A week in Petworth

Our friends Tom and Alix were going away on holiday and asked if we would like to house-sit for them. And since Tom works for the National Trust, and they live in Petworth House‘s Cowman’s Cottage that meant a lovely little holiday for us–in the very week that Isaac was celebrating his birthday!

Petworth House is a magnificent seventeenth-century mansion surrounded by seven hundred acres of landscaped park. The House itself is a study in stately symmetry — its triple-deckered lines of long windows and speckled alabaster brick seem almost spare in their Classical simplicity in comparison to the sprawling Gothic turrets of Tyntesfield.

Within, the House overflows with the National Trust’s largest collection of art-works. The Gallery at the House’s North End is filled with marble sculptures and a bewildering array of painted landscapes, portraits, and scenes historical and mythological. But the artistic highlight of the house is not to be seen in the Gallery, but rather the ‘Carved Room’.

Here a visitor is met by the unflinching gaze of Henry VIII looking every inch the medieval monarch as he stands, hands on hips, in white stockings and a fur-lined black cape. His portrait is flanked on either side by two more full-length homages to Petworth’s aristocracy. Under each of these four accompanying portraits is positioned a luminescent Turner landscape, the skies of which glow golden with the captured light of their setting suns. And framing all these paintings, winding around them like some persistently creeping vine, are the carvings that give the room its name. The work of Grinling Gibbons, whose sole surviving portrait hangs inconspicuously in the corner of the room, the carvings are an elaborate reproduction of ripening fruit, blossoming flowers, musical instruments and heraldic insignia.


Outside the house there is a fairly large garden (the ‘Pleasure Garden’) which you would walk through if you had driven to Petworth House and parked in the car park before beginning your visit (but since we were staying in the Cowman’s Cottage, this was not our experience). As well as the flowers, there are a couple of pieces of faux-Classical garden architectural ornament — an ‘Ionic Rotunda’ which provides both shelter from the weather and a pleasing view into the village beyond the garden’s walls, and a ‘Doric Temple’ adorned with a sentimental verse of poetry.

I describe the Garden only as ‘fairly large’ only because of the adjacent seven hundred acre landscaped Park, the geography of which has been very deliberately arranged for maximum viewing pleasure from the windows of the House. Indeed, two of the Turner paintings in the Carved Room are of the view that one would have if one were to be looking out of the window on the opposite side of the room. And apparently they were placed at precisely the right height so as to be at eye-level; the reason being that, in the days when the Room still functioned as a dining room, one could lose oneself in the beauty of Turner’s art without even having to glance upward from the conversation with whatever overbearingly dull visitor one was sat opposite.

The Lake, Petworth: Sunset, Fighting Bucks c.1829 Joseph Mallord William Turner

As the painting shows, the Park is home to what is, in fact, the largest herd of fallow deer in England. They are an impressive sight to behold, and well worth however long it takes you walking through the Park before you catch a glimpse of them. The walls of the Park are cleverly hidden behind trees to give the impression, at least until you get up close, that the Park is boundless and without limit, stretching eternally on.

Outside the walls of the Park lies the village of Petworth, whose charming air of matchless quaintness owes much to the thirty-some antique shops that have established themselves here. Here you can buy authentic antique furniture, 1920s Belgian chandeliers, elaborately engraved Victorian silver, military swords from last century’s world wars. Driving through the narrow streets of the village you will find the wealthy of South England puttering along in their fancy cars: an odd mixture of vintage automobiles and fancy sports-cars.

But even if all of this feels somewhat beyond you — I’m certainly not in the market for an antique mahogany dining table, and I don’t think I’ll be driving a Lamborghini anytime soon — there’s still plenty of amusement to be had in strolling into the different antique shops and asking what their most ancient item on sale is. When I asked the question they invariably didn’t have a clue, but generally gamely made something up, in an uncertain hope that in spite of appearances I might after all turn out to be a prospective customer. (And I did actually buy a Victorian milk jug — but that’s another story.)

So if you’ve never been to Petworth, I encourage you to visit! I’m certainly looking forward to the next excuse we have to stay chez Tom & Alix!

Jenny, Jenny & Gen.E.


Our retreat to Devon was bracketed by the visits to Cambridge of two Jennys, both of whom have been serving with YWAM having done the DTS with us at Harpenden.

Jenny Wendt came to visit us just before we went on retreat. She did the Wilberforce DTS with us in September 2011, having also trained as a teacher, and then staffed another DTS (as we did too) in Harpenden. And she has just spent the last year and a half with YWAM Samoa, setting up a primary school which now has seventy students who would otherwise be left without access to formal eduation — and therefore without the opportunity to learn to read or write. She is sharp, bright-eyed, vivacious and confident; she is energetically servant-hearted while simultaneously discerningly strategic; she is a naturally-gifted entrepreneurial pioneer, and she knows it doesn’t profit anyone to suffer foolishness unnecessarily.

Then while we were on retreat in Devon, Jenny Stevens came and had her own little retreat staying in our house in Cambridge, before we saw her at the YWAM Gathering. She was on the DTS in Harpenden which Taryn and I staffed, and she was part of the outreach team we led to India. She is now serving with YWAM in Ireland, overseeing the Hospitality for YWAM Rostrevor. She is self-effacingly warm, unfailingly polite, easily embarrassed, delightful company; she is sometimes timid, but there’s something about her which compels complete strangers to pour out their hearts to her; she is an accidental evangelist of the highest calibre.

I don’t know all that many people named Jenny, and so my attention was caught by the visits of these two Jennys either side of a retreat in which I was attempting to deliberately slow down and tune in to the still small voice of the Spirit of God. ‘God — what are you trying to say to me? What is it about these two Jennys?’

They are both intelligent and capable people who have chosen to surrender to the missionary call of God; both YWAM Harpenden DTSers who have chosen to continue with YWAM in a way uniquely suited to their specific and unique set of strengths. ‘Jenny…Jenny…’ — I think it struck me as I was doing the dishes one evening after dinner: ‘…Gen.E!’

I had already had the sense that God was speaking to me about ‘this generation’:
If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have been untrue to the generation of Your children.
O God, do not forsake me, Until I declare Your strength to this generation!
This is Jacob, the generation of those who seek Him, Who seek Your face.

But what could ‘E’ stand for?

And I thought to myself : ‘E for Evangelism!’

I believe God is raising up a generation who will embrace the great calling of Jesus to preach the gospel to every creature! A generation who won’t be worried about emulating Billy Graham or Reinhard Bonnke, because they have grasped the simple mathematical fact (and profound theological truth) that easily-imitated multiplication of the kingdom of God is exponentially more powerful than apparently-anointed addition to the kingdom of God. A generation in which each person will embrace their unique set of strengths and so-called weaknesses and discover where in the world — and it could be anywhere in the world! — they will be most effective as ambassadors of Christ and carriers of the presence of God.

And I believe God was reminding me of the privilege I have of helping to raise up this Evangelism Generation.

And they will be Enthusiastic, Entrepreneurial, Empowered-by-the-Spirit, Extravagantly-Generous. They will be an Ephesian Generation, strengthened with might by the Spirit and filled with all the fulness of God; they will be an Ezekiel Generation, courageously declaring whatever word the Lord gives them to speak. They will be an Exodus Generation, liberating the downtrodden and poor and oppressed, and leading them into the glorious freedom of God’s promise.

This will not be an ‘Exclusive’ Generation, in which only the influential, the well-educated, the disciplined and reliable are allowed to be involved.

No, this will be an ‘Everybody’ Generation — in which Everybody is invited, Everybody is commissioned, Everybody is needed to bring in the abundant harvest. Whoever is thirsty for meaning in their day-to-day life; whoever is hungry for justice to be established on this earth; whoever is willing to do what little they can.

And if you know people like that who aren’t sure what they’re doing come September, then please encourage them to apply for our Revival & Reformation DTS. We’re processing applications now.


Proving Taryn Can Speak English

We are applying for my beautiful wife Taryn to be a British citizen, so that she will be on the same passport as myself and Isaac, and so that we will hopefully never again find uncooperative visa authorities trying to put asunder what God has joined together.

Like the Roman commander the Apostle Paul once met, we’ve found that you have “to pay a lot of money for citizenship” if you’re not entitled to it by birth. The cost of the application is £1005 — yes, one thousand and five pounds. Which is up £99 from last summer, when we were going to apply until we realized that we couldn’t find Taryn’s iGCSE English certificate, which was necessary to prove that she is indeed able to speak the strange and obscure tongue of this little island.

Eventually the certificate was found — in a cupboard in India — and expedited to our house in England, but by then we were busily entangled with the day-to-day activity of the DTS. By the time we’d reorganized ourselves we realized that we needed to wait two more months, because not only do you need to have been resident in Britain for the last three years, but you need to have been on British soil on the exact day three years before you apply for citizenship. And we had spent January and February of 2012 in Africa.

So we waited some more, and finally, with everything (we hoped) at last in order, we were able to book an appointment (for another £80) with the Cambridge Checking Service, who help make sure that your application fee is not wasted because of somehow foolishly forgetting to fully fill in the form — and who also conveniently copy and certify all your documents, so that we are not deprived of our passport and other certificates for the six months that it takes to process the application.

We arrived on Thursday (Election day!) for our appointment, glad to finally get this task finished with–only to be told that a A*s in GCSE English Language and Literature were not adequate to demonstrate that a person could speak English. ‘But we thought they were on the approved list..?’ — But it turns out that the English GCSE we had searched so long and hard for is only approved by Ofqual as a Level 1 or 2 qualification, and not the required Level 3.

‘What then?’ we asked. Taryn has been speaking English her whole life, and has done English at GCSE level, at IB level, and as a university degree. — ‘A university degree would be allowed,’ we were told, and so I raced out the Cambridge Shire Hall, leapt into the car, sped home, and started frantically searching for Taryn’s University of Delhi degree certificate. I grabbed all the documents I could find that could possibly be relevant and returned as soon as possible — our Checking Service appointment was allowed to last for an hour exactly, and an hour only.

I returned to find that Taryn had managed to print off confirmation from the Self Assessment Points Calculator that her “Bachelor of Arts/Science/Commerce” from the University of Delhi was a real and rigorous qualification. Unfortunately, the most convincing evidence I had found turned not to be the degree certificate I had hoped. ‘This is just a Statement of Marks — don’t you have the Certificate?’ We did not, and Taryn had a vague sense that the bureaucratic inefficiency of the University of Delhi meant she had never actually been given one. (Further research later confirmed that it does indeed take DU two years to give graduates their certificates — by which time Taryn had married me and left the country.)

We were told that we had to choose whether to take the risk of sending the application without a proper degree certificate — and perhaps thus losing our £1005 application fee — or doing the preferred IELTS test, which could be taken at Cambridge’s Anglia Ruskin university. We decided not to take the risk, and our hour’s appointment came to an end, without us being able to send off a complete application.

The one blessing was that we were able for a small fee (well, comparitively — £15) to book a supplementary appointment — to the total surprise of all the Checking Service administrators, who assumed that we were required to pay the full fee and book another separate appointment.

We got home, and got to work registering for the IELTS — which would cost its own £145, and which couldn’t be taken for two weeks, and then would need another two weeks after that before its results were ready. But a few days later, as I was sorting through some papers, my eye caught out an extra print-out of part of the Citizenship application form. It specifically stated that “if you no longer have your certificate” then you can send “an original academic transcript that is on official letter headed paper and shows your
name, the name of the academic institution, the course title and provides confirmation of the award”. I wasn’t sure whether to cry that the lady responsible for our Checking Service hadn’t been aware of this caveat, to rejoice that our lack of Degree Certificate wouldn’t be a problem, or just to disbelieve what I was reading.

I told Taryn. I emailed my parents to check — they agreed, this would therefore be fine. We emailed Anglia Ruskin to take advantage of their seven-day course-cancellation and money-back policy (they are still dragging their feet on this). And today we were able at last to successfully send off the application for Taryn to become a British citizen!

It could be six months before the application is approved, after which she will have to attend some sort of ceremony. It should all be straightforward, but nevertheless please pray with us that it goes through without any hitches.

The greatest irony in this is that the very day that we were being told that our evidence was not adequate to prove Taryn’s command of the English language, Taryn was also proof-reading the latest booklet by that quintessential Englishman and Anglican clergyman our friend (and, for the sake of Taryn’s application, a referee) the Rev. Dr. Andrew Taylor. Because her English is, quite honestly, pretty much as good as anyone in this country.


Four Secrets To Voting Like A Christian

This post is dedicated to my friend Abigail, who is sounding the trumpet for people to use their voice and engage with the political process.

So the British election has come and gone, and in spite of many expecting a hung Parliament, and speaking of impending constitutional crisis (some were even declaring it “abundantly clear [that] the UK’s days where one party has an absolute majority are over”), the Conservatives surprised even themselves by winning an outright majority. (Though Fof shared a fascinating article suggesting that better statistical analysis would have suggested a Tory victory).

As a declaration of confidence in the greatness of Britain regardless of what governments might come or go, I celebrated the occasion by trying to apply for Taryn to become a British citizen (yes, ‘trying’ — but that’s another story), before then heading to North Arbury Chapel — where my friend Martin got saved! — to vote. I’d thought a little about who to vote for and why — though had failed in my attempt to finish reading the Jubilee Centre’s book Votewise, which I had hoped would help me formulate a thoroughly Christian response to the varied issues being played out in this election.

But what impacted me the most on election-day was not the voting itself, nor any conclusion that I was able to come to before voting about which politicians and which party would best govern for the good of the nation and the glory of God, but rather the chance I had to lead the Cam-HoP prayer time that evening. Anyway, here are my four reflections on engaging as a Christian with the political process.

1. Keep politics in perspective
Andrew asked me at that Thursday evening prayer meeting to pick a passage which we could use to pray for the country in the concluding hours of the election, so I immediately suggested 1 Timothy 2, the classic text on praying for those in authority. But in actually praying through it I was powerfully impacted and struck by the revelation that even here in highlighting the priority of praying for political authorities, Paul is still relentlessly focussed on the fact that it is Christ alone who can mediate between man and God; it is only Jesus who can bring forth justice upon the earth; it is only the kingdom of heaven which will truly bring good news to the poor.

“Petitions, prayers, and intercession must be made for those in authority” — but are prayers are not to be primarily focussed on this or that party coming to power, for this sort of messianic mission is misguided. Our primary prayer is for people to be able to live in the peace and freedom necessary for them to hear and consider and believe the good news of the gospel, that Jesus died so that the sins of the world could be forgiven, and the kingdom of God come!

2. Engage anyway–and not just during the election!
Now you might have strong suspicions about which political party will be more likely to govern in such a way as to cultivate those conditions of peace and freedom — so by all means pray for them to win! And canvass for them, and vote for them.

I’ve said before that representative government is in accordance with biblical principle. Our text here is Deut. 1:13-15, in which Moses reminds the Israelites of the way that he instructed the various tribes, clans and families to “choose wise, understanding and knowledgeable men” to lead them.

3. Be wary of demonizing the opposition
But once you’ve made your choice as to who you — as Christ’s ambassador! — you have to guard against the temptation to idolize your candidate, and even more importantly the urge to demonize the opposition.

This is difficult — because our lives in this world are lived in a spiritual battle in which all manner of demonic principalities are at work. And we are called to discern between good and evil, which requires making judgments as to which policies are which. But in the midst of the process of climbing the steep learning curve of political discernment, we must somehow still refrain from too quickly judging the hearts of those who govern, and vote, in ways that we disagree with.

And don’t let it stop with a glib and wishy-washy reluctance to get to close to the heart of the issue. Rather ask the people you disagree with why they think differently, and learn to understand why they think the way they do. At the very least it will help you perhaps persuade them why they’re wrong!

4. Trust that God is at work
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him — this has to be the foundation that we rest upon, in all of our praying, in all of our voting, in all of our living. God is at work in ways that we can never quite understand.

You might have been convinced that we should vote for Labour, because of its roots in Christian socialism, because they convinced you that they were the party that would best protect the poor and the vulnerable — and now you are unashamedly disappointed by the election result.

But maybe the economists are right in suggesting that there are unexpected side-effects to the minimum wage? Or what if — more chaotically — cutting welfare will indeed initially make things worse for those with less money, but through church-supported food-banks and debt counselling, those people end up coming into contact with the transforming love of God in ways that they otherwise wouldn’t? This isn’t by the way an argument justifying deliberate economic nastiness, just a reminder to trust the providence of God in spite of it.

Anyway, those are just a few thoughts from someone who is quite self-consciously aware of the fact that our citizenship is in heaven. I’d love to hear your thoughts on why you voted as you did — whether you’re a loyal Liberal Democrat, a defiant UKIPper, a disappointed Labourite, or a shy Tory.

The painting of the Houses of Parliament is by Richard Willis.


#markMark 13:1-37

In Summary
Don’t just wander through life, so impressed by all that you see that you’re constantly saying ‘Ooh, look!’ (This is a word for our Instagram generation.) As often as not the miracles are false, and the monuments fall apart. But there is one who is worth calling all the nations to come and see — for a day is coming when every eye will behold the true glory of God, coming to restore true justice. In the meantime we must keep watch as ones who know that labour pains mean that new life is about to arrive!

Remember this–while it is true that many terrible things must happen before the end of the world as we know it, there is one thing that Mark says that we must actively do: preach the gospel to all nations.

Eating: Tagliatelle Carbonara; Cabbage, Mushrooms and Olives; Apple Strudel and Ice-cream
Present: Peter & Taryn + Isaac; Sophie; Linda + Adam; Angela + Alex + Jed; (Stefen + Bruce for lunch).
Passage: Mark 13:1-37

As usual we spent some time scribbling on Scripture to work out what’s going on in the passage:

Then eventually we come to the
Questions & Comments


On that subject…
— Our friend Dan Baumann has an amazing testimony of how he was imprisoned (in Iran!) for the gospel, and when he came before trial he experienced the Holy Spirit giving him the boldness and the words to testify of the love of Jesus to his persecutors. That part of the story is from 7:40 to 8:52 in the video below, but the whole thing is well worth watching!

— Mike Bickle has some thoughts on the Abomination of Desolation.

— And here’s my own teaching on the humanity of Jesus, in particular the way he relied on the Spirit to do miracles; and a more general discussion of spiritual gifts.

Becoming a Master of Arts


Today I graduate to the degree of Master of Arts.

I will don my academical gown, and my ceremonial hood, straighten my white bow-tie, wonder if I have correctly guessed how on earth the ‘bands’ are supposed to be worn, and — after some ceremonial luncheon at Churchill College — make my way to the University’s Senate House

Now, some might say that the Cambridge MA graduand is nothing but
a poor player
that struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more: it [ie. the degree] is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

And it has to be granted that I have done nothing, other than remain alive, to earn this Masters degree that was not required for the Bachelor of Arts degree which I have already received. I had been under the impression that I was required to remain out of prison (duly done!) but even this turns out to have been superfluous — or at least, I wasn’t required to show or even state that I had not taken a recent criminal turn.

And perhaps I have some unspoken sympathy with those who would belittle this academic title (which, it surprisingly turns out, is of ceremonially superior rank to the other Masters degrees — such as ‘of Philosophy’, and ‘of Finance’ — for which one actually has to work) — for the record will show that I have taken my sweet time in actually registering for the ceremony which is a required part of the whole scheme. I was eligible for the title of ‘Master’ a good three years ago, but only now — on a sunny May afternoon, just a couple of weeks before the first birthday of my first son — will I finally receive the necessary blessing in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti to seal such an accolade unto my person.

But if there is a time for everything under heaven, then perhaps as well as there being a time for entering unseen into the secret place, there is also a time for pomp and ceremonial circumstance.

At any rate, God seems to have brought the pieces together to make today a memorably celebratory occasion — Granny and Grandpa are able to join us at Churchill College for the Praelector’s Lunch, from which we will proceed to the Senate House for the ceremony itself. And once that is over, Jean-Paul and Ellie — who happen to be in Cambridge this evening — are taking us out to dinner. My wife’s wise words: “I think God’s affirming what you’ve chosen to do after graduation!

In which case I suppose this honour is not to be sniffed at!

YWAM Gathering ’15 in 4 W’s

YWAM Gathering 15

W.I.S.E. Together
It took me a little while to work out why the official hashtag for the YWAM UK & Ireland Gathering was #YWAMWISE15, but eventually I managed to work it out — it’s an acronym of Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England. And while there’s generally a YWAM England Gathering every year (last year myself and Taryn were unable to go, as we had more important matters to attend to), this was the first time in [] years that the Home Nations had gathered like this. It was repeated several times that this was not a political statement — and in chatting to a few from YWAM Scotland it turned out that there were strongly contrasting opinions on the (currently settled) question of Scottish independence — but with the UK elections coming up just days after the Gathering, it was certainly a statement about our spiritual unity being necessary and vital, regardless of our political situation.

Wonderful Connections
And it was a real joy and refreshment to connect with the UK&I YWAM Family: with those from Harpenden (where the Gathering was being hosted) that we know from our time on DTS and subsequently as staff there; with those in YWAM England that we’d not seen since the miraculous reinstatement of our visa licence; with those from further-afield that I’d met at some European event we’d mutually attended, and whose names I could not always quite remember. Every single evening of the long weekend I found myself chatting with someone after the end of the evening meeting, and experiencing that rare and sudden realization that this particular conversation we were having was not idle chit-chat but rather heart-connection–our simple words sowing the seeds of relationship that you know will one day bear significant fruit. And even in that moment you can taste the sweetness of it! And a moment of simple prayer suddenly shifts into a powerful prophecy of destiny, and you open your eyes and find that you don’t dare to leave the spot you’re standing, for fear that maybe there’s more the Holy Spirit wants to do.


Photo Credit: YWAM Rostrevor

Word of the Lord
Our speaker for the weekend was Alejandro Rodgriguez, leader of YWAM Argentina, and the author of a book about ‘Apostolic Vision’. He was preaching in Spanish, ably translated by Steve Bishop, who spent seven years with his family in Argentina on Alejandro’s team, and from the beginning declared his intention of sharing with us something that would be ‘simple, and yet also profound’. And so it was! His talked about the priority of love, the difference between superficial sociability and real relational depth, the necessity of sometimes losing time to win family, the need for ministries that achieve multiplication and not just addition (even though when you’re beginning, addition seems like the better option: 1+1=2, but 1×1 is just 1!).

And by the end of his final message on the Sunday evening we were on our faces kneeling on a giant map of the nations of the world, surrendering our lives again to obey the call of Jesus upon us.

I do love our regular times of YWAM Cambridge worship in which we have a fairly small group of people squeezing into a room that still always manages to be slightly smaller than adequate for all gathered, and with one instrument and a basic sense of the words and tune of the songs we’re trying to sing, we come boldly (!) before God’s throne of grace trusting that regardless of our musical accomplishment we will find mercy in time of need (and, let’s be honest, it’s almost always our time of need!) But having said that it’s something of a relief to be part of a congregation of several hundred where you can just be caught up in the joyful praise of the multitude. And yet the thing I love about YWAM is that even in the larger gathering, the value of each one being able to hear God’s voice is still believed and practised. And on multiple occasions throughout the weekend the worship was interrupted by a word from someone within the gathered group. In particular, someone shared at the end of the first session a sense they had that the Spirit was marking different people with a call to take the gospel to closed nations of the world.

And I had an image through which I felt God speaking powerfully, and which I was able to share, of a butterfly: small, fragile, beautiful yes, but almost insignificant in its vulnerability, and yet a single flap of its wings can make the difference in the chaos (to our finite minds!) of the atmosphere between there being a hurricane (and the “love like a hurricane” of which the song speaks) or a mere breeze; and God wants those of us who feel small and insignificant to faithfully flap our small, vulnerable, but-to-Him-beautiful wings, and thus release these hurricanes of love!; and God wants those of us who feel like caterpillars to not be afraid that we don’t appear able even to flap, for he can transform us completely.

So I return to Cambridge re-inspired to let my little work of faith and labour of love become a Butterfly effect in the hands of Almighty God.


(Photo Credit: Donald Jusa)

Seven Devon National Trust Gems

I just about managed to refrain from titling this piece ‘Seven Devon Glimpses of Heaven’. But you have to love the National Trust, and the beautiful places they steward for the enjoyment of generations still to come. On our recent retreat in Devon we became members and immediately managed — within just over a week — to squeeze in more than the value of our whole year’s membership!


After giving in to the possibility the NT tea-shop offered of scones, jam, clotted cream, and a steaming pot of tea, we walked along the East Lyn River to Lynmouth, then made the steep ascent to Lynton, before continuing along the coastal path towards the Valley of Rocks. We then made our way back to Watersmeet along the other side of the river.



Killerton is a funny peach-coloured building, which struck me as somewhat reminiscent of a Nilgiri Hills guesthouse (though obviously far grander). Apparently it was intended as a temporary residence, but the family never got round to actually building the neo-Gothic mansion that it was waiting for, and so it became their permanent home — until his conscientious socialist instincts led Sir Richard Acland to bequeathe it to the National Trust.

Upstairs the house houses an exhibition of fashion — focussed when we went on the theme of innovation, and full of fascinating titbits of information about the genesis of zips.


Arlington Court

We arrived at Arlington Court less than two hours before closing time, and there’s such a lot to take in that we were forced to rush round with eyes agoggle. The house is a treasure trove of amusing artifacts, including a painting by William Blake and an apparently endless collection of minutely-detailed model ships — one of which was apparently given by the ship to the parish church that had committed to pray for it, as an aid to their intercession!

As well as this, the old stables now house the National Carriage Museum — which collection includes the magnificent State Coach that was used (from the late 17th Century until as recently as Princess Diana’s wedding) by the Speaker of the House of Commons. The Museum guidebook is actually available online, and is well worth at least a quick flick through.



We tried initially to squeeze Knightshayes into the same day as Killerton — an error that left us standing forlornly in the rain as we were told that we had arrived past the time that they allow the final visitors to the house to enter. We decided to return a few days later — an excellent decision that was well worth it. The house is full of story and character: there is a tiger-skin rug with the head still attached lying in one of the bedrooms; the elegant but inconsistent interior decoration testifies to the conflict of vision between the architect and the family; and there’s the great backstory of how the family fortune was made from the invention of a machine that revolutionised the production of lace, and when an actual Luddite rebellion destroyed his factory in Derbyshire and led the original Heathcote-Armory to move to Devon in search of a more peaceful existence, his factory workers made the journey on foot so that they could continue to work for him.

On top of all that, there’s a walled organic vegetable garden, with a little wood of pine trees behind it.


Heddon Valley

We parked next to Hunter’s Inn, and then walked down through Heddon Valley, up through the woods towards Woody Bay, and along the sheer coastal path beside a sparkling turquoise sea.


Baggy Point

Our final afternoon in Devon, and we went for one last walk along the Devon coast — this time around Baggy Point. Not for us the Croyde beach — just one blast of the wind at Westward Ho! (the exclamation mark is part of that village’s name!) had convinced us that we weren’t interested in subjecting ourselves to the sea. Instead a final scenic stroll — except that the walk we were trying to do wasn’t as straightforward as I’d hoped (at least not without the instructions to hand), and after hopping over a couple of stone walls but deciding in the end not to put ourselves in the middle of a field of cows of uncertain disposition, we got back to the car just in time to make it to Jim and Mary’s for dinner.


Okay, this one isn’t actually in Devon. But since it’s situated conveniently midway between Barnstaple and Harpenden, we decided to stop for lunch at Tyntesfield : another fantastic masterpiece of a Victorian Gothic family home.

I think this would be the outstanding example of all the National Trust sites that we visited — but the problem with the final place that you visit is always that its glories begin to blur into the tangle of memories of exuberant architecture and perfected gardens.


Nine Ways To Revive Your Soul

What do you do to recreate yourself?

This was a question that Andy Henman used to ask me reliably, every single time that I saw him, until I reached the point of exasperation–and still he asked it of me. It’s a good question, highlighting that the point of rest and ‘recreation’ should be to restore your soul, not just to allow your physical body a little inactivity (though that too may be necessary). It’s a question that is more difficult when you are married, and you have covenanted to spend your life — for better, or for worse — with someone who wouldn’t necessarily choose to do the same things as you to recreate themself. And it’s a question that is potentially even more difficult when you have a baby, who changes the dynamics of what you can do in ways that you hadn’t completely foreseen.

Anyway, here’s a little list of seven things we did on our recent ten-day retreat to Devon as we attempted together to spend our time in ways that would be reviving, refreshing and recreating.

1. Ignore everybody
It was an unavoidable blessing to be in a little cottage with no broadband, no wi-fi, and not even a phone signal. I tried a couple of times to check my email (just in case there was something urgent) — and failed. We were unable to say anything to the all-too-often far-too-present rest-of-the-world — and that, I think, may just have been the mercy of God.

2. Slow down and try to hear God’s voice
This should really be the #1 thing on the list, at least in terms of its priority — but it is certainly helped by the first! Even before we’d got to Devon, God was speaking to me, nudging me to not take the whole over-sized pile of books from our shelf that I thought I might perhaps read while away, but to whittle it down to only the few necessary. I did so, and I was left with A Long Obedience In The Same Direction, the Pilgrim’s Progress, and The Solitude of Thomas Cave — all books about journeys. And, indeed, God did seem to be speaking about the journey, and the need to not lose hope but to keep perseveringly pressing on.

3. Watch films — but do it discriminatingly
We watched the Hobbit together — all three episodes — and that continues the theme of ‘the journey’. As Gandalf once said: It’s a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.

I love how vividly and powerfully a scene from a film can capture the essence of something almost indescribably specific — and Peter Jackson is great at these. In the Hobbit we have several: that opening meditation on the multiplicity of meanings of a mere phrase like Good Morning; the sense of revelation and exalted perspective that comes as Bilbo sticks his head above the treetop canopy of Mirkwood and consequently sees with ease the right direction (that provoked Taryn to whisper to me, ‘That’s what a Quiet Time is like!’).

Films have their drawbacks though. For one thing, its such an immersive medium — an overwhelming spectacle of story, sight and sound — that the director has a worrying power to manipulate your emotions and thoughts. And I frequently find that I can’t tolerate what the film is trying to do to me. For another thing, it requires an almost total degree of passive attentivity — and again, I can only take so much of forced inaction.

4. Read: out-loud together, and alone
I prefer books. And reading aloud is something I love to do. Although it can be quite tiring — and admittedly, for the listener it is as passive as watching a film. Often Taryn and I have read books together while on holiday. P.G. Wodehouse, Jack Kerouac, Francine Rivers — all have at different times entertained and delighted us. And of course the Scriptures — this time we read Hebrews, and the stories in Genesis of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.

On my own I dipped into the books I had brought — but also found myself irresistibly drawn to reading the books that were already in the cottage from before we got there, including a good selection of travel literature. I found myself enjoying one about A Year In Provence, and realizing that I do like that sort of writing.

5. Go to places
I have grown up in a family that makes it our mission to do as much in any place that we travel as would a self-respecting writer for the Lonely Planet — climbing every mountain peak, walking to the end of every road, surveying all the possible eating options before choosing where to get some lunch, and going to all the notable places of historic or cultural interest.

So, needless to say, I do like to go to places. We joined the National Trust, and visited at least four stately homes.

6. Walk through the beauty of creation
But you don’t even necessarily have to go anywhere in particular — you can just find a circuitous route that will eventually take you back to the point at which you started. And actually a walk through the great outdoors is often more impressive, refreshing your soul with a greater quality of grandeur, than even the most extravagantly architected antique building.

Conveniently, it also turns out that strapping a baby to your chest and walking steadily onward is one of the best ways of keeping that baby content, as the gentle rocking of the ambulatory action helps the child fall asleep.

But it is important to keep in mind that one person’s short walk can be another’s unbearably long trek. Discernment required, especially when you’ve never gone a certain route and there’s a certain amount of guesswork involved in estimating how long it will take.

7. Cook and eat well
I enjoy the creative challenge of cooking — particularly because it is the one household chore that immediately rewards you with a delicious opportunity to celebrate your contribution to domestic life. I volunteered to make our meals in Devon — and I think we ate rather well. And we took Paul’s advice to Timothy as well.

8. Play board-games
I love games, but when there are just two of you it can be hard to sustain both enthusiasm for competitive play and friendliness of spirit amidst afore-mentioned competition, particularly if the two of you are not precisely matched in your likelihood of coming out victorious in a certain game.

For myself and Taryn, we have found that Carcassonne (which we had borrowed from Mike & Jane) works quite well for the two of us. Go, on the other hand, not so much.

9. Make new friends
Certainly the highlight of our retreat was the way that the Holy Spirit set us up to meet Jim & Mary, the leaders of the North Devon House of Prayer. If you had asked me before whether I was interested in connecting with other Christians in the area, I would have probably said an unapologetic ‘No’ — we had just come from spending a great deal of our time in close community with other Christians, and were feeling somewhat ‘peopled-out’.

But through no desire of our own, God led us on our very first day to stumble into the North Devon House of Prayer, just as they were finishing their morning ‘Pray and Play’ kids session, and just before their afternoon worship set — by the end of which we were being anointed with oil, prayed for, prophesied over, and given a very generous financial gift. We were able to join NDHoP’s midweek prayer night, and then on our final evening to meet Jim and Mary for dinner at their home, during which it turned out that the journey God has led them on is astonishingly parallel to ours — even down to the differences in worship style between husband and wife, and the unreasonably agonizing experience of first-time childbirth.

Well, now it’s your turn — what do you do to recreate yourself?