Wheat fields, yelps of glee and gulps of tea

High distant bird song. Crystal skies. The Walsingham carillon echoing over the village. Some visitors have already arrived and are walking down High Street, staring up at the Abbey entrance, no doubt wondering about its former mysteries and majesty, then pausing to look through dim windows at those quiet wood-panelled interiors, all locked up at present.

Warm air is rolling through the street as I unlock the door. I look back to a single car grumbling up Holt Road, the driver waves suddenly; a smile flashes behind the glass.

On my journey in, I kept glimpsing, behind blackthorn and hawthorn and big untidy oaks, the pale stubble of wheat fields. Freshly harvested. The gold middle distance with its recent addition of round hay bales – I could just see a faint tremor of heat over the ground as the early autumn sun was lifting. Buzzards circling. Crows twisting. ‘It’s a rather beautiful day,’ I thought and yes, yes it truly is; thanks be to God.

Over the weekend, we’ve been busy preparing orders for shipping to Croydon, to Failsworth (with its famous Pole and mills), Fleet and Glossop, Milton Keynes (with its famous roundabouts), Peterlee and Worthing – every part of the country gathering gifts and cards and statues – we always scour the map searching out each destination wondering about the lives being led, the hopes and dreams and prayers. Imagining postwomen and postmen knocking on doors with our deliveries, too – the sighs and smiles as the packages are torn open.

These past few weeks, the Shine Shop has been booming — its extraordinary and thrilling and none of us can quite believe the change in our trade, so welcome in this awful year of COVID that has had such a terrible impact on our pilgrims. But now, we’re carefully creating new selections for the sudden pressure of our Christmas trade — earlier and earlier this seems to arrive each year — yet there’s never any harm in planning and preparing for Advent. And our pilgrims have been ordering packs and packs of cards, souvenirs and little treasures. People might not be able to physically reach us, but thousands are moving online to our burgeoning e-commerce store.

I have a fresh cup of tea steaming on the bench and begin work on the website. Last Friday, we began setting out a fresh selection of ceramic homeware in the store — two gorgeous fish designs of plates and mugs and jugs that look so vibrant and fresh. Of course, something new arrives every week and we’re expecting a splendid range of Christmas cards to appear in the next day or two. And, to share some gossip, I must confide we’re exploring the manufacture of an entirely new, smaller wall-mounted personal crucifix for pilgrims – carved from the original oak of the Walsingham calvary — there is a gentle hum of excitement from everyone working on this project. But the biggest yelp of glee I can recall has come with the arrival of a new statue: ‘Mary Queen of Heaven’, so perfectly modelled and painted, a gold rosary hanging over her arm, a gold crown on her head.

The past month has been quite extraordinary, with the shop’s growing online presence doubling, so many people following our tiny shop on social media – so many new friends, so many comments and even a lot of laughs at cheeky gifs and great good humour. It’s been quite overwhelming and, of course, we love it! Yet, trying to work our way through reports and analyses to understand why this all has happened is all rather mysterious. We eventually decide that the ‘why’ does not matter, all we need to do is keep on sharing and laughing and picking and packing those thousands of gifts and shipping them off to each of you. So, thank you for being part of our Walsingham family and if you receive a parcel from us, take a picture and share it online – we’d love to see. Happy shopping!

Bless you

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