The beginning of the astronomical summer is known as the summer solstice, often called by it’s other name – midsummer.

It occurs when the sun reaches its highest position in the sky and the earth’s axis is at it’s full tilt towards the sun.

This northern solstice happens as the sun is directly over the Tropic of Cancer in the Northern Hemisphere. Consequently, the earth receives the most daylight of the year making it the “longest” day.

With exams done and dusted the school had arranged a Thanksgiving retreat at Minsteracres.

Some of us were familiar with this setting as we had visited from being very young, especially in Summer when the Annual Fayre was held on the first weekend in July.

Consett folk had a very special relationship with Minsteracres as many people volunteered their skills and services there to help build the retreat house, converting it from old stables.

The bus was leaving from school on Friday afternoon and we were all prepared for a prayerful fun filled weekend.

Minsteracres has a magic all of its own. The wide expansive grassy fields, with the contrasting giant redwood trees that dominate the drive up to the great house, create a feeling of calm and serenity, even to a bus load of excitable teenagers.

We were shown around the retreat house after we had been allocated rooms on the first floor and were given a welcome talk with tea and biscuits in the lounge.

With an hour to explore before Mass we marvelled at the huge murals on the dining room and lounge walls painted by local artist Sheila Mackey. Then a quick walk around the house enjoying the opulence of the parlour and ballroom.

After dinner and and an open discussion about our aspirations for the future after leaving school, it was time for bed.

As with all first nights anywhere, everyone gets a little giddy and going to sleep was certainly not on our minds.

Congregating in one room with two guitars and a huge bag of Maltesers, we planned a singalong.

The sound of a group of young people gently humming to the chords of Don McClean’s ‘Vincent’ and ‘American Pie’ would suggest to any listeners that we were comfortable in our new environment, creating a perfect end to our day.

Early on, one of our bright sparks suggested that as it was midsummer, why didn’t we stay up all night and greet the sunrise over this beautiful tranquil place and celebrate our connection to the sun and earth.

With everyone in agreement we stocked up on provisions and pillows, singing along to the two guitarists extensive repertoire.

As the night progressed, halfway through ‘Sylvia’s Mother’ and just before ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ some dropped off explaining that sleep deprivation was not on their agenda. Yet the stalwarts remained, secretly willing the sunrise to hurry up.


As we built up momentum, belting out David Bowie’s ‘There’s a ‘Starman’ waiting in the sky’ after doing all the Mick Jagger actions to Tumbling Dice, we were stopped in our tracks by a strong knock on the door and ordered out.

However with hindsight, over 40 years later, no one – least of all Father Mark – could be blamed for gently suggesting it was time for bed at 4am, as he’d already had the longest day!

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