Category Archives: UK

Farewell to 2018!

The end of 2018, and I’m here in the UK’s Lake District for Christmas and New Year, and looking at mountains and lakes and spectacular scenery. People pay thousands of £ € ¥ $ to come here on holiday, and, well, here I am, enjoying it all, courtesy of my family who live here. So far, the weather has been mostly grey, often foggy, sometimes frosty, but mainly mild. On Christmas Eve, we had a day of brilliant blue skies and sun, all day. The above photo is Ullswater on Christmas Eve. Pretty nice, eh?

And this is Jesus Church, Troutbeck over Christmas…

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In case you’re wondering, yes that big stained glass window is all in Pre-Raphaelite style, designed in 1873 by Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris who used to come up to Troutbeck for fishing. The window even has 4 trout depicted in 4 small separate windows. I know, cos I counted them this very morning. Love it or hate it, it’s kind of famous.

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I’ve been in the Lakes since I came back from a weekend in Anglesey (that’s it, above, with the mountains of the mainland in the background). What a beautiful island! I kind of like islands, and Anglesey is one special one. Google told me that 2 of the most famous places to visit on Anglesey are Menai Bridge and Beaumaris, so knowing the weather forecast for that weekend was going to be terrible, I went there on the Friday afternoon. Then off to visit a friend, and we spent a wet weekend putting up Christmas decorations and worshiping at her church at Llanfaelog. Wales can be wet, but wonderful!

And then there was my visit to the Wirral, en route to Anglesey. One of the highlights was a short visit to Port Sunlight, home of Sunlight Soap factory and a model village set up by the Lever brothers to house their workers in the 1880’s, and it’s really lovely. There’s even an art gallery and museum with an amazing collection of stuff. Definitely needs lots of time to see it all. Fascinating place.

My friends in the Wirral, Nigel and Linda, kindly took me for a delish Christmas lunch at the local college, cooked by students in the catering section. Here we are. Note the new Christmas jumper and my chubby cheeks – too many Christmas dinners ha ha ~ diet will commence on January 1!

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And before the Wirral, though it was some weeks ago now, I also visited Chester – it’s the same area, in fact the Wirral is in the Diocese of Chester. That was actually over Remembrance Sunday, and we went to the Chester City Remembrance events outside the cathedral…

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And then across the Peak District, to Buxton, where the Methodist Church has solar paneling in the shape of a cross. Imaginative or what?! And a whole lot of other beautiful buildings. Loved it all!

And I called in at Eyam, the plague village in the Peak District, really fascinating!

And so to Sheffield. This was the first time I think I had ever visited the Cathedral…

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Loved that stained glass artwork in the ceiling!

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Plenty of street art in Sheffield around the university area and the newly-renovated section of Parkhill Flats, home of Yasmin Khan from the new Doctor Who series – plus there’s even a green tardis, in the form of a police box in the centre of Sheffield. Impressed, I was. Sheffield could rapidly become one of my new favourite cities.

And somewhere on my travels, there was a Catherine Street. Always love a good name for a street! This one was in Chester.

This photo, below, is one of my favourite photos of 2018, taken here at Lake Windermere. It’s a black-headed gull in winter plumage with the moon reflected in the water. When people ask me what I miss about England when I’m in Taiwan, this is my answer. Seagulls. They are so much part of UK life everywhere I seem to go, and although Taiwan has a lot of sea, it doesn’t have many seagulls. In Taiwan we have egrets, but they’re just not the same. Seagulls can be a great nuisance, especially herring gulls. But when you don’t have any seagulls, it’s oh so quiet without them. They have a huge amount of character, make a whole lot of noise and bring a bit of excitement to the place. Appreciate them, dear people of Britain!

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So there you go for another year. Grateful to you all for all your support over 2018. Thanks be to God for another year of many blessings. And wishing you all a Happy New Year for 2019!

Really Rockin’ it @ St. Andrew’s, Haughton, Darlington, Co. Durham!

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It’s true. Yes, some of the congregation told me that St. Andrew’s really rocks!

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St. Andrew’s is Darlington’s oldest church, built around 1125, and is now linked up with Sadberge, another of my link churches. My previous visit to them was in February 2015 (see that blog post here). The vicar, Rev. Mark East has a really good lay leadership team, all busy doing things. So versatile and adaptable; everyone seems multi-talented! Stoker is a retired priest based at St. Andrew’s, and formerly the diocesan IT adviser – in so many churches it’s the younger people in charge of all things technical, but not here, at St. Andrew’s it seems that everyone, young and old, is really high-tech!

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Sometimes the church also helps with training for theological students from Cranmer Hall, Durham. A few years ago, one such student was Jonathan Gillespie, now curate of Windermere in the Lake District – it was he who took my father’s funeral service last year, and did such a great job. Everyone loves him to bits! Sadly, St. Andrew’s has recently lost Jacki, their much-loved pianist and keyboard player, so the music group was supplemented by Mark on his guitar and John on his clarinet, plus others singing their hearts out. Rockin’ it, they certainly were!

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St. Andrew’s is a busy bustling church, and this past weekend was a bumper weekend extraordinaire! A first for me ever was a Taiwanese evening on Saturday night where the congregation cooked their own Chinese food. Yes, really good REAL Chinese food. Cooked by the congregation. Not bought, but cooked. And it was great! We had all sorts of delicious dishes, and everyone enjoyed it all. They were encouraged to wear red and gold, and I got to share my power-point of Taiwan. Such a fun evening. I was delighted to welcome along Naomi, who was one of my former youth group in Heighington many years ago, and came dressed in her Chinese outfit – turned out she knew several others in the church too. Thanks to Muriel and Pam for all their hard work planning everything and making it all happen, it was amazing. Something to remember for decades to come!

I also met my good friends, Sue and Paul plus plenty more lovely church members who welcomed my so warmly. Helen and John welcomed me to stay in their home, and it was so good. Helen is a very creative and talented textile artist, and kindly gave me one of her stunning pictures to take to Taiwan – it’s inspired by the rain and mud of the Lake District!  Come to Taiwan if you want to see it on display!

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On Sunday I gave my sermon at both morning services, 8:45 and 10:45 am; and then in the afternoon at 3:00 pm there was Tea and Praise with a Taiwan theme, held at the local home for the elderly, with a delicious tea afterwards. There were 4 of us with the name Catherine at that service lol! Helen and John hosted a dinner in the evening too. Soooo much delicious food, I won’t need to eat for another week. Food at St. Andrew’s means fellowship, friendship and fun, and there was certainly plenty of each.

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A big big thank you to Mark and all at St. Andrew’s Church for all your support over the years, your prayers, letters, messages of encouragement, financial support for CMS, your warm welcome – and all that yummy food! Rockin’ it indeed.  Thanks be to God!

Scotland, ah Scotland!

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And what a great wee country it is!  A bit bleak in places, and at this time of year, not always the best weather (read: don’t go to Scotland in winter!) but hey, the people are lovely and there’s plenty of tea, coffee, soup, hot water bottles, coal fires and thick duvets to keep out the winter cold and damp.

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And so it is that I’ve just spent the last 12 days in Bonnie Scotland, in-between 2 weekends of church visits in Co. Durham, but with a free weekend in the middle.  So it’s fitted in really well.  But as I’m a fine-weather photographer, you’ll just have to imagine most of my trip, cos it didn’t half rain for the first few days!  Visited friends in Hawick, West Kilbride, Fife, Dundee, Perthshire and East Lothian, in that order, staying for 1-3 nights with each.  Loved it all!  Grateful thanks to all my friends for their hospitality – and all the teas, coffees, soup, hot water bottles, coal fires and thick duvets too.

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Weather-wise, it improved as I went on.  A wet journey up the A68 to Hawick.  Knew I’d arrived in Scotland when I saw haggis lasagne on the menu, really good!  Cold and wet on the west coast.  Highlight there was the tea party for some of the West of Scotland CMS group ~ new friends and old gathered together.  Then I arrived in St. Andrews on St. Andrew’s Day, where admission to everything was free for that day only.  Especially interesting was the Royal and Ancient Golf Club.  Worth a visit!  And the Chariots of Fire beach was as beautiful as ever.  But then the rain started ~ and the rest was, well, very wet and cold!

Sadly no photos of Scotland’s most famous chain walk at Elie, which consists of 8 long chains going up and down the rocks and cliffs all round the beach, and only passable at low tide.  That was an experience.  Exhilarating.  Not for the faint-hearted.  So maybe it was good that it was late afternoon and the light was going, and it’d been drizzling for a few hours, so I couldn’t see too much.  Some of those rock faces are really scary.  Go with people who know the way, it makes a big difference on those rocks. But all in all, highly recommended!  Also went to church on Sunday at Upper Largo Church of Scotland where there must have been 70 in the congregation, and a very energetic retired minister taking the service.  Lots of friendly people to drink coffee with afterwards too.

Then there was Dundee, where the new V & A was also well worth a visit.  Stunning architecture.  Grateful that my friend had membership plus one, so I could also go in the liners exhibition free too. Loved it.

And so to Perthshire.  Cold.  Oh so cold.  But the frosty views in the sunshine were great.  Heavy frost 2 nights running, but the car started first time.  If you know my history with cars, you’ll know that cars rarely start first time.  Or any time.  And always break down, groan, groan 😉😉!  But on this trip, so far, so good.  This is the area around Glenshee.  Snow on the mountains.  Yes, yes yes!

And finally to East Lothian, where beach views and North Berwick Law were bracing and breezy.  Blown away by both the wind – and the views!

My furthest northernmost point on this whole UK trip was the Glenshee Ski slopes, not yet open, which are just into Aberdeenshire.  Cold and blustery, but beautiful.  Loved it.  From now on, it’s southwards all the way!

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Thank you Scotland – and all friends in Scotland – enjoyed every minute, even the cold and damp.  Can’t wait to come back, and I haven’t even left yet!  Off to Darlington tomorrow, Saturday.  So, goodbye until we meet again, and thanks to you all!

St. Michael’s, Heighington and St. Matthew & St. Luke’s, Darlington, Co. Durham @ Home Church Visit!

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Heighington, ah, Heighington! Just spent the weekend in my home church of St. Michael’s, Heighington, near Darlington, Co. Durham. Ah, what memories 😊 what friends 😊 what experiences! 😊 Here I was, from 1985-89, living here, working here and worshiping here.  All in Heighington.  And in the course of those 4 years I got to know quite a few people.  Children galore in fact, from teaching reception class at Heighington Primary School.  And teachers too.  The above top photo is of some of my former colleagues at the school, with former headteacher, Mr. George Dixon (third left), taken when he hosted us all to a coffee morning on Friday when I had just arrived.  And he also came to hear me speak at the service on Sunday.  Thanks, George ~ here he is (below right) with 2 other young, handsome, bearded men – and me – on arrival at the church for the service!

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So now, here I am once again, back in Heighington. My last visit here was exactly 4 years ago (see that blog post here) and I know that, cos it was the Christmas Fair then, and it was the Christmas Fair again this time.  So a big welcome to Heighington!

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It’s a really beautiful village at its heart, with a huge village green surrounded by quaint cottages and pubs, all set in the beautiful countryside NW of Darlington, Co. Durham….

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And also a big welcome to St. Matthew & St. Luke’s Church, Darlington, also one of my link churches (originally totally separate, but now under the same vicar as Heighington), and I also visited them on the same weekend four years ago (see that blog post here).  On Sunday, we had a lovely cafe church communion service, where I spoke about Taiwan, and I mentioned my visit a few weeks ago to see their former vicar, Rev. Richard Rice-Oxley and his wife, Sylvia, now retired to deepest Lincolnshire.  Friendly people, moving service, lovely church!

So. We. Had. A. Great. Weekend!  Really enjoyed a visit with another former colleague, John and his wife to the Bay Horse in Heighington for lunch, where we were served by Kelly, former pupil of Heighington Primary School, who both John and I had taught.  Isn’t she lovely?!

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Delighted to meet up with another 2 of my former pupils, smiling sisters, Helen and Claire ~ I taught them when they were 4-5.  Now, well, we’re all just a bit older!

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I also took an assembly in Heighington Primary School, one for the children, and one for the parents and children of the school choir.  Thanks to Lissa, the vicar, and the school for organizing that.  The children’s choir also sang at the Christmas Fair on Saturday.  The fair was such fun ~ met lots of friends, families of my former pupils and well, overall lots of great people. And we had face painting – yes!

And then there was the Sunday service at Heighington.  Full of more friends, and led by the 2 very welcoming clergy, Lissa and Ruth.  Thanks to everyone for listening to my non-stop very fast sermon.  Almost ran out of voice by the end of the weekend!

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Anne and Neville kindly welcomed me to their home for a very relaxed stay, lots of good food and endless cups of tea, ah they are so lovely!  This is me and Anne, and of course Santa!

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Ah yes, a big thank you to all in Heighington and Darlington for your warm welcome and for all your support over the many years!  Much appreciated.  And thanks be to Almighty God for his many blessings!

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Luton Town wins 5-1! All smiles @ All Saints with St. Peter, Luton ~ CMS Link Visit with goals galore!

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Collins bags a hat-trick as five star Luton destroy Plymouth” ~ “Plymouth Argyle thrashed 5-1 by rampant Luton Town after defensive shocker” ~ “Striker James Collins netted a hat-trick as Luton hammered Plymouth“…

Yes, it was all happening in Luton this past weekend, starting on Saturday afternoon as Luton Town Football Club ‘destroyed’, ‘hammered’ and ‘thrashed’ poor old Plymouth Argyle in League One, the third tier of the English Football League, by 5 goals to 1.  Five-One!  Incredible.  There were so many goals, it was impossible to get bored.  Never a dull moment in the whole match.  And as 4 of the goals came in the first half, and as we were sitting near that goal, wow, we had a great view.  It was all non-stop action.  What a game. What a day!  It all went Luton’s way.  And I was there to see it all, along with a huge crowd of 10,000+ others.  My first ever game of Professional Football too.  Yippee!  A fine start to my CMS Link Visit to All Saints with St. Peter, Luton, Beds – about 50 km NW of London in the Diocese of St. Albans.

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All Saints Church is in Bury Park, Luton, and in the same parish is Kenilworth Road, the home ground of Luton Town FC.  The vicar of All Saints, Rev. David Kesterton, is also the chaplain to Luton Town FC ~ the team is nicknamed ‘The Hatters’.  He likes to go along to all the home games, where possible, and he kindly invited me to go with him this past Saturday.  YES please!

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And so it was that I was there to witness the best result in the whole of League One this past Saturday, a huge win of 5-1.  Everyone told me afterwards that when Luton wins, the whole atmosphere of the town is changed, everyone is happy, smiling away.  It’s true, I know, I saw them all at the beetle drive on Saturday night and on Sunday at the church services at All Saints (see photo below) and then at St. Peter’s.  There was definitely a really positive feeling, having won the day before.  And not just won, it was a massive five-one!

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Yes, the Saturday night beetle drive in the All Saints church hall was great.  It was in aid of the guides, who are planning a trip to Switzerland.  Most of the girls come from the Muslim community, and it was good to take part. The food was yummy and I learned how to play a fast-paced beetle game.  It was almost as fast as Luton Town plays football!  I met Nicholas, originally from Spain, who knew everything possible about Taiwan’s history. He even came to church on the Sunday to hear my sermon.  In fact quite a few people came forward to share their knowledge about Taiwan, I was most impressed.   These are some of my good friends!

On Sunday I spoke at the 9:30 am service at All Saints.  I have been linked with this parish for years and years; my previous visit to them was in January 2015 (see that blog post here), and if you compare the then-and-now photos, you’ll see that nobody seems to have changed at all ~ still all lovely and smiling away. These were taken at the Sunday service….

I also visited St. Peter’s Church to speak at their 11:15 am service, and later to attend their Godly Play / Messy Church event in the afternoon.   I watched Jo, the curate, telling the parable of the Good Shepherd, and learned so much.  Really inspiring.

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The 2 clergy, David and Jo are amazing.  They get on really well with everyone, of whatever background, and are very committed to finding new ways to reach out to people from all communities in this very multicultural and multi-faith area of Luton.  David’s wife Susan was in non-stop action all weekend too and so hospitable, and the vicarage dog was delightful and very friendly.  I stayed at the vicarage with the family, and had a great time, learning so much about the area and all that’s going on.  I presented David and Jo with an artillery shell cross each, most appropriate as they and the church congregation seek to be peacemakers in this very diverse and challenging parish.

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And I must mention the lovely couple in the photos below, Ronald – aged 81, and Pauline – aged 74, who are getting married at All Saints this Wednesday.  Here they are ~ bless ’em, and do pray for them!

Thank you to David & Susan and family, Jo, the church leaders and congregation members, beetle-players, guides and all who made this weekend so special.  Some of these people I have known since 1989, when a group of us from Heighington, Co. Durham first visited All Saints in a north-south / rural-urban link established through the former rector of All Saints, Rev. Sam Prasadam.  I’ve been visiting ever since.  It’s wonderful to keep the CMS link going until now, and so much fun that I could also attend the Luton Town match.  Thanks be to God for a great weekend and this wonderful community of faithful Christians.

Go The Hatters!  Go Luton!  Go All Saints!  Go St. Peter’s!  Yes, it’s all go go go in Bury Park, Luton!

St. John’s, Neville’s Cross & St. Edmund’s, Bearpark: CMS Link Visit @ Durham: ‘A Perfect Little City’!

So said Bill Bryson, famous author and chancellor of Durham University – describing Durham as ‘a perfect little city’ and ‘one of the most beautiful little cities in the world’. So if Bill Bryson said it, then of course it must be true.  But hey, the people are great too – all smiling away!

This past weekend I was honoured to visit 2 churches in Durham, St. John’s Church, Neville’s Cross and St. Edmund’s Church, Bearpark, and give a sermon in each. These are actually in 2 different benefices, and I have been linked with both for many years.  My last visit to St. John’s was in February 2015 (see that blog post here), my last visit to Bearpark was possibly 7 years ago.  Nevertheless, a very warm welcome awaited in each place!  I stayed with Mike and Nicky, who have each visited Taiwan in the past few years with daughter Harriet, they kindly provided meals, transport, advice, fun and friendship all weekend – ah, it was great!

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First to St. Edmund’s Church, Bearpark (see above photo) – an old coal mining village just 2 miles west of Durham. The mines ran from 1872 – 1984, there’s the miners’ banner hanging in the church, along with other memorabilia, also a list of all the men and boys killed in the mine.  Very sad, such dangerous work.

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We had 16 in the congregation on Sunday.  Special thanks to Joan, Enid, Pat and Susan who run many of the church events and activities at Bearpark – all faithfully serving God and the church there.  The salt of the earth, really wonderful ladies.  But all are worried about the future of Bearpark church, with decreasing numbers, an aging congregation and few young people ~ a challenge faced by many churches in the UK.  Pray for them.

The service on Sunday at 9:00 am was led by Rev Alan Bartlett, who is on the staff of the diocese but lives in the village – here he is with Mike, who kindly took me there….

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A quick cup of coffee with the congregation and off back to Durham to St. John’s Church, Neville’s Cross (just 15 minutes from the centre of Durham). The church is filled with a great mix of interesting people, many involved in the university as students or academics, plus quite a few young people and a great leadership team.  This was the church on Sunday morning, with Nicky in front!

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Our first event of the weekend was actually a ‘bring and share’ supper on Saturday night, after which I shared my Taiwan power point.  Lovely to see many friends, old and new.  Rev. Barney Huish, the vicar, was also there, he’s the very youthful-looking one in the blue stripey jumper!

On Sunday morning, I gave the sermon at the 10:30 am service, followed by coffee and a small discussion group.  Great!  Delighted to welcome Stephanie who was my colleague many years ago in Heighington School and who has also visited Taiwan in recent years.  Also met Pat, whose husband Rev. Raymond Hay served for 3 months as chaplain to the English congregation at St. James’ Church, Taichung, Taiwan in 1998, only a year before I arrived there.  It’s a small world!  Sunday’s service was led by lay reader, Mike, and vicar, Barney, and Barney was very moved to receive one of Bishop Lai’s artillery shell crosses.  He put it on display for everyone to look at, and encouraged them all to light a candle and pray for peace.

On Monday I went to the church morning prayer service, and met my former teacher, Douglas who was in fine form (on the right below, next to Nicky).  In the middle is Abby, the St. John’s children’s worker, and tomorrow, off I go with her to do a school assembly.  There’s also Peter, retired priest from Spennymoor.  Really lovely people, all of ’em!

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So many many thanks to all in Durham for your warm welcomes, I really appreciate all your support over the years!  Durham is indeed a ‘perfect little city’ partly cos of all the friendly people, but it does help that they also have an amazing cathedral ~ this is the inside of Durham Cathedral, where we attended Choral Evensong on Sunday afternoon.  Check it out ~ it’s oh so beautiful!

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I love Durham, YES!

The 5-star Holy Island of Lindisfarne ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐!

Just spent an amazing – and very refreshing – six days on Holy Island, ‘The Holy Island of Lindisfarne’ no less, my first ever visit!  It’s a real 5-star place, though not in the usual sense, of course.  For many it’s a place of pilgrimage, and one that they return to year after year, for others it’s a day’s outing for half term; whatever; when the tides are right, yes, the place is humming with people. At least that’s true in spring, summer and autumn. Winter is pretty quiet, so I hear – weather, man, it’s the weather!

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First step, check the tides, and then drive on over the causeway. Holy Island is quite low-lying, so everywhere ahead is sea or sky, or mudflats. The only landmarks on the horizon are the 2 castles, the nearer and smaller one on Holy Island itself, and far in the distance on the other shore is the massive fortress of Bamburgh Castle. Holy Island weather changes all the time, and the light makes photos look really good – no filter needed! Sunrises and sunsets are spectacular. Be prepared for fresh air, there’s a lot of it, all very wholesome – everyone has glowing red cheeks and goes around well wrapped up.

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Being a place of pilgrimage gives it a special atmosphere, all that Celtic spirituality oozes out of the island in a way that only a few islands do. Following the daily rhythm of Celtic monastic prayer is a gentle way to spend the week recharging batteries, both physical and spiritual. There are plenty of prayer services to choose from in the different churches and retreat centres on the island. There’s also plenty of walking and exploring to be done all over the island. And on cloudy days when the tides are wrong and visitors are few, it’s the surf that comes up trumps and the young people of the district converge offshore – wetsuits and surfboards all ready for the next big wave. So there’s something for everyone; you’ll never be bored, I promise you!  Of course I took plenty of photos, but far too many to share them all here, and anyway Advent Word is coming soon, so I may use them as a series for Advent. So I’ve chosen 21 photos only, a small selection!

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A little history for you of the Holy Island of Lindisfarne…

‘A Place more venerable than all in Britain’ – Alcuin, AD 793

Before the 11th century, Holy Island was known as Lindisfarne, and its history really starts when Oswald (who had become a Christian through the monks of Iona) became King of Northumbria – and like his father before him, set up his base at Bamburgh Castle, on the Northumbrian coast about 50 miles north of Newcastle. Once established, he invited monks from Iona to come to Northumbria to share the Christian faith with the people – and establish churches. Just north of Bamburgh was the tiny island of Lindisfarne, and in 635 AD St. Aidan (his statue is the top photo with the castle in the background) and a group of Irish monks arrived from Iona and chose to establish their monastery on Lindisfarne – it was nearby so it would have the king’s protection, it had a deep harbour, and it was tidal, cut off by the tides twice a day, so giving extra security.

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Holy Island has been described as the ‘Cradle of British Christianity’, and is a place of immense historic and religious significance. It’s also the place where Eadfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne, wrote the famous Lindisfarne Gospels. It is from the monastery on Holy Island that the early missionaries, led by St. Aidan and St. Cuthbert spread the Christian faith throughout the whole of northern Britain. On the night Aidan died in 651, Cuthbert, then aged about 16, heard God’s call as he tended sheep in the hills. As a result he became a monk at Melrose, and eventually in 664, he came to Lindisfarne as Prior, and traveled extensively, teaching, preaching and baptizing. He felt called to live as a hermit, and did so on St. Cuthbert’s Isle, just off Lindisfarne (see the small island in the above photo), and then for 9 years on the Farne Islands, where many came to seek his help. In 685, he became Bishop of Lindisfarne, but died only 2 years later, in 687. Even before his death he was regarded by many as a saint, and miracles continued after his death. In 875, violent attacks by marauding Vikings forced the monks of Lindisfarne to flee for their lives, taking Cuthbert’s body (which, on opening up his coffin was discovered to be uncorrupted) with them. They found refuge in Chester-le-Street, but in 995 finally settled in Durham, where Cuthbert is buried in the cathedral – or rather the cathedral was built as a place in which to house his shrine.

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In the 1120’s, monks from Durham Cathedral re-founded a Benedictine Priory on Holy Island. St. Mary’s Church (above photo) was already there, built sometime before 1145, and is believed to be built on the site of St. Aidan’s first wooden church. With many changes through the ages, and after major renovation in 1860, it is still in use as the parish church today. The priory flourished until 1537 when it was closed down by Henry VIII. Gradually, its stone buildings fell into decay; today the ruins remain (see photo below) and are open to the public, run by English Heritage.

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Not long after the dissolution of the priory, in the 1550’s, Lindisfarne Castle (which is really only a small fort compared with mighty Bamburgh) was built to protect the harbour against invasion from Scotland, but with the union of England and Scotland in 1603 under James I, its military importance decreased, and eventually it was demilitarized in 1819. Fast forward to 1903, and Edward Hudson of Country Life magazine bought the castle and with the help of the famous architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens, he converted the castle into a very stylish holiday home. A kind of bizarre mix of ancient and modern. That didn’t last too long though – it was sold, and eventually in 1944 it was given to the National Trust, who this year have just completed extensive renovations. This is the castle from the old harbour…

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Other relics of a bygone age are the lime kilns near the castle, and the quarry over on the far side of the island. Also the herring industry – many of the old herring boats have now been cut in half and turned upside down to be used as huts.  Resourceful, eh?!

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Fishing is ongoing, mainly of lobsters (mostly exported to France!) and crabs. Over the years, the island lifeboats took part in many rescues, but there is no longer a lifeboat on Holy Island, though some of the islanders continue to also serve as coastguards. There’s a farm with lots of sheep and some cattle, but it seems that much of the island’s livelihood comes from tourism, with people like me staying for a few days, supplemented by hundreds arriving each day as soon as the tides allow. There’s lots of holiday cottages, retreat centres (I stayed at Marygate, such a great place, delicious food and really friendly people), pubs and cafes, even a post office, small school and small businesses, a shop brewing their own Lindisfarne Mead, artists and craftspeople. I saw Tesco and Argos vans making deliveries, and even a mobile library. And all this week, there’s been an ice-cream van parked on the road to the castle, and he’s done great business!

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Rev. Kate Tristram has written a very readable and comprehensive book, The Story of Holy Island, which I have worked my way through in the last few days. That, together with some guide books and displays in the priory museum and church has given me the background to Holy Island and to what I’ve written above. During this week, we have also celebrated All Saints Day and All Souls Day, and Kate was the priest who took the service. She is now in her mid-80’s but still very cheerfully serving in the church as necessary – Holy Island is in interregnum, though they have a new vicar appointed, but not arriving until January. Her chasuble is stunning. She kindly modeled it for these photos, and told me it was one of four made by a group based at the Durham Cathedral, for the Holy Island church. Wonderful!

Finally I must just tell you about the amazing sculpture in the church on Holy Island, called ‘The Journey’ by Fenwick Lawson, of the 6 monks carrying Cuthbert’s body. Really moving. The photos turn out better at night. He takes the theme of refugees, and mentions ‘The Burghers of Calais’ in his explanation of the sculpture. Most relevant and very timely, seeing as only 3 weeks ago I was in Saffron Walden admiring the sculpture there which is also on the same theme (see that blog post here). The sculptor writes, ‘The Lindisfarne community, with the uncorrupted body of Cuthbert, their saint, founded Durham as refugees. With this significance in mind, and some nerve, considering ‘The Burghers of Calais’ by Auguste Rodin, I saw this epic journey as a great theme for a sculpture: a journey of faith, a journey of hope, and a journey of love for fellow man; a brotherhood forged by the necessity of co-operative effort.’

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So just a taste of Holy Island to encourage you to go and see it all for yourselves, it’s definitely definitely worth it!

Very finally, St. Aidan’s Prayer for Holy Island and his monastic community, to get you in the mood for visiting Holy Island…

‘Lord, this bare island, make it thy place of peace. Here be the peace of men who do thy will. Here be the peace of brothers serving men. Here be the peace of holy rules, obeying. Here be the peace of praise by dark and day. Be this thy island, thy holy island. Lord, I thy servant Aidan, speak this prayer. Be it thy care.’

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This is the causeway, looking back at Holy Island as I left this morning…. sad to say goodbye, it was such a great week!

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PS – Just to put this in a world context: AD 635, the year that St Aidan arrived and established the monastery on Holy Island was also the year that Alopen, a Syriac monk from the Nestorian Church (Church of the East) arrived in China to start his missionary work – he is the first recorded Christian missionary to reach China. Ah yes, it was all happening in 635 AD!

Updated on December 13, 2018:  Last Saturday, December 8, en route from East Lothian to Darlington on a very windy but sunny day, and with a few hours to spare, I called in at Bamburgh.

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First stop was St. Aidan’s Church, which contains the shrine to St. Aidan.  In the ‘icon’ on the left, St. Aidan is shown with King Oswald.  See how the stained glass window on the opposite wall is reflected on the stone pillar next to the shrine ~ gorgeous!

The reredos shows the early northern saints, including St. Cuthbert on the far left holding the head of King Oswald – after Oswald was killed in battle, his head was apparently returned to Lindisfarne and buried there.

Then to Bamburgh Castle, former home of King Oswald. It is truly massive, completely dominating the town, and overlooking the sea from the other side…

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The present castle is largely Norman, and it’s a classic castle, complete with keep, dungeon and armoury.  Today it is owned by the Armstrong family, who open it to the public and also let out some of the stately apartments, including the one on the top floor of the keep.  Just imagine living there!  It’s really great to walk around and appreciate something of the early history.

Bamburgh is also famous for being the birthplace of Grace Darling, and overlooks the Farne Islands, where she rescued so many people from the shipwrecked Forfarshire in 1838.  Inner Farne was where Cuthbert lived as a hermit for 9 years.  Now currently home to thousands of beautiful seabirds.  You can just see it in the distance….

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Ah yes, Holy Island – and Bamburgh – stunning.  Do go if you get the chance!