Three weeks ago, my friend Jean and I at the start (end?) of Offa's Dyke at Sedbury Cliffs in the Bristol Channel. It's an odd kind of start/end to a walk because you have to walk through some very muddy fields and up a steep bank in order to get to the stone and officially start (or end) your walk. Then you have to back track to the road as you set off for Prestatyn (starting) or to Sedbury/Chepstow (ending). Seems a bit like life sometimes- you have to go backwards in order to go forwards. Perhaps I should have read the sign for how much to-ing and fro-ing I'd be doing in the following weeks!
This sign appears on the gates at either end of Disgwylfa Hill, one of the many we climbed up, over, round and down in the two weeks of walking. I combines gentle humour with some thought provoking ideas: a reminder that we don't actually own the earth and we should respect it.
Disgwylfa Hill is a gift from God
Or whomever you believe in
Please cherish it as we do
Don't dump your scrap or tin.
We wish to preserve the beauty
Of this green and pleasant land
So don't be selfish, have a heart,
And help us make a stand.
This is a heartfelt message
To all you lazy dumpees
Take away your rubbish and litter
Don't leave it here, PLEASE
For those of you who do not care
And ignore our message too
Just remember that these hills have eyes
And they are watching YOU
Doggerel it may be, but doggerel I approve of!
St Mary's, Newchurch, is an old Anglican church with no loos and no running water, but who gave grasped something of Matthew 25. The church is open all the time for walkers and visitors to help themselves to tea, coffee, soft drinks and biscuits. Someone makes sure there is fresh water, someone supplies the milk, someone washes the cups... and it's all given for FREE.
It was amazing how many other walkers asked us 'did you find the church that was giving away drinks AND biscuits?' I was inspired and humbled by these folk, in a church with some brass that could get nicked, a building that could get vandalised, but hearts after the Lord's own heart. "I was thirsty and you gave me to drink, I was hungry and you fed me"
Great mission, witness, gospel, whatever (and the tea was good too!)
"The earth is charged with the grandeur of God"
Perhaps surprisingly these words were quoted in my walk guide - but it was certainly our experience as we were repeatedly struck by the wonder of what we saw - yellow gorse, purple heather, wild ponies, grouse, butterflies, patchwork fields, ribbon roads, distant coastline - and heard - bleating sheep, lowing cattle, birdsong - and felt - blustery wind, scorching sun, drenching rain. Claims that Britain is full up seemed bizarre in the face of so much empty countryside and all those nature hymns/psalms took on fresh meaning along the way.
We had a lot of fun along the way, but there were moments when it was plain old fashioned slog, and times when it hurt (a sprained ankle apiece and some 200m+ steep climbs to boot, have their impact!). Yet, each time we finally topped a hill/mountain the pain was forgotten as we enjoyed the views. But if you are reading this, and know Jean, beware her saying 'it goes up to start with' as this probably prefaces a 300m continuous steep climb with almost no footholds in the grass!
I wouldn't want anyone reading this to think the walk was a serious, theological enterprise -if you could have seen your tame Baptist minister person doubled up in hysterical giggles (with her legs crossed of necessity!) as her friend joked about health and saftey as we walked back from the pub (having drunk only lime and soda, honestly) to Hyacinth Bucket's B&B you would certainly know otherwise! Nonetheless, theology - or spirituality anyway - has/have a habit of breaking into anything and everything. Not that this should surprise us, afterall God's Spirit blows where it will, God's wisdom fills creation and heaven is closer than our own breathing.
So, to end, here I am looking out over miles and miles of countryside towards the sea, towards jouney's end at Prestatyn - which of course is but the beginning of another journey, more adventures, laughter, pain, highs and lows.