051b

Yesterday I managed to take a half-decent photograph of a bluebell (that’s it above, I was quite pleased with it), explored two 12th century churches, visited a cathedral and witnessed four colleagues throw themselves off the top of it, tracked down three more First World War Memorials, conned my way into the Military Garrison Church and visited a rural life centre, where I became a bludger … and I was still home in time for tea.

It was a pretty full on day, so let’s break it down into bite-sized chunks.

The weather report on Friday told me it was going to rain all weekend. It lied. When I sat in the garden with my coffee when I got up there were distinct signs of blue above so I grabbed the camera and headed out. First stop was an old church (more on that later) and then heading back through Guildford, I realised I was in time to see four of our reporters abseil off the cathedral tower in aid of the fund to repair the building. As I’d sponsored them, I thought I’d go and make sure they got the job done.

067b

Now poor James here was first over the edge and it  was chucking it down with rain when he made his descent.

080b

It had brightened up by the time Matt came down. And all four actually completed the challenge so I had to cough up the cash.

057b

They were helped by a bit of patriotic cheerleading on the ground :)

Having never visited Guildford Cathedral, I thought I’d take the opportunity to go and explore.

It’s made of brick, featured in The Omen and was begun in the 1930s only for work to stop during the Second World War. When building restrictions were lifted, work recommenced and services were held there from 1947, although it wasn’t consecrated until 1961.

It’s imposing with its stark red brick sitting at the top of Stag Hill overlooking the town. Inside, it is beautiful in an austere sort of way and it has lovely lines, which I quite enjoyed.

100b

088b

But I have to confess, I don’t really like it.

103b

It’s peaceful and it has an air of serenity.

086b

And everyone there was very lovely and welcoming. And for a while I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it.

097b

And then I realised … it has no history.

You see, I don’t visit churches to be spiritual, I go because they tell stories. And this cathedral has no stories to tell, no quirkiness to uncover, no gargoyles insolently mooning at me from on high. It’s just too new. It can’t help it, it’s not its fault … it just really isn’t my cup of tea.

It was fun watching the guys jump off the roof though.

062b

And I did love the view across Guildford from the top of Stag Hill.

So, wanting to step back in time a little, I headed to a couple of small villages further south in the county. And by accident stumbled across the Rural Life Centre at Tilford, so I thought I’d take a look. It was woodworking day but there weren’t many people there.

I did, however, meet a lovely man who was turning wood on a foot-powered lathe. He reckoned humans had been working wood in this way for millennia. He let me have a go and it was loads of fun. Apparently this officially makes me a Bludger. I shall be adding this to my CV. In fact, we are having our annual reviews at work at the moment and under the ‘do you have any skills not utilised in your current role?’ box, I shall now be able to write Bludging.

133b

I shall fill you in on conning my way into the Garrison Church, the First World Ward Memorials and the two 12th century churches I found in another post.

 

 

 

A lot of churches are turning over part of their graveyards to wildlife.

Personally, I think graveyards that are left to grow a little wild are stunning, although I know not everyone thinks the same.

Some prefer the beautifully manicured cemeteries and graveyards. I think there is a place for both.

I went for a walk around the village earlier, and the graveyard at St Peter’s Church in Yateley just reinforced my view that a little wilderness can look amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it looking so lovely.

030b

029b

027b

025b

024b

023b

022b

021b

038b

Yesterday morning I had a nice lie in and didn’t get up until just after 6am.

I sat in the garden with my coffee for a while before I decided it was too lovely a morning to waste and I should head out with my camera. Now usually I would head to the Common or a lake or something like that, but I fancied a bit of a change and as it was Good Friday, I thought an empty town centre would make a nice change so I headed to nearby Camberley.

I parked the car just off a main road and walked around the corner and saw this little dog tied to a bicycle outside a newsagents and then, in a service area usually confined to parking for Smart cars shrink-wrapped with the McChina Wok Away logo, I spotted an old London Routemaster bus.

So I had to go and investigate. There was a man in a hat  standing next to it.

“Hello,” I said, “I like your bus.”

043b

The owner was a guy called Chris, who lives in Worthing and works in Camberley and he was waiting for his mate so he could park his Lambretta in the back of his bus (as you do) and head off for a car rally.

I took his photo and Tweeted it to our live blog team so they could put it up on our website.

Chris has owned buses before but this one is special. The chassis number is RM1955. The number 955 is significant to him because it was his father’s Air Force number. The first time Chris saw the bus, his father had just died. So he bought the bus.

I chatted to him until his friend turned up and then went to take a photo of the war memorial.

049b

I took close ups of the names too for our First World War project at work.

I did have a walk along the river on the way home.

This morning I headed off in a different direction to do a bit of research for a feature I am planning to write. I went to the neighbouring village of Hartley Wintney to follow a trail through the village and beyond.

030b

It’s a pretty little place and I found parts of it I had never seen before.

I had no idea, for example, that the village had planted a Millennium Orchard.

028b

The board lists all the different variety of trees. There must be about 40 different varieties of apple, a dozen or so nut trees, various berries – I thought it was a lovely idea.

004b

I also added another war memorial to my collection. I shall collate all the names from it at a later date.

I was standing by the pond on the village green, wondering whether I have the time to start a village green project, when an elderly man came up and started talking about the young Egyptian ducklings. Good grief, could he talk :)

Within five minutes I knew he had moved to the village from neighbouring Odiham as a teenager and, apart from eight years living in London, had spent the rest of his life in the village (he’s nearly 81). He’d like to move back to Odiham but his daughter wouldn’t be able to visit him there, so he’s now stuck in Hartley Wintney till he dies. And that, apparently, is the fault of the Conservative government and inflation (both of these are also responsible for the fact there are now only two pubs in the village instead of seven). He’s not a big fan of the Conservative Party, in fact, he would go as far as to say the only good Tory is a dead Tory. He’s also very pleased David Cameron got stung by a jellyfish because he probably deserved it.

It was a very entertaining chat (albeit a little one-sided).

When I finally extracted myself from our deep and meaningful conversation, I decided I deserved a coffee and grabbed one from a little artisan bakery with tables outside.

I was sitting there enjoying the sunshine when an elderly lady and an equally elderly dog stopped by the table. She looked a little flustered.

I smiled at her.

“Now I am in a muddle,” she said.

“Why, what’s the matter?” I replied.

“Well I want some bread,” she said, “But I can’t take Rosie in there.”

“Would you like me to look after your dog?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, “And my shopping.”

And that’s how I ended up with an old lady’s shopping and a random dog sitting outside a cafe in Hartley Wintney.

photob

I have to say the dog was very cute though :)

015b

I’ve been back at work for two weeks and I haven’t had time to draw breath until now. But I now have a four-day weekend (woo hoo) with only a little bit of work from home so I thought I’d catch up a bit.

During my week off Man and I went to the seaside town of Skegness. It was Man’s birthday that week and I’d promised him a trip on a roller coaster so we headed for Fantasy Island, a couple of miles up the Lincolnshire coast.

Now, in my defense, I actually did check the website first to make sure it was open and although it appeared a little like a ghost town at first, it actually was up and running -ish,

It’s a strange place. In the shadows of the coasters there is Europe’s biggest seven-day market.

002b

So there were actually shoppers and stallholders milling about.

In fact, only one of the bigger coasters was open, so we bought Man a ticket and went to find a convenient vantage point for me to try and get a photo of him en route.

I found one sitting behind these two, who were having a tea break and waiting for customers.

So I sat, looking up, camera at the ready, waiting for Man to whizz over my head … when he came walking round the corner.

Yes, the roller coaster was open, but 12 people were needed to run it and he was number 4. This could take a while.

005b

We had a look around the market, it appeared to be selling the usual tat, nothing original really.

018b

Buy your luminous feather boa here.

We returned to the coaster… Man was now customer number 5.

So we repeated the procedure.

009b

Here’s one you could have ridden on if there were enough customers.

012b

For about two hours we had no luck at all. We even returned to the ticket sales office and tried to coerce the woman into confessing how many tickets she had sold, to see whether or not it was worth waiting for customers six through 12 to put in an appearance.

In the end we gave up, drove into Skegness and had fish, chips and mushy peas on the beach.

089b

And then bought some doughnuts.

A few hours later, after mooching about on the beach for a while, we were about to head home when we thought we’d give Fantasy Island just one more try.

Miraculously, just as we arrived back, customer number 12 turned up.

118b

And Man finally got his birthday trip on the roller coaster. I think he enjoyed it :)

Colster 1b

I’m getting used to going on a church hunt and finding the doors locked. I can understand it, although it is a sad reflection on society, but I know that some light-fingered members of the population might be tempted to walk away with precious items, or others just damage the building for the sake of it.

I wasn’t too bothered about this on Wednesday’s little sojourn, however, because what I wanted to see was on the outside of the buildings (see Thursday’s rude gargoyles post). Man wasn’t remotely concerned – apparently it IS possible to have too much of a good thing.

However, every single one of the four churches we visited had an open door policy and so I got to go inside. They are obviously very trusting in this part of the world, or else they have a very low crime rate – either way, I was happy.

 

Colster 8b

 

In fact the only issue we had was my complete inability to negotiate the junctions of the A1. Heading towards Colsterworth, I managed to miss the exit I wanted and decided I could just as easily take the next one and drove aimlessly round the countryside for a while, with no signal for the sat nav on Man’s phone. When we went to the next church I came off the A1 100 yards early and ended up sitting looking at a concrete bunker!

When we did finally make it to Colsterworth, we found a lovely little village on a hill being almost entirely dug up for road works. It made parking a little interesting, but we got there in the end.

St John the Baptist Church, Colsterworth, Lincolnshire. Pretty little place. Looking at the village and the number of older looking cottages, it was probably considered a sizeable settlement in days gone by. The church is certainly reasonably substantial. Roman remains have been found about half a mile away and it is pretty close to the great Roman road Ermine Street.

Colster 9b

As you may be aware, I went on a hunt for gargoyles and grotesques, which I found in abundance and not all of them were rude! Some of them were still designed to scare though.

Colster 10b

This guy looks very angry about something.

Local research reckons the origins of the  church were in Saxon times (you can read about it here), with additions or improvements made in the 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th and 19th centuries. It is a Grade I listed building , which at least affords it a certain amount of protection.

The first thing I noticed when I walked in was this amazing herringbone stonework and the distinct line above the rounded arches where the herringbone stops and straight brick work replaces it.

Colster 7b

This, apparently, was the original outside wall. Well, I say original, it is the older part of this building, there may have been an early wooden structure or a pagan temple on the site. But this stonework is Saxon. In the top right of the picture you can see an opening that experts believe may have been an original window.

Colster 4b

Here’s a close up.

Inside the church is also the remains of a Runic cross estimated to be from the 9th or 10th century. Just look at that lovely carving.

Colster 6b

I wonder if people will be admiring our current gravestones in 1,000 years time? Somehow I doubt it. These things, however, appear to have been built to last.

Colster 3b

Here’s another view of that lovely north wall and at the end of the aisle you can see a rather beautiful font.

Colster 2b

 

The stem is 15th century and it is highly decorated. Parts of the bowl are estimated to be 12th century. Can you see the difference in the shape of the arches?

But what really makes this church unique is this.

Colster 5b

If you go through the door at the eastern end of the north aisle, squeeze yourself into the four-foot gap behind the organ and look up (or straight ahead if you are taller than 5ft 2!), you find this sundial, carved by Sir Isaac Newton at the tender age of nine years.

This was Newton’s childhood church. He was born on Christmas Day 1642 (we were on the Julian rather than the Gregorian Calendar then) a few months after the death of his father in Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth, a little hamlet nearby. His home, Woolsthorpe Manor, is now in the hands of the National Trust. A few years later his mother remarried the Reverend Barnabus Smith, vicar of St John the Baptist. So this carving was probably created in around 1650 ish.

Apparently the young Sir Isaac was not overly enamoured with his stepfather and once threatened to ‘burn them and the house down over them’ – no love lost there then.

He did, though, appear to be better disposed towards this church because when he died he left the grand sum of £3 in his will for repairs to the church floor.

 

 

 

Easton 1b

Yesterday Man and I went on a gargoyle hunt. More specifically, we went on a hunt for rude gargoyles.

I like gargoyles and in fact most types of stone carvings. Gargoyles are decorative water dispensers, used to channel excess rainwater off the roof of the church. Grotesques are carvings, they don’t serve any sort of practical purpose and often decorate roof lintels inside or out. Friezes are many grotesques purely for decorative purposes. Corbels are stones that help support the roof – again either internal or external – that can be decorated and many of these decorations are a corbel table. I went in search of a very specific type of grotesque and gargoyle yesterday and found both.

Ever since I first read about the Mooning Men on the Great English Churches website, I have wanted to see some. Now I think I have a pretty good collection of photos but, as always, there are plenty more to collect. The churches I visited are not Churches Conservation Trust churches, these are all in use, and they don’t feature in Simon Jenkins’ 1,000 Churches (but they really should).

We started our little journey at St John’s in Colsterworth in Lincolnshire where we came across a couple of lovely examples of what I was looking for.

Colsterworth 4b

Here we go. He is definitely displaying his bum to the outside world.

Colsterworth 7b

Here he is from another angle. And, if you look closely, he has his head between his legs (wait till you see what some of the others have stored there!!) … and you can see where the rainwater would have spouted from.

 

Colsterworth 6b

This one’s a grotesque (no water spouting from the orifice here) and there is distinct genitalia there. How rude :) This is on the door arch, visible to all the pious parishioners on their way to prayer.

Colsterworth 2b

And what on earth is this one doing! Most unsavoury for a place of worship.

Honestly, I think these are absolutely hilarious – and this was just church number one. I love the way it illustrates how sensibilities have changed over the years. Can you imagine someone building a church now and announcing they were going to decorate it with a man with his bum out and testicles and a (in some cases) penis on display. People would recoil in abject horror.

From Colsterworth we moved on to Ryhall jjst down the road but in the county of Rutland and another St John’s.

Ryhall has a really impressive frieze but that is going to have to wait for another post because this one is just about bums.

Ryhall 2b

 

And here we have the bottom scratcher. Quite brazen in his pose, he is looking directly out from the wall and quite clearly scratching his testicles! Also, despite the fact that he is clearly not used to get rid of water, the mason has put a strategically placed hole in his bum. What on earth is he trying to say with this?

Ryhall 1b

This one also has his bottom out, although it isn’t quite so brazen.

Now from Ryhall, we made our way to Easton on the Hill, which took use just over the border into Northamptonshire I believe, where we found the crudest  example yet.

This is All Saints Church in one of the prettiest little villages I’ve ever seen. And, as you approach the south porch of the church, above your head on the tower is this.

Easton 2b

Now there is a local legend that says he is pointing his bum in the direction of Peterborough Cathedral in protest at the stonemason not being paid. But other reports say there is no substance in that and suggest that, like other gargoyles, these Mooning Men were simply warding away sin and evil from the sanctity of the church.

He is certainly a good example though … and worth a look from a slightly different angle.

Easton 5b

Maybe the stonemasons just had a sense of humour? Or maybe, these weren’t thought funny at all but were designed to say ‘ya boo sucks’ to the devil.

From Easton to Oakham, county town of England’s smallest county, Rutland.

It has quite a majestic church – another All Saints.

But adorning the walls of this building, there are another couple of characters who aren’t being very saintly at all.

Oakham 2b

Yep, another mooning man with his head stuck between his legs and his testicles on show.

Oakham 1b

And another, only this one’s a little deformed … his genitalia is roughly the same size as his head!

Now there was me thinking that English church parishioners in the Middle Ages were a distinctly pious lot. Obviously I was wrong, or the notion of pious has changed slightly over the years, or there is some sort of sacred symbolism here that I’m just not aware of.

Whatever the answer, I had a pretty successful day yesterday as far as I am concerned. I certainly found what I set out to find.

Now the other thing I found, that I really wasn’t expecting and was a huge added bonus, is that every single one of these churches was open yesterday. So I also got to go inside and find out a bit more about them. And, in doing that, I learned about Isaac Newton, Anglo Saxon headstones and a woman called Tampon. So I think each church merits a little, slightly less tongue in cheek, post of its own at some point.

In the meantime, the guy responsible for the website mentioned at the top of this post, Lionel Wall, has written what I think is a very interesting document about the Mooning Men and a group that he calls the Demon Carvers of the East Midlands which, if you feel like it, you can read here.

Incidentally, apparently there are female versions of the Mooning Men … you know I am going to have to find some :)

Many will know of my Fifty before Fifty challenge and that one of those challenges is to attempt to visit all of the Churches Conservation Trust churches. And, as you can see from the countdown clock on the right, I only have 18 months to go.

Well during my period of blogging absence, I also failed miserably to knock many of my challenges off my list (except perhaps reading) so I really have to get a bit of a gallop on here.

On Monday, Man and I went to Skegness. It’s his birthday this week when he will once again become as old as I am for six months and he wanted to ride a roller coaster (more on that in another post). However, it seemed a wasted opportunity to drive straight past a perfectly good church, so we took a little detour to Haceby, Lincolnshire.

I checked before hand and the church of St Barbara was open all day. 170b

And indeed it was. I love locations like this. It was a couple of miles off the A52 up a single track road and when we arrived it was pretty  much in the middle of nowhere.

Haceby was mentioned in the Doomsday Book and must once have been a thriving village. Now it is a farm and a couple of cottages and this pretty little church on a hill.

Now it was called St Barbara’s but the CTC pamphlet inside the church said St Margaret. That confused me. A little research and I discovered it actually had a double dedication. I find St Barbara more interesting. Turkish, over-protective dad who locked her in a tower to stop her getting sullied by the outside world (Rapunzel origins?), she secretly became Christian. He didn’t like that, tried to kill her, a miracle created a hole in the wall and she escaped. Chase ensued, he caught her, there were a couple more miracles. He chopped her head off and was struck by lightning on the way home – serves him right. On the other hand, another argument is she didn’t exist at all.

So, the church. It dates from the 12th century and was added to over the next 400 years.

142b

The outside is quite plain, no gargoyles or grotesques, but I did find this tiny little blocked door in the north wall.

165b

I love these tiny doors, they must have had very miniature clergy. Apparently the arch around the door is called a Caernarfon Arch because it is predominantly found in castles in Wales. Why is it here? We’re a long way from Wales.

St Barbara’s is famous for the remnants of a wall painting.

159b

This was originally a Doom painting, you can just make out the devil directing a group of big-bellied lost souls towards hell on the right and Christ sits at the top with saved souls and angels.

But is has been overpainted with the Royal Coat of Arms of Queen Anne and you can see the lion on the left and make out the three lions of England and an Irish harp on the shield in the centre.

150b

The interior is light and airy. You can see the very plain 14th century font in the corner.

151b

The arch to the bell tower caught my eye. It is seriously wonky. The right hand side appears to bow quite drastically. Really, it isn’t just the camera angle, it is definitely lopsided.

But for me the exciting part of this church was in the porch.

134b

Graffiti. We all know how I love graffiti – ancient and modern – it appeals to the reprobate in me and, for me, it brings the people using this fine building to life, makes them more real. There are a few dates on here. TE was merrily scrawling away in 1677 for example.

140b

On the other side, it looks like someone has engraved the sails of a windmill. There are certainly a lot of windmills is this lovely flat part of the world and I can only imagine there were more in times past, so it’s not beyond the realms of possibility.

137b

Strangely, if I saw modern graffiti on a church, I would probably say it was desecration and not be impressed at all – but I enjoy this old graffiti and I wonder who the local vandals were.

136b

These I thought were strange. On the seat in the porch there are several outlines that look distinctly like footprints to me.

135b

I can’t find any information about them except a few mentions that they are there. Well, I know that, I saw them, what I want to know is why people felt the need to etch round their feet.

It’s nice to be on the church trail again, I’ve missed it. According to my list, I have now checked off 50 CTC churches – so, less than 300 to go then.

Before we leave St Barbara’s, Man noticed this.

There’s a cheese string in the churchyard :)

169b

Well it amused me anyway.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 172 other followers