Nonpareil. On voyaging from darkness, into light

I can’t remember what we had for breakfast. But, as always, we had tea. Thank goodness.

Unusually, while still at table, I checked my emails on my phone.

That’s where the shadow was waiting.

My lovely husband, baby of five siblings, was suddenly one of four.

That’s all I propose to say about his beautiful, vibrant, charismatic sister. He’s on his way to her funeral now and I’m here, thinking of them all.  That’s enough.

But the reason I’ve shared this personal sadness, this dark shadow that fell on our morning rituals – and stayed – is because we found solace in nature. And I’d like to share that, too.

The day was a Thursday, and the Prof was still the Prof. Still had to catch his train as usual. Still had to teach his students as usual. Still had to do his admin and hold office-hours. Mark papers and deal with emails. Until home-time.

But next day was his research day. A day he looks forward to all week. A day for thinking, reading, writing. For being the academic he is in his heart and soul.

It was not to be taken for granted then, that he’d lightly give up that day. But the lure of a B&B near prehistoric sites helped – and by midday on Friday we were on our way.

Nature sent us off with a great big hug in the form of a glorious sun in a cloudless sky.

And as we travelled up the motorway with the most scenic views in England, the hills greeted us with snow-topped peaks.

If your soul doesn’t soar with a sun-kissed, snow-topped peak on a glorious day – well, perhaps you see them every day.

Our spirits, certainly, rose.

And as we left that road – which quietens the further north you go, threading between the hills and mountains of the Lake District – calm reassurance set in.

Prehistory helped.

Mayburgh Henge – its one remaining hunk of stone set in a circular hollow – would, we thought, be the star of two nearby features from Neolithic times.

Its mighty banks were built of river cobbles. Oak trees clung to grassy slopes strewn with flurries of pebbles.

Mayburgh Henge (link with more details below)

We nearly skipped King Arthur’s Round Table. It looked unimpressive from the road.

But, wow!

King Arthur’s Round Table (link with more details below)

The newly warming sun helped. Only mid- March, but coats were scarcely needed as we walked amid the sheep.

More recent heritage was signposted off the main road. Brougham (pronounced broom) Hall, a castle in all but name. Ramparts.  A sunny courtyard.  A café. Tea, with a slab of beetroot-and-chocolate cake.

Brougham Hall

Then on, towards Penrith and our B&B. A grand Victorian villa, but also rather Bohemian – the woman of the house being an accomplished artist.

Our room was gorgeous, though chilly. And the view – oh the view! Over a fabulous urban garden, across the town to distant hills. Their snow-capped summits gleamed until the sun went down, leaving a fanfare of colour.

Our hostess had recommended a place to eat and as we tromped downhill and across town, I wondered…

And what a surprise.

A historic gem, Dockray Hall dates from the fifteenth century.

Cosy yet stylish, relaxed yet smart. And the smoked local venison – amazing.

Yes, the window was a bit misty – but you get the idea


Next morning we awoke in our cool room to a glorious view.

The Prof made tea in a teapot. There was real milk in a small jug. And biscuits.


Over a delicious breakfast, we sat in solitary splendour, marvelling at the day, the view, the goldfinches.

And the stray chicken.

With a gift of fudge from the artist, we left for Clifton ‘Hall’ – a historic tower, sans castle.

Clifton Hall Tower (link with more details below)


Close by, a first for us – a motorway footbridge (cow-bridge).

Well, if the cows could do it – so could we. And we did.

Across six lanes of traffic! Looking back towards the tower

Why? I don’t know. Just had to include it

Next an old church across the road.

St Cuthbert’s foundation in Clifton dates back to Norman times

With more hill views.

St Cuthbert’s church graveyard

Then back down the road…

What you might call a historic marker?


… to yesterday’s courtyard suntrap for more tea, history – and megalithic scones.

Top secret canal defence!

Lord Chancellor Brougham was quite a man

Onwards, fortified by the henge-like scones, to a real castle.

A perambulation round the upper storey obligatory, even to vertiginously challenged me.

Brougham Castle (link below this post with more information)











And then.

The treasure Nature had been keeping in reserve.

Finding the little parking area was no mean feat. But we found, we parked. And off we set.

Across the rising field, seeking St Ninian’s church.

Such trees!

Mighty, almost mystical oaks. Bare, still, of leaves. Living skeletons stretching skywards, feeling spring a-coming-in.

Field after field we tromped.

Past heavily pregnant, waddling sheep.

Two birds of prey, circling the edge of a wood.

No birds in sight, just jet trails way above

Mud underfoot.

A river, way below. Chortling at the sun, the birds – and us.

See the summerhouse?

Trees pumping sap leafwards as winter loosened its grip.

And then.

We reached  the church gate.

I, who love to describe, find it hard to relate how overwhelming the feeling was.

The warm stone, the sun-dazzled yellow daffodils, the whole was like a surge of joyous affection. Yes, I think that’s the only way I can describe it. A wave of sheer, calm, reassuring joy.

Pictures, trust me, don’t do it justice.

Beautiful, solitary, enigmatic, St Ninian’s is the orphan of a long-deceased village. Hence the tromp across sheep-filled fields, past rushing river and under gracious oaks.

Upper left, the poor box from 1663; upper right tall box pews on the left for ‘the gentry;, lower right a stone memorial hidden beneath a wooden lid near the altar and believed to be to Odard and Gilbert de Burgham and therefore 12th C & part of the original church. And an odd head over the door…

And I thought, as we went into that chilly interior, of another Ninian.

‘Ninian the Nonpareil.’ A hopeless magician in Mageia, the land of prestidigitators. Experts in sleight-of-hand.

And I thought of  ‘The Man who was Magic’. Really magic. Who made Ninian really nonpareil. And unleashed the darkness of jealousy and fear.

The book was by Paul Gallico, of The Snow Goose fame. And it had a profound effect on the young me.

Its message, the power of minds, of words. The value and danger of truth –  in a world of illusions.

And so, after 36 hours that took us from darkness into a wonderful light, we left this other Ninian, a very different, genuine nonpareil, and we went home.


Grateful to Mother Nature.

And almost believing in magic.


Brougham Castle

Brougham Hall

Clifton Hall

King Arthur’s Round Table

Mayburgh Henge

St Ninian’s Church

This entry was posted in Art, jaunts & going out, Britain now & then, Cumbria and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Nonpareil. On voyaging from darkness, into light

  1. Christa says:

    Lovely lovely piece, Mary. The redeeming power of nature… Life does go on.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much Christa – that is said from the heart, I know. I hope you don’t mind me mentioning it, but I think often of Ithaka. Your pictures of the beach at Beaumaris speak volumes. So glad we had this glorious weather. Mx


  2. Thel says:

    Mother Nature provided the “just right” day.
    Much love.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Judy Barnes says:

    What a magical journey of discovery Mary. I hope Larry can take it with him on his painful return home. What a find. Thank you for sharing. X

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, Judy, thank you. It was a rare and beautiful 36 hours. And I suspect filled up the spiritual tank for a few days for the journeying. Thanks again for the kind words and for caring, Mx


  4. Simply beautiful. I know I will be back to this post for vicarious travel via my lovely personal tour guide and stunning photography. Nature helps I think, and history. That sense of time past reassures us that our time here is temporary, as it’s meant to be.
    I am sorry for the loss of your loved one, their loss leaves a gap which is filled with sadness and memories.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hadn’t thought of history as being reassuring till this trip – but you’re right, it is. All things must pass, as my favourite Beatle sang. Thank you, Dale, for your kind words.


  5. Alison Parry says:

    Mary : I love the photo of Larry staring up at that oak! In fact all the photos and delightful descriptions are magical. And although I don’t write, I think of you often. Much sympathy on your loss. Alison x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Alison. Yes, that picture of Larry and the oak – you know how tall he is so it really does show how mighty that acorn grew! I hope we can get together soon, Larry will be off to Africa at least three times this year… I will pass on your sympathy, thank you, And, as always, good to hear from you, Mx


  6. jilldennison says:

    What beautiful pictures … and beautiful words to match! I look at these pictures and I want to come there … to see it all! Great post, Mary!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, you have a tour guide waiting if you decide to venture over here! I think we both needed that break from online world.
      Thanks, Jill, for taking the time out from your self-imposed (and very welcome to me and others) task of Trump-monitoring to visit me 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Miz B says:

    I love the photos of your tour. Thank you for sharing them and your lovely description. Life is full of ironies, sometimes sweet and sometimes bitter. I’m sorry for your family’s loss.

    Liked by 1 person

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