Tag Archives: UK

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!

Wanderings in the Wonderful West Country!

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A week or so in the West Country in Autumn ~ and yes, it was great!

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Tiverton, Devon ~ where my good friend Elizabeth took me to see a really bleak but utterly compelling Russian movie, ‘Loveless‘ which was about as tragic as it possibly could be, followed the next day by a mission support prayer gathering, lunch and a walk around the canal, which were quite the opposite!  And in the middle of the prayer meeting, one of the parked cars even rolled itself down the slope.  What with Russian movies, prayer meetings and rolling cars, Tiverton is quite a happening place!  The people are lovely ~ these delightful people from St. George & St. Paul’s Church gather regularly to pray for mission, including CMS.  Thank you!

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Next stop: Porthleven and Helston, Cornwall ~ where the sea and sky were all blue, and where my good friend Joy was in hospital for a new hip, so I stayed with her daughter and husband in Helston Vicarage – this is St. Michael’s Church, Helston where we worshiped on Sunday, and had a very warm welcome from all in the congregation…

And I visited Porthleven, where the harbour was looking splendid….

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And the old Porthleven lifeboat house has a stunning new wall mural by ‘Sketch’ painted on the front wall in memory of the lifeboat men who served there from 1894-1929, and took part in 28 launches and 50 rescues…. though it can only be seen from the sea and from the pier.  Ah yes, wall murals have come to Porthleven!

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Also walked the coastal path up from Porthleven to Trewavas Head – where, perched precariously on the cliffs, there are the 2 engine houses of Wheal Trewavas Mine, a disused copper mine that had 4 copper lodes and 1 tin lode in operation from 1834-1846, employing about 160 men who brought up a total of approx 17,500 tons of copper ore. The shaft reaches down 600 ft and goes out under the sea. Eventually the mine was flooded and abandoned.  What a relic of time past.  An amazing part of Cornish history.

Y’know what else made me smile in Cornwall?  Firstly the cars – and guess what? They are not all silver.  In fact, hardly any seemed to be silver.  All over the UK, boring old silver is the predominant colour for cars and it just adds to the greyness, especially on a cloudy day.  But Cornwall has cars of every colour. I love it!

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And y’know what else? In the hospital where we visited my friend Joy, there are signs posted up in the ward, behind the sink taps no less, telling everyone not to feed the seagulls. Isn’t that so lovely?  You just have to smile at the thought that such a sign is necessary.  Love it!

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And so to Wiltshire, where I stayed with my CMS friend, Jane in the Wylye Valley….

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where nearby Tytherington Village claims to have the oldest church in Wiltshire, dating to the early 12th century, and it is very lovely!

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There’s alpacas too who are oh so sociable and kept me well-entertained!

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Jane kindly took me to Stourhead which is run by the National Trust ~ the gardens are spectacular and looked glorious in their autumn colours….

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Moving northwards, I left Wiltshire and headed to Gloucester, where the cathedral was looking incredible in the blue sky…

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Gloucester Cathedral, ‘formally the Cathedral Church of St Peter and the Holy and Indivisible Trinity, in Gloucester, England, stands in the north of the city near the River Severn. It originated in 678 or 679 with the foundation of an abbey dedicated to Saint Peter (dissolved by Henry VIII).’

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It’s free to go in, and some of the upper galleries are also open, so you can look down on the main body of the church.  There’s lots of things to do, and as it’s half term there were lots of children busy doing things.  A great atmosphere!

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The best things to see are the GCHQ ‘Poppyfall’ all ready for Remembrance Day, as part of the World War I commemoration – on display in the Lady Chapel…

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And the beautiful stained glass windows of the St. Thomas Chapel where the windows are blue…

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There’s also some modern windows honouring Ivor Gurney…

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The cathedral is well worth visiting – my first visit ~ yippee!

It was while I was at Gloucester Cathedral that I learned the sad news of the death of my good friend, Winsome, friend, colleague and neighbour in Dodoma, Tanzania ~ she had also visited me in Taiwan and we had visited her in Sydney, Australia some years ago.  It was somehow fitting to learn this news while at the cathedral, and I lit a candle at the St. Thomas Chapel in thanksgiving for her life and friendship…

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Thank you Gloucester for a great break on a journey!

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And so onto Great Witley, Worcs, to see my good friends, Debbie and Nigel.  Some would say that Worcestershire is not really in the West Country, but hey, it’s still in the west, and, well, not that far away.  Anyway, Thursday was chilly and very grey.  So, what better than to visit the local ruined mansion, built with the profits of ironworks and coal mines, Witley Court.  It is very grey and very austere, and basically grim.  You can imagine what it must have been like, even though it’s now a massive ruin.  What money, what extravagance, what a ruin.

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‘Witley Court, a Jacobean country house extended on a number of occasions throughout its history, but which became derelict after a spectacular fire in 1937. The mansion, formerly one of the finest in the Midlands, is now in the care of English Heritage, who describe it as their number one ruin. They have restored the extensive gardens leaving the impressive skeletal ruin of the building overlooking them in a poignant and thought provoking way.’

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Witley Court, Great Witley, Worcestershire, England is a ruined Italianate mansion. Built for the Foleys in the seventeenth century on the site of a former manor house, it was enormously expanded in the early nineteenth century by the architect John Nash. Subsequently, sold to the Earls of Dudley, a second massive reconstruction by the architect Samuel Daukes took place in the mid nineteenth century, creating one of the great pleasure palaces of Victorian and Edwardian England.  The declining fortune of the Dudleys saw the sale of the court after the First World War to a Kidderminster carpet manufacturer. In 1937 a major fire caused great damage to the court, the estate was broken up and sold and the house was subsequently stripped of its fittings and furnishings. Forty years of decay followed before the house and grounds were taken into the care of The Department of the Environment in 1972. Since that point, significant restoration and stabilisation have secured the house as a spectacular ruin.’

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Having checked out the ‘number one ruin’, it was time to see the church (pictured above), attached to the house, but separate, and not affected by the 1937 fire.  It’s the local parish church and still serves the local community.  This is definitely not a ruin.  Quite the opposite. When you see this, you get a glimpse of what the house might have been like, once upon a time.  It’s the inside of the church that is so, well, incredible.

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It’s the ceiling, man, the ceiling!

‘The church, of Saint Michael and All Angels, is a brick building but like the adjoining Witley Court was faced with bath stone by the Gloucester architect Samuel Daukes in the 1850s. The interior is one of the finest Italian Baroque churches in Britain originally from Cannons House at Edgware in Middlesex and fitted to Daukes’s building by James Gibbs. It was completed in 1735.  It incorporates a richly gilded ceiling with a number of paintings by Antonio Bellucci, a funerary monument to Thomas Lord Foley and his family by John Michael Rysbrack and ten large painted glass windows by Joshua Price dated 1719-1721.’

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The last place to check out is the tea-shop ~ far more down to earth and very pleasant, full of cheerful ladies serving food and tea.

Goodbye to Great Witley, where many of the trees are covered in clumps of dark green mistletoe – ah, yes, Christmas is coming!

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And onto Kidderminster, where the brown bulrushes were in full bloom at the local nature reserve…

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The views over the whole area, almost as far as Birmingham from the Habberley Nature Trail were amazing!

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So goodbye to the West Country for the time being as I head northwards this weekend. Thanks to everyone who gave me such a warm welcome and great hospitality – including the seagulls in Cornwall.  Great weather too.  But winter is coming and this weekend may be a bit cold.  Get them Winter woolies ready!

Beautiful Beccles ~ CMS Link Visit No. 4 ~ YES!

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Beccles in Suffolk is not just beautiful, it’s also busy, though you wouldn’t think so if you looked at the roads at a weekend – all empty!  But relaxing in the restaurants, climbing up the tower, and out on the boats at the quayside, there were lots of people.  And this past weekend it was very blowy and blustery too ~ real hold-onto-yer-hats weather.  Ah yes, I love a bit of fresh air!

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Beccles is a charming old town (town sign photo above shows Queen Elizabeth I granting the town charter in 1584), full of quaint houses and lovely people, and this past Saturday the sun was out, the sky was blue, and it was perfect for a walk around: and so, welcome to beautiful Beccles!

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I’ve been supported by the Beccles Parish of St. Michael’s – that’s the church in town, and St. Luke’s on the outskirts, for many many years.  My previous visit to Beccles was in February 2015 (see that report and photos here), when it was very cold and instead of meeting in the church, we met in the nearby Waveney Centre, which overlooks the River Waveney, down below.  Great views of the river around the town, and boats all over…

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Beccles was once a river port, which explains why the church tower is built at the wrong end of the church, to stop it falling off a large cliff down near the river. The Beccles Bell Tower is 30 m (97 ft) tall, free-standing, and was sold to the district council for the price of one penny.  So the council own it and on Saturday it was open to the public, £2.50 entrance fee to climb the 120+ steps to see a glorious view over the town and river.

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St. Michael’s Church is a huge building, with large noticeboards of all their mission activities.  This church is VERY supportive of CMS!

Since my last visit, sadly, we’ve lost Guenever who was the former leader of the CMS mission support group, but we give thanks to God for her life and ministry over the years.  Her son, Philip was ordained a few years ago, and now serves in a parish not far from the town.  Since my last visit also, Beccles has a new vicar, Rev. Rich Henderson, who was once the curate, so I’ve known him for many years too. He is assisted by 3 (yes, three!) curates. Wonderful!  He also has a whole group of retired clergy living in Beccles who help out, and one lovely retired bishop, Gavin Reid, who was running the parish during the interregnum when I was last there.  One of the retired priests, Peter Langford has famously just completed the Lands End to John O’Groats cycle ride – aged 85, and it’s his 3rd trip, his first was to celebrate his 75th birthday, his second at 80, and now his third at 85.  His son kept a daily blog of the ride, see here.  Amazing!   This is Rich and Peter…

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Many thanks to Keith for his welcome and hospitality, and taking me around from place to place.  We started off on Saturday evening with a ‘bring-and-share’ evening at St. Luke’s Church, and I showed everyone my powerpoint about Taiwan.  What a great evening, and wonderful food!

On Sunday, I shared a little in an interview at the morning service at St. Michael’s Church.  The church is currently focusing on the theme of ‘Extravagant Welcome’ and has a sermon series on ‘Hospitality, Inclusivity and Diversity’.  So on Sunday, I also had the chance to hear a great sermon on Inclusivity from Ben, one of the curates.

This is Anne (below right, with me), a long-time and very faithful CMS supporter, who many years ago taught in Uganda; and Keith, and his double, Ray (below left) ~ and no they’re not related!

On Sunday evening, there was an informal and very moving service, and I gave the sermon. These lovely people who came along deserve a medal, some were hearing me speak for the third time in one weekend ~ and they were still smiling!

And on Monday, the sun long gone, replaced by drizzle and fog, and Keith led the way as I said goodbye to Beccles and we headed over to Norwich to join the Norwich CMS Prayer Group (kindly invited by Louise Wright, former CMS mission partner in DR Congo – in the middle below) ~ where I had the chance to share about what’s going on in Taiwan.  My first visit to that group – thanks to them all for their warm welcome and their great prayer support for CMS!

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So a big thank you to Rich and Keith ~ and all the great people of beautiful and very blustery Beccles.  I received a wonderful welcome from one and all, and am grateful for many many years of prayer and support for me and CMS.  Thanks be to Almighty God for providing such faithful supporters and friends.  And to finish, some of Keith’s plants that grace his garden – beautiful!

Oxford Vibes and more @ CMS-UK HQ!

Off to Oxford for 2 days ~ yippee!  Main purpose – to visit CMS Church Mission Society HQ today – to meet all the wonderful people who work there and share with them a little about life in Taiwan.  Oh, and to give them all a few smarties, glitter, bubbles – and fun.  After all there they are, working hard all day long.  Helping us.  Supporting us.  Always cheerful.  Always ready to stop their work and welcome visitors like me.  Ah yes, I’m so happy to visit them all 😊😊😊  – and this is the place, on the outskirts of Oxford….

But first a day of soaking up the Oxford Vibes….

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Yes, a whole day yesterday in that great city of learning, the ‘city of dreaming spires’ ~ Oxford!  What a city, what a university, and what glorious weather!

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I admit, I’m not an Oxford person.  I can’t recognise any college or building or landmark, haven’t got a clue what the colleges are, nor why they’re famous, other than just being part of Oxford University.  So all I can tell you is that the buildings and colleges are beautiful, and spires are many.  Spires and steeples and towers and gargoyles and churches and chapels everywhere.

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And amazing autumn trees…

And some street art, especially on the Cowley Road – this poem, ‘Slowly Slowly Cowley Road,’ by Steve Larkin…

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And I found a tower, belonging to the university church of St. Mary’s. It’s £4 to go up, and well worth it on a beautiful day.  Great views of the Radcliffe Camera and lots of colleges. Do as I did and tag along with people who know what they’re looking at!

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I spent hours walking the streets and looking at everything.  What a great city!

This is the area around Christ Church Cathedral, which is also the college chapel of Christ Church. £8 entrance fee, so I didn’t go in – too much else to see. And yes, there was a field of cows there too…

Came back along the Iffley Rd ~ Roger Bannister’s famous 4-minute mile was done here!

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Other scenes along the Iffley Rd, including the Mad Hatter Pub…

And The Oxford Blue….

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And so to CMS HQ today.  And it was quite some day. Non-stop action all day long. So many old friends and new, and lots to catch up on.  And photos to take.  Did a short talk about Taiwan at lunchtime.  And I was very well looked after for the whole day by Anne, who smiled all day long.  Ever cheerful.  The salt of the earth.  We all love her to bits.  Spot her in the photos below, we’re the ones in red!

These are all the great people who spent 30 minutes listening to me talking non-stop about Taiwan…. and they were still smiling at the end ~ YES!

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I presented CMS with an artillery shell cross from Bishop Lai and the Diocese of Taiwan, one for CMS, and one also for our CEO Philip Mounstephen as he leaves to become the new Bishop of Truro.  He wasn’t there today, so everyone else posed for a photo on his behalf instead!  Actually, Bishop Lai called me earlier this morning from Taiwan, and so I brought greetings from him to everyone at CMS.

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A big thank you to all those who made my visit to Oxford today really wonderful – including those in the CMS house where I was given a warm welcome.  And special thanks to all those in CMS HQ, these guys have been taking such good care of me all these years.  Y’know, CMS is a great group of people, and I love ’em to bits.  God is so good!

A Huge Big Welcome to Northern Ireland!

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Ah, Northern Ireland – such a very green and pleasant land, where it rains so much that all it has to do is stop raining and everyone is upbeat and happy. A grey, cloudy and overcast day might put the rest of the world off from venturing outside, but not in N. Ireland. “Hey, it’s not raining, isn’t it great?” they say all day long. And it always is! Y’know, you just can’t fail to be charmed by the people and their attitude to the weather – in fact to the whole of life. Everyone is, well, oh so polite, every car stops before you’ve even arrived at the zebra crossing to let you cross, they hold doors open or stand back to let you through first, they offer you their seat if you want to look out of the train window, they all say ‘good morning’ and they spend their days talking to their friends on the street or phoning each up for a chat. There is a quaintness about N. Ireland that is so charmingly old-fashioned that you just have to smile at how lovely they are.  And what a sense of humour they have too….

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Almost the first thing you hear on arrival in N. Ireland is how they haven’t got a government, but the last thing you see is any evidence of this fact. Everything works like it should. The trains and buses all run on time, and guess what, they even coordinate with each other. 😊 And N. Ireland people over 60 can travel on any bus or any train at any time to anywhere in N. Ireland completely free of charge, and at 65 they can do the same but all over the whole of Ireland too. This is really quite incredible. And all achieved without a government. Just imagine what the rest of the UK could do if they got rid of theirs!

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My good friends, John and Margaret are real N. Ireland people, and they kindly invited me to visit them in Coleraine for a few days. This was my 3rd visit to N. Ireland, the last one being in 2010-ish, also to visit John and Margaret, and on that trip they took me to Giant’s Causeway and other famous places. In 2005, I had taken some of my Taiwan friends to visit them when they were CMSI (Church Mission Society Ireland) mission partners in Kenya and we all had such a great time together.  Ah yes, Kenya features a lot in their house in Coleraine!

Before Kenya, John was vicar at Lisburn Cathedral for 17 years, so they were well-placed to answer my endless questions about N. Ireland – on culture, history, religion, faith and of course pronunciation and meaning of places like Cullybackey, Ballymoney, Ballybogey, Ballygalley and Knocknamuckley – and those are just the ones I can remember, there’s plenty more I don’t even know where to start.  As I traveled around, place names were many, but people were surprisingly few. So, if I saw a whole crowd, I just had to take a photo – just check this out, this is a rare sight in N. Ireland!

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Margaret took me to visit Coleraine Town. It’s a grey town and it was a grey day, so it all added to the atmosphere. But being almost the only tourist in sight that day, the Tourist Information lady was delighted to have someone to talk to about the history, and she was wonderful. Like a ray of sunshine breaking through the greyness. I learned all about ‘The Honourable The Irish Society’ who were a group of merchants in London who were sent to N. Ireland on the orders of James I to establish a settlement in the early 1600’s, they developed the town and also built the church, St. Patrick’s, although it was built on top of the foundations of an earlier church, dating back to the 14th century.

Needless to say, visiting Coleraine with Margaret was not the usual sightseeing tour. She knew most of the people we passed in the street, she took me into shops to meet her relatives who worked there, and of course when we got into the church, I was given a very warm welcome by more of her friends. Grey indeed outside, but inside, all was sunshine and warmth!

Later we drove out around the coast to Portstewart, Portrush and Dunluce Castle. “Hey, it’s not raining, isn’t it great?” said John all afternoon, smiling away. And it was!

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We spent a day in Derry / Londonderry – going by train around the coast. It didn’t rain then, either, and yes, it was great!

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My first visit to the famous city of Derry. Highly recommended. I’ve heard Derry described as ‘raw and beautiful’ and that kind of sums it all up. Very beautiful, with the most intact city walls of any city I’ve ever seen. A real walled city, full of history.

And in the walled city is the Church of Ireland (Anglican) St. Columb’s Cathedral, built between 1628-1633, the first post-Reformation Anglican church built in the British Isles and the first non-RC cathedral to be built in Western Europe…

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There’s a stained glass window in the church commemorating the life of Mrs. Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895), who was wife of Archbishop William Alexander of Derry. She wrote many famous hymns there, including ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ and ‘There is a Green Hill Far Away, outside the city walls’, the latter thought to have been inspired by the hills of the Derry, which are indeed outside the city walls…

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But Derry was severely affected by ‘The Troubles’. The conflict is widely considered to have begun in the city, with many regarding the Battle of the Bogside in 1969 as the beginning. Bogside is a majority Catholic / Irish republican area, and shares a border with the Protestant / Ulster loyalist enclave of the Fountain. From the city walls we could see both.

The ‘Bloody Sunday’ incident of 1972, when 14 protesters were killed by the British army, also occurred in the Bogside area of Derry, commemorated in this mural.

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The Bogside Murals are famous, virtually all political rather than great works of art, and I spent ages taking photos of them all; they also mark the spots where many of the killings took place. This is the ‘raw’ side of Derry, raw, bleak and poignant. Many of the posters comment on the current political impasse and urge the leaders to get moving on settling the disputes….

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These days, tourists like me come to take photos of the wall murals, slogans and flags, described in this article here as ‘showrooms of ethnic antagonism’.  Sadly, centuries of mistrust and bitterness are ingrained in the hearts of the people on both sides. Despite the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, society is still deeply divided. Geographically divided by public housing policies and educational practices, there are few opportunities for people to have meaningful contact with the other side. The 2 communities are close-knit, parochial, almost tribal ~ effectively living separate but parallel lives.

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Certainly the churches are very divided. Church buildings are everywhere in N. Ireland, apparently there are 26 in Coleraine alone, many the result of breaking away from one of the others. Current issues in society – of abortion and same-sex marriage – have actually brought the churches closer together. But as John says, when it comes to N. Ireland Christianity, the Protestant Churches have placed way too much focus on the ‘way in’ and not nearly enough on the ‘way on’. The Christian faith has to be lived out day by day and while the churches argue and divide over doctrine, Brexit is on the horizon, secularism is on the rise and the church risks being side-lined, as is happening in England. N. Ireland has a long way to go. Prayer is needed!

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On Thursday, we went to Belfast. I like the red-bricked buildings of Queen’s University…

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we also visited the botanic gardens…

and the Ulster Museum…

Then we walked down to the city centre along Sandy Row, traditionally a staunchly loyalist, predominantly Protestant, working-class area of Belfast. The huge wall mural at the entrance to the street commemorates King William III of England who travelled along Sandy Row with his troops on his way south to fight at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, a defining moment in Irish history that ultimately ensured Protestant ascendancy in Ireland, and is commemorated on July 12 each year by the Orange Order with huge parades and bonfires. Pictures and flags of the queen, union jacks and slogans of support for Britain are everywhere. It is all really quite surreal. One thing is certain, 4 days in N. Ireland isn’t anywhere near enough to even scrape the surface in understanding the complex situation that is Northern Ireland today.

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And on into Belfast City Centre – to the city hall and around about.  Not enough time to go everywhere ~ still we saw a little of this great city!

The sign said, ‘Ask not what you can do for your country, ask what is for lunch’ 😊 And so we went off to meet my old friend, Ali and her husband, Chris – for lunch. Once upon a time, Ali and I taught together in Mwanza, Tanzania; now she lives in Newtonards, where Chris is the vicar. Her accent sounds really Irish to me, but all the locals say she sounds very English. Actually she’s from Suffolk!

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A very very huge thank you to John and Margaret for their wonderful welcome and amazing hospitality, and to Ali and Chris and all the lovely people of N. Ireland too for their warm welcome. Sorry not to be able to visit everybody I would have liked to – ah, next time, next time!  And next time for shopping too….

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And on Thursday afternoon, on our way back to Coleraine, finally, it rained. Ah, rain at last! I’d been in N. Ireland for 4 days, and saw no actual rain until my final day. All 5 minutes of it, enough for cars to use their windscreen wipers. John was delighted, “so finally you can see some real Irish rain!” YES!  A trip to N. Ireland is not complete without some wet stuff to make you feel welcome. So they say, anyway. 😊😊

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Goodbye N. Ireland – until next time.  And so to Belfast Airport this morning for my short flight back to Manchester.

Ah it was fun trip ~ I just LOVE Northern Ireland!

Cathedralling in Eastern England!

THE most amazing 3 days of completely blue skies and THE most amazing visits to 3 cathedrals!  Almost, but not quite, cathedralled-out for a while. Added to Norwich, where I was last Friday, that makes 4 cathedrals in less than a week. Phew!

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First was Ely, Cambridgeshire, where I went on Monday en route from Suffolk to Lincolnshire. Stopped to check out the city and the cathedral, and got myself on an octagon tower tour at the cathedral. YES YES YES!

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Ely Cathedral has its origins in AD 672 when St Etheldreda built an abbey church. The present building dates back to 1083, and cathedral status was granted it in 1109. Until the Reformation it was the Church of St Etheldreda and St Peter, at which point it was refounded as the Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Ely, continuing as the principal church of the Diocese of Ely, in Cambridgeshire. It is the seat of the Bishop of Ely and a suffragan bishop, the Bishop of Huntingdon. Architecturally it is outstanding both for its scale and stylistic details. Having been built in a monumental Romanesque style, the galilee porch, lady chapel and choir were rebuilt in an exuberant Decorated Gothic. Its most notable feature is the central octagonal tower, with lantern above, which provides a unique internal space and, along with the West Tower, dominates the surrounding landscape.”

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The big advantage to Ely is that the city is so small – and so lovely – and car parking is free, so what you save on the car park, you can spend on the tower tour. Ely doesn’t just offer one tower tour, but two. I chose the octagon tour and it was amazing. Ely Cathedral is not cheap, £9 admission charge, and about the same per tower tour, or buy a special package of entrance and one tower tour for £16.50.  And it was well worth it to go up into the octagon and see down into the cathedral as well as walk around on the roof.  And we had a really good tower guide. The views were amazing, over to Suffolk, Cambridge and all places in-between. There’s also a sculpture exhibition at the cathedral, in fact there’s all sorts of modern art all over. I like it.  Ely has a nice atmosphere, and the weather was perfect. Blue sky – yippee!

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I’m staying in Bourne, Lincolnshire, my first visit here, staying with good friends, Hall and Sarah. On Tuesday, Sarah took me to Lincoln Cathedral, and that too was my first visit. Loved it, big time! So massive, so huge, so in your face as you arrive in Lincoln from outside of the city.  Sarah had planned the whole trip to include the Holy Communion service at lunchtime and a roof tower at 2:00 pm. The roof tour is incredible. We went up inside the cathedral at great height and walked out onto the roof, then inside along by the rose window and looked down at the nave and aisles.  Also had a great guide. These cathedral tour guides really know their stuff.  He told us all about the fires, the earthquake, the storm, the battles and all the damage to the cathedral as a result.  Incredible.  Admission is £8 plus more for the roof tower. Tower tours happen only on Saturdays, but roof tours happen more or less every day and well worth it! Must go!

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Lincoln Cathedral or the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lincoln, and sometimes St. Mary’s Cathedral in Lincoln, England is the seat of the Anglican Bishop of Lincoln. Building commenced in 1072 and continued in several phases throughout the medieval period. It was the tallest building in the world for 238 years (1311–1549), and the first building to hold that title after the Great Pyramid of Giza. The central spire collapsed in 1549 and was not rebuilt. The cathedral is the third largest in Britain (in floor area) at around 5,000 square metres (54,000 sq ft), after St Paul’s and York Minster. It is highly regarded by architectural scholars; the eminent Victorian writer John Ruskin declared: “I have always held… that the cathedral of Lincoln is out and out the most precious piece of architecture in the British Isles and roughly speaking worth any two other cathedrals we have”.

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The first bishop of Lincoln was Remigius de Fécamp – reputed to be cousin of William the Conqueror, and it was him who asked Remigius to build the cathedral. Remigius is shown in the rose window, holding the cathedral in his hand.  We got so close, we could even touch this window, even though it is way up high!

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Also in the cathedral, we lit a candle in memory of my good friend in Taiwan, Rev. Hsu, who died this week, and whose daughter, Alice and husband, Bishop Roger from Mauritius, are mutual friends of the 3 of us, it’s the Madagascar, Mauritius, Taiwan / CMS, USPG connection.  Rev. Hsu and his wife have lived in the Shuang-Lien Elderly Centre, near St. John’s University, Taiwan for about 5 years now, and I visit them often. Their life story and testimony are quite incredible, and he will be much missed.  Quite timely that he should die just on the day I was visiting mutual friends of his family.  May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

Yes, Lincoln Cathedral is quite amazing.  And they have a really good and very professional instagram page, full of interesting things about the cathedral, which is partly why I was so keen to go.  Check it out at ‘lincolncathedral’.  And unlike Norwich which greets you at the main entrance with a statue of Wellington with a cannon, and Ely which has an actual cannon in front, instead Lincoln has a statue of the famous poet and native of Lincolnshire, Tennyson, and a quote from one of his poems…

And yesterday was Peterborough Cathedral, but first Hall took me to visit Crowland, a town just outside Peterborough, famous for its abbey and its 14th-century three-sided bridge – Trinity Bridge. This stands at the centre of the town and used to be the confluence of three streams, but now just stands in the street, water nowhere to be seen!

Crowland Abbey is incredible. “In about 701 a monk named Guthlac came to what was then an island in the Fens to live the life of a hermit. Following in Guthlac’s footsteps, a monastic community came into being here, which was dedicated to Saint Mary the Virgin, Saint Bartholomew and Saint Guthlac in the eighth century…… The abbey was dissolved in 1539. The monastic buildings, including the chancel, transepts and crossing of the church appear to have been demolished fairly promptly but the nave and aisles had been used as the parish church and continued in that role.”  The bells are famous too, maybe the oldest in England, certainly the first to be broadcast on radio by the BBC in 1925, and they have the longest bell-ropes in the country.

And so to Peterborough. The cathedral has a huge wow factor as you come round the corner and see the west front right in front of you.  Amazing.  And with a deep blue sky behind, it’s stunning.  The west front of Lincoln Cathedral would be stunning too, but is largely covered in scaffolding ~ so Peterborough definitely has the edge!

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Peterborough Cathedral is the seat of the Anglican Bishop of Peterborough, and  is dedicated to Saint Peter, Saint Paul and Saint Andrew, whose statues look down from the three high gables of the famous West Front. Although it was founded in the Anglo-Saxon period, its architecture is mainly Norman, following a rebuilding in the 12th century. With Durham and Ely Cathedrals, it is one of the most important 12th-century buildings in England to have remained largely intact, despite extensions and restoration.

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Peterborough Cathedral is known for its imposing Early English Gothic West Front (façade) which, with its three enormous arches, is without architectural precedent and with no direct successor. The appearance is slightly asymmetrical, as one of the two towers that rise from behind the façade was never completed (the tower on the right as one faces the building), but this is only visible from a distance.”

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This year, Peterborough Cathedral is celebrating its 900th anniversary, and has an exhibition showing Tim Peake’s Soyuz spacecraft – Soyuz TMA-19M – and a Space Descent VR experience. This is also a great wow factor,  coming round the corner and seeing that spacecraft on display brought gasps from everyone as they saw it. It is really very small for 3 people but Tim Peake and 2 other astronauts descended in it from the international space station back to earth after their trip in 2016.  The virtual reality experience is well worth £5 for 20-25 minutes sitting and experiencing their great descent.  Really amazing.

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The cathedral is free to enter.  Yes, free!  Definitely must go.  Yesterday, we also went to Choral Evensong, where there was a mixed choir of boys and girls singing, beautiful!  And this was the view of the west front last night as we left Peterborough Cathedral.  WOW!

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This has been a rather amazing few days, thanks largely to my good friends in Bourne who organized everything so wonderfully.  Grateful also to Almighty God for His many blessings ~ the weather, the cathedrals, the views and the roof tours, all amazing.  Really grateful for having seen and experienced so much.  No more cathedrals for a while.  Back to the road – and the real world!

Welcome to East Anglia!

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East Anglia is a land of big skies. They go on forever, and change colour frequently at this time of year as an orange sunrise gives way to blue skies ~ that change to grey to black, and the storm clouds come, the rain pours down and then the sun comes out, leaving rainbows and white fluffy clouds. Never boring, in fact I spent half of the weekend chasing skies of different colours all over everywhere!

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At this time of year, the fields are full of sugar beet – or corn stalks after the harvest, or green grass of the common land, being grazed by a few friendly horses.  Cows too, nearby…

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The village of Mellis in north Suffolk is one of my CMS Link Churches, and I’ve just been staying there for the weekend. Actually it’s part of the benefice now called South Hartismere, and one of 4 parishes that my father took care of as vicar, way back in the 9 years before he retired in 1996. These days there are 8 parishes, wonderfully taken care of by Rev. Julia Lall, and they’ve been supporting me for many years. On previous visits, I’ve always stayed with Julia, churchwarden of Thornham Magna, but this time, I’ve had the honour of staying with the churchwarden of Mellis, Betty and her husband, David. So hospitable and welcoming. Even the cats love to share their space with visitors. Thank you!  This is Betty lighting the candles in the church, ready for the service, with the church teddy bear, Fr. Ted all ready too…

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Mellis is very unusual, in that central to the village is a huge unfenced common, and virtually all the houses are built around the edges of the common. Most are hidden behind hedges and hard to find, with just the roofs peeping out above the trees, many of them thatched. This being Suffolk, lots of the houses are pink. Suffolk is famous for its pink houses, due to the whitewash traditionally being mixed with oxblood – as a binding agent, or maybe to ward off evil spirits, or both.  These two are actually in the neighbouring village of Thornham Magna ~ the left photo is of the Four Horseshoes…

Also peeping out behind the trees on the edge of Mellis common is St. Mary’s Church. This area has lots of churches dedicated to St. Mary.  The church took ages to find, despite lots of signposts to ‘St. Mary’s Church’! Eventually I found it hiding behind the trees, and on Sunday at 10:30 am, it was the Mellis Harvest Festival – in the pouring rain, which stopped mid-afternoon, and the sun came out. But the church looked stunning anyway. We had a lovely service, with children from the local school and over 40 people there. I did the talk and there was sherry on offer afterwards. Sherry!

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Earlier on the Sunday morning, I also preached at the 8:30 am communion service at Thornham Magna, (also St. Mary’s, but Mary Magdalene) led by the vicar, Julia. I presented her with an artillery shell cross from Taiwan, also one for lay reader Jean, in honour of it being the 50th anniversary next year of women first becoming lay readers. These ladies are doing a great job in rural Suffolk!

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Thornham Parva is not far away, the church is really incredible – and very famous, due to its thatched roof, and the retable inside. And of course, surprise, surprise, it’s also dedicated to St. Mary…

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And finally there’s Gislingham Church, yes, another St. Mary. This one was closed for repairs. Gislingham is the largest village in the immediate area.

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The telephone boxes of this area are interesting, the one at Mellis is now all stained glass showing local nature scenes, while the one at Thornham Magna is a bookswap…

And just up the road, in the neighbouring benefice of North Hartismere is my good friend, Adrian Watkins, he’s been vicar there for the last 3 years, based at Oakley.  Adrian was one of our favourite regional managers at Church Mission Society (CMS) in London and then Oxford, but then he left for theological training. Really miss him at CMS. So I just had to visit him. What’s more, he’s a successor to Rev. Christopher Idle, who was vicar at Oakley and some of the other churches in the area – and whose 80th birthday party and book launch I had attended last weekend in London. Gosh, it’s a small world! Adrian has a very large rectory and a very small dog. Quite some contrast. And he has lots of special hens and guinea fowl with all sorts of unusual names. And y’know what, his church at Oakley is not (repeat, not!) dedicated to St. Mary. St. Nicholas, in fact. Yippee!

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And what else? Well, a visit to northern Suffolk would not be complete without a visit to Norwich, so that was where I went on Friday on my way to Mellis. Actually Suffolk is in the Diocese of Edmundsbury and Ipswich, but Norwich is, well, THE place to go. I went first to visit a friend, then down to Norwich Cathedral. It’s quite a place. Free to get in, suggested donation of £5. A bargain, guys! There’s a labyrinth in the cloisters, 3 beautiful modern windows and an amazing font kind of made of a chocolate machine (yes, true!), and the most stunning glass door to St. Catherine’s Chapel, with words from T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets engraved on the door. Not easy to photograph, but well worth seeing. Must visit! And one day I hope they’ll offer tower / steeple tours like lots of other cathedrals. I just love tower tours!

There’s plenty of other stuff in Norwich. Nearby is Mother Julian’s cell in a church. I went to check it out, but let me be honest, I didn’t like it, so there’s no photos to show you.  But I can highly recommend visiting Colchester, where I was visiting my good friends, Shelagh and Richard, for 2 days, in-between visiting London and Suffolk. The day we visited the town it was dull and a bit wet, but there’s tons of old Roman stuff to see, the castle and the walls and a huge number of churches. Some have been converted to music centres and theatres, but the most interesting was St. Helen’s Chapel which was built in the grounds of the Roman theatre, possibly by King Offa in the 8th century, then restored by the Normans in 1076, and these days is used as the town’s Greek Orthodox Church, with an amazing icon of St. Helen of Colchester, the town’s patron saint – she was mother of Constantine.  It’s a real surprise to enter the church and see what’s inside!

So a wonderful time had in East Anglia. Thanks to everyone for making me feel so welcome. This was the view as I left the area yesterday heading for the flatter lands of the fens. But hoping to be back in East Anglia in a few weeks time – for Part 2!

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