Peaceful beauty of the Dene cannot block out arms fears

by georgehep


I lose the after dinner game of scrabble. William Hague gets his way to end the embargo on arming the rebels in Syria  after arguing his case all weekend. Why is our Foreign Secretary leading the charge to send arms to Syria.?


Resolve to read all the novels of Virginia Woolf when I retire next year, inspired by a clergy retirement day at Shepherds Dene. There are only nine  novels  but I can include the five volumes of  self depreciating  memoirs by Leonard Woolf as well. He estimated that he had spent 200,000 hours working for political causes during his life time and “achieved practically nothing.” I know the feeling.

Off to see The Great Gatsby but leave before the end underwhelmed by the shallowness of it all and get home in time to hear the news that Russians will arm the Assad regime. My heart sinks.


Catch John Bell on Thought for the Day as I drive to work. He  makes a calm and carefully reasoned  statement against the race to arm both  sides in Syria which, he says, take us back to the days of the Cold War when the world powers fought each other by proxy.

Shepherds Dene is full of young people from Heaton Baptist Church, musicians from The Sage Gateshead and photographers from  Stocksfield Camera Club, who gather like a group of paparazzi  when Guy Opperman MP arrives to officially open our new front entrance after which Bishop Frank blesses all who  visit the retreat house.

Guy talks movingly to the young people about his frustration at always been called as a last resort about cases of asylum seekers. I am reminded of Chris Mullin’s lament throughout his diaries of the number of cases of appeal against deportation in his constituency business that so depressed him.

What does he making of arming the rebels, I ask Guy as I escort him back to his car? He points out that 100,000 lives have been lost, many through the actions of the Syrian government slaughtering its citizens, but has reservation about the latest developments.


A new  report claims that the Afghan War will have cost the Hepburn household, and every other taxpaying household,  £2000 each . I would give up my free bus pass to stop the welfare cuts but not to  fund this imperialistic campaign which tragically, the report claims, has not  altered the odds in Helmund province and cost hundreds of lives. What will Syria now cost us too?


After two days hard work preparing  the potting shed at Shepherds Dene for their exhibition, Lindsay Cooper and Veronica Bell, our artists in residence, are ready for the private view by early evening. Their work will be on display for the next three weekends as part of the eighteenth annual Art Tour. I had never realised how many artists work in remote parts of Tynedale where the light is reputed to be  as near as it comes  to Tuscany within these shores. The very first visitors, stopping on their way home from work, buy a painting which put us all in good spirits. 



On the early morning news, President Assad claims the Syrian army is winning and threatens to retaliate against Israel for reasons I cannot fully follow. The opposition will not attend the proposed peace conference unless he stands down from power. We pray for peace in Syria and for reconciliation  in the minds of  those in positions of power at morning prayer. 


John Churcher arrives at Shepherds Dene with all the enthusiasm of a child let out of school clutching a brown paper package which contains a sundial. John first visited Shepherds Dene last year to attend a meeting of psychoanalysts and found the beauty and peace of the place so inviting that he offered to make a new sundial for the plinth in the Quiet Garden.  He set off to check his measurements and prepare for the installation before he had unpacked his bags for the weekend.

The sun dial is extraordinarily beautiful and accurately calibrated. The sun shone for the ceremony to install the sun dial later in the weekend. It is one of three gifts received in the last few weeks, all adding contemporary touches to an Edwardian estate, which make me realise how much the sanctuary is valued by our guests.

A deer jumps out in front of my car as I leave Shepherds Dene.


John Humphries interviews a doctor in Qusayr, which has been bombarded by government troops for two weeks. Medical supplies have run out. It is described as a bitter fight to the death on both sides with many civilians caught in the crossfire.


Jessica Lamb entertains our guests with a performance on Northumberland pipes. An eighteen year old from Bellingham, about to start a traditional music degree at Newcastle University , it is no surprise to find that she been taught by Kathryn Tickell.

As the Great North Festival springs into life this month, it is worth reflecting on the contribution of Kathryn, Ros Rigby, Alastair Anderson and others to keeping the folk heritage of the region alive. If Alastair had not gone up into the hills to write down the shepherds tunes, from men in their old age, Jessica would never have inherited them and played them to our guests.


At Shepherds Dene, we celebrate Mervin Spearing’s eightieth birthday with a grand tea party. In Prudhoe they celebrate the anniversary of the coronation with a street party, thanks to the indefatigable organising skills of The Revd Charles Hope. Outside our house, we host the village barbeque and later on I lose another game of scrabble.

The losing streak is now so long that it cannot be explained by the way the tiles fall out of the bag. There appears to be nothing I can do to change the situation. But that does not mean I should not try.

George Hepburn is Warden of Shepherds Dene