Secular Pilgrimage 2: A visit to the Pink Floyd “Their Mortal Remains” exhibition and the V&A.

Ever since I was a teenager I have been enthralled by the music and art of Pink Floyd, sonically, lyrically and artistically they spoke into my world then, and still do today. They were famous for their musical invention, for their willingness to address thorny issues such as madness, warfare and isolation, and for their wonderful artwork in their album covers and their stage sets. Having missed out on the V&A Bowie exhibition there was no chance I would miss out on this, I also found my ideal companion for this “pilgrimage” in John Rocha: Floyd are his favourite band!

You have timed slots to enter the exhibition, as you do so you are handed an audio devise with headphones which you are told not to touch apart from the volume as it will be triggered as you walk through the exhibition. The first sound you hear is the song “Echoes” from the album “Meddle”. You then enter the exhibition proper opposite a 3D artwork of the “Darkside of the Moon” cover through a larger “mock-up” on the Bedford van the band used to get to and from their early gigs.

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You then enter the psychedelic 60’s which spawned their early sound and artwork. Throughout the exhibition there are phone boxes which have artwork, headlines and images of each period in time, as a way of linking the music and art of Floyd to the time they were produced. The next room shows you the early years and the first few albums, as well as documenting the turmoil that led to Syd Barrett leaving and being replaced by David Gilmore. There are video screens whose sound gets triggered as you walk near filled with band interviews talking about there influences, what was going on in their world and what they were trying to achieve through their art.

You then move into a room which explains the thoughts and sounds around their Iconic “Dark side of the Moon”, the political influences, the discussion of madness and the sonic experimentation. Videos talk of how they embraced very early sequencers, guitars that Gilmore used for certain songs (with both instruments on display!), and what their album artwork was about.

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From there you move through a room explaining the album “Wish you were here” and how Gilmore and Waters wrote the title track.

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The next room is filled with stage sets linked to the next two albums: Animals and The Wall. With the huge inflatable pigs and sheep (plus the worrying and amusing story of the photo shoot with the inflatable pig over Battersea Power station!). This was were art and stage sets linked to bring the music and imagery to the audience. A brief section on “The Final Cut” and then and few rooms dedicated to there final 3 studio albums and live album “Pulse”.

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As if that isn’t enough as you enter a final room you read a sign that says “Please remove your headphones”. In that room images are projected onto all 4 walls and you are treated to the “video” to their first hit “Arnold Lane”; then their final hit “The division bell” before, finally, concert footage from Live8, when they “reformed”, of the wonderful “Comfortably numb”. The sound, the filming and this room is worth the entry fee alone!

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Three of the most memorable hours I have spent were at this exhibition, it felt like a pilgrimage, paying homage to the art, the music and the talent that is Pink Floyd. Wonderful!

Carnac: A place of Pilgrimage for nearly 7,000 years.

Carnac is a small town in southern Brittany just north of the seaside resort of Quiberon. The town itself is pretty but in itself unremarkable. When Dad and I arrived there on a Tuesday afternoon we were amazed how sleepy it seemed, saying “If this was in England it would be heaving with visitors.” However, Carnac is world famous for something that lies just beyond the edge of the town: its standing stones.

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There are, literally, thousands of these stretching for several miles to the west of the town, they all stand neatly in lines although there are occasional “Dolmen”, that is a group of standing stones together.

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Each stone represents a burial site, the Dolmen is a group burial site. What makes these stone stand out further is the fact that they were erected between 5,000B.C. and 4,000B.C. during the stone age with extremely primitive tools used to carve and erect them.

If you are to visit the stones then you are advised to go first to the Town and visit the Museum of Prehistory which tells the story of the stones, shows you the tools used to make them and also tells the story of those who have excavated the sites and found out how these things came to be and why the came to be. It is from these excavations that they found the stones to be burial sites, they worked out the alignment of the stones in those straight lines to be linked the “lay-lines” and placed as they were with great ritual.

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Going to the Museum makes sense of the stones before you go to see them. (A piece of advise: check when the museum is open, its closed on Tuesdays in June for example and Wednesday is market day, which is one of the biggest markets I’ve seen when the sleepy town really comes to life!).

After learning about the stones visiting them is stunning. You see how they are all aligned, you can make out rough carvings on some of them, but you are always thinking “how was it possible to do this with such primitive tools and knowledge”. You can walk the site in several hours or you can move from site to site by car (there are also bus trips but they are all delivered in French which is a problem if you have no French like me!).

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So why has this site been a place of pilgrimage for so long? Partly because of why the stones are there: a place to remember the dead, a place to pray and hope that they are safe beyond death. The questions that humanity has been trying to answer for centuries, why are we here and what happens beyond this life. Also, later, there came two legends, amazingly similar, that linked the stones to the Christian world. The first concerns St Cornelius, to whom the Church in Carnac is dedicated. In the 1st Century A.D. during Roman persecutions of Christians he is said to have prayed as the people were being attacked by Legionaries and these were all turned to stone after his prayer (hence the stones all being in lines). The other story is from the Legends surrounding King Arthur, he was being attacked by his enemies in the Carnac area and the Wizard Merlin turned his enemies into stone! Both stories are amazing in that local folk accepted them even though the stones themselves pre-dated and pre-existed them!

Whether you go for the Legends, for the History of simply to see a man made wonder you cannot go to Carnac and leave without a sense of awe, amazement and wonder.

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An “Unintentional” Pilgrimage to Mont Saint Michel Abbey.

My Dad and I travelled to Brittany with the express view of visiting Carnac and its famous stones. However, my Dad pointed out that arriving at St Malo we would only need a small detour to visit the iconic Mont Saint Michel. I jumped at the opportunity and it was not a disappointment.

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Mont St Michel is situated on an Island and the end of a causeway, much like Lindisfarne, but the “mound” on top of which the Abbey sits is far more spectacular and instantly recognisable. The Abbey is dedicated to the Archangel St Michael, who is the head of the Heavenly Armies of God (cf Daniel 10:13-21; Revelation 12:7). Michael is said to have appeared to Aubert, Bishop of Avranches in 708 and he built an Abbey in Honour of the Archangel. It soon became a centre of pilgrimage and in the 10th Century the Benedictine Monks settled in the abbey and a community grew beneath its walls. Michael is not only the “protector” of the weak and vulnerable, the one through whom we pray when we are attacked as Christians, he is also a patron saint for Knights and in the middle ages the abbey became a centre of Pilgrimage for many knights. So much so that a hall was dedicated for their specific use. The Abbey and Mont became an impregnable stronghold during the 100 Years War and as well as being a wonderful example of church architecture it also became an example of military architecture too, and a symbol of National Identity. The dissolution of French monasteries happened in 1863 and the Abbey became a prison and then became an historic monument in 1874. Recently it has reopened its doors to the Benedictine Order and is very much a place of Pilgrimage again.

You climb to it through the winding streets which are filled with traders selling “tat” for the tourists. Its bustling and busy but the further up the Mont you climb the less crowded it becomes.

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The entry and guides to the Abbey are first class and well organised. The Abbey itself is stunning.

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The guide amazingly candid about why some of the lower halls “exist”, mainly to hold up the abbey above them! The views are as amazing as the architecture, and on a stunning summer day, like the day Dad and I visited truly exceptional.

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Truly a place of pilgrimage, homage and prayer and to think we might not have gone if my Dad hadn’t suggested it!

A “secular” Pilgrimage: The Historic Dockyard, Portsmouth.

Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard, at the heart of this Great Naval City and training base for the Royal Navy, is a place of homage, wonder and learning. Many people visit it each day wanting to get a glimpse of the past and some understanding of how that might point us to the future. Some of the artefacts, exhibits and Museums incorporated on the site and those across the Solent attached to the site talk uniquely about the History of our Nation and the world of Naval warfare. Other’s speak more widely about the folly and horrors of war. Whilst others are so important that it led the Dad of my friend, Caron Romaine, to describe it as “England’s Pompeii”.

I will start with the exhibit that most clearly shows what Caron’s Dad was talking about: The remains of the Mary Rose and the exhibition that surrounds it. Mary Rose was Henry VIII’s flagship which sank in the Solent due to a mixture of bad weather and bad fortune, killing all but 39 of her crew. Having sunk half of her hull went into the mud which preserved that half along with many of the artefacts that where on-board. Everything from shoes, to longbows, from musical instruments to canon, from cooking utensils so muskets where preserved. Some, like the musical instruments are so unique that they have only been seen in period drawings before. All these give us a unique view into the Tudor world and tell us more about our past than we could ever imagine. The preserved half-hull is now standing on its side in the exhibition and has holographic projections of live action reconstructions of what would be going on in each part of the ship. Every artefact you see is original. It truly is an awesome place to visit, truly unique, truly inspirational.

The other thing to visit of the greatest Historical interest is HMS Victory, Admiral Nelson’s Flagship which he led into the Battle of Trafalgar, a battle Britain won, but at the cost of many lives including that of Nelson himself. Walking about on such an important part of British History is a beyond words experience. This ship symbolised, for many, all that we achievable by our Nation at the time, all that made it great, and also the terrible hardship and suffering endured by those who sailed and fought on-board her. Today it is still a place of homage for many, a remembrance service is still held on Trafalgar day every year and there is a plaque that marks the spot where Nelson fell and ultimately died. Living History.

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On the main site there are two other vessels to visit that are interesting if not as significant as Mary Rose and Victory. The first is HMS Warrior which was the first iron-clad warship. It sailed under a mixture of steam and sail power and would have been crewed by 700 men. It was such an impressive vessel that it immediately superseded all other warships because of its strength, its speed and the weight of the weaponry it carried. As a result it never fired a gun in anger, it acted as a deterrent.

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The other is M33, a ship that was a folly really. It was supposed to be a ship that could get close into shore and down rivers and use its guns to great effect. In the end it was so badly designed it had to be “tugged” to its destination, ended up being built almost entirely differently from the plans drawn up and had to have the mounts for its guns re-enforced so that they didn’t pull the ship apart. Despite all this it saw live action at Gallipoli in WW1, when its crew of seventy (the ship is tiny) where of that bay for 3 years together without shore leave. These 2 vessels might not have the Historical gravitas of Mary Rose or Victory but the stories they tell give a fuller picture of developments and mistakes in the History of our Navy.

The dockyard also has some important exhibitions, like the one on the Battle of Jutland from World War 1; and exhibition on Nelson, a history of the Royal navy and a temporary exhibition on the WRNS. These are in themselves excellent and worthwhile and all allow people to interact with the past and also to leave memories of their own or families experiences in the Navy.

There are other sites to visit, other things to do, but Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard is a place of learning, a place of awe and a place of Homage. People go to be amazed and come away awestruck by what they have seen. It truly is a place of Pilgrimage for many.

Thoughts on the eve of GE17: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10b)

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In 1999, after Tony Blair’s Government had been in power approximately 2 years, my Dad said to me, “I really can’t see the difference, economically, between what this Labour Government is doing and what the Tories were doing before them.” My reply, after a long pause for thought was. “I think the difference is that Blair’s Government are doing everything with a smile on their faces and a desire to put a smile on everyone’s face, where as the Tories always seem to want us to be miserable.”

For centuries the Tory party was led by the Ruling elite, aristocratic families sent their sons (politics being a male only domain for most of this time) to “lead” the country. As time went on it became obvious that this way of dealing with things meant that the majority of people had no say, that the workers views weren’t being heard. That was how the birth of the Labour and Trades Union Movements came about. Through those two movements people began to realise that they had a voice and a means of being heard and eventually a Labour Government was elected and things that affected every working family came into being: The NHS; Social Benefit and Workers Rights. The Tory party began to realise that they were out of step and so strived to ditch the image of them being the party of the ruling elite and to become the party of the business classes. This is an image they have strived to keep but is it truly what they are doing now?

It is becoming apparent that they think a steely, serious image will make them appear to be the sensible economic choice for voters. That by keeping that serious edge to what they are doing people will trust them. However, beneath that veneer of seriousness is a drive for power and keeping it at all costs. To make sure that they, and the few they truly represent, always have power. In so doing they are returning to their old ways of being the ruling elite.

The problem of the ruling elite and their striving for complete control and power is that they don’t care for the many. In fact it serves their purposes best to keep the majority down and “in their place”. The ideology behind this is that if we are so downtrodden and struggling to survive we won’t be able to change or challenge anything they suggest. It is the same ideology of the Religious Leaders at the time of Jesus, by keeping people down, by making them think they weren’t good enough, they had power over them. Jesus knew this and wanted to break people free of these bonds. He wanted them not just to have life but to have it abundantly. To truly live not just to exist.

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That is why tomorrow I’ll be voting Labour. I’ll be voting for a party that wants us all to live life abundantly, a party that wants to do things “For the many, not the few”. I want my children to have all the opportunities they have worked for and deserve. I want there to be proper healthcare for all, and not just those who can afford it. I want there to be proper social heath-care for all. I want Schools to be properly funded and for every child to have the resources they need to receive the education they deserve. I want people to feel safe because there are enough Police Officers, people in the Fire Service, Ambulance drivers, Paramedics, Nurses and Doctors. Proper support for our armed Forces. I want to see fair wages for all; I want to see proper support for the Disabled and those with mental health issues; I want our pensioners to feel safe and secure. I want life for all, and want them to have it abundantly!

Many will Vote Tory tomorrow. Before you do please first ask yourself these questions: If you have children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren do you want them to have the education the deserve, or a cheap substandard education that doesn’t benefit their future? Do you want your young people to be able to get a sustainable job with pay that helps them live, not rely on hand-outs from their families or Foodbanks? Do you want them to be able to get on the housing ladder? If you are approaching pensionable age or are a pensioner do you want to be able to feel secure in your future, that there will be the care support you may need in the future and that you won’t be worried about your finances in years to come? Do you want to live in the knowledge that the streets are safe that there are the police and security services there we need. And for us all: Do you want to know there is a NHS for everyone, free and the point of entry?

Jesus said “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) That is why I’m voting Labour, I’m voting for the many not the few.



Some tips about going on a Pilgrimage after my own experience.

Having taken to comments of yesterday about having a purpose, as “reason” for going on a Pilgrimage and also surrounding that Pilgrimage in Prayer I hope the following further advise will be helpful.

1. Get some proper quality boots! I specifically went to my friend and parishoner Peter Wheatley who works at a Cotswold Outdoor store to get mine. Pete spent time measuring my feet and trying on different boots that might be right. He was aware of the route I was walking and the kind of boot I’d need. They were the most expensive pair of footwear I have ever bought but they were worth every penny. I would say that they are the most comfortable shoes/boots I own. I didn’t have a single blister and, whilst my legs ached every day, my feet were fine. It is also good to get proper socks to wear too!

2. Make sure you are prepared for all weathers. My Dad and I had two cars with us, so we could have one car at the start of the days walking and one at the end. This meant that we had two car-boots that we could fill will enough clothes, should we get drenched through, and enough for each evening once we’d showered and rested. One thing we forgot was sunscreen! In the Borders and Northumberland in early May we thought we wouldn’t need it, but we did!

3. Think your accommodation through carefully. With two cars we knew we could use two bases for the entirety of the walk. One was at St Boswell’s and one at Millfield. These enabled us to be near enough to both the start and finish each day which was important. Both places we stayed at had excellent facilities and good food and drink. It is important to feel refreshed and relaxed each day and also to feel you’ve had a good breakfast to set you on your way. The two ladies we met on the final four days where walking from B&B to B&B which is another way of doing it, only you then have to carry your overnight clothes too! Find a way that will work for you, but aim for the best accommodation you can afford.

4. Preparation. I have been asked “Did you have to do any special training before you went?” Short answer: no. However, I did do some walking to “break in” my new boots, and also a bit of cycling to make sure I was not “unfit.” Wainwright, the great walking author and authority on walking says, “Don’ t get fit for the walk, get fit on it!” One note of caution, The St Cuthbert’s Way is not an easy root, there are some massive climbs and some are very steep indeed. If you have health issues think very carefully before embarking on it!

5. Take enough provisions for each day and no more. Dad and I got by with two bottles of water, a banana and some energy bars each most days. You need sustenance but you don’t want to over do it.

6. Walk in a rhythm. It is easier, especially on flat ground, to get a rhythm going in your walking. It is even better if that rhythm is similar to your companions. Dad and I had walked together a few times and knew that we liked to walk at a similar pace which made life easier.

7. Know your route! Although The St Cuthbert’s Way is well signed, especially in Scotland, there are times when you are walking in woodland, on the moors and on open hillsides. So have a map for each day, have the guide book handy to refer to and have keen eyes for markers. If you are unsure stop, read the map and the guide and think carefully before moving!

8. Enjoy it! There were, despite many challenges faced, times of laughter, elation and joy throughout the Pilgrimage. I often walked with a huge smile on my face. Even on the two occasions when I said to myself “Why am I doing this? Its pure vanity!” I soon found myself in a different place, lifted by my Dad, or the scenery, or the wildlife or the prayers and thoughts I had on the Way. It was, simply, one of the most wonderful experiences I have ever had.

Over the next couple of months I will occasionally blog again about different sorts of Pilgrimage and Pilgrimage experiences. You don’t have to walk to go on a Pilgrimage, any kind of journey using any sort of transport can be a Pilgrimage. What I learned is that, for me, Lindisfarne is a special place, a place I feel more at “home” every time a go there and also a place where I feel closer to God. I am sure there are similar places for you: go find them!

Reflections on St Cuthbert’s Way as a Pilgrimage

A walk without prayer is just a walk, surround the walk with prayer and it becomes a Pilgrimage. That was a thought given to me by my Spiritual Director, Fr Andy Hawes, at a study day he held on Pilgrimage. I knew, from that point on that I would have to seriously think about the prayer that would surround each day and also the purpose of my Pilgrimage. What did I wish to get out of it, what did I expect to get out of it and were those things achievable?

I was blessed with two things concerning the St Cuthbert’s Way and prayer, firstly, that my Dad was as keen as I was to surround the walk in prayer, that really helped! Secondly, that The Community of Aidan and Hilda have produced a booklet of prayers and songs for St Cuthbert’s Way. I decided that I shouldn’t re-invent the wheel and although I felt some of the prayers weren’t for Dad and I, and we certainly didn’t wish to sing on our way, I knew I could base our prayers on these. It is important to surround the walk in prayer, it gives it a different feel from just walking (as my Dad commented after we’d finished) and different styles suit different folk. My advise is to think about how you will do this before you go on Pilgrimage and make sure it works for you and any companions that you will have with you. It certainly helped me to feel I was walking with St Cuthbert, and that he was with us on the way, that we weren’t just walking in his footsteps. The beauty of the scenery also helped, Dad and I lost count of times we stopped and said “isn’t this stunning”, it made you want to give thanks all the more. The other thing that helped focus prayer were some of the sites and places on the way, the natural awe and beauty of St Cuthbert’s Cave being an obvious example and these places just made you to want to pray. A real chance to pause and give thanks or to contemplate where you were. So the first thing I got out of my Pilgrimage was a re-engagement with prayer in a more natural way. I am used to prayer the Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer, which work for me because they are formulaic and they give a rhythm for my life. Praying more “of the cuff” and more instantaneously isn’t so natural for me, but the walk, with its challenges, its ups and downs and its beauty helped me with that, in both a spoken and a quite way.

I also got a real sense of purpose and achievement from doing this. I can’t think of the last time, apart from when going on Retreat, that I have set aside time to do something that would enable me to seek God’s presence in a new way. Did it impact on me they way I had hoped? Yes, and more so. It gave me a chance to leave duty behind, to leave the Parish with its natural drives that are based on doing and being and the role I inhabit as a Priest, and to concentrate on God and trying to just be. Through the physical struggles on the way, I leant that I am a determined person, that I don’t “give in” that I am also a person who doesn’t rest on what I have achieved, I want more than that, I want to gain more. Above all else I wish to be closer to God so that I can, I hope, help others get closer to God too.

Finally, I spent some real quality time with my Dad, which had always been the hope. We, through this joint experience, had a fantastic time, were able to share purpose, prayer and the ups and downs of Pilgrimage together. That aspect made what we did together all the more special and made a truly unforgettable experience all the more so.

Tomorrow I will give some advise about going on Pilgrimage from my experience, and include in that some thoughts about why you might wish to go on Pilgrimage.