Saturday, October 30, 2010

Grasmere and our week in the Lake District

It was noon by the time we got into our rental car in Liverpool.   The drive to The Lake District was supposed to take about an hour and a half or maybe two but it took me an hour and half to figure out how to get out of Liverpool.  Still, we made it and the drive was pretty straightforward. Once we got away from the Liverpool, the countryside became increasingly pretty with leaves showing their autumn colors – something we especially treasure as we don’t get to experience much of Fall living in South Florida.  
One of the spectacular views across the way from our cottage

Most of the drive was along a well-developed highway.  There was a considerable amount of traffic.  In England it is “half-term” and the vast majority of schools are on break.   We were heading to one of the most popular half-term destinations.  This had actually affected our ability to get a cottage for the length of time we wanted forcing us to adjust our original plan.  When we got  off the highway and onto the two-lane road (one in each direction), traffic slowed to a crawl, which, given all the winding hills was something of a challenge to me as I don’t often drive a standard-shift car, and most especially, seated in the right hand seat, driving on the left-hand side of the road!   Still, I did pretty well and managed to avoid any catastrophes.   A couple of people learned on grades to keep some distance from me.

We drove along A-591 which took us through Windermere, perhaps the most well-known and popular of the Lake District destinations.   The scenery is absolutely stunning and all week, because of a frost, the leaves have been continuing to turn; the colors at week’s end being noticeably different than at week’s beginning.
Fireplace in our living room.   We never quite got it going.

Welcome to our cottage!

We stopped in Ambleside at offices of Lake Lovers, the agency managing our rental, to pick up the key-to our self-catered cottage which was in Grasmere, the next town up.  Susan had carefully and selected the perfect cottage for two.  It is called “Poet’s Corner” and is quite literally 30 yards from Dove Cottage where William Wordsworth lived for several years and wrote some of his most-well known poems.   

 There is a very good little museum dedicated to Wordsworth attached to the cottage which we enjoyed visiting during the week when the weather was particularly rainy. Our cottage, “Poet’s Corner” is cozy and beautifully appointed and has been a treasured haven this week.  I said to family members when I spoke to them this past week, “Grasmere and The Lake District has become one of my new favorite places on earth” and it has.  Around every corner is a picture perfect postcard view.
View of Wordsworth's Dove Cottage from the front door of Poet's Cottage where we were staying

I was especially attracted to come here because of my fondness for Wordsworth and because his notions of “reflection in solitude” fit well with the overall theme of this sabbatical.   Wordsworth wrote and spoke of “spot events” when our senses and emotions are filled.  These occur in special places and it is, Wordsworth believes, our remembrance of these “spot events” that especially feed us and particularly allow us to get through the difficult times of life.  Certainly, my time in Grasmere will be a “spot event” for me.
During the week, I took several long hikes along incredible trails that offered spectacular views of fells and tarns and gills (you’ll have to look those up!) all in autumn hues.   We had two sunny days.  We have also had considerable rain.

One of the views of Rydal Lake and surrounding countryside during our five mile walk
On Thursday, the forecast was for foul weather in the afternoon (with talk of gale force winds possible).  Susan and I decided to get our walk in in the morning.  It was a relatively easy five-mile walked called the Rydal Walk which took us around two lakes – Rydal Lake and Grasmere Lake.  We set off and took our time, even stopping for tea at “Rydal Mount,” the house where Wordworth and his family moved when they outgrew Dove Cottage.  We could have toured the house, but didn’t, only taking advantage of the small tea house that serves as a half-way station along the Rydal Walk.    

As we left there, the weather began to deteriorate.   We still had a good hour and half to go.  By the time we completed the walk and reached Miller House which had become our regular lunch place (it has internet capability), we were completely soaked through despite our having adequate rain gear.   Still, the walk had been absolutely gorgeous and worth the effort.
Miller House became our regular way station in Grasmere.  They had great food, free internet and incredible Banoffee Pie! 

Amazing view of the valley on my walk up to Alcock Tarn
My favorite walk of the week was a steep hike up to Alcock Tarn (okay, I’ll help – a “tarn” is a small lake or pond on a mountain).  The Alcock Tarn walk afforded me views across two valleys and over Grasmere that were absolutely breathtaking!  I took lots of pictures, but they will never do justice to the actual experience.  I am confident that the experience of standing at Grey Crag and looking over Grasmere and the valleys below will be a “spot event” for me! 

Interior of St. Oswald's.   We didn't get to worship in the building because of a broken boiler, but we were able to look around.   In some ways, it reminds me of St. Paul's
Wordsworth's sister Dorothy, who was very influential in his life was buried in the adjacent plot
On Sunday, we worshiped with the people of St. Oswald’s Church.  The historic church building couldn’t be used on Sunday because the boiler was broken (and it was very cold),  so worship took place in a renovated barn which serves as their parish hall.  William Wordsworth, his wife Mary, his sister Dorothy, their children and a brother are all buried in St. Oswald’s Churchyard.  

View of the village of Grasmere

This deer crossed in front of me on my walk around Lake Grasmere.   We stared at each other for awhile

 In Grasmere, we experienced Sara Nelson’s celebrated Grasmere Gingerbread which is unique and quite delicious.  We have had a wonderful week.  It’s Friday and we leave tomorrow for Liverpool to catch a train to London so that we can board the Chunnel train for Paris.   Hopefully, things will have calmed down in France and we will be able to travel without too much difficulty.  It is raining heavily today.  I had hoped to get one more wonderful walk in before we left, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.  Susan just made us omelets, then we’re off to visit Peter Rabbit! 
Our cottage is in there somewhere

Friday, October 29, 2010

From Ireland to England!

Our experience in Ireland was rich with memories and wonderful adventures that connected our exploration of the Celtic monastics with our own family story and history, and especially Susan’s Irish heritage. It should be noted that, although I have always been told that my own heritage is mostly English, Scot, Welsh, Dutch  and German, after I paid for items with my credit card, a woman who worked in the bookstore at New Grange, informed us that her father’s name had been William Stokes and that he had lived across from Martin’s Pub (now Anderson’s) in Ardee! Susan and my journey together may well have been in the stars long ago!

On Monday evening, October 18, we took Mae and Joe out to dinner at Darver Castle in Dundalk where they had celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary a few months before.   We had a lovely time with them and we heard and told lots of stories about Susan’s parents as we had done earlier in the week when we had tea at the Nuremore Hotel where Susan’s parents stayed several times when they visited the Smiths.  After dinner it was back to Mae and Joe’s where Anne and her daughter, Alana and Courtney joined us along with Mary and her husband Jerry.   To our surprise, we were presented with lovely gifts from the Smiths which touched us deeply.   Susan especially treasures a charm with shamrocks which will be a perpetual reminder of this incredible visit.   After warm goodbyes, we went back to the cottage and packed our bags for our departure the next day.  In the morning, we bid our goodbyes to Attracta Ward, (Larry was in Dublin) and were deeply grateful for their warmth and hospitality.  It is our hope to go back to Ardee over the years and to rent their lovely cottage again. 

The River Liffy which passes through Dublin was especially pretty at night
As we had yet not spent any time in Dublin, we had decided we would spend two nights there before heading over to England.   We stayed at the Best Western Academy which was centrally located and, conveniently, around the corner from the Gresham.  Susan’s parents had often stayed at The Gresham. It was a little over our budget, but we did have afternoon tea on our second afternoon in Dublin which was lovely and, of course, allowed us to connect with Susan’s parents once again.

We had returned our rental car when we got back from Ardee, but Dublin is a walking town and as we are both New Yorkers, we loved having the chance to get around the city by foot.   On our first night we wanted an authentic Irish Pub experience.  Susan had done a little research and settled on the Brazenhead which was identified as the oldest pub in Dublin.   Music was to start at 9, so we made reservations for an 8 PM dinner.    Sure enough, it was a dark, cramped, authentic Irish Pub originally dating back to the Middle Ages.  At about 8:45, the first of what became 6 musicians strolled in and headed to a corner table.   At 9 on the dot, they started playing.    Susan, who rarely drinks, had a Harp (Irish lager) and I had a Guinness and we enjoyed some wonderful, mostly Irish music (with some American country thrown in for fun) for the next hour and half.  It was a great and relaxing evening.

In the morning, I went to the Irish Writers Museum which is a small museum that does an excellent job of telling the story of the history of Irish literature and its writers.  I had been an English and World Literature major in college and so was familiar with many of these writers.  Still, I discovered some new ones and it was interesting both to see their story put into a cohesive whole and also the argument, with which I agree, that Irish literature is distinct from, and in many ways a subversive form of, English writing.
In the afternoon, we went to see the historic Book of Kells and the exhibit at Trinity College which accompanied it.  Needless to say, it was quite impressive to see this ancient manuscript up close.  It was also one more piece in our Celtic exploration.

Lounge aboard the Ulysses
Our sojourn to Dublin was quick but enjoyable and it is our fervent hope that we will have a chance to visit the city again.  On Thursday, October 21, we left the hotel early and boarded the Irish Ferry Ulysses (named for the Joyce novel!) to travel across the Irish Sea to Holyhead in Wales.  The ferry is the largest vehicle carrying ferry in the world and is as large as a cruise ship.   We had some trepidation, as we had been told by Phillip Smith (and others) that it could be a very rough voyage depending on weather.  In fact, we had been advised not to take the “quick ferry” because it would make it an even rougher trip.  The Ulysses ride was about 3 ½ hours, the quick ferry a little under 2 hours.  

We didn’t need to fret; it was a smooth and very enjoyable trip.   As we had left the hotel before breakfast was served, we were able to have a full Irish breakfast (eggs, baked beans, bacon, toast, balck and white pudding) on board the Ulysses.  It was delicious (Susan did not eat her black pudding!). 
Susan took this photo as we left Ireland behind us mindful that this was the last sight her grandfather and many other people from Ireland would have seen before they got to America!
We arrived in Holy Head and, as we had more than an hour before our train departed for Liverpool, we checked our bags and decided to walk around this quaint and peaceful Welsh town.  We even bought and sent some postcards.  There was a historic church, St. Cybil's,  in the center of town; sadly it was not open.   We ended up having such an enjoyable walk that we missed the first train to Liverpool.   This was not a problem as they ran almost hourly and we had a quick bite and caught the next train.

We were staying at the Marriot in the center of Liverpool.  We had booked the hotel on Priceline and had gotten it for a very reasonable price.  It was within pretty easy walking distance from the train station, so we lugged our bags (one large suitcase and one knapsack each) and took the ten minute walk.
View of the Ulysses from Holy Head, Wales

Walking along Holy Head
St. Cybil's - Holy Head

As I was born in 1957, I came of age in the era of the Beatles (Susan said to note that she was born much later – ha, she was born in 1958!!) , and so Liverpool was a place of pilgrimage of sorts for me too.  Last Christmas, Susan gave me the Beatles’ Collection which had been digitally remastered and  is now all on my I-Phone.    When I was a choirboy at St. Thomas, Beatle music was often our music of choice in the student lounge.  I was very much looking forward to seeing a little of Liverpool, but it was not to be.    

After we checked into the hotel, we went out for Indian food and had an excellent dinner at Mayur Restaurant which the concierge at the Marriot had recommended and which chef Gordon Ramsey had apparently designated the “best Indian restaurant in Liverpool;” pretty high praise as Liverpool has a full complement of excellent Indian restaurants.  We wound our way to the restaurant walking past the Liverpool Cathedral en route and marking that as a place we wanted to visit the next day, perhaps taking in Evensong. 
At Mayur we had an outstanding meal of innovative Indian food.  We began with an assortment of vegetarian appetizers for two.  I had a curried soft-shelled crab dish that was superb.   Susan had a chicken dish that was equally excellent. This was accompanied by two  Indian breads and Raita, the cool yogurt sauce that brings perfect balance to an Indian meal.  The restaurant lived up to its billing and we were very pleased.  We walked it off on our return to the hotel.

View from our room in the Marriot in Liverpool
In the morning, I awoke with a fever.   Susan went to Boots and picked up a thermometer (which of course was calibrated to Celsius – thank goodness we had a conversion chart by way of the internet!).  My fever was a little over 101 F.    I ended up spending the day in bed, and spent most of it sleeping.  Susan took a couple of quick trips out to pick up a few things.  Most of the day, she watched television and took care of me.  She ordered dinner through room service.  I wasn’t very hungry.  

Overnight, my fever broke.  Saturday morning, we got a good English breakfast, checked out and went to pick up a rental car for our drive to the Lake District.  Liverpool was pretty much a wash but I can’t complain.   We’ve been on the road an awful lot and this was the first instance of being sick besides a very minor bout with a head cold when we came out of Jerusalem.  All in all, we’ve done very well, knock on wood!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

October 20 From Dublin....

We arrived in Dublin yesterday after an extraordinary week in Drumconrath, an hour north of here.   I will write about our Ireland adventure here, and try to pick up the rest of the Ways in the Wilderness adventure at another time.

Drumconrath is close the the town of Ardee where Susan's grandfather. Francis Martin, had been born before he immigrated to the United States as a teenager.   We had rented a "self-catered" cottage for the week.  It was perfect, quaint and comfortable and  the owners, Larry and Attracta Ward were dear and gracious people.  We had tea and coffee with them on a couple of occasions and were touched by their warmth and hospitality.

Our cottage in Drumconranth
Mae and Joe Smith
Larry and Attracta helped us get in touch with the Smith family, Mae and her husband Joe, and their grown children Mary, Ann and Phillip and their spouses and children who were unbelievably gracious to us and showed us all over the area.  

Anderson's Pub used to be Martin's Pub.   Susan's grandfather was born in the apartment above the pub!
Susan's father and mother had hosted all the Smith children in the United States when the Smith children were teenagers and Susan's parents used to visit Ardee regularly and were very close to the Smiths.   There was a time when the Martins and the Smiths owned farmland adjacent to one another, so the long-term connection between the two families goes back well more than a hundred years and, it is likely that they are even distant relations of some sort.  We had a chance to see the pub which was owned by Susan's great grandfather who lived above it with his family (it also served as small grocery).  

We certainly felt we were among family and it was wonderful to hear stories of Susan's parents and other family members.  We even went to the local parish office and found baptismal, wedding and baptismal records thanks a wonderful secretary in that office who took the time to do this with us.   During our time in that part of Ireland we also visited a number of sites of historical and religious significance.

Newgrange Passage-Tombs - We spent an afternoon visiting Newgrange, a World Heritage Site, which is in the Boyne Valley and was constructed around 3200 B.C..  This megalithic site predates Stonehenge and the Pyramids of Giza.  It consists of a large mound where the cremains of the ancients were buried. Around the mound are large "kerb stones" etched with a variety of designs. A long passageway into the tomb is clearly oriented to the sun's rising on the winter solstice.   While there is on-going debate about the specific purpose of the site, it seems likely to me that it was primarily for worship and secondarily for burial, in much the same way that St. Paul's Episcopal Church is primarily for worship even though funerals and memorials are a part of this and the cremated remains of the faithful are found on our "site" in the columbarium. As I visited Newgrange, I couldn't help wondering if sometime around 6000 A.D. future archaeologists will discover the site of St. Paul's and the columbarium and declare that were an ancient burial site?!

The tomb-mound at Newgrange

Monasterboice Abbey - In County Louth, about a half hour from where we were staying are th ruins of the historic abbey of Monasterboice, which was founded in the late 5th century by St. Buite who died in 521 A.D.    This was of particular interest because this is directly related to St. Columba and the Iona community, which ties it also to Cutherbert and the the community at Lindisfarne which we had visited when we were in Scotland.   The Celtic monastic experience also ties into the early Desert Fathers and so it is is fascinating to seer the threads of this whole monastic experience interweave with one another.   There are three wonderful examples of so-called "High Crosses" at Monasterboice."  As my favorite on-line source, Wikipedia, notes about the high-crosses at Monasterboice, "The 5.5-metre Muiredach's High Cross is regarded as the finest high cross in the whole of Ireland. It is named after an abbot, Muiredach mac Domhnaill, who died in 923 and features biblical carvings of both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. The North and West crosses are also fine examples of this kind of structure, but these have suffered much more from the effects of the weather."   As the Coptic and Orthodox monasteries in Sinai and Judea were subject to raids from "Barbarians" (raiders mostly from Libya) and built high walls and draw-bridges to protect themselves, the monks in Ireland built high round towers where they would safeguard themselves and their goods and a prime example of such a round tower can also be seen at Monasterboice.  
The Round Tower with a High Cross in front of it at Monasterboice Abbey

Mellifont Abbey - Mellifont Abbey was founded by the Cistercians in the 12th century to replace Monasterboice and there are impressive ruins similar to those we had seen in Scotland when we visited the "Border Abbeys" there (we saw the ruins of Melrose Abbey, Kelso and Jedburgh - we missed Dryburgh this go round, thoughj we had seen it on a prior trip with the youth of St. Paul's).  As with those Border Abbeys, Mellifont was closed down by Henry VIII when he dissolved the monasteries of England and confiscated their property.   It is sad.   As I stood in silence in the midst of these ruins, it seemed to me I could hear the echoes of the ancient chants and prayers and that they still live.   We also visited the new Mellifont Abbey which is a living monastic community of Cistercians (also known as Trappists) who live on a newer site that is also a working farm.   Sadly, there are only about 11 monks there now.   Susan and I attended Vespers at the monastery.  The monks are mostly pretty aged and we couldn't help thinking this monastery was dying. 

The ruins of Old Mellifont Abbey

During our time in Drumconrath and Ardee, we also visited St. Brigid's Shrine.  Brigid, along with Patrick, is one the patron saints of Ireland.  We visited Slane Abbey on the Hill of Slane where Patrick is reported to have lit the first Pashal fire (Easter fire) in Ireland which was taken by the local king as a direct challenge.  Christianity, however, took hold and became the faith of the land.  We visited the ruins of the Abbey at Kells, from which the Book of Kells came (we saw that at Trinity College in Dublin); the ruins of Four Priory, another ancient Celtic Christian site with very impressive ruins.  

St. Brigid's Shrine in Faughart

Ann Smith Dowling and her daughters Alana and Courtney.

Courtney shows Susan her sheep, Bella

Susan with Courtney and Mary, Mae and Joe's eldest, who visited us in New York when she was in her teens.

The ruins of Four Priory.  People visit holy trees leading to the site and say prayers, leaving pieces of cloth or other items as a token of their prayers and petitions, especially for the cure of illnesses (see below)  

High Cross at Kells

Entrance to the exhibit containing the Book of Kells at Trinity College in Dublin

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sunday, September 26 - Anafora

On Saturday evening, after our full day in Cairo, we headed to a Coptic Retreat Center in the Nile Delta region called Anafora.  It is not far from the location of Skete which was one of the more prominent monasteries of the Desert Fathers.   Anafora is only about 11 years old and was founded by Coptic Bishop Thomas to be a place of hospitality and welcome for all.  Anafora is a little bit of heaven on earth.  It is a working farm with well water and irrigation.  There is a small community of Coptic nuns.   It also seems to have a ministry for woman in their 20s and 30s.   The Guest facilities are wonderful. We were warmly welcomed and served tea.   Our rooms were cool and beautiful.   Dinner was fresh, and we could eat almost everything - fresh cucumbers, chicken, fresh breads. Sunday was a scheduled "Quiet Day" and we entered the 'Great Silence" after Compline on Saturday evening and were invited to keep it until supper on Sunday.   We had a noon Eucharist.   I used the day for extra rest and some quiet time for prayer and reflection.   The church at Anafora is especially beautiful.  It is designed for both Christian and Muslim worship and has an amazing "eye" built into the ceiling.  When we attended evening services on Saturday, Susan said she could see the moon pass through the eye.  I missed that, it had to be a mystical sight. I attended early Sunday worship (6 AM), though we could not receive communion, the priest called those of us present afterward and gave us each a piece of unconsecrated bread.  I am always challenged by the withholding of communion and believe Christ would be appalled, but I did appreciate the warmth and genuineness of his gesture.   We had our own Eucharist in the small chapel of Anafora at noon.  On Sunday night, the Coptic celebration of the Feast of the Holy Cross took place and their was a great procession of a flaming and flowered cross, brought from the church to the extensive pool of Anafora so that the water could be blessed and provide life (it's used for irrigation).  In ancient days, the Coptic Church processed to the Nile to do this.  It was a joyous celebration!

A delicious and beutiful dinner at Anafora
Sitting and dining area at Anafora

Another sitting area at Anafora

The church at Anafora (the picture does not do it justice!)

Our living room in Anafora


Small chapel

The cross blessing the water

Exterior of the guest suites

Exterior of the Church

Friday, September 24 and Saturday, September 24 - Into Egypt

We woke up early and headed for the Taba Border which would take us into Egypt.   We met Moussa, our Egyptian Guide, who would be with us until left Egypt for Jordan ten days later   Friday was basically a travel day.  It was a 7 hour coach ride across the Sinai to Cairo.  Saturday, we visited the Pyramids of Giza, a papyrus factory and the Coptic Christian community in Old Cairo which included visits to Christian shrine  and the Coptic Museum. 
Crusader Castle (now a boutique hotel) - Sal al Din, in Taba, Egypt
These golden arches are on the road in the middle of the Sinai Desert!

Our lunch stop on the way to Cairo

At Giza on Saturday

They carried this woman up those steps so she could experience the pyramid!

At the papyrus factory in Cairo

Walking along a narrow street in Old Cairo