I am in the seaside town where C S Lewis spent his childhood holidays. There’s even an old fashioned streetlamp across the road from my cottage. And a few minutes’ walk away is the sparkling drama of the Atlantic Ocean. This is Narnia. We know it as Castlerock. But in Lewis’ imagination, it was a fairy-tale land of mountains and waterfalls, and of monster-sized sheep and cattle fattened on the rich green grass of Ireland.
This will be my home for a month, as I try to come to terms with some deep-rooted challenges, my sense of restlessness with how things are now, and my sense of adventure with how things could be. Perhaps they were part of Lewis’ mindset, too. I arrived last night, having driven from Dublin Port. The ferry crossing was one of the smoothest I’ve had, the Irish Sea majestic yet calm, with Dublin and the Wicklow mountains rising out of the mist on the horizon.
I spent most of the sailing in deep conversation with a Dutch couple on their very first visit to the island. Their business is flowers. Did you know the wholesale price of a perfect rose is just 50 cents? So go ahead if you feel like haggling with your florist over the cost of a bouquet. The ferry company treated me to a huge three-course meal. The Irish meatballs were particularly good, though I couldn’t get the secret from the chef. He read out a list of ingredients that sounded like most people’s shopping lists – lemon juice, mixed herbs – it must be the way he makes it.
I had been in fear and trepidation of driving out of the port. I have memories of getting lost in Ireland’s capital city, of Dubliners going about like rally drivers, and then of potentially finding myself in the middle of some forbidden estate – or the middle of an expensive car park. But none of this happened. All you have to do is drive off the ferry, go through the tunnel, and you’re on the motorway. Simple. The journey up north took me past a number of Ireland’s hot-spots of history. I must check them out later. So there’s no lack of interesting signposts. What Ireland’s motorways do lack are services. You can spend a while looking for fuel and a place to have a civilised wee.
So anyway, I’m here now. And I’ve just driven through the Bogside to get to church – Cornerstone City Fellowship – in the heart of Derry. I went past the gable end that still declares, ‘You are now entering Free Derry’. Cornerstone are a great bunch of people, and definitely one of my ‘home churches’. They carry the mantle of Columba. My friend Paddy gave a talk on the ‘parable of the sower’. How many times have we seasoned churchgoers heard that sermon? Could something new come of it? I found myself fighting extreme tiredness, as the past few days caught up on me – the gargantuan task of packing enough stuff for four weeks, the computer crashing on me, the fleeting visit to see my dad.
Then suddenly, Paddy’s message hit home. If I am to expect the sower to sow his seed, then I must prepare the ground. I must be ‘good soil’, so the Almighty can grow a good crop. I must become holy ground.
Perhaps there’s no better place to do that than here, in Ireland. (Photo of Castlerock beach and the text are taken from the original ‘Castlerock Diary’, which were sent to a close circle of friends in summer 2009. Republished here in remembrance of C S Lewis on the 50th anniversary of his departure from these ‘shadowlands’.)