So, where would you go to see seals? Isle of Skye? Skomer off the Pembrokeshire coast? The Farne Islands? All fine, but how about the windswept waste land between Hartlepool and Middlesborough?
Just off the A178 between the two towns is Greatham Creek, a short distance from the smoke stacks of heavy industry, where seals regularly haul themselves out of the water to recuperate from a hard day’s fishing in the North Sea. Jaybee introduced me to it while giving me a tour of local bird-watching sites.
We finished at the RSPB’s excellent new reserve at Saltholme, where I was lucky enough to see (amongst other things) a Slavonian grebe that had recently arrived, and a merlin. I hardly expected this area to be so good for wildlife – but it turns out to be a haven for birds, especially those that have migrated across the North Sea. It also shows that wildlife can co-exist with heavy industry – provided that the water is not polluted.
Part of the reason for the bird-watching enthusiasm is the need for constructive relaxation. Studying here is a brilliant experience but it is quite intense, and I’m having to learn some time-management skills… I’m also discovering, again, the need for a disciplined prayer life. There are many distractions and demands on time, but it is just as essential to be grounded in one’s spiritual relationship with the Creator here as anywhere else.
As today is All Saints Day, the vicar of Haughton-le-Skerne, David Bryan, asked me up to front to name three ‘heroes of the faith’. Here are the three I chose:
- Alfred the Great, King of Wessex (871-899): warrior, father of the English language, devout believer.
- John Stott: scholar and pastor, father of modern-day Evangelicalism in the Anglican church.
- John Wimber: founder of the Vineyard Movement of churches, whose low-key, relaxed style was “naturally supernatural”.
Which three would you choose?