Friday, December 02, 2011

Buckenham Rook Roost

Beneath a winter sky the sun sinks slowly in the west . Wrapped against the cold -  and rapt by the beauty - I pondered on the generations before me who had stood and watched as day turned to night. Millions of sunsets and millions upon millions of the Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve.  I found myself signing with the Psalmist:

You appointed the moon to mark the seasons
and the sun knows the time of its setting,
You make darkness that it may be night
in which the beasts of the forest creep forth
(Psalm 104)

Across the darkening marsh the whistles and murmuring of widgeon quietened, a thin mist rose and deer emerge from the woodland  to graze beneath a reddening sky. 
All this was but the overture to the evening’s main event. I had come to see a wild life spectacular which is repeated every night during the winter period and the station platform was the grandstand from which to view it.

From far and wide streamed “ in a countless host” each as black a clergyman’s cassock and each with shiny bright button eyes. Tens of thousands of Rooks and Jackdaws!  In fading light wave upon wave of birds came in ‘til the fields were  covered  and the electricity lines jammed full. Then, as if on a conductors cue, they were up and moving to the trees of Buckenham Carr, noisily jostling for position in the trees. After a while, just as suddenly, a great quietness descended and it was night!

There are an estimated 50,000 birds at the Buckenham Roost making it the biggest in Europe. It features in  Mark Cocker’s “Crow Country: a meditation on birds landscape and nature” which is a wonderful read! And got a mention in the Doomsday Book too.

As I retrace my steps to the RSPB car park beside the station,  a train, windows brightly lit, rattled by on its way from Great Yarmouth to Norwich  - and the rest of Psalm 104 echoed in my heart

O Lord how manifold are all your works
In wisdom you have made them all
The earth is full of your creatures….

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live
I will make music to my God while I have my being          

(There is vehicular access to Buckenham Marshes using the level crossing at Strumshaw with a dirt road leading down to the River Yare.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

South Cornwall Pilgrimage

 In September I was down in Cornwall for a week and made a flying visit to pay my respects to Winwaloe at Gunwallow and the Church of the Storms , Selevan at St Levan and incorprated a visit to the Minack Theatre. 
Fiddler on the Roof  beside the seaside?! 
Extra-ordinary! Made me think about the place of faith in our Global Village!

On a dafter note I wondered if Selevan preached to the fish down in Cornwall I should have a go at preaching to the seals when I got back home.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

John's Garden

Decades ago I made some  clever cogs comment that's in a way has come back to haunt me!

In the middle of the well manicured Vicarage lawn, overnight, a dandelion had the cheek to raise its golden head.

John, the vicar,  spotted it as we came out of morning prayer! I, his curate, spoke up for the interloper! "The beauty! The wonder! God's Providence! " If truth be known it was just a glib comment.

John remembered the exchange I forgot! It took me years  to hear and respond  the Master's command to consider the flowers of the field.

Visiting my old friend I noticed that his garden, for all his fullness of years, is still well tended and well stocked

Taking leave of him I caught sight of a bunch of cyclamen nestled in a rockery by the back gate and thought of the wild cyclamen growing on Nazareth's hills. Something to consider - ehh!?

There's something here about what grows wild in Galilee and is  cultivated in Surrey!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Extreme Fish ! No Swearing!

Great day out Tope Fishing with
last Tuesday. 
Many thanks to the skipper Adam and crew Tammy.
 Unlike Mr Robson Green I hooked, played and boated the beast without an expletive. Oh! O.K.! One or two  "Why bless me"s!

Duly measured weighed and tagged, the fish was slipped back into the sea and swam off with vigour. 
Afterwards I fell to thinking about the effort of winding the fish in. The fishing gear had been provided on the boat. All of the best quality. What we today call a reel Izaak Walton, he of the Complete Angler, called a pulley. 
George Herbert, one of his fishing chums ( he also fished with John Donne and the Kenna who appears in the Complete Angler was Thomas Ken's half-sister!) wrote :

The Pulley

VVHen God at first made man,
Having a glasse of blessings standing by;
Let us (said he) poure on him all we can:
Let the worlds riches, which dispersed lie,
               Contract into a span.

               So strength first made a way;
Then beautie flow’d, then wisdome, honour, pleasure:
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that alone of all his treasure
               Rest in the bottome lay.

               For if I should (said he)
Bestow this jewell also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts in stead of me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature:
               So both should losers be.
               Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlesnesse:
Let him be rich and wearie, that at least,
If goodnesse leade him not, yet wearinesse
               May tosse him to my breast. 
So here's a thought - God winding you and I in! 
Hard work, but joyful and no expletives!
I know myself to be thoroughly hooked and tagged.
By tagging the tope naturalists hope to get an understanding of their lives - their journeys and resting places.

It seems to me God has a complete knowledge of my life

Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
   you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
   and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
   O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
   and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
   it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit?
   Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
   if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
   and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
   and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
   and the light around me become night’,
even the darkness is not dark to you;
   the night is as bright as the day,
   for darkness is as light to you.

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
   you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
   Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
   My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
   intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
   all the days that were formed for me,
   when none of them as yet existed.
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
   How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
   I come to the end—I am still with you. 

                                                        ( Psalm 139)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Risen Christ over Altenau

On a rocky outcrop, above a small park, stands  the village church of St. Nikolai. Built of timber  in 670, it is a smaller version of the famous  Marktkirche in nearby Clausthal.
A weathervane, atop the bell tower, represents Christ Risen from the tomb. Inside the lavish,  but by comparison with rococo Catholic baroque churches, restrained Lutheran Baroque has Christ arisen, above the pulpit.

With this altar piece I had finally discovered a church interior that perfectly complements the baroque music of Handel's Messiah

It was good to find the church doors open and a warm welcome from the Christian community that meets there .
Like many of our Norfolk Churches they welcome visitors and seek to share their faith with those who respond to their invitation to stop and rest a while.

Back in 740 AD when St. Boniface, Walburga and others were doing their thing spreading the Gospel to the, then, heathen Germans,  King  Alfwald wrote to them assuring them of the prayers of the royal monasteries of  East Anglia.

It looks like their mission has born plenty of fruit. So much so that they can teach us a thing or two!

As I contemplated the altar piece of St. Nickolai's church I wondered where I placed preaching in the life of the church? Above the sacraments, as the pulpit was above the altar here?
And what about the Risen and Glorified Christ? So often we English put the cross above everything . But surely above the Cross and defeat is Resurrection and victory!  In the quietness of that holy place and in the stillness of my mind, my heart danced and sang to Handel's  Alleluia Chorus!

Witches over the Brocken

 O.K. the Brocken is no great peaked mountain. Its just the highest point of the Hartz. 

But anyone will tell you that is where the witches gather on the eve of May Day - Walpurgis Night.
In Goethe's Faustus the Brocken is where the witches gather:
Now to the Brocken the witches ride;
The stubble is gold and the corn is green;
There is the carnival crew to be seen,
And Squire Urianus will come to preside.
So over the valleys our company floats,
With witches a-farting on stinking old goats.
In the tourist towns shops are full of souvenir witches.
The pre-Christian religion seems to linger here.

In the Middle Ages they replaced the feast day of St Walburga on May Day and focussed on the light of the Christian faith driving out the darkness of evil. Walburga was a Devon girl, part of St. Boniface's mission to Frisia and Germany, she died in Heidenheim in Franconia.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Pfennig Dropping Moment

As I left the Marktkirche in Clausthal I had not expected to see the royal arms and cipher of George III. How daft is that?! George was Elector of Hanover and here we were in the what had been part of George's realm! So you'd expect to see it , surely?

No! One war had drawn a veil over the Anglo-German past. The House of Windsor was not longer of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Moutbatten was not longer Battenberg and my own family name changed from Bergman to Woodham. The next war  completed the job and drew a blackout curtain over it!

Time had come to own my Anglo-German origins. So next day,  when I stood before the war memorial in Altenau and thought about it all, I found that for the first time I really was honouring our dead (unserer toten)
  No only our dead,  but our saints and heroes as well!  I'm thinking about those who saw what the Nazi world view was doing to the country and acted.

Deitrich Bonhoffer understood that the tragedy that had overtaken Germany and its neighbours had come about because Germany had forgotten its Christian faith.  

And now the whole of our western (so-called) civilisation seems to have forgotten its faith!

There are lessons to be learned from history, not just for the German nation, but for all of us!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Wandering in the Harz

June took us to the Harz Mountains. We were camping and had family join us for the weekend. It was great!
I'd describe the landscape as Dartmoor with lots of trees and lakes !

At times the scenery had me wandering about in a hymn that I have never much enjoyed - O Lord my God when I in awsome wonder consider all thy hand hath made!  It was the verse that goes  "When through the woods and forest glades I wander, and hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees".

When through woods and forest glades....
Yes, well we were doing that and swimming in the cold blue lakes (remember your baptism!).  The tall trees are such - think soaring columns in a cathedral -  that they  lift your eyes and heart to heaven!

Its a bit off the beaten track for most Brits . The footpaths are wonderfully kept and well way marked. The natives are friendly!  We stayed at Camping Prahljust just outside Clausthal-Zellerfeld. I'd recommend it to anyone.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Way of the (Whissonset) Cross

(Forgot to post this in March ! Better late than never!)

At Whissonsett there is a Saxon cross half as old as the Christian faith.  

At Mileham a striking new east window. 

I wanted to see both so I decided to walk. I'd take in the Coke family memorials at Tittleshall and the deserted village of Godwick on the way and make it a way of the cross.

 In as much as the walk went to plan it was good. The memorials and Godwick village acted as momento mori – reminders of my mortality. The cross and the window (did what all good sacred art does) linked particular times and places to the eternal realities. I particularly like it that Pippa Blackall's stained glass Baptism of Jesus has, in the background , the Lamb of God pastured with Richard Butler-Stoney's Guernsey cows! For all the beauty and meaning of these works of art it was the unplanned elements of the walk that made it a way of the cross. It was such tough going! I had allowed 3 hours to walk the circuit. It took 5! 

I got lost! More than once! The leg between Whissonsett and Mileham where new fields and ditches had been put in and way marks lost was particularly difficult. An Ordinance Survey map and a compass where an absolute necessity. But it was the going underfoot that caused the most delay. Wet Boulder Clay is perilous to walk on (my companion fell twice) and the mud sticks so your boots become as heavy as lead!

On the way I discovered a piece of sacred art that seemed to put everything in context. Leaning against Chancel wall of Tittleshall church, in complete contrast with and next to the grandest of memorials , was a processional cross. Its solid oak shaft pierced by three, splintered bits of wood forming the horizontal. Humble and holy it had been made by someone who knew the value of wood and the cost of nails!

It reminded me of my own jagged bits of brokenness and the call to follow not just up the aisle but to Golgotha and beyond . In Mileham's east window the newly baptised Jesus embraces his new life, and prefigures his own death, with arms wide open.

Walk on the Edge

I parked opposite Pentney church and walked back towards Narborough.  At the first opportunity I turned right and followed a road and then bridle paths down to the river, where I joined the Nar Valley Way and  headed west towards Pentney Abbey.  

The abbey used to sit on an island surrounded by the waters of a tidal creek, where the Nar flowed into the Fens. Today the Fens have been drained, the river embanked and the only thing that’s left of the priory is its gatehouse! But, if you were looking for Norfolk’s version of St. Michael’s Mount, or Holy Island,  Pentney Abbey could have been it!

At one time the Nar was called God’s Holy River on account of all the religious houses on its banks. It’s still a holy, wild and lonely place.

In a strong wind birds kept their heads down.  But several brave Skylarks and Yellow Hammers sung out their songs and Swifts, Swallows and Sand Martins swooped and dived.  From the water meadows along the valley nesting Curlews and Oyster Catchers set off in search of food .

Pausing to take a drink I was overcome by the tranquillity of the place.  Then from across the flat sea of fenland crops I heard the sound of the war birds –Tornados taking off from RAF Marham!  Were they Libya bound?

That morning I had heard a report about systematic use of rape by pro-Gaddafi forces! I can’t believe that I can listen to horrific stories like that and be unmoved. It had been like water off a ducks back. Now, in solidarity with the monks who had been there before me and the biblical exiles who had sat by the rivers of Babylon, I sat by the river and wept! 

The path back took me past where the Priory of the Holy Trinity, St. Mary and St. Mary Magdalen had stood and close by the broken shaft of a long gone wayside cross. On the way, I found myself on the brink of understanding and with a Song of Sion forming on my lips!

My body will hang on the cross of the world
Tomorrow,” he said, “and today,
And Martha and Mary will find me again
And wash all my sorrow away,” he said,
“And wash all my sorrow away.

                                                 Sydney Carter: Said Judas to Mary

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Considering Birds, Flowers, Butter (and) Dragon Flies

Norfolk Hawker copyright Ben Revell used with his permission

One day last summer......

High summer with big blue skies, a warm sun and butterflies and dragon flies on the wing. On such a day I went to Strumpshaw Fen. My intention was  to “consider the flowers of the field”.  You can go there at anytime of year “to consider the birds” . June is the month for flowers!

Strumpshaw Fen’s wildflower meadow is a remnant of, once common,  flower rich pasture. Plantlife UK estimate that 97% of the habitat was lost between 1930 and 1980! The names of the flowers are poetry in themselves : - Ragged Robin,  Yellow Rattle, Marsh Orchid, Marsh Cinquefoil, Yellow Flag.  They were a joy to behold!

Soon  my attention was taken by the Swallow Tailed Butterflies – what beauty !  Next it was the turn of dragonflies…….

A chance meeting with a wildlife photographer led to a master class in dragonfly identification. It was difficult not to share his enthusiasm. At the very least I can now tell the difference between a Four Spotted Chaser and a Norfolk Hawker! And I want to learn more.

As my new friend Ben ( see his photos at helped me to name the animals, I was reminded of the first man , Adam, doing the same for God in Genesis 2 . When I  learned that Aeshna Isosceles – the Norfolk Hawker – is an endangered species I began to ponder  the previous chapter  where God appoints human beings to be stewards of Creation.

For me, wonder at the Creation easily spills over into praise of the Creator. My heart was full on that summer’s day and my spirit sang! But when I considered the fragile web of life that links and supports plants, birds and animals I realised that  Stewardship of Creation requires more consideration than I usually give! 

So thank God the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds who run the reserve, their supporters and similar conservation organisations.  Contact them to give your support   on 01603 661662 or go to their website.

The Strumpshaw Reserve ( Grid Reference TG341065)   is open to the public every day.  You can get there by train and foot – its just 1.4 miles from Brundall Station – or by bike through quiet lanes.

To find out more about Butterflies and Dragonflies you can join a guided walk at Strumpshaw on 19th June from 2 p.m. – 4.30 p.m. for more details phone 01603 715191 or E-mail: 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Holy Land

To the west of the B1113 is the source of the Little Ouse on the east the source of the river Waveney. When it rains Norfolk is an island!  Holy Island?


Holy Land

When rain falls hard on Lopham Fen
Flooding marsh and filling drains
Norfolk is an island then
And in my mind it still remains

Down the river line the Ouse
Traces the bounds to fenland drains
Round wash and coast to Yarmouth strand
Then up the Waveney home again

Walsingham a Nazareth
Broadland lakes a Galilee
Where fishermen are called to faith
And Christ comes walking by the sea

Into a boat to the other side.
One lies sleeping in the stern.
While sandwiches on picnic rugs
Are taken, blessed and shared in turn.

A green hill outside a city wall
A place of punishment provides.
When viewed from it’s own Olivet
The city’s temple seems to thrive.

Blind, halt and lame, the deaf and
Dumb, addicted, prisoner, stranger, ill
Christ’s presence in his little ones
Challenges his followers still

And Providence whose birds and flowers
Sing and blow along my way
Leads me down Emmaus paths
To brightness at the end of day

When rain falls hard on Lopham Fen
Norfolk is an island then

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Immodesty at Wroxham

  I went to take pics of St. Mary's Wroxham yesterday for tourist websites. Its part of what I do for Churches Together on the Broads.

I've been in and out of the magnificent doorway at St. Mary's for decades and never stopped to look before! There next to the carvings of foul fiends is this immodest lady showing her parts!   What is called a sheila na gig from the Irish Gallic

What's it all about, then?  Rude ladies represented on church doorways?  I imagine sheila na gigs are not primarily a warning against lust etc.. but more likely to be a reminder that "man born of woman has but a short time to live!" All those born of woman will die!

 Just inside the door  is the original site of the font.
What I think is being communicated is something like:-
When you enter the Church and become one of the baptised 
you are no longer subject to the powers of evil and death. 
You have been born again - given new life!