Edinburgh and the Northumbria Community, Part 2

The Village Cottages on Iona
Hi there it's Amy here…I'm going to try my hand at the blogging this week. I think we left off at Iona… well we went on to Edinburgh by way of 2 ferries, a long bus ride, and 2 different trains. It was actually our hardest transition yet. Maybe it's because we have had a long string of traveling, maybe because Mike's allergies were the worst they have been so far, maybe it's b-cuz we paid double the fair for the bus ride as we should have (and couldn't get the refund), maybe it's b-cuz when we checked into our hotel in Edinburgh they had not received our online confirmation so we had to pay the higher price, or maybe we were just tired; maybe all of these! Anyhoo, we spent a few moments pouting …then pulled ourselves together and went out to tour the beautiful city of Edinburgh with our walking shoes on and our rain jackets handy.

Amy in the Prison of War
Edinburgh is a great city, one of my favorites so far, with its beautiful buildings, large sidewalks, lots of pubs and lively folk music, a castle at one end of the Royal Mile and the queen's sometime home, the Holyrood Palace at the other. Mike and I had a full day touring the castle which had a personal significance to me. I have an ancestor, Cornelius Howland, who was a prisoner of war there from the American War of Independence and has a cool story of escaping from the castle. So we looked around with very curious eyes and hearts of gratitude. Among other things, the castle is also the keeper of the crown jewels and the "destiny stone" that has been sat upon by each king since the first king of Scotland and every British monarch during their coronation. (It actually sits under the throne in Westminster Abbey during coronations in modern times.)

William Wallace
Saturday night we met a couple at the World's End Pub. With a thick Scottish accent he told us he was the shortest of his brothers (he was 6'1") but proud to be a descendant of William Wallace. We talked a bit, and his wife came up to talk. It was hard to understand their accents at first, but they had lots to say about the church after they heard Mike was a pastor. They knew the American church was more into community than churches in Scotland, and for him that's most important. She said she grew up religious, but church isn't relevant for her. He asked if we talked about the future and heaven or life in the present.

Haggis with Neeps and Tatties
We sat down at a table and continued our conversation over Haggis, Neeps and Tatties, ales and his favorite single malt whisky. He went on to talk about how important it is to find a place where you can be yourself and not be criticized, where you can join together to do good, where you can talk about important things, and not just be superficial. It's clear now that God had arranged that meeting for us. I hope they were encouraged, but we were frustrated by the church and understood more why the Iona Community has such traction and is such a meaningful alternative for many Christians. Our experience Saturday night at this famous pub influenced our experience of church the next morning.

Guarding the door for worship
On Sunday we went to worship and communion in the St Giles High Kirk of Scotland where John Knox was known for preaching his fiery sermons and converting people to the Protestant gospel. We heard a beautiful, angelic sounding choir, and enjoyed the beauty of the lofty ceiling and nave. But I found it hard to follow along on the unfamiliar hymns, let alone find them in the Psalter and the man sitting next to me was not too friendly or helpful. The sermon was nice, but it went in one ear and out the other. I guess by now, after I've visited so many churches and communities that what I'm really looking for a friendly handshake, a genuine smile or simple greeting that says, "I see you, and you are welcome here" or some kind of friendly hospitality. (We did have a very tasty flapjack, sort of a sticky granola bar and coffee in the café downstairs of the church.)

Mike at John Knox's House
We ended our weekend in Edinburgh at John Knox's house, a medieval house preserved because they thought it might have been his house for a few months and maybe the place where he died. Above the doorway to the house it says, "Lvfe God abvfe all and lvfe ye neighbor as ye self." Mike captured some of Knox's quotes and his legacy on another page.

Enjoying Mike's Welsh Cakes
This past Monday afternoon we trained south to Berwick upon Tweed, England, returning to the Northumbria Community in the Hetton Hall retreat house that we enjoyed 2 weeks ago. It felt really good to be met at the train station by someone we knew! It felt like seeing an old friend, and felt good to come back to a place that was familiar. We got into the rhythm of prayer offices right away and were happy to see dinner cooked for us and on the table. Mike and I had heard this week would be a week of a little teaching and leading on a topic, but it turns out that was not so. SO, instead of being disappointed, we put our thoughts together and planned out our week and shared our desires of what we'd like to accomplish. This is where we come back to the principles of the pilgrimage that we set out with…letting go, reflection, being led, giving thanks for all we see and people we meet, and praying… It's all a great reminder and a way of living for us today, this week, and when we get home. So with these things on our minds, we decided to hike more of St Cuthbert's pilgrimage trail and decided which books or liturgy we wanted to read and discuss.

Walking the Holy Island
I get excited about walking a trail and following a map (some of my family calls me "walkabout") so we mapped out parts of Cuthbert's trail which we had not walked on our previous visit. One day was a nice, meandering 4 mile walk along lanes, farm roads, through pastures, and over stone bridges back to the house. Another day we walked from the house along Cuthbert's Way to the North Sea (beginning of the causeway to the Holy Island) which turned out to be a surprisingly easy 7 miles. Along the way we may have seen 4 other people and probably hundreds of cows and sheep. It keeps ya on yer toes going through the pastures and the minefields of "pies" shall we say! Also, we usually have a liturgy we read aloud at different intervals and talk about it. Here's an example of what we used today as we walked along the beach at Bamburgh Castle where St. Oswald ruled when Aidan was on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne:

The Castle on Holy Island
I pray the protection of Christ to clothe me, Christ to enfold me, to surround me and guard me this day and every day, surrounding me and my companions, enfolding me and every friend.

We pray for ourselves, for the gift of friendship and of faithfulness; and that we would be freed from selfishness. We will journey with the kind-hearted Savior. If we have fed the hungry from our own table God will feed us with all good gifts.

We will keep before us the deepening and the strengthening of our companions' faith, assisting each other in meditation and prayer…

As the tide draws the waters close in upon the shore, make me an island, set apart, alone with You, God, holy to You.

Then with the turning of the tide, prepare me to carry Your presence to the busy world that rushes in on me, till the waters come again and fold me back to You.

We will end our time here in Northumberland on Saturday, train to Durham for two days and to London for 12 days before flying home.

Letting go has been an important part of our journey. Letting go of what is comfortable, familiar, routine for the sake of seeing things with new eyes. It was great to pudge in the shallow water of the North Sea today. It felt like being home and walking along our own beach.


  1. Thanks, Amy! Fun to hear from your perspective.

  2. Hi Amy,

    I think you've got this blogging stuff done real well. I enjoyed reading it - can't wait to see some more pictures.

    Rick Jaynes

  3. Oops! I meant to say - you've go this blogging stiff "down" real well...



  4. Soooo glad I went on the computer tonight to see your entry via Mike's FB. Write again. Janean

  5. Dear "Walkabout,"

    I think your postings were excellent. It was nice to hear your insights too!
    Laura de G.

  6. In addition to your experiences and frustrations, I loved your honesty, Amy. Thanks for sharing the liturgy. It was beautiful!
    Judy Cours

  7. Hi Amy and Mike,
    Thank you so much for relaying the beauty of your travels. Through your eyes,words and pics I feel like I'm there with you both. Oh how I wish! You are REALLY missed but know that we see God at work with you and through you on this journey. Looking forward to your next blog...and to see you soon.

    Barb K-M


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