In June this year, we took a trip to Northumberland. As is usual when on holiday, we made the most of our National Trust (NT) membership and, this year, English Heritage (EH).
We visited the glorious Fountains Abbey on the way (pictured above, NT) as well as wandering contently through the ruins of Lindisfarne Priory (EH) on Holy Island.
We love Dunstanburgh Castle (EH/NT) with its colony of Kittiwakes, razor bills and fulmars (yes we are also members of the RSPB!). On the way back we visited the fascinating Hardwick Hall (present: NT, ruins: EH).
We like to explore.
In a hurried world, stepping into a place steeped in history and spirituality can be striking. Sometimes when visiting a property like this, there is a sense of the different, an otherness to our daily existence. It can be the nature of the place, somewhere religious in function perhaps, where the prayers of people over the ages have gathered. It can be the atmosphere, a degree of stillness. It can be beauty – nature in all its glory, the enjoyment of a garden, the wildness of the sea. It can be simply that it is different, literally a change of scene.
Whatever it may be, there’s more on offer than just sightseeing or learning about history, as fascinating as these are. Places can provide a space for reflection, meditation even, for those who appreciate the punctuation marks of life: opportunities to pause. Those who pray can do so unfettered and unprescribed, and those who don’t may wonder what it could be like. There’s a lot to be said for simply allowing ourselves a quietness, to not think, in a world where thoughts and issues tumble over each other for our attention.
Of course, life has a habit of crowding in, wherever we are. On a Bank Holiday weekend juggling pushchairs and lunchboxes, waiting patiently – or not so – for the person in front to move along, quiet reflection may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But there is at least that potential, and where the coastline extends for miles or the garden contains secretive paths winding through the shrubbery, there is time and chance for a breath of something different.
It’s a funny juxtaposition sometimes, especially in a religious building long turned to other uses, or when eating cake in the cloisters, or rummaging through second-hand books in a stable. There is a kind of novelty to it, reminders of the past, a sense of more than what you see. There are memories there, remnants of other realities.
The stones and lands of these buildings and areas have associations for us. We are reminded of different times, of faith in crisis or in triumph, of the possibility of contemplation.
Perhaps we simply need to look for it, and in doing so, create associations of our very own.
Coffee in the crypt, anyone?