Poppy’s Pilgrimage Diary: Day 3 – Kirkham Priory to Wharram-le-Street

With thanks to Priory 900 co-ordinator Penelope Weston

Today we equipped ourselves with full waterproofs, having heard the dire warnings of heavy rain and noted how much had already fallen overnight. Nancy was off to assist with a wedding in York so led our morning prayers at Kirkham Priory in her smart wedding outfit. We were joined by Jane Batty, one of our splendid Priory 900 volunteer photographers’ team. Clearly she had to be careful with her cameras if it started to rain much, so she had a flexible approach to how much of the walk she’d be able to do.

So we set off up the hill in the dry in an easterly direction, knowing we had 12 miles to go and at least one big hill to climb. This time there were no nearby churches to visit during the morning, so we slogged on quite happily on bye-roads, just glad to be walking in the dry. (I explained that my late husband Frank used to keep weather records every day, and always seemed to keep on the weather for me – so we could but ask…)

First church we visited just after midday was Burythorpe, ‘the church on the hill’. We weren’t sure if there would be anyone there to greet us but we needn’t have worried – the ring of candles had been let and three of the stalwarts (if they don’t mind being identified in this way…) were ready and waiting for out arrival and joined in the prayer, before leading us down to the hall for the very welcome drinks and Kitkats.

We decided to press on to Birdsall because we knew the vicar, Jenny, would be waiting for us. Birdsall is an ‘estate’ church, built by the Middleton family in the mid 19C, and apparently designed to be the biggest and best thing around. This means the heating and insurance bills are challenging for a small community. So preparations had been made for a major fund-raising effort, shared with the Middleton Hunt. The very visible outcome was a magnificent Flower Festival to which we received free admission! Jenny met us and we shared prayers with several of the many visitors to the Festival. There was just time to make a quick circuit of the displays which included a particularly apposite one in the chancel, including a signpost, boots and a rucksack! I was very struck with the arch of flowers around the entrance door. No time to visit the associated car boot sale (any maybe it would have been difficult to carry off any bargains), but just enough to eat our sandwiches, knowing we still had three hours of walking to accomplish, and it was already 2.30.

So on with the rucksacks and off down the road before setting off across the stubble (poor Guinness who found this hard for his sore front foot) and then tackling the steep hill up onto the top of the Wold. Still the rain was holding off but there was a very threatening black cloud mass following us. A small diversion followed partly for Guinness’s benefit to avoid a field full of cows/bullocks, who were quite placid but we didn’t want to offer them the canine interest . As we progressed alongside the top of the deep dale, following the Wolds Way, we turned the corner and after some minutes caught sight of the Wharram Percy buildings. Then it was just question of hanging in there, with growing hope that we were actually going to remain dry. By this time Guinness had found a new lease of life and was running ahead to look for rabbits. As always, Wharram Percy presented that timeless atmosphere, with the calm of the church in that valley making a impression on all of us. Here too we said the prayer which Nancy had found, uncannily appropriate for Kirkham Priory and this strong but roofless building:

O Lord my God, tell me what You are to me
Say to my soul, ‘I am your salvation!’
So, speak, that I may hear You, my heart is listening
The house of my soul is too small to receive You
Let it be enlarged by You
It is all in ruins; will You repair it
So speak, that I may hear, O Lord
My heart is listening, open it that it may hear You

(St Augustine of Hippo)

Lovely though this place is, we didn’t linger, partly because we wanted to press on to the church at Wharram le Street where we were due shortly and partly because were keen to preserve our miraculous dryness if possible.

When we reached the church about 5.45 we were greeted by the vicar, Andrew, and also Nancy, returned from the wedding in York. She told us that it had poured with rain there, so felt extra lucky.

Then it was the usual reverse logistics: take Jane back to Kirkham to her car, and Linda to her daughter’s at Malton, where I was very kindly invited to supper before driving back to my ‘cabin’ near Huggate.

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