Yesterday, I walked my first official day on the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path. The day dawned crisp and clear, but soon big billowy clouds appeared, changing from pure white to steely grey in a matter of minutes. Aside from a few quick rain showers, however, the sky was mostly blue, reflecting and sparkling off the ocean that hugged the cliffs I was traversing. The light was incredibly dramatic; shifting and changing around every turn. It would filter through the trees and create dappled patterns on the path ahead of me, beckoning me forward through tunnels of leaves and lush green fields. My first views of Wales have been stunning. The guide book says the northern part of the 186 mile path is more impressive by far. If that is actually accurate, then I have a magnificent journey ahead of me.
I am back in the UK for the remainder of my time in Europe. After a very full and wonderful three weeks exploring the Picos and Croatia with my sister, I flew to London and headed straight for Oxford. My lovely friend Jo, who I met on Iona, had graciously invited me to stay with her on her canal boat, which resides on the banks of a small tributary of the river Isis. The Isis is the name given to the part of the river Thames that flows through the city and is the focal point of rowing for the many colleges in Oxford University. As I was still finishing some illustrations for an article, I spent my mornings in a variety of coffee shops drinking cappuccinos in corners where I could find available wall plugs to charge my computer. In the afternoons I wandered through the streets, mouth agape at the splendour and beauty of the“city of dreaming spires.”*
I, as did so many others, grew up reading the Chronicles of Narnia. I have read many of C.S Lewis’ other books and some of my favourites include Mere Christianity, his Space Trilogy and The Screwtape Letters. I found a wonderful walking tour online that gave me a peek into Lewis’ life at Oxford and combined quotes from his books with the places he had lived in and frequented. As I followed the tour, I visited a number of his special spots and preferred pubs and ended up having lunch at the Eagle and Child. This pub was the Tuesday morning meeting place for the writing group ‘the Inklings,’ two of the members being Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien. As I ate a hefty portion of fish and chips and mashed peas (as you do in England), I imagined them sipping their pints around the polished wood tables while discussing their latest book ideas. The best part of the tour was walking through the grounds of Magdalen College, where C.S. Lewis was a fellow. I was practically alone in my wanderings, with only a few other visitors touring the grounds. I read the following quote, from Surprised by Joy, as I looked up at the windows of his rooms in the ‘New Building,’ positioned directly above a blooming vine of wisteria:
You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England.
Surprised by Joy is the story of C.S. Lewis’ conversion to Christianity and I would highly recommend it if you haven’t had a chance to read it. I continued my tour by walking the circular path around the deer meadow next to the college, revelling in the fact that this was his favourite walking path. It felt a bit surreal to be inside Lewis’ world, and to tell you the truth, I was a bit star struck.
My last day in town, I had arranged to meet another friend I had met on Iona. Susan had recently moved from London to Headington which is about a 15 minute bus ride from Oxford. She had written that she had a surprise for me and wanted to take me to a beautiful and noteworthy place she thought I’d like. She encouraged me to bring my journal and paints. As the afternoon faded into twilight, Susan and I sat together on a bench and sketched the doorway into Trinity Church, where C.S. Lewis had worshipped for the last 30 years of his life. He and his brother are buried in the cemetery next to the church and I spent a few moments there, snapping a photo and reading aloud a bit of poetry from the Chronicles of Narnia. It felt like the perfect ending to my stay at Oxford.
Yesterday evening, I received some very tragic news from a dear friend. After weeping with her on the phone, I felt completely helpless. Today, as I write this, I feel even more so. I am so far away and I can’t even hug her and comfort her in her grief. I have no idea of the depth of her sorrow, but my heart is breaking, just the same. As I think of her and grieve with her from this tiny corner of Wales, I re-read the words I read over C.S Lewis’ grave.
Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have Spring again.
*term coined by poet Matthew Arnold