To Meeting on the First Day of Spring

Sunday 20th March 2016

Banbury, Wykham, Upper Grove, Bloxham Grove, Adderbury Quaker Meeting House, East Adderbury, Bodicote, St Louis Meadow, Banbury
13km|8⅙ miles 150m|480ft

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route map Today is the vernal equinox – the first day of Spring when the length of day equals the length of the night. Today is also the quarterly meeting at the historic Adderbury Meeting House, four miles from Banbury. Setting out to walk to the meeting and back again it looked like it was going to be another gloomy day. As I left the town though, the sky cleared and the sun shone.

The most direct route out of town towards Adderbury is across Salt Way and through the ancient, possibly Romano-British hamlet of Wykham. From the plantation just below Salt Way the land falls away to Sor Brook, opening up a view across the rolling countryside to the ridge-line between Deddington, Hempton and Swereford.

After a couple of hectic days of work, lulled by the warmth of the sun on my rolled-up-sleeves arms, I tuned out and just enjoyed the walk. No larks yet, and still mostly native waterfowl on the reservoir, but the noise-level from the birds and other wildlife is beginning to pick up. Of course the problem with 'tuning out' and melting into the passing countryside is that before I knew it I was in Adderbury.

Adderbury Quaker Meeting House was built in 1675, and is largely unchanged since around 1700. Leased to the Parish Council in 1954, it is now only used for Quaker meetings four times a year (the third Sunday in March, June, September and December).

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Banbury Meeting House is where we have ordinary meetings, and transact the everyday business of Banbury Local Meeting. The quarterly meetings at Adderbury, however, are subtly different. Rather like T.S. Eliot's lines in Little Gidding, the motivation of being at meeting here is not to "inform curiosity or carry report", but to experience a deeper sense of the ancient mystical nature of silent worship.

That's also why I prefer to walk to Adderbury meetings. Taking the time to walk here accentuates that sense of 'deep silence' preserved in the fabric of the building.

Few meeting houses I've visited around Britain have this perceptibly 'ancient' character, most having been modified and modernised over the 360-year history of the society. Adderbury was preserved because the meeting here never had the wealth to improve the building. Perhaps in a similar vein, the other meeting house which I think shares this feeling is Countersett Meeting House in Wensleydale – which I also walked to, over the top of the Pennine ridge in that case, on my way from Dent to York in 2011.

The meeting house is totally off-grid, having never been connected to any mains services over its history. Consequently at this time of year, especially after the exertions of walking out from Banbury in just over an hour, as you relax into the silence you feel the gentle embrace of the cool thermal inertia of the unheated stone floor and walls.

Infused with coffee and cake after the meeting, I set off back towards Banbury again. In a strange symmetry, as I close on the edge of the town the sky blankets with cloud once more, casting reddening sunbeams along the bright tree-lined horizon to the south west as sunset approached.