No one could justifiably dispute the atmospherics of the great cathedrals of England.
When visiting one, I am always in awe of the amazing spaces created by the craftsmen of old, using simple tools, to celebrate the faith of the communities they served.
Here in the North we have so many to choose from, perhaps most notably York, Durham and Lincoln. Last Christmas I visited a concert in Manchester Cathedral and amid the massive columns, illuminated by candlelight, the atmosphere was stunning.
Strangely though I am more moved by the tiny little wayside churches of the remoter places. A couple of weeks ago I was in the little gem that is Hubberholme Church, an ancient place (12th Century) of worship north of Kettlewell. Other favourites include St Enodoch’s at Rock near Padstow, Buttermere Church, Muker Church in Swaledale and many more.
But if I had a favourite, it would be one of the smallest churches in England. Set in one of the most rugged parts of Lakeland, at the head of England’s deepest lake, it stands in the shadow of some our finest mountains: Pillar, Scafell, Scafell Pike and Great Gable. The little churchyard holds the remains of climbers who fell to their deaths on those very same mountains.
In a landscape almost devoid of trees, Wasdale Head Church is encircled by sheltering yew trees. This church has no soaring columns or flying buttresses but its simple rustic charm has a lovely comforting feel. Inscribed in one window are the wholly appropriate words from the Bible “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my strength.” That is precisely how I feel when I travel across our northern hilly landscape.
Earlier this week I was the lucky recipient of some fairly taxing dental work. This was not a 15-minute appointment but involved me being worked on in the chair for around one hour, 20 minutes. Believe me that is a long time to have pick axes, drills, vacuum cleaners and hosepipes thrust into your mouth.
The first five minutes were fairly hellish but I resolved to distract myself by walking (in my mind) up dear old Pendle Hill from the Nick, something I have done in real terms dozens of times. This was not something to rush but to savour – just as well as things turned out.
I tried to think of every detail, from letting Monty and Rory out of the car (they never met but did so on this journey), crossing the road, scrambling up the rough path, and onto the broad stony track that runs up to Apronful Hill and across the exposed plateau towards the great cleft of Ogden Clough.
In my mind’s eye, I tried to remember every twist and turn of the path, the scatterings of stones, the rough grasses, even puddles. The dogs scrambled down the steep sides of Ogden Clough to drink and paddle as I followed the little path along the side of the ravine.
As the path and stream drew level I cut across to the peaty hags onto the paved way across the moor top towards the summit, which was clear of mist giving good views towards the Gisburn Road and the Dales. It was here George Fox in 1652 was moved to “see in what places He had a great people to be gathered” which led to the formation of the Quaker movement.
Bearing left at the summit, my route hugged the eastern escarpment which fell away to the right, before crossing the wall and heading west along the broad grassy track to the next wall, pausing to admire the views across the Ribble Valley.
Over the wall and ahead I could see the cairned path leading to the wind shelter and the Scout Cairn at the head of Mearley Clough. From that point the path is clear but muddy in places. At the broken wall I took the rough route across the tussock grasses back to the main path at Ogden Clough before returning over Black Hill and Apronful Hill for the long descent back to the car at the nick after a perfect walk.
Unfortunately for me the dentist was still busy chipping and drilling away when I got back to the car, and so I had to sit there for 15 minutes while he finished his work. Nevertheless, I had lifted up my eyes to the hills from whence cometh my strength to ease me through over an hour in that dentist’s chair.
So I have to say that although it was not a moment of religious exhilaration as experienced by say George Fox, nevertheless I was able to (wait for it) Transcend Dental Medication.
Have a very Happy Christmas!