by Ged Johnson
When I was almost eight years old I camped in the grounds of St Beuno’s as part of a Rhyl cub group. I remember it well. We pitched our tents in the heat of an early summer in the field at the far end of the graveyard. We pulled a rope over one of the trees to make a swing and enjoyed hide and seek up the hill on which sits the Rock Chapel - just as well these were in the days before silent retreats! And I well remember making the long lonely journey to the kitchen corridor to fetch milk for the camp breakfast. I can still see myself standing in the doorway, before a never-ending corridor of dark tiles along which tall men swept in black soutanes, wondering whether someone would ever remember that I was waiting with my empty jug. At night we told ghost stories and dared each other to go one by one into the dark graveyard to touch one of the headstones!
Almost forty years to the day I found myself, last week, pitching another tent in the grounds of St Beuno’s, this time with my two sons. We had walked almost eight miles from home fulfilling a wish, from them, to make a pilgrimage. The wish had originated from meeting a bohemian-looking pilgrim near to our home, walking the North Wales Pilgrim’s Way (Taith Pererin Gogledd Cymru), a 150 mile footpath across north Wales that links Basingwerk Abbey in the east with Bardsey Island in the west. We chatted to him for almost twenty minutes, the lads being enthralled by his huge rucksack, his large ginger beard and hair tied up in a long ponytail and, after we said our goodbyes, they enthusiastically expressed a wish that they wanted to do the same. The eight miles to St Beuno’s, last Tuesday, was quite far enough on a very hot June day - giving the boys an insight into the reality of distance, which cannot be appreciated when travelling by car or by bike for that matter. It was also quite far enough for me who hasn’t carried a tent and camping gear for a fair number of years!
Arriving at St Beuno’s we called in to enquire as to the best place to pitch the tent, conscious that a group of earnest seminarians from Oscott were in making a silent retreat, and were met with both Superior and Director who promptly fetched us the last three cakes from the community room. Very welcome indeed. We then headed off to set up camp (in the bottom-end corner of the terraces on the opposite side of the graveyard) and make some tea. We ate this up on the terrace in the sun and were soon joined by Jasper, Sarah’s keen-nosed dog who came bounding up to see what he was missing. We enjoyed the evening exploring the woods and watching the sun drop down behind the house while my eight-year old whittled sticks into dangerous looking points “just in case we have to kill a wild animal to survive”.
On returning to the tent we discovered two cans of soft drinks and a bottle of beer, courtesy of Fr Roger. To these were added three chocolate bars from Sr Anne. Both gift-bearing visits make a deep impression on the boys and on me. After a fitful sleep (on my part - they slept great, snoring and kicking their way through the night) we headed over to the house for a huge cooked breakfast which Fr Roger had already booked. Benedictines are known for their charism of hospitality yet the welcome and attention shown to us by the community could not have been outdone. We felt very cared for and left St Beuno’s buoyed and re-energised for the hot hike home, as I echoed quietly to myself the line of my namesake: ‘I remember a house where all were good to me’ (Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ)