Friday, December 31, 2010

Candle Mass at Walsingham

Love it or loath it, there’s more to Walsingham than the shrine! Never mind summer’s  high church high jinks! I recommend Walsingham’s wet winter woods in February.
The Presentation of Christ in the Temple, some call it the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary or Candlemas falls on 2nd. Forty days after Jesus’ birth Mary, Joseph had taken their new baby on pilgrimage. At the temple in Jerusalem the infant Christ was recognised by the elderly Simeon and Anna who spoke to his parents about their child and his destiny.

One misty February morning found me on pilgrimage in Walsingham.  I had parked at the Slipper Chapel,  then walked the Holy Mile to the Abbey - avoiding the traffic on the main road by following the new path along the old railway line.

Paying my entrance fee, I passed into the Abbey grounds and made straight to the pack-horse bridge.  Wow! Snowdrops, Candlemas Bells some call them, bejewelled with dew, bowed their heads beneath the skeletal spindles of bare branched trees.  And here and there among the Snowdrops the gold of Aconites shone through.  Here was a treasure beyond price.

Alternative names for Snowdrops are Fair Maids of February and Purification Flowers.  Walking the paths my mind turned to Mary, motherhood, joy and pain, life and death, the mystery of suffering and Anna’s prophecy that a sword would pierce her heart. 

I thought about Simeon too.  Like him I’m near the end of my life. Like him I believe that Jesus is the answer to all the worlds ills  - “a light to lighten the nations!”  But will I be ready to sing the Nunc Dimittis  when my time comes?!
I tried saying the words out loud:
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace : according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen : thy salvation……

And in the wintry wood the flowers shone like stars in the night sky!

The Abbey Grounds are open daily 10 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. £3.50 for adults. £2.59 concessions. Tickets from February – to the end of October are available from the Shirehall Museum.  Visitors are advised that stout shoes should be worn: dogs be kept on leads; and although not all the grounds are wheel chair accessible and there is a wheel chair that can be borrowed by visitors

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Fursey Pilgrimage 2010

2nd October was the annual Fursey Pilgrimage at Burgh Castle

Lovely day! Well done everyone!

Fursey celebration at St Matthews, Norwich on 15th Jan

More info ......

Flixton in Loving Land

In 1630 the Rev’d Brisley preached at the rededication of St. Andrew’s, Flixton.  He called his sermon,  'The Glory of the Latter Temple greater than the Former' 
When published in London in 1631 it carried a sub-title 'A Sermon preached at the Consecration or Restitution of the Church of Flixton, in Lovingland, Suffolk, being sometimes the Mother Church of the East Angles.'.  The Glory has passed!  All that is left are ivy clad ruins

I was following my St. Felix obsession. Was the farm, the ton,  that bore his name – Flixton - once part of  the saint’s estates?  Had Felix’s feet walked these paths? and had he and his fellow monks worshipped on this hill?

Other visitors had noted Roman tiles in the crumbling walls. Were the tiles from Burgh Castle, the near by  Roman fort,  where Felix’s fellow missionary St. Fursey had his base?  Now there’s a thought!  . Fursey  and Felix neighbours on what in the 7th century was an island at the mouth of the great estuary.  
Lothingland  we call the area but the Rev’d Brisley called it Lovingland !  
That seems a more appropriate name . Out of love for God St. Felix left Burgundy and Fursey,  Ireland  to bring the Good News that in the Saxon tongue we called God-Spel!

That was long ago. So much has happened since. Viking raids! The Norman Conquest! The Black Death! Civil War! Industrial Revolution! World Wars!   Today machines cultivate fields where men once followed ox drawn ploughs. Pylons march across the land carrying electricity from off-shore wind farms!

And to this day the conversion of the East Angles, which the saints began, has not been completed!  Will those who take up the baton  and (try) to follow in their footsteps find the challenge has lost anything of its urgency or the God-Spel/Gospel lost any of its power?

I explored the network of paths between Oulton and the Blundeston /Oulton Road that meet at St. Andrew’s Church on a rise to the south of Home Farm. I parked on the road, walked up the farm drive – it  doubles as a footpath -  and turning right before reaching the house. At the top of the hill at the side of the track a fingerpost sends walkers on a circular path. Look on the opposite side of the track for the ruins.

St. Andrew’s font stands outside the priests’ door of St. Mary, Blundeston


There was a settlement at Haddiscoe  long before fishermen began to dry their nets on the sandbanks at the mouth of the estuary -  sandbanks that were to become Great Yarmouth!

Parking my car beneath the church, with its 11th century Anglo-Norman round tower, I walked in the Beccles direction, on a footpath that crossed a bridge over the Landspring Beck . The first right turn took me, via quiet lanes, past Haddiscoe Hall and, at a junction a mile on, another right turn took me to the bottom of the valley.  A final right turn put me on an indistinct path along a ditch and field edge leading back to the St. Mary’s church.  The path was rich with flowers.   Butterflies flitted from flower to flower and dragonflies darted about my head as I made my way through waist high grass and masses of Lady’s Bedstraw!

As I got near the church a Buzzard flew out of the trees and the path plunged into a wooded glade known Devil’s Hole.   This is where the beck rises from a spring. It is frequented by Little Owls and thick with Bluebells in the early summer.

The church sits on a flat area that falls away suddenly to the valley and marsh below. Before the rivers were embanked and the marshes drained it would be the seaside!  That it was a former fishing village suggests the identity of the mysterious guardian of the church. Above the beautiful and elaborately carved  south door there is a relief carving. Who is it?

My best guess is - the fisherman - St. Peter. There is a throne and something (tongues of fire?) is going on over his head. If it is Peter, then the objects in his hands are keys to the eternal gates.  Together the door and carving proclaim the church as an outpost of heaven. Lines of a psalm come to mind  “I’d rather be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord than dwell in the tents of wickedness.”  Psalm 84. 10 

Going inside I knelt a while and prayed . Then, having touched base, went on my pilgrim way “looking for the city that is to come!”
“Happy are those whose strength is in you,” sings the Psalmist, “ in whose heart are the highways to Zion” …….7 “They go from strength to strength;   the God of gods will be seen in Zion” Psalm 84.5 & 7.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Broads Brand

Broads Brand? Hmmnnnn

See Churches Together on the Broads

North Elmham

I’d come to North Elmham pursuing a mystery. Did the Bishops of Elmham from Bedwinus in the 7th century to Herfast in the 11th have their cathedral in Norfolk or  Suffolk?  North or South Elmham?

I’d followed a circular walk I’d found in the  Norfolk Health Heritage and Conservations Walks  leaflet (You can get hold of one from Norfolk County Council or on-line at .)  It took me through parkland,  along quiet lanes and ended up at the parish church  (Well worth a visit in its own right!)

My final destination was indicated by a brown tourist sign. Uncompromisingly it asserts “Saxon Cathedral”! But when you get to the ruins and read English Heritage’s helpful interpretation boards there’s no certainty at all.  What you see are earthworks and  ruins of a castle built by Henry Despencer,  the fighting Bishop of Norwich. He was famous for putting down the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381. A man not without enemies, Henry had obviously felt the need of protection!  To make his  castle he converted a church built by Herbert de Losingia the first Bishop of Norwich. Herbert’s  11th century church may have been built on the site of the former cathedral.

Now here the mystery deepens,  Herbert’s church had  an unusual floor plan. It is the  twin of  a church he built at South Elmham!  Whatever the explanation, it’s a fair bet that North Elmham was an important Christian centre in the early days of the conversion of East Anglia. It is next door to the largest known Early Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Spong Hill! Dr. Sam Newton ( see the Wuffings website) argues for both Elmhams being mission stations established by St. Felix. Maybe both were cathedrals.

Cathedrals or not,  the Herbert’s churches in North and South Elmham lie in ruins today. Birds sing where once monks chanted  psalm and prayer.  Standing amidst Cow Parlsley and listening to the Blackbird’s song  I found myself singing the Te Deum. “All creation worships you the father everlasting”! 

How different were these three bishops - St. Felix, Herbert and  Henry  - an evangelist, an empire builder and a war lord!  And today’s bishops?  More like Felix than the others I hoped.  The conversion of  East Anglia  started long ago has yet to be achieved!  The descendants of Spong Hill Man need to hear the gospel!

South Elmham

Within their own earthworks the stubbs of flint walls delineate where once a proud building stood.  Not the Saxon Minster promised by the Ordinance Survey map but a rather later build, like churches in Great Yarmouth and Kings Lynn and the cathedral in Norwich, the work of Herbert de Losingia. But Herbert built where a church had stood from the earliest days of  Christianity in East Anglia.  Beneath ancient Hornbeams the all pervading green is relieved by flowers -  patches of Red Campion and  the white filigree of Queen Ann’s Lace. And from tree top stalls Blackbirds sing antiphonally where once choirs sung their Creators praise.

This is South Elmham. I had walked to the glade on way marked paths from a car park at South Elmham Hall where I’d called into the cafĂ© to pick up a leaflet.
The  parishes of the Ferding of Elmham form a block of land which might have been given to St. Felix by King Sigbert in the 7th Century.
“Of Elmham”  Bishops were designated from the time of Beaduwine in the 7th Century  to Herfast in the 11th  with a break of a hundred years when Vikings disturbed the peace.  “Yes, but!” I hear Norfolk voices objecting, “North Elmham in Norfolk.! Not South Elmham is Suffolk!”  Here in a nutshell you have the “Elmham Question”. Were the bishops Bishop of North or South Elmham.  I offer no solution here. Where the bishop’s had his official seat  - his cathedra  - doesn’t seem all that important. Whatever the answer South Elmham is a place where prayer has been valid and Bishops of Elmham had oversight of churches on both sides of the Wensum.

My first stop in Suffolk had been to Flixton Church a  rebuilt in the 19th Century. Architecturally it  is a Victorian homage to the Saxon past and like the church it replaced it is  set on a hill overlooking the valley. The churchyard is a nature reserve full of birdsong and flowers. Both the church dedication and the name of the village link it to St. Felix.   The name Flix –ton is Felix’s – farm!  It proves nothing of course still and well I prayed for the continuing conversion of East Anglia

Before crossing back into Norfolk  I went on to St. Peter’s. It’s the home of St. Peter’s Brewery – another sort of pilgrimage I suppose! Their beer and good food are served in the moated hall an amazing 16th century building incorporating ecclesiastical material from the dissolved Flixton Priory.

The Primrose Path ?!

I   walked down the lane at the height of spring enjoying the sun . The air was as heady as chilled champagne and  I was following my nose. There was a new whiff of pig on the air.  I set off to investigate passing  down Horstead’s Primrose Lane but for all my searching I couldn’t find even one!  Stitchwort and early Bluebells? Yes.  Primroses? No.  Yet there must have been lots of them once upon a time. Did thieves plunder them ?   There are lots of wild Primroses in local gardens, but my guess is that  a change of maintenance of the verges will have played  largest part.  In days gone by they made as much hay as they could.  Now the verges are cut and left.  Un-raked grass soon becomes rank and humpy and  can strangle plants. Primroses are especially vulnerable.

Saddened by the loss of Primroses I found two places where rubbish had been dumped by the roadside.  Doesn’t fly tipping  make you cross!?  We talk about dirty pigs.  What about dirty humans? I eventually found the porkers I’d been looking for recently moved into their new quarters.  They were spread out across a wide rolling field, their  housing  giving the appearance of a well scattered shanty town.  I like pigs! They reminded me of two Gospel stories .
In one swine possessed by evil spirits had run madly downhill and to drown in the sea.  I wondered if the fly tipping and loss of wildflowers were signs that our 21st century consumer  culture is  stampeding us downhill to certain destruction?   Does our careless living and lack of concern for what we are doing to the natural world  -from Global Warming to Fly Tipping - put us on “the Primrose path that leads to the everlasting bonfire” ?
 More hopefully, I also remembered the story of the Prodigal Son.  It was among the pigs that he came to his senses. 
A few days later I noticed the rubbish has been cleared away !  Well done Broadland District Council! And there’s more rejoice over on the wildflower front. Norfolk County Council has over 15 kilometers of  verges designated as Roadside Nature Reserves and they add more each year.  The latest,  number 101, is at Binham Priory where care is being exercised to preserve Wall Bedstraw.

The Norwich Diocese Environmental Policy, a booklet on Climate Change and Covenant by Bishop David Atkinson and other resources are available on-line at the the Diocesan Website at or by application to Diocesan House.

Friday, May 14, 2010


Reducing your carbon foot print?  Travel by bus! The X1 starts at Lowestoft and passes through Yarmouth, Norwich and Kings Lynn. At Peterborough it connects with the number 37 (Spalding)  which will take you to Crowland and its famous abbey church.

It was a boat that brought St. Guthlac to Crowland on St. Batholomew’s Day 699 AD!  On what was then a marshy island he established a hermitage in the ruins of a plundered grave mound. Struggling with demons, marsh ague and strict asceticism Guthlac followed in the footsteps of St. Anthony of Egypt and the desert fathers.  As his reputation for holiness grew many found their way through the watery Fenland wilderness to seek his counsel. Among them was the future King Ethelbald  of Mercia.

After Guthlac’s death in 714 AD  Ethelbald founded an abbey on the site.  The abbey endured through several re-foundings and re-buildings until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. Thereafter the cloisters and monastic buildings were abandoned and semi-demolished but the nave continued as the parish church and is still in use today.

The 19th century poet John Clare wrote of “the old abbey struggling still with time” and captured something of the feel of the place when he visited the abbey by moonlight

The grey owl hooting from its rents awhile;
And tottering stones as wakened by the sound,
Crumbling from arch and battlement around.
Urging dead echoes from the gloomy aisle

Away from the abbey a curious 14th century stands in the middle of town . Trinity Bridge has three arches that once crossed three separate streams. These have been long diverted away from the streets and the bridge leads nowhere. It’s said to replace a wooden bridge established by Guthlac’s friend King Ethelbald. A mysterious statue – Ethelbald or Christ in Glory – has been incorporated into the stonework of the bridge.

If you were to travel by car you might extend your trip to include Helpston John Clare’s home village and Barnack  whose famous, now disused, quarry provided stone for the abbey and bridge. In the grass covered holes and hills of the quarry wildflowers abound – among them the rare pasque flower that flowers around Easter time.  For those more interested in the flowers of the field than ruined buildings the 201 bus to Stamford passes through Barnack and runs every hour.

Friday, April 02, 2010

St.James, Bawsey

Streams of cars speed down Kings Lynn’s Queen Elizabeth Way everyday. High above the traffic a ruined church has paid witness for a thousand years and more. For decades it has been drawing me like a magnet. So on a sunny Spring day I finally found my way up the hill.

Church Farm, Bawsey is managed under a Higher Level Stewardship scheme and provides parking and permissive footpaths.  You can approach the farm from the Gayton Road turning left into Church Lane just beyond the crematorium. Maps showing the paths and parking are available online on the Natural England website ( They are also displayed at strategic places around the farm . 

I had intended to walk from Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Roydon Common, via the Grimston Warren reserve but that was closed as the work there continues. They are converting it from commercial forestry back to its original lowland heath. I followed a path to the edge of the warren through recently restored pasture that supports a herd of Red Poll cattle.  Crossing the Gaywood River I saw Lapwing and Curlew feeding on the edge of  flooded water meadows. In half an hour I saw more Brown Hares than I have seen all winter and more Grey Partridges than I’ve seen in years!

Seen from afar it’s easy to imagine what the church looked like in 8th century, when the hill it stands on jutted out into the waters of the Wash. The archaeology suggests there was an ecclesiastical settlement here from early days and if you were looking for a mother church for the Kings Lynn, St. James would be it!  A thousand years ago when river was silting up activity moved to Lynn and the buildings eventually fell into disrepair.

From the top of the hill I got a sense of perspective from the busy world  - traffic sped by in the distance.  The ruins - a central tower and work in different styles  - had an atmosphere as special as I had imagined .  Overhead a Skylark sang and I glimpsed the greening valley through the riven west wall I was reminded of the empty tomb. “ He is not here, he’s gone before you into ……”   Kings Lynn? Gaywood?  Pott Row?…….

Will Hancock, who farms the land, Natural England and the Norfolk Wildlife Trust are to be praised for their work to restore the valley to its former glory.

Friday, February 26, 2010

A Walk on the Fringe : Come and Join us

On 17th April join Journeying for a Walk on the Fringe from St. Andrew Eaton to St. Walstan's Well and Shrine at Bawburgh.

I travelled the path a couple of years ago here's my notes:

You might describe it as, “a walk on the edge .” From start to finish the sound of traffic and distant sirens provided background noise. I chose to begin my walk from the car park next to St. Mary’s, Earlham, by the bridge on the B1108. You could choose to make the walk longer by starting by the old bridge at Eaton or even at Marston Lane.

The path follows a crystal clear River Wensum as it skirts the south of Norwich’s built environment. It goes through Eaton, by the University, then past Earlham and Bowthorpe housing estates.

I was on my way to pay respects to St.Walstan at his shrine and holy well at Bawburgh. Born to wealth and royalty, the saint lived a life of prayer and poverty, choosing to support himself a farm worker. (You could describe him as a Franciscan before St. Francis!) He had known this landscape. But how it has changed! As I sat on the new brick wall of the ancient holy well, I wondered what he would recognise.

Were there stone churches at Earlham, Bawburgh and Colney? I had seen Colney’s round tower peeping through the trees on the opposite bank. All three buildings incorporate late Saxon work so they would have been quite new. But there were certainly no electricity pylons! Nor discarded supermarket trolleys! Nor, even, Egyptian geese!

He would have felt at home with sheep in green pastures, as he passed through the water meadows, but he might have been surprised at the comparative lack of wild flowers. Work is newly in hand to manage the meadows to support a diverse range of flora and fauna. They already carry a wide variety of birds butterflies and dragonflies and the river its self abounds with life. So thank God for DEFRA schemes

and the Norwich Fringe Project who look after access and have a care for conservation.

Maybe townscapes and pylons don’t have much of an aesthetic appeal but a willow warbler sang his heart out from an electricity cable. I can’t imagine Walstan unmoved by that, nor the joy of Bawburgh churchyard rich with flowers.

From Bowthorpe the path runs along the road and turns left into Bawbugh Road to go under the by-pass. Once in Bawburgh turn left over the bridge and take the first right, by the village sign, up the hill to the church.

Although the church is kept locked a key can be had from Mr. Munro, who lives just down the hill at Flint Cottage, Church Street.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Spring a Springing!?


A ruined church, winter bare trees in the deserted churchyard and the jackdaws’ cry. All are reminders of mortality - a fitting backdrop for the Lenten fast!  The reused bricks and conglomerate stone incorporated by the 11th century the builders recall “the glories that were Rome”. Once this building housed a miraculous wonder-working  image of St. Theobald to which pilgrims flocked. Often when I come here to pray , there’s just me and some friendly horses. That’s fine for someone who seeks solitude but do these deserted and neglected ruins point towards the Church of England future?”

Ah! I have left out the most amazing thing that one day totally transformed a dismal scene! “A host of ….daffodils !”  

On a March day back in 2009,  like William Wordsworth’s Lake District flowers, these were abundant and “danced and fluttered in the breeze.”  I think I know what the poet meant when he wrote:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

I might share a dancing heart in retrospective joy but William and I have to part company. I need to go beyond his Nature Mysticism!  I seem to hear from each golden trumpet the silent music of an Easter fanfare glorifying the Creator and proclaiming the giddy , impossible, miraculous, wonder of  the Risen Son.

Still in pensive mood , joyful memory takes me back to the Mount of Olives where once I marvelled at anemones as red as blood among the green springtime grass and delighted in daffodils standing in dappled sunlight beneath the ancient trees of Gethsemane.

St. Theobald’s Church stands in the meadows south of the River Bure . A track runs towards the river from the road that goes past the Girl Guide’s Hautbois House and on to Hautbois Green. Those arriving by foot or bike might have come off the Bure Valley Railway path at Hautbois Green.

Miss Elizabeth and Philippa Patterson who left the Hautbois estate to the Guides are buried in the nave of the old church. Their enthusiasm for Guiding lives on!