Sunday, 17 May 2015

Hadrian's Wall Path

I've just got back from walking the 84 miles of Hadrian's Wall Path. The Wall was built in 122 AD on the orders of the Roman Emperor Hadrian although it is rumoured that he did very little of the actual hard graft of construction. The path is a much more recent innovation (2003) and traces the route of the wall from Wallsend, just East of Newcastle to Bowness-on-Solway on the Cumbrian coast. In it's middle section the route is absolutely stunning with fantastic views across Northumberland. In many places the wall can be seen and there are various forts along the way as well as many mile castles, which seem to crop up every mile or so.

Michaela and I decided to do the walk from East to West, which is the most common way. Most guides seem to think that finishing in Bowness is preferable to finishing with a walk through Newcastle, despite the risk that the prevailing wind will be against you. On balance I think they're right although day 3 for us was hard work with many steep hills to climb and the wind blowing strongly against us.

We cheated a little and had our main luggage transported each day by the very efficient Walker's Bags. This meant that we could have luxuries with us but not have to carry them each day. It makes a big difference. We booked ourselves into a B & B each night and did the walk in six days which works out at about 15 miles a day allowing for getting to the B & B each night.

Day one was largely flat along the Tyne through Newcastle and then a little rise up to Heddon on the wall where we stayed at Heddon Lodge and ate at the Swan. The accommodation was lovely with the best breakfast of the trip. Day two was more rolling hills to Humshaugh where we stayed at the Dovecote and ate in the village pub. The accommodation was again lovely, more quirky and very friendly.  Day three was the start of the more dramatic and challenging part of the walk with fantastic views but also hard climbs. On this day we got the wind blowing strongly against us. At Steel Rigg we descended to the Twice Brewed Inn where we stayed, ate and joined in a pub quiz! Decent accommodation but very slow at breakfast time with a lot of guests in. Day four was again some serious climbs and descents but fortunately the wind had dropped. feet and legs were getting tired now and our accommodation at Abbey Bridge in Lanercost seemed a long time coming. The room was lovely and we ate there with 6 Dutch people, which made a change as the previous two places we'd been with (2 different groups of) Flemish Belgians! Day five we were back to more pastoral scenery with plenty of mud and cows as we walked to Carlisle. Here we stayed in the County Hotel which was our cheapest accommodation (and felt like it!). It was perfectly adequate though and we ate out at a very nice Malaysian & Thai restaurant. Day six was walking through Carlisle and their very fine park and out past the marshes to Bowness and the end of the wall. There wasn't any wall left to see and the feet were seriously battered by now but the way was fairly flat, if muddy, and we got safely to the end. We got lovely accommodation at Wallsend Guesthouse and a decent meal in the only pub in town.

This was the first long distance walk that I'd done and a few reflections I might offer would include:

  1. It's really nice not having to come up with a plan for the day. We'd planned it beforehand and we had to get to the next stop. the only choices were about whether and where to stop for a break. The routine of getting up, having breakfast, setting off walking was somehow reassuring.
  2. There were times when I thought it would be good to have taken a bit longer. Our timetable was perfectly doable but there were really interesting things to see along the way which I didn't linger over because i still had a lot of miles to get through.
  3. Pain can take over all your thoughts. I started the walk with raw heels where they'd been rubbed by new shoes - they got worse. My feet have grown since I bought my walking boots and the right boot was too tight. When my feet were really hurting it was hard to think about anything else. Pain does take over.
  4. Having said that, it is amazing how the human body heals itself and how having walked 15 miles the day before you're able to get up and do it again.
So what next? If I had the time I'd love to do the Coast to Coast or the Pennine Way or Offa's Dyke although they would all take a lot longer or maybe I'll do the Camino de Santiago sometime...

Monday, 27 April 2015

Living Below the Line

This week Michaela and I are "Living Below the Line". 1.2 billion people in the world live in "extreme poverty", which is defined as living on £1 per day or less. That £1 per day has to cover food, housing, education, everything! For us we are limiting ourselves to £1 per day on food and drink for 5 days. I know it's not the same at all but the idea is that in solidarity with the world's poor we get a hint of what it may be like and raise some money to combat poverty.

You can find out more about Live below the Line here:  We are raising money for Send A Cow who give people in Africa the resources to produce their own food. (They don't only, or even mainly, send cows!)

This is the food we bought for the week:
The rules are that we're not allowed to accept gifts or eat anything that isn't in our £10 of shopping. We are allowed to drink tap water. We're clearly not going to starve but this kind of limitation does focus your thinking quite a bit.             So today was day 1 and for breakfast I had a bowl of porridge and a cup of black tea. For lunch I was in a meeting with a group of people and we went to a cafĂ©. They all had a nice lunch and I had tap water and a banana that I'd brought with me! For tea Michaela cooked a nice chickpea curry which we had with rice. There is half the curry left to have on a jacket potato another day. It was a decent curry but could have been improved by adding garlic and some more spices but all we have is some basic curry powder. I'd have loved to have some mango chutney on the side and maybe make some raita too. Afterwards a little sweet something would have gone down well but that wasn't an option. I'm not sure that I've learnt an immense amount but I have been reminded of how much we take for granted when we're amongst the wealthiest in the world. 

If you wanted to donate you can do so here:

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Holy Week and Easter on Iona

One of the first things I did with my sabbatical was to go to the island of Iona for Holy Week and Easter. It has been a fantastic privilege to spend Holy Week as a recipient instead of as a leader and to do so on an island so steeped in history and prayer made it even more special.

Iona is a long way away off the west coast of Scotland. It is where St Columba and his 12 companions brought the Christian message to the north of Britain and for a long time was a centre of prayer and pilgrimage. In the 20th century there was a revival of prayer and christian pilgrimage on the island through the work of the Iona Community. They have the Abbey on Iona as a base and most of the buildings were rebuilt by them. They are a dispersed ecumenical community throughout Scotland and the world but constantly offering hospitality at the Abbey. I was able to take my family with me and we joined with over 30 others to be a temporary community for Holy Week. The resident community come from all over the world and are a mix of people who have been there for 2-3 years, people who have just arrived and will be only staying for 8-10 weeks and various shades in between.

The Abbey

The island is only small but really beautiful. It is a tourist destination but only for limited numbers. It took us about 8 or 9 hours from Manchester, including 2 ferries and so it is fairly isolated. During our stay we experienced all types of weather including a storm that was bad enough for them to cancel the ferry for the day.

Living as I do in a big city it's easy to largely ignore the extremes of nature but on Iona I felt much more in touch with the weather and more vulnerable. There are also no street lights so on the clear nights the stars looked fantastic!
The community put on a full but relatively relaxed programme. There was prayer in the Abbey at 9 am and 9 pm each day and a variety of sessions that we could join in. We also could go to the art room and make things to decorate the church for the services. We also worked in small groups to prepare stations of the cross for Good Friday. There was also plenty of time to explore the island.

In the craft room I made a large hand out of chicken wire. This wasn't anything I'd ever done before but was very satisfying and the hand was used in the Abbey for the Good Friday service.

The weather for our Good Friday outdoor Stations of the Cross was not great but it was very moving as we started on the jetty and moved through the village and up to the Abbey

One of the things that struck me during my stay was the way that the resident community all had a turn at leading the worship. They were a good model of the way in which all people can take part in leading worship and certainly something I want to do at home in Salford is to get more people involved in leading worship.

On Easter morning we assembled for a dawn service at 6 am. Due to the lack of street lighting on the island it was very, very dark and dawn really was fantastic. After the service I watched the sun come up over the hills of Mull. It was a powerful combination of liturgy and nature. The glorious weather that we had on Easter Day was almost as if it had been planned specially.

Watching the sun appearing over the hills of Mull and the Sound of Iona.

There are plenty more photos posted on Facebook if you want to see more.

Easter in the Abbey.                                                             The hand is transformed. 

If you haven't visited Iona, please do think about doing so. It isn't very easy to get to, it isn't cheap but it is very, very special. 

Big thanks go to all those who shared Holy Week and Easter with me - A very mixed group of people but a privilege to be with you all at such a special time in such a special place.

Christ is risen...                   

He is risen indeed, Alleluia!