An early visit to Swanage and Studland

Until I was interviewed for the post of team rector of Swanage and Studland, I had only once before been to the area, and that was in 1972, on Monday 27th March, to be precise.  It was a wet day, I was 17, and part of an A-level biology field group from my school in Essex.  We were staying in Weymouth, and spent a day studying the flora and fauna of the area from Studland beach to the Little Sea.  I have all my notes and in fact a complete record of the visit.  I found them in a box yesterday, unopened since we moved.

Bearing in mind this was 48 years ago, to read my description of the walk afterwards (we had got soaking wet in the rain working the transect) is slightly surreal for me:

“ […] luckily the wind was blowing hard and we walked along the beach to dry off.  Various shells were collected.  We returned to the coach and it was decided that we would walk along the nearby cliffs to see the Old Harry rocks […] We started to walk, collecting and identifying plants as we went; by this time the weather had cleared up and apart from a strong wind it was becoming quite a nice day.  The path we were following led us through a small wood […] It was a young birch wood containing a large variety of ground plants.

“We left the wood and walked the rest of the way to the Old Harry rocks - these are quite inaccessible; rising vertically out of the sea about thirty yards from the edge of the cliff - but we sat on the cliffs and tried to identify some of the many sea-birds which have made the rocks their home.  Having spent ten or fifteen minutes there we returned the way we had come, as we had to go with the coach to Swanage, to meet the geographers, who had walked the whole way along the cliffs.

“We did, however, arrive in Swanage before the geographers, and, so as to occupy our time usefully, we went down onto the rocky beach to look for any interesting marine organisms.

“On the way back to the coach, we all stopped to watch the lifeboat being launched, which we were lucky enough to see […]”

I suppose not much has changed in nearly fifty years, but I am slightly bemused by my recording of “the rocky beach” in Swanage.  Maybe we went to the foreshore towards Peveril Point, or was this at a time before the groynes held back the sand from drifting northwards, and there were more rocks exposed?

Today, we are going through days when we are being forced to accept change, and at the same time are trying to maintain order and all the things that are important to us. This is challenging us as we look to the future, and try and work out what will be some weeks and months from now.  Our ancient piece of coastland reminds us of much that doesn’t and cannot change, yet every landslip exposes and erodes and warns us of the dangers of what we cannot stop from changing.  

It is in this area of thought that interpreting what we understand to be the providence of God is both reassuring, and also, revealing of the eternal. It does, in fact, amidst everything, lead us further into prayer, both our own that may be analytical and questioning as we search for answers, and entering into those of the long tradition of the Church that have been used for centuries.

A particularly comforting and wonderful prayer - with the added virtue of brevity - from the Order of Compline (the late evening office of the church, designed to be read before bed) is one that is transfixing for the moment before going to sleep, or relaxing into any kind of acceptance that in God all is well:

Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the silent hours of this night, so that we, who are wearied by the changes and chances of this fleeting world, may repose upon thy eternal changelessness, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

I think that we shall go for a walk to Studland today…..!

John Mann