For posting purposes, I have mentally separated my trip to England into 3 parts: the week in Manchester at the USk Symposium, about which I have already written, a week traveling by train, and a final week in London. This natural division is into 3 thirds. During the journey, I accumulated close to thirty journey daybook pages, most of which were made on site each day as I moved from place to place and city to city. I traveled north up the west coast of England to Edinburgh, Scotland where I changed trains and then traveled south, down the east coast of England to London.
During the second third of the journey, I left Manchester on a Monday morning with a Britrail pass that allowed me the freedom of boarding and getting off any train for 8 days. I was eager to visit Samlesbury Hall first, the ancestral home of my Southworth ancestors that has been occupied from the 13th century and is now a museum, an inn, and a restaurant. The Southworths lost their home in the 16th century when Sir John Southworth could no longer pay the high penal taxes that were imposed on landowners who practiced their Catholic faith. I internalized and explored my feelings about the sights, sounds, and resonant energy that all abide in this wonderful old structure.
On the second day of my train journey I went north to Edinburgh where I changed trains and headed south on the English east coast line to the small coastal city of Berwick upon Tweed. (My friends Kim and Lois were sorry I did’t spend time in Scotland but I was single-minded in my determination to further explore my English roots and connections.) Berwick sits very close to the Scottish/English border and is surrounded by a medieval wall. It has been fought over for centuries because of its strategic location and has alternatively been part of both both Scotland and England. Berwick is the closest town on the mainland to Holy Island or Lindisfarne.
My destination on the third day was Lindisfarne or Holy Island. I reached the island by public bus from Berwick that negotiates the narrow, often flooded road once a day. Two couples from home (Sue and Bill and Carol and Hugh) have been to Holy Island and they both prepared me for the physical adventure. What I was not prepared for was meeting a very special Catholic nun about whom I write on the following journey daybook page. Sister Tessa, who has a miniature poodle with a personality similar to Mimi’s, gave me the true flavor of this island that has been occupied by monastics since the 7th century when St Aiden, an Irish bishop, established the first community here. The Lindisfarne Gospels, the earliest extant illuminated manuscripts. were made at the same monastery in the late 7th century when St Cuthbert was bishop. I have been interested in the Lindisfarne Gospels for more than 20 years. It was a joy to walk in the sandy soil of this island and to absorb the spirit of the very early resident Christian artists who lived there.
I went to Durham, the site of a large, old cathedral on the 4th day. Durham became the center of the Christian community of Northumbria after invading Vikings drove Cuthbert and his monks from Lindisfarne to the mainland in the early 8th century. Under his leadership a beautiful Norman Romanesque cathedral was built that has miraculously been preserved for the past 13th centuries. I was able to enjoy a stunning exhibit, “The Treasury of the Cathedral,” and to draw there. This cathedral has been part of the Anglican Church since the dissolution of the monasteries under King Henry VIII. As I walked through the exhibit, I had an interesting conversation with Philip, an Anglican priest, about good and bad and right and wrong and how many of the rights and wrongs of the church have played out and influenced the history of Christianity. I am still pondering this discussion. Again, as I internalized my feelings, I realized that this journey was becoming very important to my spirituality and that it was becoming a real “pilgrimage,” rather than a mere “journey.” After spending several hours basking in the beauty of this cathedral, I enjoyed walking aound the small city of Durham.
Moving from place to place was relatively simple. My new 4-wheel suitcase moved easily topped with my carry-on and an extra bag. I carried a back-pack with my simple art supplies. Lifting the suitcase on and off the train was no problem since most of the time someone offered to help me. Challenging my expectations, I found the English to be open, helpful, and very friendly. If I asked for help, there was always a helpful hand.
My fifth stop was York, a city built on a hill that also has the remnants of an old city wall. It, too, has a magnificent Romanesque cathedral, called the Minster, which dominates the space at the top of the hill. I found walking a bit of a challenge in York because of the steepness, unevenness and narrowness of the sidewalks but I persevered, walked slowly, and was rewarded at the top by a beautiful park surrounding the Minster where I rested. I toured the 15th century home of a York city official, called Bailey Hall, and ate in a sweet small cafe where I drew.
The last city I visited was Norwich in Norfolk, about an hour north of my final destination, London. I was especially interested in visiting Norwich because I have long admired the spiritual writings of Julian of Norwich, a 14th century mystic who lived in Norwich and wrote a treatise, Revelations of Divine Love, that is the earliest written document in English that we know of by a woman author. Little is known about Julian except that she had probably been married, had children and was not part of a religious community. From her writings, it is easy to see that she is a feminist and she is very, very positive about God’s love of humans. She lived in isolation in a small room or cell that communicated with a small church, the Church of St Julian. She gave spiritual direction and communicated with people when necessary through a small window. The tiny church was severely damaged by bombing in World War II but it has been repaired and Mother Julian’s cell has been reconstructed. On a beautiful, warm Sunday morning, I enjoyed resting, praying, and drawing there. Later, I walked to the Catholic cathedral, where I attended mass.