0901

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_0911

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

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

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

IMG_0921

IMG_0920

IMG_0919

IMG_0917

The scaffolding beyond is a nice reality.

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

IMG_0912

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

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

IMG_0914

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

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

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

IMG_0926

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

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

IMG_0924

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

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

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

IMG_0923

It’ll mature nicely …

That was a weekend to remember.

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

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

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

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

 

IMG_0882

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

9fe7ceed-fa94-4ed0-b6be-7bda3468a763

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

IMG_0863

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

Elder – just going over towards its blood red berry:

IMG_0864

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

IMG_0851

Rosebay Willowherb in full song …

IMG_0850

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

IMG_0829

Meadow vetch –

IMG_0828

clover in a meadow

IMG_0826

and harebells reflecting the sky.

IMG_0817

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

IMG_0853

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

IMG_0843

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

IMG_0848

and hay all gathered in.

IMG_0847

Alongside ancient hedgerows

IMG_0859

and over double stiles.

IMG_0854

We walked to the lake

IMG_0830

and found a spot

IMG_0832

to skinny dip in a quiet spot in the woods.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_0810

They had baked scones in the kitchen.

IMG_0812

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

IMG_0875

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

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

IMG_0806

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

A gathering before they all went their own ways …

IMG_0807

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

Here it is. It was very good indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What makes us healthy and well? Healthy relationships.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

IMG_0775

IMG_0777

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

eee0482b-1b14-4d3f-903d-b77417e50c17

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

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

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

IMG_0884

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

IMG_0782

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

IMG_0793

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

IMG_0785

Julia enjoyed herself

IMG_0788

And Peter practised his listening skills.

IMG_0783

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

IMG_0798

A fruit cake. It will last.

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

Words that go in all sorts of directions.

 

Ordination Day dawns

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

IMG_0706

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

542560a2-d7a0-4396-b4ae-ee106e8d7e8c

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.”

e73f661c-fcc5-45fb-9407-8120c2dced79

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.

IMG_0724

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

IMG_0726

Jonty has a wild side. Or two.

IMG_0732

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.

IMG_0743

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.

IMG_0758

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.

IMG_0763

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 …

IMG_0697

organ casings …

IMG_0689

a remarkable ceiling …

IMG_0700

and misericords of intricate and intriguing design.

While the rehearsal was going on I visited the Castle.

IMG_0693

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.

IMG_0695

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.

IMG_0625 (1)

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

IMG_0704

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’.

IMG_0705

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.

IMG_0688

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.

IMG_0668

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.

53E771B5-20B8-47A5-B766-5E9DE7CF2FC6

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

IMG_0670

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.

IMG_0637

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.

IMG_0640

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

IMG_0642

then we walked around the lake.

IMG_0648

‘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.

IMG_0651

People were swimming, though none skinny dipping.

And in the air.

IMG_0652

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.

IMG_0654

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

IMG_0658

The path through woodland

IMG_0660

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

IMG_0662

IMG_0663

We loved the wall built on the rock.

IMG_0656

The herdwick ram.

IMG_0665

The foxgloves in the gorse.

IMG_0655

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.

IMG_0666

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.

IMG_0667

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

IMG_0624 (1)

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.

IMG_0611

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;

IMG_0610

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.

IMG_0636

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

IMG_0631

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.

IMG_0562

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.

IMG_0572

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.

IMG_0584

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

IMG_0586

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

IMG_0590

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.

IMG_0577

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.

IMG_0575

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.

IMG_0579

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.

IMG_0580

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.

IMG_0588

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

IMG_0583

IMG_0578

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

IMG_0587

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.

IMG_0591

IMG_0571

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.

1C8BFBCD-1D11-4F90-9B98-C58C709BA438

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.

 

Snaygill

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.

6bcbe1f9-fad7-4c61-bbb9-ce76d456614b

e0b4eb57-e286-4885-a932-ef5670a887ee

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 –

IMG_0495

– 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).

IMG_0509

IMG_0510

IMG_0511

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.

IMG_0518

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.

IMG_0551

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 …

IMG_0531

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.

IMG_0548

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.

IMG_0538

 

Hector

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.

IMG_0483

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

IMG_0481

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).

IMG_0480

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

IMG_0460

The local Indian more colloquially.

IMG_0461

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.

IMG_0458

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

IMG_0465

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.

IMG_0466

After Barlick there are locks – the Greenberfield three,

IMG_0468

and then a double-arched bridge at East Marton,

IMG_0475

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.

IMG_0467

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.

IMG_0471

And even one around a bend in the canal

IMG_0479

 

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.

IMG_0386

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!

IMG_0525

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.

IMG_0490