Friday, March 21, 2008

England 6: Quaker Country

My final day visiting Beloved Wife in England, we headed further up north, into Quaker Country (also called "1652 Country").

(Two wonderful websites about walking tours of 1652 Quaker country: Bill Samuel's Quaker Tour of England, and Dai Williams' An Attender in Quaker Country.)

We were limited to places we could get to by the combination of public transit and our own two feet, and by the time of a dinner date in Manchester that evening. Beloved Wife did some on-line research, and we decided to visit Briggflatts Meeting House and hopefully Firbank Fell.

We took the train to Oxenholme, then the bus to Sedbergh. The bus ride was, um, dramatic: here we were on this big bus, in hilly country, on these very narrow lanes bordered by stone fences, going rather fast. (It didn't seem to bother any of the other passengers -- three elderly women -- at all.)

From the bus, we had a lovely view of Lambrigg Wind Farm. That was neat!

Here we are in Sedbergh:

(Don't ask me why there are palm trees in Sedbergh.) From Sedbergh, we walked to Briggflatts Meeting House and Burial Ground. (For the map, click here. Briggflatts is southwest of Sedbergh; Firbank Fell is northwest of Sedbergh.)

Walking along paths in this part of England involves some interesting customs regarding private property and public rights-of-way. And gates. As with our trip from Edale, we found ourselves walking along paths that bordered as well as cut through the middle of sheep pastures. (In Edale, there were some cattle, too.)

The customs seem pretty simple: don't scare the critters, keep your dog on a lead if you're walking with one, and make sure you close the gates behind you. Interestingly, as we approached Briggflatts, and saw there was repair work taking place on one of the buildings, we also saw signs for the re-routed footpath. Very neat.

So we walked out of town, through fields, over hills, along lanes, and under an abandoned railroad track, until we came to Briggflatts. First we visited the burial ground, then the meetinghouse itself.

The burial ground was beautiful.

The meetinghouse, which dates from 1678, was also beautiful. Even now, just looking at the picture and remembering the deep, deep sense of peace in the meeting room, I find myself with tears in my eyes.

Many of the folks who signed the guest register -- Friends and non-Friends alike -- commented on the simple beauty and the peace of the meetinghouse.

Perhaps, as Friends, we shouldn't care, or it shouldn't matter to us, what our Meetinghouses look like, if they're beautiful or not. But it does. And I don't think worse of us for it.

Briggflatts is in my absolute favorite style of meeting room. There's a meetinghouse in the midwest of the US, whose insides just look like a Methodist church to me: medium-blond wood paneling on the walls, the same shade of medium-blond wood in the benches, pale blue-green cushions, and very modern. Somehow, it just doesn't work for me. (I realize this sense of what's "right" in a meetinghouse is a distinct result of the East Coast Catholic portion of my upbringing.)

There is a small set of rooms in the same building, accessible from outside, that houses the Meeting's library, a bathroom, and even a small kitchen. There were mugs and tea placed out in the library, with a note that milk was in the fridge, and an invitation to eat one's lunch and have a hot cup of tea. Such lovely hospitality!

We had our lunch out in the garden, in spite of the chill, while consulting the map. We sadly concluded that we could not both walk to Fox's Pulpit on Firbank Fell and make our train, and prepared to leave. As we were walking up the lane towards the footpath, one of the wardens, Tess, appeared out of their house to talk with us, and offered to drive us up. This gave us a lovely chance to visit with her, and talk about the life of the Meeting, Quakerism in the US and Britain, her husband and children, and just to enjoy fellowship. It was a treat.

Tess told us how George Fox preached to 1,000 people here. We had heard this, but found ourselves in puzzlement. Firbank Fell is in the middle of nowhere, as you can see in this picture. Why did Fox decide to preach there, and why on earth were 1,000 people there, 350-odd years ago, to hear him?

According to Tess, the people of Kendal and Sedbergh couldn't decided which of the two towns should get the church, so the church was built on top of Firbank Fell, between them. When Fox came to preach, word spread, and so not only did the folk of both towns come to hear him, so also did all their friends and relatives from far away. When Fox was denied entry to the church, he chose this rock, next to the church, from which to preach.

(Evidently, he later took over the pulpit in the church, too.)

Tess offered to drive us to Sedbergh to catch our bus, but because of her help, we had plenty of time to walk back to town; so we asked her to drop us off back at her house and the meetinghouse. When we got there, a committee meeting was about to start, so we got to meet several folks from the Meeting. In spite of all the visitors they get every year, they welcomed us enthusiastically (in an understated British way). Like the warden in York, they seemed to feel some extra kinship on learning that the two of us are part of the unprogrammed tradition.

To walk back to Sedbergh, we cut along the old railway bed so we could walk along the Dales Way footpath.

We were in good time to catch our bus, and then our train, and then to have dinner with folks in Manchester.

The day was definitely one of the highlights of my trip.

Click below for the full album.

2008-02 England 6: Quaker country


Beth C. said...

What lovely stories and pictures about exploring in Quaker country! the meetinghous is beautiful in that simple way, and I love the F/friendly note offering tea. And the kind person who drove you up to see Firbanks Fell and told you the story.

We hope to explore Quaker Country in England too someday! (this year, though, we have the Gathering to look forward to!)

sta┼Ťa said...

Oh, hooray! Does this mean you're both coming this year? That will be marvelous.

FLGBTQC housing will be back to normal this year -- ie, all together in two dorms (a/c and non-a/c). So it will be much more fun than last year (although you and Vonn and we certainly had a good time!).