Tag Archives: Scenery

Kinmen 金門: Transforming War into Peace @ The Home of the Kinmen Artillery Shell Crosses!

My first ever visit to the Kinmen Islands – YES!

Artillery Shells, Kinmen

Kinmen 金門 (aka Quemoy / Chinmen / Chin-men), one of Taiwan’s farthest-flung islands, is where the 823 Artillery Shell Bombardment 八二三炮戰 happened in 1958 as part of the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis, when an estimated 450,000 artillery shells were fired at the Kinmen Islands. It’s also where the Bishop of Taiwan, David J. H. Lai had his vision in 2016 to transform some of those artillery shells into crosses, a symbol of hatred and war now transformed into a symbol of love and peace.  The Chin Ho Li Steel Knife Workshop 金合利, founded in 1963 in Kinmen, uses the discarded artillery shells to make high-quality steel blades for both kitchen and ornamental use. Maestro Wu, grandson of the founder, now runs the company, and he kindly offered his expertise to work with Bishop Lai on the design and production of the prototype crosses.  To produce lighter-weight crosses, he suggested using moulds, and this was done by sending the artillery shell steel to another factory elsewhere.  This project of the Taiwan Episcopal Church has now been fully realized, and while I was in the UK on home leave this past year, I presented Kinmen Artillery Shell Crosses to many church leaders. This included acting on behalf of Bishop Lai to present one to the Archbishop of Canterbury; Bishop Lai himself led a delegation from the National Council of Churches of Taiwan to the Vatican in December 2017, where he was able to present one to Pope Francis.   This is Maestro Wu’s workshop in Kinmen – the smell of the smelters in the workshop is really strong!

But y’know, until now, I had never actually visited Kinmen.  So you can imagine how excited I was when Bishop Lai invited me to join this church visit to Kinmen for 29 members and friends of the Taiwan Episcopal Church, from May 20-22, 2019!  His purpose on this visit was firstly to visit Maestro Wu to thank him for his help…

Secondly to visit the Zhaishan Tunnel翟山坑道 in Kinmen to sing our specially-composed Artillery Shell Cross hymn, and thirdly to visit Dadan Island 大膽島, open to the public only since March 2019.  This is everyone in the Zhaishan Tunnel….

Thanks be to God that, through His mercy and grace, we accomplished all that we wanted to do in Kinmen!  But as we arrived at Songshan Airport in Taipei City on Monday May 20 at 7:00 am to check in for the 8:00 am hour-long flight to Kinmen, we wondered whether we would even get off the ground.  The Plum Rains were here in full force; outside was torrential rain (in fact we learned later that flash-flooding caused St. John’s University to cancel classes that day), while we also heard that Kinmen Airport was closed and over 1,000 people had been stranded in Kinmen overnight waiting for the weather to improve.  The 7:00 am flight to Kinmen was first delayed, then cancelled, and we feared ours would be next. Down south in Kaohsiung, 7 of our group were already stranded at the airport there as their flight to Kinmen really was cancelled, so all they could do was wait on standby for a spare seat.  Our group at Taipei was 22 people, far too many to all get to Kinmen on standby if our flight was to be cancelled too.  Aaaah!  Then suddenly at about 8:30 am, the announcement came that we could proceed to check in our luggage and onwards to boarding.  YES!

And our group from Taipei have arrived at Kinmen!

The skies were dark as we started to fly west over the Taiwan Strait towards Kinmen.  But as we got closer, blue sky emerged up above, and by the time we arrived, the rain had stopped.  But it did continue to rain on and off all day, mostly heavily.  Fortunately our group from Kaohsiung also all managed to get there in the end, although it took until about 2:00 pm before the last 2 arrived.  Here we all are, united at the ceramics factory – possibly our only group photo of 28/29 of us (taken by Mr. Chuang Hsiao-Wu, one of our group) …

Like many islands in this part of the world, Kinmen has a complicated history.  “Following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on October 1, 1949, the government of the Republic of China (ROC) under Chiang Kai-shek began withdrawing its forces from mainland China to Taiwan. However, ROC garrisons remained stationed on the islands of Kinmen and Matsu, located off the coast in Fujian Province.”  In fact, the Kinmen Islands were so heavily militarized that, at its peak, an estimated 100,000 troops were stationed there.  Many hundreds of thousands of Taiwan men have done their military service in Kinmen, including our rector, Rev. Lennon Y. R. Chang. For years, military service was 2 years, so Kinmen made a deep impression on those serving there.  These days, the total number of military personnel in the whole of the Kinmen Islands numbers less than 5,000.  What a difference! But there are the remnants of army bases, equipment, museums, guard posts and military memorials all over Kinmen.  Many of these more obvious memorials are standing right in the middle of roundabouts – guess it makes moving military equipment easier if there’s a roundabout rather than a sharp corner, anyway Kinmen has more roundabouts on that one single island than I have ever seen in the whole of the rest of Taiwan. 

Kinmen is located in Xiamen Bay, at the mouth of the Jiulong River, 227 km west of Taiwan, but only 10 km east of Xiamen.  Xiamen is a huge port city in China, population 3,500,000 (census of 2010), and formerly known as Amoy – it was a British-run treaty port from 1842 to 1912.  The main Greater Kinmen Island is shaped like a dumbbell or a butterfly (depending on your imagination); the narrowest part is 3 km wide, and at the widest part, east-west, it is 20 km.  There’s also the neigbouring island of Small / Lesser Kinmen 小金門, and the much smaller islands of Dadan, Erdan and more. 

Sadly Kinmen has been very badly deforested by all the political chaos, civil wars and centuries of pirate attacks, so instead of being protected by its forests, it is now famous for its northeast monsoon winds that roar around all autumn and winter and make cultivation very difficult.  All over Kinmen are Wind Lion God statues, originally installed to protect against wind damage, and now also believed to protect against evil spirits… 

And then there’s the cows – like roundabouts, it seems as if there’s more cows in tiny Kinmen than in the whole of Taiwan.  They’re on every grassy bit of field, all individually tied up and with their own bucket of water, and all with their own personality!

For me, the most interesting things in Kinmen are the old houses.  There’s old houses all over Taiwan, but nothing like the ones in Kinmen. I expected to see a few, but there are thousands.  Most of them are well-preserved and still inhabited, others have been converted to guest houses and holiday cottages. Their style is traditional Fujian, with swallowtail or horseback-shaped ridges on their roofs.  They are stunning – and I couldn’t get enough of ‘em!

Tourism is now a major source of income for Kinmen people, and being so close to Xiamen means that trade with China is booming.  The water supply even comes from there, via a pipeline, installed in 2018. The Kinmen government has invested a lot of money in developing the islands for tourism and trying to attract their people to move back from Taiwan and China. Business is good, and there are supermarkets and department stores, big houses and luxury developments.  Kinmen is also famous for the production of Kaoliang wine, made from sorghum, and at this time of year the fields of sorghum have just been harvested.  Food production also includes oysters, and out on the beach at low tide are vast oyster farms – the sky was hazy, but in the distance we could just see the skyscrapers of Xiamen.

On our arrival on Monday May 20, we went to the visitor centre, to the Zhaishan Tunnel (constructed between 1961-66 to keep military boats safe from attack), where we sang our artillery shell hymn, to the ceramics factory and then to Shishan (Mt. Lion) Howitzer Front獅山砲陣地 where we had a demo of artillery shells being fired from the Howitzer, which has a firing range of 17 km, and was used in the 823 Artillery Bombardment.  In the torrential rain, we also visited the cultural park.  Most of these places were inside – so fortunate – seeing as the rain kept on pouring down!

We were staying at a guest house called 璞真民宿, located in Jinning Township, in the NW of Kinmen and owned by Mr. Kao, a relative of one of our church members in Taipei.  He arranged all our itinerary for us, and we also very much enjoyed his wife’s home-cooked breakfasts – and the chance to use his main room for evening worship. Here he is with Bishop Lai, drinking tea…

Early on Tuesday morning, I was up early to walk around the area. Fields of peanuts, tractors, temples and so many old houses to take photos of – oh yes, and a deer ranch! 

On our third day in Kinmen, I was up early again for sunrise over the fish farms, and walked along to the nearby villages of Nanshan and Beishan…

And the very nearby Li Guang-Qian General Temple 李光前將軍廟. General Li Guang-Qian was the highest ranking officer in the Battle of Guningtou, and his statue is now installed as the main deity…. 

“The Battle of Guningtou 古寧頭之役, also known as the Battle of Kinmen 金門戰役, was a battle fought over Kinmen in the Taiwan Strait during the Chinese Civil War in October 1949. Commanders of the PRC People’s Liberation Army (PLA) believed that Kinmen and Matsu had to be taken before a final assault on Taiwan.  The PLA planned to attack Kinmen by launching a first attack with 9,000 troops to establish a beachhead, before landing a second force of roughly 10,000 on Greater Kinmen Island, expecting to take the entire island in three days”. But the PLA completely underestimated the number of Nationalist ROC troops on Kinmen, and they landed at high tide so their vessels were beached and they couldn’t return for reinforcements. By the third day they had run out of food and ammunition.  “The failure of the Communists to take the island left it in the hands of the Kuomintang (Nationalists) and crushed their chances of taking Taiwan to destroy the Nationalists completely in the war”.   

Just near the village of Beishan, where much of the fighting took place, is the marker for the Battle of Guningtou, in front of one of the houses badly damaged in the battle… 

Nearby is the Guningtou Museum and its famous Peace Bell…

We also visited the oyster farm at low tide and the nearby beach…

And also on our trip, we visited the Deyue Tower, and the old houses belonging to the overseas Chinese community…

Also the Juguang Tower, Kinmen’s iconic landmark, built in 1953 as a memorial for Kinmen’s fallen soldiers in the Battle of Guningtou 4 years earlier – seen as a token of Kinmen’s spirit, and for many years used as an image on Taiwan’s postage stamps. And I just love the Kinmen telephone boxes, with the Chinese characters for Kinmen 金門 above…

We visited Rushan Visitor Centre and the Chiang Ching-Kuo Memorial Hall 蔣經國先生紀念 (ROC president 1978-1988) where there were displays of military might, and quite surprisingly a lovely pine forest to walk around in.  

One of our main purposes in going to Kinmen was to visit Dadan Island 大膽島, located right in the middle of Xiamen Bay, only 4,400 metres from Xiamen – the red dot marks the spot….

If Kinmen has had a tragic past, then Dadan Island’s past is possibly even more tragic. The 823 Artillery Shell Bombardment in 1958 hit Dadan Island hard (over 100,000 artillery shells landed), and ever since then it’s been even more of a major hub of military activity.  It was only demilitarized and handed over to the civilian government in 2014, and now it’s open for guided tours (though not as yet for citizens of China, Hong Kong or Macau).  This is the place where patriotic recordings were broadcast daily across the Xiamen Bay, and the place where the Dadan Psychological Warfare Wall was built in 1986 – the 3.2-meter-tall, 20-meter-long wall labeled with military slogans is a top-rated tourist attraction among mainland tourists. We even saw the tourist boats coming near to check it out. Dadan is also the place where homesick young military conscripts installed 1,473 cement lion statues, shrines and temples to help them survive the rigours of military life amid the uncertainties of not knowing whether they would ever be able to return home alive. 

We had the chance to visit Dadan Island on Tuesday, though our group divided into several mini-groups for the occasion, and we had to go on different days; the tours have to be booked in advance, and numbers are very limited, and it takes 2 boat trips to get there.  Actually it was a fascinating tour, with a very knowledgeable guide, who took us walking up and down on the steep road that winds round the island – fortunately the weather was kind and the breeze was pleasant, in summer it would be really hot, and hard work. The road is marked by artillery shell casings, used as fence-posts. This was the morning part of the tour…

A simple lunch was provided, and we got to keep the lunch containers to bring home.  It is really amazing to see the resilience of nature and how the island has restored itself after being bombarded so heavily by all those 100,000 artillery shells, which left it almost completely destroyed – we saw the video when we first arrived there, and it looked like complete devastation. Instead there are trees, shrubs, flowers, birds of prey, and if you didn’t know it, you’d think you were in a nature reserve.  It’s really quite beautiful, and yet at every turn are the remains of the old military buildings, hospital, barracks, broadcasting station, temples, repair workshops, tanks, jeeps, graves of beloved dogs, tunnels, guard posts and more.  The banyan trees are gradually growing their roots and trunks up and in and through and out of the old ruined buildings, it’s all quite eerie.  Camouflaged khaki-coloured buildings cover up pretty well when nature is allowed to take its course.  Well worth going to see. 

On Wednesday evening, we headed to the airport to return home, grateful to God for His many blessings. It was really humbling the way the whole visit turned out, especially given the weather on our first day and the possibility that we might not have been able to go at all.  The Taiwan Episcopal Church usually arranges one such trip each year, each time to a different place, usually for 3 days.  We are all grateful to Mr. Di Yun-Hung from St. Paul’s Church, Kaohsiung for organizing the trip – this time the logistics were very difficult to work out, but in the end, everything came together. 

Y’know, I really liked Kinmen.  Usually I hate all militaristic stuff, I try to avoid posing for photos in front of old tanks and guns, and I don’t like visiting places famous for battles, wars and military events.  So I was pleasantly surprised that there is way more to Kinmen than just remnants of war.  The traditional culture of Kinmen is really interesting, the countryside is green and verdant, the food is good, the people are warm-hearted, and the place is prosperous. Kinmen’s tragic history is important and we can’t ignore it, but fortunately these days the focus in Kinmen is more on finding ways to make peace and increase stability.  Long may it continue. And now that Dadan Island is open for visitors, it is becoming a popular place to visit. The more people know their history, the better. I was certainly happy to get my ticket!

And, guess what, one of the interesting things about Kinmen is the unexpectedness of everything, you never know if you’re going to come across an old tank, a cow or even a chicken standing on one leg outside a department store!

Our Kinmen Artillery Shell Crosses are one meaningful way to show that hatred and war can be transformed into love and peace through our prayers, through the cross of Christ.  Do come and visit Kinmen, come and see for yourself, and meanwhile do hold the people of Kinmen, Taiwan, China and the whole of the Pacific Rim in your prayers and hearts. 

‘New House’ Blessing, House Warming and Birthday Celebrations, All in One – YES!

A big THANK YOU to everyone who has sent me birthday greetings and for all your prayers for my moving house and settling in, much appreciated. Yes, it’s all been happening!

Two wonderful days of birthday celebrations started at Xian-Xiao Junior High School on Tuesday morning at my early morning English conversation class (7:45 am start!) followed by coffee with my good friend, Jasmine. Cards and birthday songs from all the kids, and lots of photos – thank you to them and to Jasmine for organizing it all. Plus their wisteria is always in flower on my birthday, so we made the most of it!

Then, Rev. Paul Lau, my good friend from Sabah, Malaysia happened to post on Facebook that he was in Taipei for a conference starting the following day, and such are the wonders of modern technology that a few seconds later, wow, we’d made arrangements for him to come and visit, and he set off! So we rushed around everywhere and ended up having coffee with our Advent Church rector, Rev. Lennon Chang and his wife, Hannah, and sister-in-law, Rev. Elizabeth Wei and Rev. Peter Chen. This was a great reunion for Elizabeth and Paul, who had first met in 1991 when Elizabeth spent a month in Sabah, when Paul was still at high school. The left photos are of all the 3 times they have met, plus us all having coffee!

Wednesday was actually my birthday, and at lunch time, we had our usual English Bible Study with the St. John’s University student fellowship. We’re doing the parables of Jesus, and we spent a happy hour talking about the Good Samaritan. This semester the number of boys in the whole fellowship group is way more than the number of girls, like 4 times more, whereas only a few years ago there were way more girls than boys. Anyway, they are all very lovely – and here they all are – thank you Setu for taking the photo!

I’ve been back in Taiwan now for about 6 weeks and it’s taken that long to move into my new place and get it all sorted. I’m in a flat / apartment block that has just been converted from offices, so being the first person to move in, there was lots to do. And the one person who has done so much to help get it all done is Rev. Lennon Chang. So I invited Lennon and all from Advent Church, plus all the SJU student fellowship to come for a service of blessing for my new house on my birthday ~ a combined house blessing / house warming / birthday party all in one. Yes, I love a good party! And it so happens that my new next-door neighbour, Feng-Ray, who also works in our chaplaincy office, has his birthday next week too ~ so I invited him and his wife, Chuan-Fang to join in for a double house blessing and birthday celebration – 2 houses, one party!

We had LOTS of people come! Lots of LOVELY people no less! Well, it was lots for the size of the place, way more people than we had chairs for anyway! So many, in fact, that it would have been impossible to put them all together for a group photo. If anyone can count them from all the photos, do let me know. Maybe about 30 altogether or more – students, church members, friends and neighbours, including our neighbour upstairs, a Creative Design lecturer from Mainland China, also Calvin, one of our Malaysian students currently on an internship in Taipei, so this is the first time I’ve seen him since I came back from the UK – always grateful to him for his support for our SJU English Bible Study. It was great to see so many old-but-still-young friends and students. Love ’em all! A big welcome to everyone!

The house blessing started at 7:30 pm ~ and with me holding the candle, Lennon took me around the house praying at the door of each room, following the prayers in the book, which everyone responded to. The prayers are really appropriate. Lennon sprinkled the holy water, 3 times, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit after each prayer in each room. All very meaningful. Thanks be to God!

We finished with the ‘peace’ and then we had a huge birthday cake and song for all of us celebrating birthdays in April, which includes Lennon, whose birthday was yesterday. Such fun!

It was especially nice to welcome all the Tan family to the party. And especially because it was David, brother No. 2 of 3, who with his wife, Marge drilled many holes in the wall for me to hang up my pictures, and who designed and made the curtains for my living room. The curtains are so special, very distinctive Tan family style! I’ve spent all week inviting all my friends to come to my new house to see my curtains, cos there aint none other like them in the whole world! The Tan family are in the T-shirt business so they have lots of material, lots of ideas, lots of creative skills and are always willing to help in any way. This is David posing in front of his curtains, and Janet Tan with Rev. Peter Chen in the foreground. Thanks to all of the Tan family for all their friendship and support over the years!

And then, when all the party-goers had just left, my friend Ah-Guan rolled up with one of her friends from Taichung, my first visitors to come and stay!

It’s Tomb-Sweeping Festival plus Children’s Day, so we have a 4-day weekend. Not being ones to hang around doing nothing on a holiday, we’ve been today over to Keelung, to Heping Island…

To Badouzi to see the beautiful painted houses…

And to see the old Agenna Shipyard, now one of Taiwan’s most famous abandoned buildings, it’s a really interesting place, oozing with history and well, abandonment!

Keelung was very busy…

And so we didn’t stay too long, and called in at Laomei Algal Reef on the way home – it’s at its best at this time of the year, all green!

(Updated on April 6: And yesterday we went to see the Calla Lilies in full bloom up at Zhuzihu, in a valley in the Yangmingshan Mountains above Taipei… it was beautiful!)

So a very very big thank you to everyone who came to my party – and if you didn’t or couldn’t, well you can see from the photos that we had a great time! Do find time to come and visit, I am now open for nice visitors, and as you know, I just love a noisy house full of happy people!

Following the Star on Epiphany: CMS Link Visit @ Sedbergh, Cumbria!

And what a great weekend it’s been!

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The lovely little town of Sedbergh, book-town and home of the famous Sedbergh School, nestles at the foot of the Howgill Fells in Cumbria ~ but is also part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.  A double blessing – even on a dull, cloudy day!

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The church of St. Andrew’s in Sedbergh has been supporting me ever since my parents retired to the town in 1996, and even though there’s no more resident Lee family in Sedbergh, still the church continues to support me – and they always give me a warm welcome each time. In fact, just walking around the town, and friends drive by saying hello – this is our very friendly former neighbour Jean!

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In the last few years, there’s been changes aplenty in the church scene in the town and in the local area. First, in 2014 came the amalgamation of the Dioceses of Bradford, Wakefield and Ripon into what is now known as the Anglican Diocese of Leeds ~ and Sedbergh moved out from the Diocese of Bradford into the Diocese of Carlisle. More recently, the Sedbergh URC and Methodist Churches have kind of come together to form the ‘Cornerstone Community Church’, and together with the Anglican Churches in the area, they are now all part of the ‘Western Dales Mission Community’.

On the first Sunday of each month, including this past weekend, there is a combined service at 10:30 am, alternatively meeting in the Cornerstone Church (which is actually the old Methodist Church) and St. Andrew’s. Today, January 6, celebrating Epiphany, the service was held at Cornerstone, led by the lovely vicar, Rev. Andy McMullon – I preached the sermon and also presented Andy with an artillery shell cross from Taiwan.  The Church of England theme of ‘Following the Star’ this Christmas / Epiphany fitted in really well with my sermon on transformation!

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Running at the same time, and also once a month, is a café-church service at the Sedbergh People’s Hall, attracting those who prefer a more informal style of worship, including young families and teenagers.  This has been going for over 15 years, and originally grew out of a children’s holiday club, an outreach of what was the Sedbergh Methodist Church, now Cornerstone.  So immediately after I’d finished the sermon at Cornerstone, off I went to the People’s Hall for their service, arriving just in time to give the sermon.  What a great welcome they gave me!

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And then in the afternoon, at 2:30 pm we had an informal power point talk in St. Andrew’s Church…

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Since my previous CMS Link Church visit to Sedbergh in November 2014 (see that blog post here), the URC Church has sadly closed its church building in Sedbergh, but in the past, under their previous minister, Rev. Carole Marsden, there were close links with the Taiwan Presbyterian Church – part of a link with Cumbria URC.  At least one young person from Sedbergh has been on the youth exchange trip to Taiwan. Then in 2008 just before the last Lambeth Conference, our Anglican bishop of Taiwan, Bishop David J. H. Lai and his wife Lily, accompanied by Rev. Charles C. T. Chen and his wife, Maryjo spent several days visiting Sedbergh, and loved it ~ in fact, Charles described Sedbergh as ‘Paradise’ after his visit – though presumably the weather was kind to them, cos Sedbergh can be the windiest, coldest and bleakest place on earth at times!

Sedbergh’s Howgill Fells tower over the town; Wainwright described them as a ‘herd of sleeping elephants’ – this is them from the top looking down…

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Yesterday, Saturday, I arrived in Sedbergh in the morning with the intention of going up the Howgills ~ and fortunately the weather was kind, although on the ridge at the Calf, the biting wind forced me down a bit, and so I descended by Cautley Spout, quite a beautiful waterfall. Met plenty of sheep too….

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I stayed in Sedbergh with Margaret and Andy, and it was wonderful. Thank you! And I saw many of my old friends, none of whom seemed any older (I’ve just checked the photos on my blog post from November 2014, and it’s true!)  Especially pleased to meet long-time CMS mission supporter, Mary Gladstone, who celebrates her 93rd birthday on January 7 – she’s on the left in the photo below, taken with Christine.  Congratulations Mary!

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So Happy Epiphany to you all, and special thanks to all in Sedbergh for your warm welcome and ongoing support ~ and to all the sleeping elephants for their charm and splendid views. Ah yes, I love Sedbergh and the Howgill Fells ❤️❤️❤️!

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!

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.