Last Sunday found us at Mount Grace Priory, out for the day, doing something different. It was the last day of the holidays, you see, and to go out and be somewhere else is the very best way I know of making it both lasting and special.
Even driving through the countryside is a treat: seeing different places, remembering old landmarks. The bend in the road where our hired motor broke down, once, and we had to keep giving it push starts all the way home. The farm that each of the children visited, with school and willing mothers, to pet the lambs in the spring of their reception year. The turnings to other places we love to visit: Byland Abbey and Helmsley Castle. There have been a lot of last days of the holidays.
We admired the trees, standing bare and boney above the landscape. I think they might be at their most beautiful, like that. Then again, I know I’ll change my mind once they blossom and bud. We looked for rabbits, their white tail ends bobbing madly as they dove for the hedgerows. There was a bird of prey, hovering over a fresh-ploughed field. The first daffodils were braving it.
I’d never been to Mount Grace at this time of year. I’d heard that there would be snowdrops, but was unprepared for the sheer carpets of white that lay under trees and around the becks and bridges. The grounds were alive with bulbs: the little white flowers at their peak and the sturdy spears of daffs and crocuses waiting in the wings. We followed the path to the arts and crafts house, normally vibrant within, but that day the wallpapers looked almost dull compared to the show outside.
There was a pinboard display all about the monastery beyond. I read it with Ilse, who liked the thought of all those monks living side by side in their own little houses. It is a cosy idea, somehow, those people all alone and yet together, somewhere wild and also safe, tucked into the warm end of a valley. Occasionally coming together for prayer and labour, but mostly contemplating the beauty of the universe and the love of its maker.
We wandered out to cell eight, which has been rebuilt and restored, the only home standing in a terraced quadrangle. Downstairs each room was assigned its function: to sleep, to pray, to study. There was a great stone fireplace set into one wall. Above was the workroom, equipped with spinning wheel and loom. A great space, full of light. Below was a glazed cloister. It faced a walled garden, the vegetables kept orderly by box hedges, the fruit bushes lining the path to the latrine set over yet another little stream. Oh, Mummy, said Fliss, I bet you’d love to live here.
In some ways, I really would. I feel at home in its simplicity and purposefulness. I could happily spin and weave, garden and write. I would enjoy the time alone and the time with others. If it wasn’t for one great stumbling block I really would love to live there. No, I said to Fliss, I’d miss you all far too much.
Perhaps a retreat might be the thing, for a weekend or so. A little time away, someday. But I really don’t feel the need, just now. I am very happy where I am: at home, in the thirties, with everyone around me. Family life is messy in all sorts of ways, but I couldn’t give it up.
On the way home, the pheasants were running from our headlamps. The trees were vanishing into a blackening sky. I was tired, yet also rested. Ready for another half term. One day’s retreat, with everyone around me, was all that I had needed.— February 25, 1931