Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Rising of the Sun and the Running of the Deer…

It’s great to get outside on a winters day, to stretch the legs and walk off the turkey. 21st December is the shortest day. From then on the days will begin to lengthen and the singing of the birds surpass organ music and singing in the choir!

If you want a winter walk that with the sight of deer, head for Holkham. I you leave the car park in front of the Hall and head right around the lake and you will be on the Holkham Lake Path - leaflets are available at Holkham or on-line at I can guarantee skeins of pink footed geese flying overhead and herds of deer sheltering beneath the trees. The deer are quite used to people, are tame and are very photogenic.

Following the path round the lake and into the woods you’ll soon come to the Holkham church. Heavily restored, it’s only the dedication, the site its self and west wall that give clues to its ancient foundation. Perched on a hillock, it is dedicated to St. Withbura, the 7th century royal princess-turned-nun who was the first abbess of Dereham. The west wall shows signs of being as old as any church building in Suffolk and Norfolk. Famously Withburga and her sisters were supplied with milk from a doe deer that came every day to be milked!

I’m not sure if the church can offer visitors and pilgrims merry music or sweet singing save for that of the birds. Last time I passed that way the door was locked – conveniently they appeared to have locked God out. In the stillness and beauty of a place where prayer has been valid I thought I caught a glimpse! Rather, like the fleeting vision of a deer passing silently through a glade! There is certainly a holly tree in the churchyard but you would be hard pressed to find any ivy. Holkham’s foresters have a hatred of it and wouldn’t let it choke any of their beautiful trees.

© Richard Woodham 2008

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A walk in Broadland turns one’s mind to fishing …

Photo by Ray Jones and Alan Price is used with permission from Norfolk Wildlife Trust

Bright red hips and haws hang in the scrub. A party of long-tailed tits squeak noisily through the branches. The board-walk runs through reeds at the river side no longer busy with the hullabaloo of holidaymakers and the chugging of a dozen diesel engines. Autumn has come to Broadland and quietness cloaks the scene like the early morning mist.

Less than a mile from Woodbastwick on the Ranworth road, where the road turns sharp right, a lane runs down to the river. The walk starts from a small car park just across the river from Horning’s Ferry Inn. It’s wheelchair friendly all the way – about a mile - to Cockshoot Broad. In summer the water lilies along the dyke are sensational!

Along the path fishing platforms jut out through the reeds. Perhaps you’ll stop and chat to a fisherman as you saunter. Walking by the water and talking to the fishermen are Christ-like activities – the easiest most of us will ever manage!

But is fishing a suitable pastime for serious Christians? Besides the chief of the apostles - Peter, James and John were all fishermen - some of fishing’s finest proponents have been outstanding Anglican clergy! The hymn writer George Herbert and the poet John Donne were both fishing partners of Izaak Walton. Izaak’s book “The Compleat Angler” remains fishing’s classic text. He was in no doubt of its suitability. The book is sub-titled “The Contemplative Man’s Recreation” and the title page quotes St. John’s gospel “Simon Peter said, I go a fishing: and they said, We will come with you.”

Don’t return home without looking into Woodbastwick’s church - a pool of deep quiet and stillness! It is dedicated Saints Fabian and Sebastian - saints of 3rd century Rome. Fabian, as bishop once stood in the shoes of the fisherman and wore St. Peter’s ring. Like St.Peter, he to became a martyr and witnessed to Christ by his death.

Before leaving the village, should you want for refreshment, the Fur and Feather stands at the far end. It is adjacent to Woodforde’s Brewery. Parson Woodforde, after whom its named, the 18th century Vicar of Weston Longville was another angling Anglican. His diary recounts fishing exploits along the river Wesum. In what company goes the fisherman!

Monday, October 06, 2008

St.Fursey Pilgrimage 08

There was standing room only at Burgh Castle church on Saturday 4th October when the annual pilgrimage of the Fursey Pilgrims took place. Joining the pilgrims this year was Fr Nicolas Jouy, the Parish Priest of Peronne in the Somme area of France. St. Fursey died before returning to England from France in the year 650 AD. His shrine was established at Peronne.

The service only took places after the pilgrims had refreshed themselves at the Church
Farm pub. Some had earned a good lunch by walking the Breydon Water path from Great Yarmouth train station. Others had come long distances to honour St.Fursey so they could not be denied a delicious carvery meal looking out across the water to the Berney Arms windpump and the Fleggs.

Pere Nicholas preached the sermon developing the idea of ecumenism as putting the pieces of a jig-saw together - it may seem impossible at first, there should be no attempt to force pieces together where they do not belong, miraculously we find there is a fit between pieces as they come together, the outcome is a clearer picture of the things of God. After the service he led the pilgrims to the ruins of Burgh Castle Roman fort. It was within the walls of the fort that Fursey and his brothers first established their humble monastery and from here they went out to evangelise the people of Norfolk.

Sr. Pam's new terrier Matthew made his first pilgrimage to Burgh Castle on this day. It was a day of double celebration for him as it coincided with the feast of St. Francis! Having been blessed by Pere Nicholas the pilgrims gathered for tea and delicious cakes courtesy of the ladies of Burgh Castle.

© Richard Woodham 2008

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Whatsoever walks in the paths of the Sea

On an autumn day, where cattle grazed, I crossed marshy fields to the beach. Ragged Robin, the summer’s last flowers danced in the breeze. The first skeins of wintering geese honked in the sky.

Beyond the dunes 30 seals were hauled up on the sands, lolling around like so many enormous slugs. More were out at sea impersonating inquisitive black Labradors. I sat. How therapeutic it is to sit with seals! They have the art of being and not doing!

I’d parked at the National Trust’s Horsey Mere car park. There are toilets and a café open every day to the end of October and at week ends through November.

I’d used the permissive footpath that leads off from the other side of the road - if you are at all in doubt ask at the café they’ll direct you! Once on the beach, turn right and you soon come to the seals . A few are there most of the year but they turn up in numbers in September and October.

My way took me back past the pub – refreshments here are recommended - and crossed the main road to the thatched, round- towered church. Sitting in the stillness I found myself wondering about fundamental things with the Psalmist. “What is man?” He asks in Psalm 8 “You give him mastery over the works of your hands; you put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, even the wild beasts of the field, The birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and whatsoever walks in the paths of the sea.” Global warming and rising sea levels acutely threaten this low lying area as they threatens us all. Before leaving I gave thanks for all I was enjoying that day and for the stewardship of the National Trust, the Horsey Estate, the Buxton family who manage it and for small group of people who maintain the church as a “house of prayer” with open doors.

If you do go to see the seals please don’t stress them by going too close and don’t let dogs off their leads. There’s no bus service to Horsey Mere so if you were going by car could you car share or offer someone a lift?

Monday, July 07, 2008

A quieter calmer Walsingham

Remembering how they “ went with the throng,* and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving.” (Psalm 42)

A great and holy place I know! But when I’ve been there on my own, I find it too restless with pilgrims to settle to prayer. Scilla Landale introduced me to a quieter, calmer Walsingham. Here are some highlights:-

1) On a raised section of lawn in the Abbey grounds is a six inch wooden square. It marks the site of the original place of pilgrimage. I stood on the spot, took in the very English country scene and reflected about the vision that had led the Lady Richeldis to build the replica of Jesus’ and Mary’s
Nazareth home.

2)Crossing the grass to where the Priory’s high altar once stood, I tried to imagine the generations of Christians, from 1061 to the present day who had come here to pay homage to the human Jesus and the mother who had nurtured him. I marvelled anew at the mystery of the incarnation - God in Man! Heaven in the ordinary!

3)Passing through the ruined arch I soon found myself in a quiet garden next to a clear running brook - the site of the original holy well. Psalm 42 provided words for my prayer, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.”

4) Later I knelt in the new Roman Catholic Church in the Friday Market Place. There’s nothing restless about this place! It is close to the still centre of the turning world! In the quiet I thought about Henry VIII who came as a pilgrim to Walsingham but whose reforms destroyed the shrine and led to the Anglican break with
Rome. Remembering the bloody cost of the Reformation I prayed for reconciliation.

5) Great Walsingham’s parish church is short walk away. The notes say, “St. Peter’s Church is a fine example of the decorated style…” what caught my attention was broken glass. All the windows down one side of the church had been vandalised. Inside pictures on a display board revealed lively children’s work. Mary would have liked that! Beside broken glass, I found myself praying with Mary at the foot of the cross. How evil longs to spoil the holy!

Scilla Landale’s booklet Walk around and Discover Walsingham is available from the Shrine Shop in
Common Place. Guided tours leave the Tourist Information Centre (opposite) at 11.00 a.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays from May 1st to 25th September and at 14.00 on Saturdays in June, July and August. Group tours can be arranged throughout the year by phoning Scilla on 01328 820250.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

John the Baptist and his Dad

I'm just into name dropping now! Did I tell you about going to visit the head of John the Baptist at the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus or St. Zecharia at the Umayyad Mosque in Allepo

I wasn't much impressed by the tomb of Salladin but felt I need to show my respects and apolgise for Richard Coeur de Lion. And I wasn't too fussed by visiting the chapel at the place where St. Paul was allegedly let down from the walls. They would, I'm sure have chosen a place well away from a gate and sentries if he was making a get away! I liked the House of Annanias. That was believable !

OK if you are doing believable then, no I don't think it is John the Baptist's relics. There are two churches in France that claim that distinction. One having the head of John the Baptist as a young man! But I liked being welcome in the Mosque and having the Prophet John the Baptist, Peace be upon him, in common with the Moslems and I liked praying there and daring to hope that the prophecy of Isaiah - who we have in common as well - about living in peace, might become a reality.

©Richard Woodham 2008

Kissing Lazarus

There's a story untold in the Bible how the returned to life Lazarus went on to be the first Bishop of Larnaka and in the Church of St. Lazarus in Larnaka you can see, in a crypt beneath the high altar, the stone coffin in which he lay.

I went down into the crypt,  reminded  of both the Cave of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.  I've kissed the rock in both places! But there was to be no kissing Lazarus, yet!

The coffin is empty! He has not yet been raised from the dead a second time, in spite of the empty tomb! His body was nicked by the high principled Crusaders who took it off to Marsailles! There is no need to rely on a Homeopathic Theory of relics - there's a holy place where the relic used to be - to get close and cuddly with Lazarus. They conveniently left a portion of his skull behind.

It is kept, upstairs in the church, in a golden relique in the church!

Kneeling in the near darkness of the crypt tomb gave a profound experience my own mortality. I like the idea that my brother Lazarus will rest in the sleep of death and by God's grace will be raised up on the last day (whatever that means!?)

Returning to the main church,  I found my way to the relique.  The small fragment of St. Lazarus' skull is covered in  perspex,   but I kissed it none-the-less. And that brought me close! To the Bible story, the reality of death,  the hope of resurrection and the thousands of Christian folk who have come to honour the saint over the millennia.

©Richard Woodham 2008

Committed to Growth

The Church of England Diocese of Norwich has a bad attack of the intiatives - caught it from the politicians I shouldn't wonder! Committed to Growth, it's called! For busy church people it can seem like a burden - Do something more! Be more committed! it seems to shout. Those of us with long memories and a touch of the cynic about us remember Moving Forward and from Maintenance to Mission ( nobody really wanted people to cease maintenance on the 600+ medieval churches in the diocese to cease from maintenance no matter what the slogan said!)

I was turning these things over in my mind as I hiked through Cypriot vinyards. I knew the Allegory of the Vine (John 15) as well as the next well educated person in the pew. What I had forgotten, even if I had originally known, was how harshly a vine-dresser cuts back.

There in the vinyard were these dead looking sticks. That's what Committed to Growth looks like!
©Richard Woodham 2008

Pilgrim Path 2008

Accompanied Walks in 2008

  • On pilgrimage we are brothers and sisters of Christ sharing the path and one another’s company.
  • Mindful of our own and our companions’ need for silence or talk—we share both
  • We try to be aware of the presence of the risen Lord who promises to be with us ‘til the end of time
  • He is the way who’s gracious call we follow.
  • Little journeys are sacramental of the bigger journey
  • We make space to consider the birds of the air and flowers of the field and
  • Expect to be refreshed

You are invited to join us on the following days:-

1st July at 6.30 p.m. meet on the southern end of the seafront at Walcott Gap. Map Ref:- 35915,32955. An gentle walk along the seashore turning in land and returning via Broomholm Priory for a fish supper on the shore

16th August at 1130 a.m. meeting at 40 Anchor Street, Coltishall we proceed by land or river to St. Peter, Belaugh and return for a barbecue and shared lunch. (Please let us know a few days in advance if you intend coming to this one!)

4th October Annual St. Fursey Pilgrimage

From Great Yarmouth Station to Burgh Castle for lunch and service

Want to know more about any of the above contact

On yer bike!

The long summer days and quiet Norfolk lanes make this a great time to get on a bike! It’s a great way of seeing the country and a perfect way to get the exercise that’s so good for you. With legs pumping and heart rate raised one can feel one’s self unwind as spinning wheels eat up the miles.

Is it sometime since you were in the saddle - perhaps not since you were a kid? The sheer exhilaration of going downhill with the wind in your hair hasn’t altered. It’s still great fun! Fun remains an un-negotiable aspect of Christian living, part of the child-likeness that allows entry to the Kingdom of God! Besides, rising fuel costs and the need to reduce our carbon footprint, makes cycling a moral choice. There’s no better time to give it a try!

Gliding through country lanes gives an opportunity to consider the flowers of the field and the birds of the air. And if while peddling you encounter a burning bush or pearl of great price it is easy to stop and look and wonder. Praying’s easier too! Peddling on its own, or accompanied by a simple repetitive words like the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner.” can still the racing mind and calm the jumpy heart. Life in the slow lane is worth chasing after!

An answer to practical questions like “how”, “where” and “when” is provided by the Broads Bike Trail. Published by Broadland Cycle Hire with support from the Broads Authority and the Norfolk Broads and Rivers Open Churches Project, it describes trails of varying lengths. The longest at 35 miles goes through Hoveton, Wroxham, Ranworth,
South Walsham, Upton, Acle and Horning. On route are Fairhaven Gardens, Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Ranworth Visitors Centre, 16 Broadland churches and for those who, have prayed and peddled their way through quiet lanes and are thirsting after righteousness, there’s the Fur and Feather at Woodbastwick, the brewery tap for Woodforde’s Norfolk Ales.

Broadland Cycle Hire’s base is at the Bewilderwood Treehouse Adventure (more fun for children and the child-like!) between Hoveton and Horning. Tel. No. 07887 480331. They can provide well maintained, modern cycles, helmets and all the appropriate safety equipment together with the necessary advice.

Broads Bike Trail leaflets can be obtained from Broadland Cycle Hire, Gateway Churches of the Norfolk Broads and Rivers Project ( and Broads Authority information centres.

©Richard Woodham 2008

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Taxonomy as Prayer

The names of wild flowers are a poetry all of their own. “Wood anemone, ramsons, bird cherry , bluebell….” Just the mention of bluebells conjures up images of a bright blue, sun dappled carpet on a green wood’s floor, all fresh and new. If I concentrate on the inner vision I can almost hear the sound of a woodpecker hammering and feel the sun’s warmth on my skin fade as I walk into dappled shade. And there’s a sense in the vision of a spiritual presence too – the “sound of the Lord God walking in the Garden”.

As I recite more names, the images become more detailed ……… “early purple orchid, wood spurge, hairy St John’s wort, woodruff, herb Paris, twayblade, yellow archangel…..” soon I can (almost) hear birdsong!

Nowhere in Genesis does the story-teller recount that God brought the flowers of the field before Man/Adam “to see what he would call them”! But we are told about the naming of animals in Genesis 2. 18 and following! Considering/wondering and uttering names – be they common or scientific – can be poetry and prayer !

My inner vision is a collage of memories, some from childhood some more recent. If I let the slide show run for any length of time I know I’ll catch the glimpse of deer slipping silently between the trees – there and then gone! That comes from recent memories and time spent in Foxley, Ashwellthorpe and Wayland Woods.

Trips to the woods in early summer are pilgrimage for me. Though bluebells might be Hyacinthoides non-scripta, or H. hispanica, or the hybrid H. x massartiana the exact variety doesn’t bother me ! Even though losing our native species would be a shame! I go to re-acquaint myself with the reality behind my memories and to connect with the Poet behind Poetry - the Creator behind the Creation!

Experience tells me that if I wait quietly and attentively both deer and God will come close. Well not come close actually! They are already there! Mostly we are too noisy and self-obsessed to notice!

Ashwellthorpe, Wayland and Foxley Woods are managed by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust.

Details of the benefits of membership and access to these and their other reserves can be obtained from their offices at:-

Bewick House, 22 Thorpe Road, Norwich NR1 1RY

Telephone 01603 625540

or on-line at

Photo© Bluebells in Wayland Wood. Photographer David North. Used with permission of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust

Otherwise © Richard Woodham 2008

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Blood, Baptism and Mermaids

The path leads downhill through woods, to open park land with views over the sea. Turn right in front of the big house and you come to the village of Upper Sheringham. The church is dedicated to All Saints. It’s very beautiful, prayerful and welcoming. Visitors are invited to make themselves a drink. A kettle and all the other bits and pieces are left out on a table.

Outside the church a spring of bright water bubbles up from the depths of the earth,. It has been quenching thirsts since first humans passed this way. I wondered if the first Christians were baptised in this water. The walls that bound the springhead and the pool around it were built to celebrate the end of the Napoleonic Wars. An inscription reads “Peace 1814”. I imagined the water of baptism washing away the blood and grime of battle – the water and the blood! How the world needs that purification still!

Taking a little water on the tips of my right hand I blessed myself remembering my baptism. The words of the book Revelation and Jesus promise to the woman at the well came to mind. “To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.” “…..springs of living water welling up to eternal life!” I guess our thirst for peace and justice will never be fully quenched this side of Kingdom Come!

In the mean time I decided to go and have a cup of coffee in church. Inside the door there’s a 15th century pew-end - a carving of a mermaid! And attached to the pew framed short story tells how a mermaid sneaked into church to hear the Gospel. It occurred to me that all the baptised are like mermaids! We live in this world, but we’re not entirely at home here, we yearn for somewhere better. As Hebrews has it “Here we have no abiding city but we look for one that is to come!”

© Richard Woodham 2008

Holy Rood of Bromholme

I parked on the promenade at Walcott and headed towards Mundesley. Gulls wheeled overhead while others stood at the tide line. Near the shoreline Sandeling ran about like clockwork toys on the sand and Turnstones, well, turned stones! In the bitter wind I thought of Mary. Her name in Hebrew Miryam is derived (some say) from the words Mar Yam, Bitter Sea. Bitter wind! Bitter sea! It seemed about right for a Lenten walk!
At the end of a line of bungalows a flight of steps led off the beach. If you come this way you can’t mistake it! There’s a red dog poo bin at the top! From there I followed the rutted track and crossed the main road. Ahead of me was the archway and ruined gatehouse of what had been Bromholme Priory – my destination! The wonder-working Holy Rood of Bromholme, to which pilgrims flocked, was said to be a piece of the True Cross. Found by St. Helena in Jerusalem, it had been brought to England after Constantinople fell to the Muslim armies. After the dissolution of the monasteries, in Henry VIII reign, the once grand building became a stone quarry for the local community and the relic was lost.

Skirting left along the boundary walls I got glimpses of the ruins through the hedge. What, I wondered, was I doing visiting a priory that’s no longer there and a relic that - even if it had been genuine in the first place - was long gone? Walking the Way of the Cross, perhaps! Confronting loss!? Something like that!

I stopped to trace the sign of the cross on my forehead, where I was marked at my baptism! It too is sort of there and not there even though it was renewed in soot on Ash Wednesday and again with healing oils when I was anointed! I walked back along the road finding courage to face some of the sadness of the broken world and some of my own losses too. By the time I got back to the sea front, I could taste the bitterness through and through!

On the promenade was a fish and chip shop still boarded up against the winter gales! I resolved I’d return some day to eat fish on the seashore and celebrate the Risen Christ! With salt and vinegar I wondered!

A Walk in Norwich Cathedral

When it’s cold, wet and dark before tea time how nice it would be to go for a walk inside. You can do it! A handy guide “A Walk Round Norwich Cathedral” is available from the Visitors Desk

As I wandered I stopped to look and wonder, think and pray. It’s not escapism! The Chapel of the Holy Innocents is dedicated to victims of persecution and cruelty in every age!

At St. Luke’s Chapel, I contemplated the beautifully painted reredos that re-tells the story of Christ’s Passion. It was commissioned in 14th Century to celebrate the crushing of the Peasant’s Revolt by the soldier/bishop Henry Despencer. It’s said that Henry returned from his victory to celebrate Holy Communion his hands still red with the blood!

At the Royal Norfolk Regiment’s Chapel I looked at the Book of Remembrance. The 1st Royal Anglian’s who carry the regiment’s tradition today are fresh back from
Afghanistan and not unscathed. I remembered the dead, the grieving, the injured and families!

Finally, sitting in the Bauchun Chapel I found myself gazing equally at John Skelton’s statue of the young Virgin Mary and John Opie’s painting of Presentation of Christ in the Temple. Mary steps forward with eagerness. Simeon proffers the infant Christ as if he was already a sacrifice! I wondered about Temple and cathedral, bloody sacrifices, the joys of motherhood and swords that still pierce mothers’ hearts!

Depressing stuff? It could be, if death had the last word! Revisiting St. Saviour’s and St. Luke’s Chapels, I noticed that both had altar pieces that include the Resurrection. As Christ bursts from the grave, the soldiers are fast asleep! How strange that this world changing event should be missed!