Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Thoughts from Matthew

A friend who is a regular churchgoer and frequent sailor in Hong Kong says that he feels closer to God on his boat than in church. Two wonder-filled days aboard Alexandria II sailing down the east coast of Scotland andNorthumbria and reminded me of what my friend means.  For me, significant places and amazing creatures show the divine in all things.

As a Cathedral spotter, it was good to see the three spires of St Mary's Cathedral amidst Edinburgh's dramatic skyline as we headed east in the Firth of Forth.  St Mary’s was consecrated in 1879 and is Scotland’s largest Cathedral - part of the Scottish Episcopal Church (like the Church of England, part of the Anglican Communion).


Prominent in the Firth of Forth was an atmospheric looking abbey on an island.  I've since learnt it is Inchcolm Abbey - founded in the reign of King Alexander I of Scotland(1107–24), who was washed ashore there after a shipwreck in 1123, and took shelter in a hermit's hovel. A medieval inscription carved above the Abbey's entrance reads: Stet domus haec donec fluctus formica marinos ebibat, et totum testudo permabulet orbem 'May this house stand until an ant drains the flowing sea, and a tortoise walks around the whole world'.  They prayed it would be there for a wee while!


Any visit to Lindisfarne is nourishing and refreshing, but to approach by sea with the effort involved and the steady pace (see Martin's blog entry for last Saturday) makes it a pilgrimage.  The monks of old used coracles to travel the seas.  The difference between those tubs and the sophistication and comfort of Alexandria II illustrates well how different the lives of those 7th century monks were to modern living.  There are many legends associated with such a holy place.  A favourite is how St Cuthbert, as part of his rigorous self discipline, waded one night into the icy cold sea and prayed there til daybreak.  Returning to the beach, two sea otters came to warm and dry him.


The North East has Celtic Christianity in its soul with its distinctive crosses, entwined patterns and references to the Trinity.  Creation is at its heart too.  My three nature highlights from my time aboard Alexandria II are jelly fish, seals and gannets.  From large jelly fish with reddish brown centres to small ones with bright purple, these amazing creatures look like aliens from another world.  More than 10 seals looked at us with heads bobbing out of the water as we left Lindisfarne, supremely adapted to their marine environment which is so different to ours.  (We learnt from our Dutch neighbours in Eyemouth that the Dutch for seal is zeehond, literally 'sea dog'.) We gazed at hundreds and hundreds of gannets diving into the sea, turning and plummeting down to fish, first in the Firth of Forth and then as we passed Bass Rock.  Over and over again their rather ungainly body shape becoming a perfect dart when they folded their wings back and plunged.


48 hours aboard and so many highlights. A real treat for me to travel that way with my connections to Northumbria through my father’s family.  I am deeply grateful to Alexandria II and her generous and gracious skipper for these life-enhancing experiences. 

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