March 29th has been engraved on the national consciousness for weeks – ever since our leader promised the sunny uplands of meeting real people face to face and being able to stray from our local area. To an American, that would mean a perimeter of say a couple of hundred miles. To us Brits it means twenty minutes down the road.
In our house we prepared for this great date with much anticipation and booked car park tickets for Chatsworth House. Now, if you live in these parts, you will know that the people of Derbyshire have an almost proprietary claim on Chatsworth. It’s ours. It’s our playground. We graciously allow visitors from elsewhere to make the trip, but secretly we know that it belongs to us. It’s in the family. Not that the Duke and Duchess have ever invited us in to afternoon tea you understand, but it’s not unlikely that you will catch a glimpse of their aristocratic personages on your travels. Once we saw the Duke getting into his helicopter clutching his topper and an overnight bag. The pilot had the devil of a job to shut the door which must have been unsettling, but he took off without incident and we dined out on that story for a while.
We parked the car, changed somewhat ambitiously into walking boots and inhaled lungfuls of clean country air. The house sits in the middle of the most glorious parkland and the sun shone benevolently onto its golden stone, the meandering sparkling river and the miles and miles of undulating green, peppered with tall trees and woolly things which we confidently identified as sheep. (We hadn’t seen one for ages apart from a lamb chop which doesn’t count).
Kitted out as if for Helvellyn, we set off for the village of Edensor, just a stone’s throw over the brow of the hill. We realised we were a tad overdressed when a young woman, clad in a short-sleeved t-shirt and pushing a buggy passed us with a cheery greeting. In fact, everyone we saw wanted to pass the time of day. Two compete strangers stopped and told us how they hadn’t seen each other for three months and were obviously so thrilled that they just had to tell somebody. We were happy to oblige. By the time we got to Edensor, we could have had two dinner dates and a holiday weekend in Cornwall fixed up with our fellow walkers, such was the eagerness of others to engage and welcome.
We bought coffee and cake at the little tea shop there and sat on the bench in the middle of the village green, surveying the bucolic scene. It felt as good as a fortnight in the Algarve. The Greenway behind our house which we have walked so faithfully every day in lockdown saved us many times from frustration and depression when it seemed as though, like Narnia, it was always winter and never Christmas (or a pale imitation), but this felt like a taste of heaven.
We packed up our rubbish and handed over the bench to a hovering family who clearly had been eyeing it up for ten minutes. They joked they’d be happy to pay and my husband quoted them a snip at £4.50. Then we set off back to the house via a circuitous route which racked up the count on out pedometers and gave us an inward glow of virtuous satisfaction after all that cake.
Now, we had an ulterior motive for heading back. A ham and egg sandwich. Not just a ham and egg sandwich, a Chatsworth ham and egg sandwich. We’d had one before, at the end of the first lockdown and it lived in our collective memory. (I know – its’ been a long pandemic). Chatsworth obliged and we sat on the stone steps next to the takeaway kiosk and munched and to be honest, it felt almost normal.
And it was all so beautiful, so life-giving, so radiant in all its spring glory and promise of new life, that I couldn’t help thinking this was a tiny taste of what resurrection must feel like. I began to feel restored, revived, renewed after the longest days and weeks and months of waiting and and longing, when life has felt hollow and as though the sun has been chased from the sky.
Just sitting in there in the sun feeling happy.
But we are not quite there yet. We are still walking through Holy Week. We are still trudging along the dry and dusty road towards the Cross, listening to the laments and huddling together as we watch our Saviour on the road.
But Easter is coming and Christ will be risen. And we have our hope.
Sometimes it looks like a Chatsworth ham and egg sandwich.