The Road to Holy Island

Following on from my popular post about Celtic Morning Prayer yesterday, a recollection of a family holiday in August 2019 in a caravan at Haggerston Castle Holiday Park. We had a great time, and you can see from the photo that it was a typical British summer!

Note: You can expand and magnify the photo by clicking on it (opens in a new tab).

The holiday park is very near the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, commonly known as either Holy Island or simply Lindisfarne. It’s a tidal island off the northeast coast of England, close to the border with Scotland, and was an important centre of Celtic Christianity.

[The island] measures 3.0 miles from east to west and 1.5 miles from north to south, and comprises approximately 1,000 acres at high tide. The nearest point to the mainland is about 0.8 miles. It is accessible at low tide by a modern causeway and an ancient pilgrims’ path that run over sand and mudflats and which are covered with water at high tide. Lindisfarne is surrounded by the 8,750-acre Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve, which protects the island’s sand dunes and the adjacent intertidal habitats. Source

When I took the photo it wasn’t possible to drive to the island, but we drove over another time on a lovely sunny evening.

Warning signs urge visitors walking to the island to keep to the marked path, to check tide times and weather carefully, and to seek local advice if in doubt. For drivers, tide tables are prominently displayed at both ends of the causeway and also where the Holy Island road leaves the A1 Great North Road at Beal. The causeway is generally open from about three hours after high tide until two hours before the next high tide, but the period of closure may be extended during stormy weather. Source

The road to the island is evocative of the both our physical and spiritual journey through life, so this traditional Gaelic blessing is an appropriate way to conclude:

May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.

Funeral of Prince Philip

I write this immediately following the funeral of Prince Philip on Saturday 17 April 2021, one defined by coronavirus restrictions with only 30 mourners.

The image of the Queen on her own is a very profound and significant one. Whilst no one should be allowed to grieve alone, a solitary Queen served as a powerful identification with so many of her people during the ongoing pandemic.

Prior to the service I posted on Facebook: Whatever your views about the monarchy (and that’s a debate for another day) we currently have a Royal Family, and we pay them respect. Not because they are better than us, but because the Queen is our head of state. Although not perfect, she and Prince Philip have served us well over the years in a variety of ways.

Let me share some words of the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby on BBC Radio 4: To set aside your own rights and interests in order to serve others is always difficult, but as we reflect on the life of His Royal Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh, we are reminded of how much it is possible to achieve when we dedicate our lives to larger causes than ourselves. Prince Philip shows how someone dedicated to bringing people together and encouraging the journeys of others achieved so much more than we can ever hope to on our own.

You can read the whole text here.

Death of Prince Philip

I write this immediately following the announcement of the death of Prince Philip by Buckingham Palace on Friday 9 April 2021 at the age of 99, one that has brought me near to tears.

A huge loss for one prominent family, a significant loss for our nation and commonwealth, and one which touches us all. Sometimes, the death of a public figure affects us deeply because it powerfully reminds us of our own bereavements and losses.

I’ve become more of a Republican than a Monarchist (for a variety of reasons) but this is a very significant event that has moved me.

We’ll all need time to process it, and much will be said in the media. In the meantime, I offer my sincere love and prayers to the Royal Family and especially the Queen.

Good Friday Agreement and Brexit

In September 2018, Boris Johnson published a plan for a better Brexit. This was Patrick Kielty‘s reply on Twitter at the time, even more important now as we see an increase of violence in Northern Ireland following Brexit…

Northern Ireland is made up of a majority of Unionists (as in the Conservative and Unionist Party) and, believe it or not, a rather large minority of Nationalists (as in Irish Nationalists).

These Irish Nationalists don’t see themselves as British but rather inconveniently as Irish (who knew?).

For over 30 years we killed each other because of these differences which means Northern Ireland is nothing like Camden or Westminster.

The Good Friday Agreement ended that violence by the following devious magic:

Unionists were guaranteed that Northern Ireland would be part of the UK until the majority voted otherwise.

The Irish was border was removed and the island linked so Nationalists could pretend they were already living in a United Ireland (yes, Tony Blair did slight of hand much better than you).

Some of these Nationalists then accepted being part of the UK as their day to day lives were essentially Irish.

This cunning plan was sold to us on the basis that we were all part of the EU therefore fixation on nationality was so last World War.

Implementing the Good Friday Agreement was torturous (think Brexit with actual bombs, not metaphorical suicide vests) but we finally made peace. Yet 20 years later NI remains a divided society.

Thanks to your glorious Brexit vision Northern Ireland will become more divided as some form of economic border checks will become part of daily lives.

If those checks take place between NI and Ireland, the Nationalists who were once happy being part of the UK will change their mind.

If they take place in the Irish Sea some Unionists will be livid. However they’ll still support being part of the UK (the clue is in the Unionist bit).

Your Brexit lies have opened a Pandora’s box for Northern Ireland. It’s one reason why the majority of people in NI voted to remain in the EU (almost as if they knew more about the fragile equilibrium of their politics than you).

Barely mentioned before Brexit, a border poll is now inevitable thanks to your monumental ignorance.

When that poll is eventually held the Nationalists who were once content being part of a Northern Ireland within the UK and EU will vote to leave the UK to feel as Irish and European as they did before Brexit.

The poll will be much closer thanks to your Brexit folly and could easily be lost by Unionists, breaking up the UK.

Any break up of the Union will be your fault (a tad inconvenient as a member of the Conservative and er, Unionist party).

The EU is not responsible for your blundering lack of foresight. Like most people in Northern Ireland they were happy with the status quo.

By the time the penny drops that you can’t preserve the Union you want without the one you don’t, it will be too late.

You will be remembered not as the Churchillian visionary you delude yourself to be but the ignoramus who triggered the break up of the UK.

If there’s any justice all this will come to pass when you’re Prime Minister so you can finally swim in the constitutional sewage you’ve created (though we all know you’ll be in Nice with your trotters up).

Meantime, if you’re so concerned about keeping Northern Ireland totally aligned with the rest of the UK where’s your support for our same sex marriage and women’s right to choose? Your silence is deafening.

Any questions?

The Discovery of Uranus (1781)

On this day (13 March) in 1781 William Herschel discovered Uranus, the seventh planet from the Sun. Initially, he believed it to be a comet, but by 1783 Herschel accepted it as the first planet to be discovered since antiquity. The planet is too faint to see with the naked eye unless the location is exceptionally dark.

He was born in Hanover on 15 November 1738. After a period as a musician in the Hanoverian Military Band, Herschel emigrated to England When he was nineteen. After initially acting as a musician in Sunderland, Newcastle, Leeds and Halifax, he eventually moved to Bath and became organist at the Octagon Chapel. He became increasingly interested in astronomy, constructing his own telescope, with which he discovered Uranus.

Herschel later moved to Slough, where he continued his astronomical work and discoveries, assisted by his sister, Caroline, a considerable astronomer in her own right. He made many other discoveries, including infrared radiation. A crater on the Moon is named after him, as is minor planet 2000 Herschel.

Note: Much of the information in this blog post comes from this book.

Ellen Turner’s Abduction (1826)

On this day (7 March) in 1826, fifteen-year-old Ellen Turner climbed into a carriage at her school gates thinking she was being picked up to see her mother who’d been taken ill.

Instead, she was being abducted to be forced into marriage to Edward Gibbon Wakefield, who was twice her age. Through this marriage he hoped to gain a large marriage settlement and inherit her family fortune. It wasn’t the first time he’d done something like this.

The case eventually came to trial, and Wakefield was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in Newgate Prison and the marriage was annulled by Parliament.

I share this story on the eve of International Women’s Day 2021 (8 March) because this case was at the centre of public debate at the time, highlighting the lack of rights for women and girls in a deeply patriarchal society. That was then, but in 2021 there’s still work to be done to secure women’s rights and equality.

A Spitfire Roared (1936)

An evocative and emblematic sound of victory in the Second World War, the first British Spitfire roared into life on this day (5 March) in 1936. This iconic aeroplane first took to the skies at Eastleigh Aerodrome and soared above the airfield for eight minutes, powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine.

The Spitfire is a superbly balanced, high-performance aircraft that could be flown by fairly inexperienced pilots, and it gave the RAF a decisive advantage in the Battle of Britain in 1940. When Hermann Göring asked his pilots in a speech if there was anything they needed, they shouted back, ‘Ja, Spitfires!

Dan Snow writes: The chairman of the Vickers-Armstrong aircraft company named the plane after his young daughter, Anna, who he said was a ‘right little spitfire’. The genius responsible for the plane, Reginald Mitchell grumbled, ‘It’s the sort of bloody silly name they would give it.’ Source

Today, we couldn’t imagine it being called anything else!

St David’s Day

Saint David is the patron saint of Wales, and his feast day is celebrated on 1 March, the date of his death in 589 CE. I have fond memories of eight years lived in South Wales during my working life as a Salvation Army Officer and celebrating this special day with my family.

The Welsh will be especially celebrating this year (2021) after their victory over England in the Six Nations Championship, only two days prior to this traditional festival. I’ve always supported Wales (and still do) as long as they’re not playing England, but it never worked the other way round – England being seen as the ‘enemy’. It was often the subject of gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) teasing during the welcome and announcements on Sunday in worship at the Salvation Army, I gave as good as I got and often fully deserved the reaction I provoked.

Traditional symbols of daffodils (Wales) and leeks (Saint David) are worn, traditional Welsh food eaten, and traditional Welsh dress worn by the women and girls. I well remember my (now grown-up) English daughter proudly going to school in her Welsh costume. Teasing aside, we’re all enriched by appreciating and (when and where appropriate) respectfully sharing in the traditions of others.

Hardwick Hall Country Park

It was absolutely wonderful to get out of the house today, to experience the signs of spring in nature, and breathe in some fresh country air. Coronavirus, lockdown, home schooling, and the winter months, have all taken their toll on us as a family, and so an afternoon out at Hardwick Hall Country Park was truly welcome.

The park is located near Sedgefield, and is only a short drive from our home in Norton. The Serpentine Bridge was restored in 1994 to match the original bridge of 1754, and is a Grade II listed building. You can see all the photos I took here.