Thursday 22nd September
At approximately 8am our coach arrived in Midton Road complete with our extremely friendly and accommodating driver John Evans. Within the hour all the luggage was packed and tea or coffee had been served in the Church Hall.
The group of 28, including myself, then made our way into the Church for a short preparatory Service. The majority of the group had travelled with me to Iona in October 2004, so it was nice to be reunited on another adventure. During the short Service, reference was made to the fact that in 635 AD a monk by the name of Aidan had made a journey from Iona to Lindisfarne. Aidan’s mission was to convert the pagans of Northumberland to Christianity.
Such was the success of St Aidan and his followers, including St Cuthbert, that records show that by 750 AD the Christian King of Northumberland, Edbert, had added to his kingdom the Plain of Kyle right here in Ayrshire. It would, therefore, appear that a group of churchmen from Northumberland arrived in this area and founded a little settlement called Prestwick, which means ‘the habitation of Priests’.
It would also seem safe to conclude that the priests who gave Prestwick it’s name actually came from Lindisfarne. For here they built a small chapel dedicated to St Cuthbert.
Interesting to think that without the arrival of churchmen from Lindisfarne back in 750 AD our town of Prestwick may never have emerged! The spreading of Christianity and the overlapping events that formed bonds never cease to amaze me!
From Prestwick South Parish Church we then travelled south and stopped at the Gretna Outlet Village for lunch. There I offered to take charge of all the ladies Credit Cards as a goodwill gesture to prevent them from spending too much. However, it was strange that although Fiona, Richard and David were not with me, their presence seemed to be so apparent in Marks & Spencers and in the Sports Shops. Next time I’ll give one of the ladies my Credit Card for safe keeping.
After lunch we headed across country for Hexham. As we entered Hexham the sun was shining and we met up with our guide, an elderly gentleman called Tom who was full of information and good humour. As we stood in the afternoon sunshine outside Hexham Abbey Tom told us of the great history of the building. Unfortunately, the history of Hexham Abbey is full of incidents involving the invading Scots. We assured Tom we came in peace.
Ironically Hexham Abbey is actually dedicated to St Andrew. It is believed that St Wilfred, who founded this religious site, visited Rome and returned with the relics of St Andrew which were then housed in the crypt. Indeed, Tom then took us inside the Abbey for a visit to the crypt. This required carefully negotiating some steep stone steps.
Afterwards the group were then free to walk around the Abbey and then enjoy some afternoon tea in the lovely market town of Hexham. It was a great way to start our tour of religious buildings.
After leaving Hexham we made our way north east to the town of Morpeth. Our hotel was situated just a couple of miles outside the town. Longhirst Hall is a Georgian style Hotel set in 75 acres of woodland and landscaped gardens. It was designed in 1824 and today comprises of 77 en-suite bedrooms and 34 self-catering villas. This would be our home for the next three days. After settling in and enjoying dinner the group were free to relax and explore the Hotel. A few of us, no names mentioned, found our way to the Sticky Wicket Cellar Bar. This was a very atmospheric Bar, full of cricket memorabilia. After a night-cap we retired for the night.
Friday 23rd September
After breakfast our coach left the Hotel at 9am and headed south to Durham. As we entered this remarkable city the rain started to pour, however, with the aid of a small shuttle bus we arrived at the gates of the great Cathedral dry.
For our tour of the Cathedral we were split up into two groups. Our guides once again were not only very informative, but full of good humour. However, the history of unfriendly Scots reeking havoc appeared constantly to surface. Just as well Audrey George was there to vouch for us.
Durham Cathedral actually originated as a shrine to St Cuthbert. When St Cuthbert died he was initially buried on Lindisfarne, but with the threat of the Vikings his body was brought south and eventually ended up in Durham. After the Norman Conquest the small Church that contained the body of St Cuthbert was replaced by this great Cathedral.
After our tour of the Cathedral the group were free to enjoy lunch and some sight-seeing in the centre of Durham. Thankfully, the rain had disappeared and some sunshine broke through in the afternoon.
Durham Cathedral, in my humble opinion, is one of the most impressive religious buildings that you can visit. The location of the great Cathedral perched high above the river is a view that is totally awe-inspiring.
After leaving Durham at 4.30pm we headed back to the Hotel. Once dinner was concluded some of the group got together in one of the Hotel’s large Drawing Rooms. It was nice to simply sit back and enjoy each others company in such a relaxed setting. However, once the Sticky Wicket Cellar Bar opened at 10.30pm some of the ladies without delay made their way there. Where did they get the energy?
Saturday 24th September
We awoke to a bright autumn day. Then after breakfast we departed the Hotel at 8.25am for the Northumberland coast. Along the way we made a small detour to Alnwick for a view of the Castle. From there we headed towards the sea and Bamburgh Castle. I had arranged a guide of Bamburgh Castle out with normal public times and so as we arrived I expected to be the only group there. However, there was also a Wedding taking place and as we made our way up towards the Castle Green the Bridal Car approached. Spontaneously our group began to applaud as the Bride passed by.
We then met our Guide and in the morning sunshine she gave us a brief history of the Castle. From there we made our way into the Castle and enjoyed a superb tour of some of the rooms. The grandeur of the main Hall with its beautiful beamed ceiling was perhaps the highlight.
Following the tour we had a small amount of free time to enjoy the wonderful views from the Castle towards Lindisfarne and the Farne Islands. Some of the men also found the time to visit the Armstrong Museum in the Castle which contains a collection of World War II aviation artefacts. The location and presence of Bamburgh Castle for me highlights the wonder and beauty of this quiet and unspoiled part of North East England.
Just after noon we left Bamburgh for Lindisfarne where I had arranged a short Communion Service in St Mary’s Parish Church. As we travelled across the causeway to this Holy Island it was perhaps a good time to remember that Iona is sometimes referred to as the ‘Mother of Lindisfarne’.
Upon arrival we made our way to St Mary’s Parish Church. This was the location upon which Aidan had built the first religious building on the Island. As we entered the Church a Board displayed the events which were taking place on that particular day. Around 250 from the Presbytery of Melrose and Peebles were holding a ‘Church Without Walls’ conference in St Mary’s, however, our reservation for a short Communion Service ensured that we had the Church to ourselves. Indeed, one of the local clergy, Brother Damien, kindly welcomed us to the Church.
I have to say that just like the Abbey on Iona, it was a wonderful privilege to conduct a Communion Service in such a historical and spiritual setting. As well as celebrating Holy Communion as a group, we heartily sang ‘God Forgave My Sin In Jesus Name’ and ‘Seek Ye First’. For me this was one of the highlights of the trip.
After the Service the rest of the Afternoon was free. During this time the group enjoyed visiting many different locations, including the Priory, the Castle, the Village and of course the Winery. At the Winery free samples of Lindisfarne Mead and St Aidan’s Cream Liqueur were on offer. Well, we Scots don’t like to miss out on such hospitality.
Although the sun shone, by late afternoon a chill was evident in the air as we prepared to leave this Holy Island. Like Iona, Lindisfarne is a very unique and mysterious location. As we left I couldn’t help marvel at the way in which Christianity had spread from the west coast of Scotland to the east coast of England.
That night after Dinner the group once again retired to the Drawing Room. Whether we were too tired after our full days’ excursion or not, the Sticky Wicket regrettably had to do without our company that night.
Sunday 25th September
Sadly, our final day beckoned. But before reaching Prestwick there was still much to see and do.
After Breakfast a 45 minute Service was held in one of the Hotel conference rooms. Our Service included 4 Hymns, Prayers and a Short Address entitled ‘What Shrine’. The Address centred on Cuthbert’s death and the quest by the Monks to provide a shrine for his remains. The main message was the fact that, while St Cuthbert is famous for his shrine, ironically Jesus is more famous than anything else for not having a shrine!
One special presentation also took place at this Morning Service. A small St Cuthbert’s Cross purchased in Durham Cathedral was presented to Alison Currie prior to her leaving for Boliva. The Service also gave us the opportunity to seek God’s blessing upon Alison as she prepared to Boliva.
With the luggage onboard, the coach left the Hotel at approximately 10.30am and we made our way north on a beautiful journey through the Cheviots Hills, crossing the Border into Scotland at Coldstream. We then arrived in Melrose for lunch at the Abbey Mill.
After lunch I had arranged an Audio Tour at Melrose Abbey. The Abbey is fairly exposed, but thankfully once again the sun decided to shine. It was so appropriate that Melrose Abbey was our last official place to visit. For it was in this area that St Cuthbert, while tending his sheep in the Lammermuir Hills, received a vision from Heaven on the night of Aidan’s death. After receiving the vision Cuthbert then entered the monastery at Melrose.
Melrose Abbey is also the burial place of Bruce’s Heart. Although it has to be said one member of the group, who will remain nameless, was actually looking for Wallace’s Heart. Ah well, what’s in a name!
Towards the end of my time in the Abbey grounds my mobile phone went off. This call was a kind invitation to join some of the group at the local ice-cream shop. Indeed, memories of the lovely weather on Iona came flooding back as I sat outside the shop enjoying a chocolate ice-cream cone.
Then it was time to head for home. The last part of the journey consisted of passing though Peebles and Biggar before stopping for a comfort break at Abington. Just after 6pm we arrived back in Prestwick. Ah well, all good things must come to an end.
In conclusion it was another memorable trip. I must admit I thought after the success of Iona last year it would be hard to match. However, our time in Northumberland was equally as enjoyable, thanks once again to all those that came. The sense of fellowship, fun and faith was there for all to see.
So where to next? Well, some of the group have already suggested Rome! Watch this space.
Kenneth C. Elliott