Saturday, 28 June 2014

Melrose Abbey
   Tuesday 26th March saw our party leave Selkirk and take the Borders Abbey Way, up and over quite a big, snowy hill; one of them there ‘southern uplands’. Thus we came to the beautiful ruins of Melrose Abbey, where a young shepherd by the name of Cuthbert first entered monastic life in about the year 650AD. Later, as prior of the monastery on Lindisfarne, he accepted the adjudication of the 664 Synod of Whitby[1] in favour of the Roman method of calculating the date of Easter, but bemoaned the obduracy of some of his monks on this issue, comparing their listening skills unfavourably with those of Holy Island’s grey seal population. In old age he was ordained Bishop against his will; after his death, the magnificent Lindisfarne Gospels were transcribed in his memory. Melrose is also where King Robert the Bruce’s heart is buried, and it was while we were there that I first cottoned on to the extraordinary serendipity in the fact that our gang contained both a ‘Wallace’ and a ‘Bruce’. Bernard did his station, about one of the teachers from his schooldays, which qualified as a religious service, so we got in free instead of having to pay the normal tourist tariff. After scanning all round the ruins for what seemed an age, among the gargoyles I finally tracked down the celebrated ‘pig with bagpipes’ (a hot favourite with visitors), and took a photo. Over lunch of some chips in a nearby pub, we conversed about the things that one is permitted to say are ‘Scotch’, rather than ‘Scottish’, eg Scotch egg, Scotch whisky, Scotch broth, Scotch tape, Scotch pie, Scotch Corner etc. A young fellow at the bar, picking up on the fact that we were pilgrims and therefore Christians, asked if I knew that people (presumably he meant ‘in Scotland’) no longer subscribe to Christianity, to which I replied that yes, I know the numbers don’t look especially healthy, but that nevertheless I’m a ‘glass half full’ sort of person.

   We then had a meander along the Tweed to St Boswells (named after St Boisil, St Cuthbert’s recruiter and teacher at Melrose Abbey), where in the evening I was taken to the home of a kind couple from the CoS parish, who fed me and let me make use of their washing facilities. The husband then having changed into a kilt (complete with sgian-dubh[2], tucked into one of his socks), for a function of some kind that evening, I was dropped off back at the parish hall. From there we went to another splendid ecumenical service, under the auspices of the Church of Scotland, followed by a very generous and delicious buffet supper in the remarkably modern Manse.

   From St Boswells, on Spy Wednesday morning (so-called because it recalls the day when Judas Iscariot first conspired with the Sanhedrin to betray Our Lord for thirty silver coins), we resumed our path along the Tweed, and crossed over a bridge in order to visit an extraordinary, 10 metre high 19th century Wallace monument, where I milked for all it was worth a joke about the fact that there was no statue of Gromit. Visible from here are the Eildon Hills, where King Arthur is said to sleep, until being roused in order to save Britain in its hour of greatest need. Then we came to much more windswept, snowy, open country, and Smailholm Tower, built in the 16th century or earlier, from the top of which on a clear day one is supposed to be able to see Edinburgh. Kindly invited in (though it wasn’t officially open) and ascending the spiral stair, we were greeted by figures, in glass cases, of fairy queens and princesses, knights in shining armour, and a special class of local delinquent, the border reiver (cattle rustlers - still occasionally active in the 21st century I might add); the sort of characters who crop up in the classic 19th century series of adventures, very popular in its day, ‘Wilson’s Tales of the Borders’. In the afternoon Amy did a great station about St Paul’s letter to the Romans;

“Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.” [Romans 12:5-5] 

Then we passed by next to the exceptionally grand Floors castle, before reaching Kelso, where I was amused to see a local teenager, of black African descent, running past in short sleeves, snow swirling all round him. Scots grow up relatively more accustomed to the cold, no matter where their forefathers came from.

   Henry Francis Lyte was a nineteenth century Anglican divine who wrote the words to the famous hymn ‘Abide with Me’, traditionally sung at every English FA Cup final. His birth near Kelso was one of the things that came up that evening, over a delicious supper enjoyed by Jessica and myself, in the company of Reverend ‘Bob’ and two parishioners. We also compared notes about various musicals of the stage and screen, and our host memorably explained that, in making the Scotch trifle we had for dessert, he had been ‘stingy’ with the sherry – to which my suggestion, that perhaps this is what made it a ‘Scotch’ trifle, was almost as instinctive and automatic as, say, withdrawing one’s hand from a flame. It was Jessica however who expertly dug me out of my hole, pointing out quite correctly that all available evidence was stacked against the idea that Scottish people are stingy. I gave a small box of shortbread to Rev Bob in token of our gratitude, when we’d been brought back to the parish hall, from which one can gain access to a very fine church, designed by Frederick Thomas Pilkington.

Snow-clad cricket pitch, Kelso
   Getting away reasonably promptly on Maundy Thursday morning, snow-clad Kelso was remarkable not least for its cricket pitch, which I snapped. After crossing the Tweed via a modern bridge, on a disused railway line that made up much of our pre-lunch walking I spotted a fawn and a hare. David did a station about St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, during which I noticed that our cross had been placed next to a large coil of barbed wire, recalling Our Lord’s crown of thorns. Sometime later, I had the bright idea that maybe we should all, as it were, ‘psych ourselves up’, and possibly even get together in an American-style ‘huddle’, to prepare for the exhilarating prospect of making a bid for the English frontier. No sooner had I started suggesting this to someone however, than I was told casually that we’d been in England for about the last three quarters of an hour! Everyone else knew this, except me.

[1] The opening words of St Wilfrid at this Synod, as transmitted to us by St Bede the Venerable, deserve to be reproduced here. St Wilfrid is the archetype of the great Briton who is thoroughly au fait with life on the continent, and brings this wisdom to bear on his relations with his fellow countrymen. William Shakespeare was similar in this respect. 
"The Easter which we observe we saw, celebrated by all at Rome, where the blessed apostles, Peter, and Paul, lived, taught, suffered, and were buried - we saw the same done in Italy and in France, when we I traveled through those countries for pilgrimage and prayer. found that Easter was celebrated at one and the same time in Africa, Asia, Egypt, Greece, and all the world, wherever the Church of Christ is spread abroad, through the various nations and tongues ; except only among these and their accomplices in obstinacy, I mean the Picts and the Britons, who foolishly, in these two remote islands of the world, and only in part even of them, oppose all the rest of the universe."
[2] ‘Is this a dagger that I see before me?’ Basically, yes.

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