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International Theologians Unite to Overcome the Swan

Yesterday I went on what was effectively a school outing to Belsay Hall in Northumberland. It was the Theology post-grads annual end of academic year jaunt out to do an ickle English heritage.

Anyway, the Hall itself has been sadly neglected and is a property in need of some major rennovation. Structurally it is ok, although built in a style which is so austere that arriving and seeing the back of it one of my colleagues was heard to comment “it looks like a 1940’s camp”. However, from what I can gather this is a relatively new acquisition by English Heritage and so I am sure it will develop over time.

The gardens, though, are absolutely beautiful. The humid, drizzly weather added to their splendor as raindrops and spiderswebs hung on the leaves. The walk from the hall to the castle takes you not only through the gardens but through a quarry where much local stone was taken from. The scale of the stone mixed with the towering plants really gives one the feeling of being in a primeval setting. I am not one for lots of leaves and stuff but even I could see this was something beautiful and different; well worth a visit.

Moving on from the gardens you enter the castle. As castles go it’s small and not v. inspiring. However, to try and do something about this English Heritage have decided to install a bit of modern art occassionally. So it was, that after having to endure some terrible canned sounds of horses and randomly placed horse shoes on the journey down through the gardens, a wander up the spiral staircase led to “Luck Spot”, a chrystal horse created by Stella McCartney. (This BBC article tells you about it). In short it is a stunning piece of art made from 8000 Swaraski glass chrystals and was inspired by George Stubbs “Whistlejacket”. As with all good modern art it got the marmite reaction….you either loved it or hated it. I think the fact I walked into the room and just said, “wow” gives where I sit on this one.

Anyway after an lunch where I went to have my cream tea at the tea room, which I would totally recommend, it was off for a walk. Whilst the families played cricket, and staff sat and chatted the international group of 6 female theologians who were of a roughly similar age headed off for a woodland walk. As with any group of women aged in the late 20’s – late 30’s bracket there was of course the one with the inappropriate footware…who we were all worried about, afterall good sandals need looking after. (This of course was not Tractor Girl, I have not yet got that far in learning to be girly). It was really good fun…in our group the countries represented were: China, Netherlands, Switzerland, Greece, Sri Lanka and England but the ethnic differences made no difference. We were all united in the concerns about the footware and when we came across a swan and her young as we went to cross a bridge our fear of what the swan might do if she thought her children were at risk. There was much laughter aswell as some interesting theology talk as we moved along our way. On the way back we found the swan had returned and this time was slap bang next to the bridge, with sleeping children. So it was we had to come up with a plan. The Greek member of our contingent, thankfully, came up with the idea of clapping. We tried it, six women all wandering towards the river clapping to move the birds may have looked a little strange, but it worked….and so we could return to the main group, ready to drink a little wine before heading home.

Whilst the weather could have been a little less grey it was a fun day out. In terms of Belsay Hall, gardens and castle it’s worth a visit. You probably don’t want to spend as long as we did there…but if you are in the North East this summer it is worth a visit.