Thought for the day 29th April- Memories, Memories
St Cuthbert’s Way.
I would imagine that most of us have watched more TV programs these last few weeks than we were normally accustomed to doing. Only the other day I was deciding what to watch and came across an episode of Tony Robinson’s walks through history and I was so glad that I did. In this episode Tony was following the St Cuthbert’s Way linking Melrose with Holy Island. St Cuthbert was first based at Melrose in an early Christian community having been trained in the island of Iona in the early Celtic Christian tradition. Along the way Tony recounted the story of how St Cuthbert and a young companion were walking between centres and the young man complained of being hungry. St Cuthbert assured him that God would provide and sure enough an eagle came down and caught a salmon and the dropped it at their feet. St Cuthbert drew out his knife and cut the fish in two and gave one half back to the eagle. Tony was informed that it could well have been an osprey and indeed that brought back my first memory. Some fifty years ago I was on holiday in Northumberland and was driving on a road alongside the River North Tyne when suddenly a bird came flying towards me carrying a big fish. It was my first osprey and it also reminded me of our Church outing to Rutland Water where we saw many ospreys and were fortunate to see one catching and then carrying a fish away.
Further on Tony walked past the Eildon Hills near the Scottish/ English borders and then crossed into England into the College Valley. Some ten years back I went to stay in the College Valley to see some old friends, Martin and Eildon Scott. Yes Eildon a very unusual name but I gather her parents were locals and must have named her after those hills. While I was with them for just one night I told them that I had been to the College Valley many years before to try and find the Hen Hole. This is a remarkable feature and is in fact a very deep cleft in the hills, so deep in fact that the winter’s snow can sometimes still linger at the bottom until mid-summer. Martin kindly offered to show me exactly where it was and we bounced down a private road on the estate and finally took to the moor. I was sure we would get bogged down but he knew his country very well and took me to within a stone’s throw of the Hen Hole and at long last my search was ended.
As Tony Robinson walked on he came to St Cuthbert’s Cave, where a large group of us went during our pilgrimage to Holy Island a couple of year’s ago. I immediately recognised the cave as having been on one episode of Vera but the real reason we were there was to commemorate the travels of St Cuthbert’s body after the monks fled Holy Island following the Viking raids. When the island became to dangerous for them to stay any longer they decided to leave but not without the body of St Cuthbert who had become so venerated that they could not contemplate leaving his body behind. We were due to take communion at the cave but then a difficulty arose because the wafers had been left behind. I think St Cuthbert must have been watching over us because I had brought a very nice bread roll from breakfast and this made a very satisfactory substitute and in my view a worthy tribute to St Cuthbert.
Moving on Tony eventually crossed the sands at low tide and reached Holy Island, another place that is very special to me. The sense of history and spiritual intensity is almost tangible. The ruins that we see today are not the old Abbey that St Cuthbert would have known but a later priory. However, excavations are now underway to reveal the foundations of the old Abbey and no doubt many interesting artefacts will eventually come to light.
Tony was told of the great debate between the Celtic (or more properly a sub-set of the Celtic Church the Ionian church) and Roman churches and how this was eventually settled at the Council of Whitby in favour of the Roman Church. Some of the Ionian monks departed from Northumbria at this point but Cuthbert fully accepted the decision and was a great mediator and stayed on Lindisfarne (Holy Island) to continue to build and strengthen the church from this wonderful base.
So Tony Robinson’s journey was nearly at an end but he did make one further expedition to go to the Farne Islands where St Cuthbert went to retreat from the world. He established a little cell on the Inner Farne and it was there that he died in 687 AD. I have been a bird watcher for many years and when I went to the Farnes for the first and only time at the age of 18 I was amazed at the number of sea-birds. These days the only human residents are wardens from the National Trust who look after the Islands. The warden on the program told Tony that they had cleared a cellar there they found a fresh water spring. This was the only one on the island and in his opinion this was likely the same spring that Cuthbert had used during his stay on the island.
What a fascinating program and one that brought back so many memories including my visit with the Church not so long ago.