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Come along with me as I attempt to navigate my way through a new country, school system, and life for a year!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Inspirational Iona and a Magical Mystery Tour

At the end of of a very busy school year, I had time for one more trek in the UK before heading back to the US.  Over the years, I have heard about the island of Iona as a spiritual retreat center and have read a number of publications by Wild Goose Publications, the Iona Community's publishing house, which focus on social justice, peace-building and engaging worship.  The Iona Community seemed like my kind of people, so I decided to join them for a week.  I live in the southeast of England, so it was quite a drive up to the west coast of Scotland.

I made a stop at Hadrian's Wall on the England/Scotland border...

...then along the shores of  Loch Lomond...

...until I reached the lovely Scottish coast town of Oban.

I spent the night in Oban.  My son, Levi, and his wife, Erin, had visited here and told me what a nice town it was, so I was happy to get to see it for myself.  The next morning, I hopped on a ferry for the island of Mull.  On Mull, I took a bus down a narrow road and about an hour later got another ferry on the other side of the island to take me to Iona.

View of Iona from the Ferry

Although I was pleased to have the opportunity to spend time with the Iona Community, it was a hard day to be away from home, as it was my dear granddaughter's first birthday.  I love the photos I've received regularly and the few chances I've had to skype, but the biggest difficulty for me this year was missing out on so much of a year in which Anna has grown so much.  I wrote a birthday wish in the Iona sand and sent it by email.

To get to the Abbey, you walk up a hill past the ruins of a Nunnery.

It was a beautiful day to arrive at Iona Abbey!

There are a number of Celtic crosses on the Island.

Over the centuries, Iona has been a place of pilgrimage where miracles have been said to have occurred.  St. Columba founded a monastic community here in the year 563 and from here Christianity spread throughout Scotland.  It's where the Book of Kells, which I had a chance to see when I was in Dublin earlier this year, was written and beautifully illustrated.  Forty eight Scottish kings are buried in the Abbey graveyard, as well as kings from Norway and France, and other Scottish notables, such as MacBeth and some of the early MacLeod chiefs.  George MacLeod, the founder of the Iona Community, describes Iona as "a thin place where only tissue paper separates the material from the spiritual."  I think he was right.

The Abbey  Cloisters

This is inside the Abbey Church where we had service
 at 9:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m.every day.  

Joining with the Iona Community for a week meant just that, being part of a community.  Each of us were assigned to a chore group, the "Otters" who helped with breakfast preparation, the "Puffins" which helped with lunch, or the "Seals" which assisted with dinner.  We also had cleaning assignments.  I was a Puffin, and helped set up, serve, and clean up at lunch time.  I also mopped all the shower rooms each day following the morning worship service.  We also had the opportunity to assist with worship.  I joined the choir and had the chance to learn some new songs, some in languages I didn't even understand, but Jan, our lively choir director, somehow made us sound really good.  

        Special trips were offered during the week.  Many of us went on the boat trip to Staffa Island.

We passed by some lazy seals on our way to Staffa.

Staffa Island

I took the hike on the rock formations to Fingal's Cave.   When Felix Mendelssohn visited the cave he was inspired by the sounds made by the waves to write the Hebrides Overture.  John Keats also visited Fingal's cave and wrote of it:

Not Aladdin magian/Ever such a work began, Not the wizard of the Dee, Ever such a dream could see; Not St John, in Patmos Isle, 
In the passion of his toil, When he saw the churches seven, Golden Aisl'd, built up in heaven, Gazed at such a rugged wonder. --John Keats

Fingal's Cave
Inside Fingal's Cave

Okay, the cave was pretty cool, but for me, the best part of the Staffa was the puffins!  One of our group from Iona, Alex, had been here before and led us out along the cliffs to a place on the other side of the island where we could see the puffins swimming in the water below.  She assured us that if we waited, they would fly up to us.  After a little while, this puffin flew up and landed right by us.

The Most Photographed Puffin

We were all so excited to see this little fellow!  Alex assured us that there would be many more to follow, but I didn't know how she would know the mind of the puffins, so I took lots of photos of the first one.  But Alex was right!  Soon another puffin joined us!

Now we had Two!

They just kept coming and coming!!!
Soon, the cliffs were covered with puffins!!
They are so cute!!!

I could have watched the puffins forever, but there was only one boat off the island a day, so it was time to leave them behind.  In about another week, the puffins would also be leaving the island as they continued on their migratory path. On our way back to Iona we saw lots of dolphins leaping out of Iona Bay, but I was never quick enough to catch one on camera.  

One of the nights we were invited to a Scottish ceilidh.  A ceilidh is kind of like a barn dance, with the sharing of musical talents, poetry, and stories.  The Scots knew all the dances well, and with some direction, even I, as danced impaired as I am, could not refuse the invitation to join in.  Most of dances were done in group or lines and were fairly easy to follow.

It was hard to catch the dancing in a photo.
 I should have taken a video!

One day, I had the chance to join in a walking pilgrimage of the island.  We met at St. Martin's Cross and continued to different places around the island, stopping for devotions at each one.  

St. Martin's Cross

The Street of the Dead
This is the ancient road from the Abbey to the graveyard
that many Scottish kings and others were carried along on their way to burial.
This rock was also a traveler to Iona, being tossed over from
Mull is some geological upheaval.

The Crossroads
There are only 2 real roads on Iona, so this is the only crossroads on the island.

The Machair, which is a lovely grassy place, used as a golf course.

More pilgrims arriving at the Machair, where we met to have
flapjacks and tea.  Here, flapjacks are a kind of oatcake, not
at all like American flapjacks.

The Bay at the Back of the Ocean
If you travel west from here, the next thing you come to is America.

One rainy morning I decided to take a guided tour of the Abbey, which was interesting.  At each stop we heard readings from the writings of St. Columba, founder of the abbey.

Some of the tombstones in the Abbey Museum

Can you see where ferns are growing out of the abbey wall?
It's so damp, that they just grow right through!

When the abbey was restored, graves of monks were found beneath the floor.
On each monk, stones were placed representing the numbers of years they had lived with the community.
These stones are now set into the floor above the graves.

Inside the Shrine of St. Columba

The Abbey Cloisters

The rain cleared up by the end of the abbey tour, so I did a little wandering around the island.
Peeking through a Window at the Nunnery

Me at the Nunnery

A Sandcastle at Martyr's Bay, where the monks went out to greet
what they believed were friendly visitors in 806 AD, but the visitors
were Vikings who killed 68 monks and took treasure from the Abbey.

Sheep Lying down in Green Pastures

Heather-covered Hills

Beach at the North End of the Island

I really love to learn new skills, so I was excited to sign up for the labyrinth building workshop. This also happened on a rainy day, so we had to make our labyrinth on the floor of the MacLeod Center dining room.  First, we learned a bit about labyrinths, then learned how to draw them (much easier than I thought it might be!) and finally drew one in chalk on the floor and decorated it with seashells.  We each were invited to walk the labyrinth before we had to clear the floor and replace the tables for lunch.

All in all, a week with the Iona Community was just what I needed to reflect on this past year and plan for the transition back to my life in America.  I hope I can take some of the peace of this place along with me!

Next, off on a Magical Mystery Tour!!

After a wonderful week on Iona, which is off the west coast of Scotland, I had 5 days to get back to my home in Tonbridge, which is in the southeast of England.  I knew I wanted to see more of the UK, but I wasn't really sure what route to take and where I should go.  My friend Catherine, always full of good ideas, had one of her all-time greatest.  I would go on a "Magical Mystery Tour!"  Every day she would email me a postcode (which are much more specific than US zipcodes and only apply to a few buildings each) and I would put the postcode into my GPS and drive to the mystery location.  She would make all my reservations and do all the planning, all I had to do was drive and enjoy.  This was perfect, as I had my fill of planning doing the involved UK lessons plans this year.  Brilliant!

The first postcode was TD15 2SH, and it came with the cryptic message "you can only get there between 14:35 and 23:20".  What kind of place is only open between 2:35 and 11:20 p.m.?  Very strange! Along the way I passed a hairy coo, (a highland cow) that looked familiar, so I made a quick U-turn.  It was my old friend, Hamish!


I had visited Hamish 2 years ago when I was in Scotland the last time!  I didn't realize that I was in the same area, as I really didn't know where I was, I was just following my GPS to my mystery location.  It was fun to see my old friend.  Not long after seeing Hamish, I saw something else familiar, signs to Castle Doune where I also visited 2 years ago.  I couldn't pass up a quick return visit, so I took a slight detour off my course.  Castle Doune was used in several scenes in Monty Python's Holy Grail.   Of course I had to gallop around clicking my coconut shells once again.  This is the place where the French taunt King Arthur and also where Sir Galahad was in great peril from Zoot at Castle Anthrax.



 After about 4 hours of driving, it became clear to me that the reason for the odd time frame for my destination was that it was on an island that was only accessible when it was low tide.  How cool!  My postcode took me across the causeway to Lindisfarne, on Holy Island.  Catherine had no idea how perfect this was!  I was traveling in the footsteps of St. Aidan, who was sent by King Oswald in 634 from the monastery on Iona (where I had been that very morning) to Lindisfarne where he established a monastery to revive Christianity in Northumbria.  Aidan was very successful in doing this, and a thriving Christian community was born.  In the early 700s, the famous Lindisfarne Gospels, a beautifully illustrated Latin copy of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John was produced here.  I wished I could see the original copy, but it now resides in the British Library in London, to the annoyance of some Northumbrians.  The castle at Lindisfarne is striking on its hilltop perch.

Lindisfarne Castle

I explored the castle for a while, then headed to the next postcode, TD15 1HJ, where I found my hostel bed for the night in a lovely seaside town, Berwick upon Tweed.  In the morning I returned to Lindisfarne to explore Lindisfarne Priory.

In the courtyard is a lovely statue of St. Aiden who traveled here from Iona, just like I did.  Although St. Aidan is an important figure in Lindisfarne, an even more well known saint, Saint Cuthbert, also lived here and served as bishop from 684-686.  He was buried here, but his relics were carried by the monks who fled the island in 875.  His coffin was moved several times over the years, but now it rests in the Cathedral in Durham.

This sculpture shows the Lindisfarne community carrying
the remains of St. Cuthbert as they journeyed to a new home.

The next postcode was NE69 7DF.  This took me to the lovely village of Bamburgh, in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle.  I ate lunch there, a delicious chowder of local seafood, and hit the road again.

Bamburgh Castle

NE66 1NQ took me to Alnwick.  There was an international Music Festival going on there, so I stopped to listen.

But the music festival was not why Catherine had sent me here, she sent me to see Alnwick Castle. You may have seen it, too, if you've seen a little movie called Harry Potter

Alnwick Castle

This is the castle where the Quidditch scenes were filmed, and there were kids with broomsticks all over the place!

Look closely and you might see a few Quidditch player on their broomsticks.

I don't seem to have a knack for Quidditch, but being
at Alnwick Castle did make me feel like a princess.

The day was not over yet, however, one more postcode to go, DH1 4PS.  It was a good thing I was in my princess mode, because my accommodation for the night was Durham Castle!!  The castle is part of Durham University, and they have dorm-style rooms for guests.  Very cool!

Castle Entrance

Durham Castle, built in the 11th Century
  My room was in the tower on the right and had a great view into the courtyard.

In the morning, I had breakfast here in the Great Hall.

After breakfast, I took a tour of the castle guided by one of the students, which was really interesting.  Unfortunately, photos were not allowed.  Durham Castle, along with Durham Cathedral is a World Heritage Site.
Inside Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral

Astronomical Clock

Those who committed great offenses could use
this Sanctuary Knocker and get 37 days of
sanctuary during which to make amends.

The cloisters of Durham Cathedral were one of the locations used
in the Harry Potter films, along with the chapter house. 

There was one more treat in store for me here in Durham.  Not only did St. Cuthbert's remains make the journey from Lindisfarne to Durham, so did the Lindisfarne Gospels!!  They were on a rare display here for 3 months, on loan from the British Library, so I was able see them after all!

The next day's postcode was YO30 5XZ, which took me to York.  York Minster is amazing!

York Minster

Newlyweds Taking a Ride

York Minster Interior
Screen of English Kings

Amazing Stained Glass Windows

Astronomical Clock

Not sure what it is, but I like it!

Thinking of becoming a Bishop


Another View of York Minster

The Shambles, a Cute Shopping District in York

I'm going to keep my next postcode a secret, as it took me to Catherine's house in Leeds and I'm afraid you will all show up on her doorstep asking her to plan a Magical Mystery Tour for you!
Catherine,  the brains behind my Magical Mystery Tour!

Catherine gave me a nice tour of Leeds, which is really a great city, but it was dark so I didn't take photos as my camera is worthless in the dark.  By the way, aren't those cool painting behind Catherine?  She's into architecture and has commissioned this artist to do several painting of her some of her favorite buildings.  So fun and colorful!

In the morning, Catherine gave me a new postcode and I was off.  I was so excited to arrive at my destination and find it was Liverpool!!  Believe it or not, there was a bus tour of Beatles sights called the "Magical Mystery Tour"!  Well, that was for me!    I got my  ♫ ticket to ride ♫ jumped on the bus and texted Catherine to tell her of my Magical Mystery Tour within a Magical Mystery Tour.   She replied, "Double the Magic, Double the Mystery!" which sounded too good to be true!

The Magical Mystery Tour Bus

♫ "There beneath the blue suburban skies.."  ♫
♫ "Behind the shelter in the middle of a roundabout...."  ♫ 

George Harrison grew up here.

Mendips, where John Lennon Grew Up

2o Forthlin Road, childhood home of Paul McCartney
Ringo Starr lived here when he was a kid.

Okay, Liverpool isn't ALL about the Beatles.  For instance, they have....

...the Three Graces...
...the mythical Liver Birds...

...Albert Dock...

....the Tate Museum...


...the Museum of Slavery...
...Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, aka "Paddy's Wigwam"...

... the Ferry 'Cross the Mersey...
...Liverpool Cathedral, largest in the UK and
5th largest in the word...

... and let us not forget the Super Lamb Bananas!

What a great city!!  My day wasn't over, however, one more postcode to get to my bed, SK17 0SU.  I have to admit there were moments when I thought I had programmed something incorrectly into my GPS as I drove in the dark through very small, twisty country roads through the Peaks District seeming just getting deeper and deeper into the wooded hills.  I was very relieved to come to a hostel sign, so I knew I was on the right track.  In the morning I found that by daylight I was in a beautiful place!

Gradbach Mill Hostel used to be a flax mill years ago.

There were lots of nice hiking trails near the hostel.

The Pretty Peak District

The next postcode was SK12 2NR and came with the hint that it was a National Trust property and sounded kind of fruity.  I had no clue what in the world that could mean, but I discovered it meant I was going to Lyme Park.  You've seen it if you watched the BBC series Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth a few years back, as it was used as Mr. Darcy's home, Pemberley.

Lyme Hall

Why look!  It's Mr. Darcy!
If you'd like to see Colin Firth and a little more of Lyme Park, click here!


Could this be the lady of the house?

Dressing up makes everything more fun!!

I had so much fun touring this grand estate in my lovely attire!  It made me feel right at home!  But I still had 2 postcodes for the day, so no time to linger.  The next code was DE45 1PP and also came with the clue that it was used as the same property in the film version.  I found out soon enough that it was Chatsworth, which served as Pemberley in the Pride and Prejudice movie that starred Kiera Knightley.  Chatsworth, the home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, and is a huge estate with 105 acres of gardens, including a sculpture park and a maze.

You never know when Henry VIII will show up!

It's Mr. Darcy again!

If this link works, you can see Chatsworth in the movie version of P&P.

I thoroughly enjoyed my Pride and Prejudice themed day.   The final postcode took me to my bed for the night at CB2 3BU.  Another excellent choice!  All my hard work and study this year paid off and I made it to Cambridge!  I had visited Oxford (which is referred to here as "the other place") earlier in the year, so it was only right that I should see the Cambridge before heading home.  I spent the night in a Christ College dorm room.

My Dorm at Cambridge

Christ College

Cambridge Market

Inside King's College Chapel

King's College

Queens' College
Cloisters at Queens' College

Here in Cambridge, students' exam scores are posted for all to see.

 After visiting some of the colleges here in Cambridge, I decided to see "The Backs" (the back view of the colleges) by punting down the river Cam.

We went under the Mathematical Bridge. 

There were loads of punts on the river!

Punting is an excellent way to see "The Backs".

I ended my day at Cambridge with a visit to the Fitzwilliam Museum.  Here's a couple of highlights.



I knew the postcode to take me to my final destination, TN9 2LJ, that led me right to my flat in Tonbridge.

The Door to my Flat

Thanks to all the planning done by my Magical Mystery Tour Director, Catherine, I had a brilliant final trip around the UK!  There was plenty of magic and loads of mystery; it's a trip I will never forget.

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