On National Poetry Day 2020 I share this poem I wrote after a visit to Peckham Rye on 28th May. It was the Spring holiday week; towards the end of the initial wave of Covid-19 deaths and the full lockdown restrictions in England had been eased slightly.
Wandering recently around the village of Sutton Courtenay, where our son and family live, I was intrigued by references to a place known as The Abbey. It turns out to be a centre of spirituality with a resident community. The building itself has a medieval foundation but has never been an actual abbey, rather a manor house.
Information about the founders of the centre at The Abbey, and its current mission, are found on its website as linked above. One of the founders was Anglican Bishop Stephen Verney whose writings influenced me in the early years of my ministry. I did not know, or had forgotten about, his role in this venture.
Today Lorraine and I were looking for a 4/5 mile morning walk in green spaces where we could stride out and enjoy the surroundings without having to keep looking down to watch where our feet were being placed and within a 30 minute drive from home.
The answer was found in the Ordnance Survey app where walks have been uploaded by users. This circular walk from the town of Hartley Wintney in Hampshire fitted the bill pretty well. Including an extra quarter of a mile each way from the car park to the designated start point it came to at least 5 miles. We dawdled occasionally in places to take in the scenery and read information boards – read the map etc – so it took a full 2 hours.
The walk mostly met our criteria. The first third crosses Hazeley Heath which has a wide level central path perfect for a vigorous pace and freedom to take in the panoramic view. Later sections of the walk included unimpeded field crossings – though these would not have been so easy after wet weather. On occasions close attention needed paying to the map. There are several three-way junctions with paths converging at close angles. It was very helpful to have our exact location in the OS map app on my phone.
Hazeley Heath is a nature reserve designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest run by the RSPB who are pursuing a current conservation program funded by the National Lottery.
I spent the morning with my wife exploring the village of Bray on the banks of the River Thames in Berkshire. I had never visited before even though it’s only a few miles from where I’ve lived for the last 23 years.
It turns out to be the place where The Cut, the river referred to in my post of 31 August, empties into the River Thames. This time I saw no fish as I peered into the water from a footbridge on a pedestrian route known as the Greenway.
In the churchyard at Bray we were delighted by a magnificent example of Magnolia Grandiflora which was in flower. Large blooms were close to the footpath so we were able to take in their heavenly lemony fragrance. As we stood admiring the tree a friendly fellow-walker approached us and asked if we knew what it was. He said that he walked through the churchyard every morning on a circular route from his home in Maidenhead. He had discounted the possibility that it was a magnolia as he thought they only flowered in Spring. He was very pleased to be more informed and he could not have chosen a better passer-by to ask than Lorraine!
Bray is home to two of only 5 restaurants in Britain which have Michelin 3 stars, The Fat Duck, and The Waterside Inn. Today was not the moment to visit either of those! But we did enjoy a relaxed pub lunch at The Crown, which has a very Covid- safe set-up in its garden, with a high airy canvas canopy over a spacious outdoor seating area.
There are lots of historic buildings and structures in Bray. We were charmed by the old Lych Gate for the churchyard, incorporated into a house still occupied today.
As much as I love trees and forests and the idea of planting trees to control global warming, I can see in this article that massive tree-planting is not the simple solution. You can’t plant trees whilst continuing to burn oil and gas. Climate change can only be slowed by reducing carbon emissions.
When I woke up this morning it dawned on me it was by some accounts the last day of summer. It feels like a lost summer. My mother-in-law commented later in the day that summer seems to have gone so quickly this year. The seasonal milestones of our national and local community life were missing. No Wimbledon, no Glastonbury or Reading festivals, no Notting Hill carnival, no local fun days.
Unexpectedly nonetheless the day held a strangely comforting surprise. As I walked with my wife and her mother in a little park near home we crossed a footbridge over the stream running through it. The stream is overgrown and rarely noticed. Today we stopped and looked down into the water and were amazed to see it was home to lots of fish. The first one I noticed was astonishingly substantial for such a seemingly minor water course.
The idea that nature restores us in times of disorientation is repeated often enough to feel trite. But today for me it proved true. Seeing that large fish with its secret life in a backwater of an unremarkable field in England worked for me somehow. I felt good even on the last day of this lost summer.
Today is the 375th anniversary of the death of Archbishop William Laud. A victim of the divisions which led to the English Civil War, he was beheaded by order of Parliament accused of treason, despite being given a royal pardon by Charles I. There is no doubt that he was a controversial figure with an authoritarian approach to opponents. On the other hand, he stood for his beliefs and did not sway with the political wind for the sake of expediency.
As well as being remembered generally today by the Church of England, Laud is remembered in Wokingham because of his connections with it. Although Laud was born in Reading, his father was a native of Wokingham, and his mother, in her later years, lived in the town. Laud was a benefactor of Wokingham, leaving money in his will to be granted to poor young people.
One of the lasting changes on Church of England tradition attributed to Laud is the custom of placing altars inside a sanctuary area with a rail around them. In the earlier phase of the Reformation’s impact on the Church in England altars in parish churches started to be placed centrally in the chancel. They were regarded as tables around which all participant communicants would gather for the service of Holy Communion, so more literally re-enacting the Last Supper than had been evident in the old-style Mass. Laud was instrumental in reversing this trend and returning altars to a position against the east wall of churches together with a protecting rail. It is said that he and others who agreed with him were perturbed by the increasing use of altars as a handy dumping surface for hats and coats, not to mention their use by dogs for dog-like habits!