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: