The pale face is marked by age and sadness, chipped and peeling, the hands are clasped in supplication and birds sing merry songs. The Garden of English Martyrs is tranquil, overlooking an ancient gateway and arches of a Victorian viaduct. Behind the Presbytery a crucifix is lit up by spring sunshine and the carved faces of the figures on either side illustrate sorrow and love.
In the gravelled courtyard entrance to Whalley Abbey two people sit in the unexpected warmth and soak up much-needed UV rays. A rusty bucket overflows with tulips and a purple hebes. A twig-strewn path leads under budding trees past nodding daffodils, not dancing as there is no breeze, but bringing a natural brightness to the walk. Nearby a newly-renovated mill building speaks of bygone hardships and new-found wealth.
The ancient Cistercian Abbey is attached to a more modern mansion in harmonious juxtaposition. A trio of small mullioned windows lie beside enormous arches, stones worn smooth by priests and tourists, moss-covered in places, tiny white flowers springing up between uneven paving stones. A couple of elderly ladies chat animatedly as their little backpacks swing about in buoyant agreement. There’s a vibrant flash of a red from a heavily engineered pram, more suited to yomping across the Lancashire hills than trundling round a historic site.
Helpful information boards give artist’s impressions of what this enormous abbey may once have looked like – impossible to really capture its ancient grandeur. Preferable simply to sit on a bench and enjoy the scene as it is in 2015 on a glorious Easter Monday in lovely Lancashire.
In a corner of the garden sit two adults and a teenager – all reading books. Not kindles, not tablets or phones, but real, made-from-genuine-paper with pages you can turn and stroke. Bouquets of cherry blossom swing gently in the slight breeze. A little boy runs through the main chapel area, oblivious to the long dead monks and architectural majesty.
Through an archway lies a pretty garden. The small pond has a topping of jellied frogspawn and is overhung with catkins hanging from an elegantly twisted branches. An acer’s tracery of leaves adds a Japanese element to a little bridge. Red, orange, yellow, pink and striped tulips are laid out in front of a shrine with a painted candle catching the eye. Hellebores, Victorian in their colouring and modest demeanour, fill a border. There’s a sensuous scent of hyacinths all around.
Whalley Abbey is tranquil, harmonious, eloquent and pleasing. It brings peace to my soul and refreshes my spirit. Its original purpose was as place of contemplation, worship and today it brings its own benediction and a reminder of what this season is all about …