Today, after just a little less than 700 miles of cycling, I arrived in Durham, England—the final stop in my sabbatical pilgrimage. As I begin to sift through all the experiences of the last six weeks, it feels a bit premature to know what will turn out to be the most meaningful parts of my journey. But just to get you caught up on what I’ve been doing since my last post, let me offer this.
I left Edinburgh on Saturday, July 30, and headed for Dryburgh. The route that I had planned to cycle wasn’t particularly long—just about 38 miles. But it did include a lot of climbing. And since there was a readily available commuter train that covered most of the distance, I decided to give myself some grace and watch the hills roll by from the comfort of a Scot-Rail passenger car. As Providence would have it, this gave me time at the end of my train ride to investigate the remains of two medieval abbeys, one of which was located just across the street from my hotel, which had once been the home of a wealthy British lord.
After a night in Dryburgh, it was off to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, which became a key mission station in the evangelization of Europe after Aidan—a monk from Iona, which I visited earlier—established a monastic community there is 653 AD. Like Iona, Lindisfarne is uniquely isolated. It’s connected to the mainland by one, two-lane road. But the tides submerge the road twice a day, which means that you have to plan your crossing carefully. Apparently, many tourists have decided they could beat the tide, only to end up needing rescue from the roofs of their flooded cars.
In any case, there are some interesting sights to see on Holy Island. The remains of a medieval monastery stand on or near the location where Aidan first planted his original church. A medieval fort that was later converted into a vacation home for one of Britain’s landed gentry towers over one end of the island. And a small spit of land called St. Cuthbert’s Island still holds the stone foundation of a small retreat he built there sometime in the mid-600’s, so that he’d have a place he could go for private prayer.
But what makes Lindisfarne special—in my mind, at least—is the quiet. After the day-trippers leave to beat the impending tide, a reverential peace descends upon the place. Almost all one hears are birds and winds and waves. In a certain sense, it would be hard not to have a prayerful and meditative mindset. No wonder so many people have found this to be one of the “thin places” that figure prominently in Celtic Christian tradition.
In any case, I left Holy Island on Thursday morning and headed for Durham, with an overnight stop in Newbiggin-by-the Sea. Even these more-or-less “transitional” cycling days brought a few surprises—like two castles and the seaside charm of Newbiggin itself.
In any case, I’m now in Durham for a few days. Not surprisingly, there’s an ancient castle and a fabulous cathedral here, which I look forward to touring. In addition, there are several mundane matters to attend to, like making sure my travel arrangements from here to London and London to home are all in order – and finding a suitable home for the bicycle I’ve been using for the last six weeks. But all of that is making me look forward to being home. This has been a great experience. But I’m ready to see my family and my church family again. And I’m ready to see what God has done and will do as we all move forward together.
I might get a few pictures from Durham posted before I head back to the states. But this is probably one of the last posts from the sabbatical itself. There will be reflections on my sabbatical experience that will come after I return. But I haven’t yet decided whether this is the proper format for sharing them. In one way or another, however, I look forward to processing with many of you the lessons of these recent weeks. Thanks for following along! And God bless you.