History On My Doorstep – a BBC Pause for Thought

I’m way late posting this here, but for online posterity, here’s the text for the 24 May 2022 “Pause for Thought” I offered on the Early Breakfast Show with Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio 2. Listen here.

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A couple weeks after we moved to the northern edge of London, I realised that the huge park, steps from our front door, is the remnant of a 12th-century royal hunting forest called Enfield Chase. 900 years later, the woodland paths where kings and queens rode their horses are the same ones I now tread in trainers on my daily runs.

Hidden in the forest off one trail is a quadrangle of water surrounding a small island. I never noticed it on my runs; I spotted it only later on my phone’s exercise-tracking app. On the map, the water looks like a blue capital letter C, too perfectly geometric to be a natural lake. Sure enough, through some internet sleuthing I discovered it’s called “Camlet Moat”.

No one is sure of its origins. Most likely it’s the site of a Norman manor house – archeologists once dug up a fragment of an ancient drawbridge there. But other theories abound: maybe it was a prison for people who broke the hunting laws, or a medieval drainage system. Or – most fanciful ­­– some believe it’s the former precincts of Camelot, the legendary castle of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

Which may be the reason, when I run around the moat these days, I occasionally see burned-out votive candles and rocks arranged in patterns ­– the leftovers, perhaps, from some recent attempted ceremonial magic.

But whatever was there in centuries past, all that’s left now is the water. No foundation stones, only frogs. No holy grails, only herons. And the quiet, still water that remains.

The other day on a run I stopped at the moat and felt the reality that, like the hunters and runners and royals of the past, there’ll come a time when I too will no longer be here. All my stuff, the stories I tell, the material trappings I tread in, it’ll go the way of all history: into the ground.

But at the moat I also heard a voice within, a verse from the 23rd Psalm: “God leads me beside the still waters…and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

As a Christian, I believe those things are somehow true at the same time. Our mortality is real ­–we trend towards the grave –­ but it yields to something else, something everlasting. Dig deep enough and you’ll discover the divine water table, whom I call God, flowing through everything, changing us and all flesh into the only thing that lasts.

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