“History on the Doorstep,” New Era, Oct. 1983, 32
Like scarlet-robed noblemen and silken-gowned ladies-in-waiting, we paraded up the stone staircase to the turrets of the castle ramparts. There, we gazed out on a meadow where, in our minds at least, armor-clad knights awaited our signal to begin a joust.
Actually, as the Young Men and Young Women of the North Shields Ward, Sunderland England Stake, gathered inside the portcullis of Warkworth Castle, we had many such images in our minds. Swallowed in the immensity of the building, now mostly a rocky skeleton of the once regal residence, we wondered what it would have been like to roam the corridors, feast in the cavernous banquet hall, or dwell in the cold, stone chambers. It was one of the best history lessons I’ve ever received.
But then, in northeastern England, you could say history’s on the doorstep. A short ride in a minibus had taken us from our homes to the banks of the River Coquet, over which Warkworth’s turrets preside. Across the stream, the hermitage also offered a lesson in history, a lesson of a different sort. We had to row across the current to visit what had been used as a chapel and as living quarters for monks supported by the locals of the town. On rock face ruins, carved markings indicated the river level during the floods of 1831 and 1900, marks well over the head of an average person. Inside, the altar, vaulted roof, and wall decorations were all hewn from the same rock that formed the shell of the hermitage. It must have taken years to carve all that detail!
Even in Tyne and Wear (our home shire, or “county”), however, history lessons don’t last forever. We had to wait at one point for the next boat to cross the river, so we played rounders (which somewhat resembles baseball) and quoits (which resembles horseshoes), and some of the group walked an “invisible dog” to a nearby shop. Sister Ann Wilkinson, first counselor in the Young Women presidency, went strolling and found an unexpected mishap when she slipped on the riverbank. “The funniest part of the day was when my mam fell in the mud!” joked her 15-year-old daughter Linda.
Besides those adventures, we also had to take time for photos, and for lunch, and to admire the remarkable trees, ancient and mangled as they intertwined. After a full day of peering at fantasy armies through castle windows and storming up steps despite the worst foes our imaginations could muster, we reluctantly piled in the bus again to head for home, thinking that the weeks of gardening, stripping wallpaper, and doing odd jobs to pay for the excursion had been worthwhile. We had grown closer to each other as brothers and sisters in the gospel. We had taken an opportunity to explore and get to know the part of the world where we live and serve our Heavenly Father. And we had learned a little about history and geography as well.
On the way home, we paused at Druridge Bay to collect shells we intended to make into gifts for our Autumn Fayre. Kevin Murphy and Helen Loynes couldn’t resist the lure of the cold North Sea, and even persuaded a few of the hardier souls, who had been jumping in the sand banks, to join them, fully clothed, for a dip in the waves. Some shivered and others smiled as we rushed, teeth chattering, back to shore, and collapsed in the rocks and sand. We knew we had to get warm, and we knew we had to get back in the bus and head for home, and we knew we had to stop giggling and laughing. But the moment seemed to last forever, and we knew that the memories formed in one day would last us until the next time we got together for a Latter-day Saint weekend in the land that is our home.