We’ve returned in a leisurely way from a visit to Cambridge, stopping off at notable east coast landmarks (after the splendid air museum at Newark in Lincolnshire, where you can get really rather close to a Soviet MiG). Along the coast, we kept finding cliffs where kings and church met each other.
Whitby Abbey first, where King Oswy of Northumbria decided that we would follow the Roman calculation of the date of Easter in 664 (and the Roman circular tonsure, not the Celtic ear-to-ear one). The Abbey stands proudly on the cliff, ruined partly by German shelling in 1914.
Then to Bamburgh, founded in the C6th by King Ida the Flambearer, set high on the cliff looking out to and down upon Lindisfarne. You can imagine King Oswald keeping a close eye on St Aidan and the monks – his foundation, his spiritual storm troopers. It’s a building in good nick, and you can even get married there now.
And finally to Dunbar, part of the same Northumbrian kingdom, and the castle set on the harbour promontory where St Wilfrid was imprisoned in 678 when King Ecgfrith expelled him from the see of York. Wilfrid had been the leading light of the Roman cause at the Synod of Whitby, and became bishop of all Northumbria. But he was good at making enemies as well as converts. The castle at Dunbar is now dissolving in a dignified way into the sea.
All in all, a taste of what the Japanese would call wabi sabi: the transience of earthly things, the beauty of impermanence.