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.
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.
We nearly skipped King Arthur’s Round Table. It looked unimpressive from the road.
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.
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.
Cosy yet stylish, relaxed yet smart. And the smoked local venison – amazing.
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.
Close by, a first for us – a motorway footbridge (cow-bridge).
Well, if the cows could do it – so could we. And we did.
Next an old church across the road.
With more hill views.
Then back down the road…
… to yesterday’s courtyard suntrap for more tea, history – and megalithic scones.
Onwards, fortified by the henge-like scones, to a real castle.
A perambulation round the upper storey obligatory, even to vertiginously challenged me.
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.
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.
A river, way below. Chortling at the sun, the birds – and us.
Trees pumping sap leafwards as winter loosened its grip.
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.
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.