Where Woodland Meets the Shore

Fen and I travelled to Ulverston (again), South Cumbria in the last week of February, just a few days before the arrival of snow. Lunch at Gillam’s tearoom on Market Street was followed by a visit to Sutton’s Book Shop (a few doors up) to buy several nature-inspired books. What a treat!

The rest of the afternoon was without a plan and, sometimes, that is how we like it. By allowing space to explore, we often find unexpected treasure.

Way leads to way, as only way does, and we found ourselves at Conishead Priory on the Furness peninsula, which is home to the Manjushri Buddhist Centre. We’ve passed this place on many occasions, and yet this was our first visit. Neither of us subscribe to any religion or belief system, but we love the energy of good-hearts, honest creation, and guardians of nature, and this was abundantly evident at Conishead.

(Picture source: http://manjushri.org)

Though it was Friday afternoon, the priory was surprisingly busy. Great care has been invested into restoring this Gothic building, which was once a spa and convalescent home with a history said to date back to 1160.

Impressive as the building is, Fen and I were here for the 70 acres of beautiful gardens, arboretum, the pond and streams, and woods skirting the pebbled shore that overlooks Chapel Island and Morecambe Bay.

The path into the woods lured us in, greeting us with a gathering of snowdrops. Within moments, I fell under the spell of a mighty presence… is it a Cedar of Lebanon, a Deodar, Coastal Redwood, a Douglas Fir…? I’m not entirely sure, but I spent precious moments under the tree’s lofty boughs and evergreen-needled canopy.

The undulating ground, littered with cones, felt fertile and I was aware of the ever-reaching roots hidden deep beneath my feet. This tree, like all trees, has uncountable stories with the passing of time marked within its girth.

The day was dry and, surprisingly, so was the path. Sunlight appeared now and then, filling the woodland in a pale lemon glow, although the sky was mostly muffled in a swathe of cloud.

We took the much-trodden path to the shore, which was guarded by crows.

A curious robin flew along with us for a while although he was too flighty to pause for a photo.

As we approached the entrance to the shore, the temperature dropped considerably.

A bitter wind played on the waves, and the iced air tinted our pale exposed skin.

William Wordsworth, describing the view of Chapel island across from Conishead, said,  ‘As I advanced, all that I saw and felt was gentleness and peace’.

I imagined the gentleness… on a calm, summer’s day, but the oncoming of a Siberian storm was already bringing an uncomfortable rawness to the air. Winter is not yet over despite the murmur of spring.

We explored the pebbled beach but only for a short time before we retreated to the shelter of the woods.

Here, the marcescence of gold-brown leaves clung to their branches, shivering in the breeze.

After a quick visit to the priory shop for organic treats, we found our way to the lake, which held a mirror to the sky.

Here, we entered the garden where pools and streams enlivened the senses.

It felt warmer here in the late afternoon sun and we paused for a while to reflect upon the moment.

Souls replenished and hearts filled with gratitude, we left Conishead Priory, imagining how these gardens and woodland will bloom in the weeks to come. ‘Let’s return in the summer’, we both smiled, shivering like those last clinging leaves as we planted our wish.