places of interest

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.


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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 :)


Well it amused me anyway.


This is me. Well actually it’s a painting by Amy Bessone called Faust that was part of the exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery when I visited last Sunday. But by the time I came out of the gallery, this is what I felt I was like.

I started off looking at the exhibits (some of which I liked and some of which I didn’t) but then became more interested in the way other visitors were looking at the exhibits and interacting with them.

Before I knew it I was stalking people around the gallery taking pictures of them looking at the exhibit so I felt a bit devious and, if I’m being honest, a bit like a stalker. But it was still fun.

The Saatchi Gallery is one of those marvelous places that doesn’t care one iota if you take photographs inside. Unlike Westminster Abbey, which charges you £18 to get in and then won’t let you take pictures. I went in February and am still smarting from the injustice.

Anyway, I had a lovely afternoon mooching about the Saatchi Gallery stalking my prey and looking at the exhibits as well.

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Recently, Man and I spent a wonderful holiday in Northumberland.

There were a couple of reasons for choosing that location: a) we’d never been before; b) we heard it was beautiful and c) there are an awful lot of castles and as part of my Fifty before Fifty challenge, I have decided to try and visit every castle in England before my fiftieth birthday.

So, here’s a very quick tour of the ones we saw – I think alphabetical order is appropriate here.



Alnwick Castle

Huge, imposing (expensive) and also closed. Mainly because we did a quick check in on the way home and got there at 8am.

This is still the home of the Percy family, Dukes of Northumberland and is, apparently, a fabulous day out. Sadly we didn’t have all day to spare.

Built after the Norman conquest, it has been remodeled several times and played a big role in various skirmishes with the Scots, as did most of these border castles.


Bamburgh Castle

Probably one of my favourites, mainly because of its coastal location. Again it is huge and imposing. I’d love to know what that little dome thing is to the right of the photo.

This castle is built on a rocky outcrop and in the fifth and sixth centuries there was a fort here belonging to the Din Guarie. It may have been the capital of the kingdom in this part of the world.

Aethelfrith passed it on to his wife Bebba, which is where the name Bebbanburgh, or Bamburgh, comes from. The Vikings destroyed in in the 10th century and it was rebuilt by the Normans.

Another reason I like it is because it is my ancestral home. It was once owned by Robert de Mowbray, Earl of Northumberland and an ancestor of mine (Mowbray is my maiden name). Shame we picked the wrong side at the Battle of Bosworth Field, things could have been so different :)

545bbBerwick Castle

Just visible through the trees here is Berwick Castle, once the last bastion of the north, or the south, depending on which way you look at it because the castle was founded in the 12th century by the Scottish King David.

Its location has meant that it has changed hands on numerous occasions, alternately being Scottish and English down the centuries.



Dunstanburgh Castle

Another coastal beauty and once the biggest castle in Northumberland. There is evidence of prehistoric activity on this rocky outcrop, but the main body of the castle was constructed in the early 14th century by Earl Thomas of Lancaster, cousin of Edward II, and later completed by John of Gaunt.

It covers about 11 acres and was a favourite subject of Turner to paint.

140bEtal Castle

Now what’s a tiny little place like Etal doing with a castle? The little villages of Ford and Etal (will be subject of yet another post) have now joined forces to become a tourist attraction. Once they both had castles and were constantly feuding with each other.

Ford’s castle is now some sort of educational facility and the public is not allowed near it, sadly.

Robert de Manners, nobleman and doctor, got permission to ‘crenellate’ his manor at Etal (thereby turning it into a castle, in 1341.

The castle was a site of pilgrimage for people seeking medical and dental treatment from its owner and Robert is renowned for creating one of the earliest translations to English from Arabic of the 11th century medical text by Ibn Butlan Taqwim al-Sihhah. Obviously he was a very learned man and I think that’s very cool.

959bLindisfarne Castle

I loved Lindisfarne Castle and, again, that was mainly due to its location. Lindisfarne is a special place.

This is a 16th century building, and its construction sort of coincided with the dissolution of the monasteries. Subsequently a lot of stone used to build the castle was taken from Lindisfarne Priory.

It sits on Beblowe Hill, the highest point of the island.

In 1901 it became the property of Edward Hudson, founder of Country Life magazine, and he had Sir Edwin Lutyens remodel the castle and Gertrude Jekyll the gardens. You don’t get much more impressive than that at the time.

602bMorpeth Castle

Now considering Morpeth is the county town of Northumberland, the castle is a bit bland now. The original motte and bailey was destroyed in 1216 by King John and a new castle created in the bailey in 1346.

Its claim to fame is that in 1644 a garrison of 500 Lowland Scots held for Parliament against 2,700 Royalists for 20 days.

In the 1940s it was given to the Borough of Morpeth and has since been a family home and holiday accommodation.



Prudhoe Castle

This castle, on the south banks of the Tyne, is another that started life as a motte and bailey, built sometime in the 11th century.

Following the Norman Conquest, the castle was owned by the Unfraville family and when the last Umfraville died, his widow married a Percy and Prudhoe became the property of the Earl of Northumberland.

It has changed hands several times since then but returned to the Percys in 1557.

It became the property of the Crown in 1966 and is now managed by English Heritage.

And finally …

221bWarkworth Castle

Another English Heritage property (it’s a good job we have membership), Warkworth Castle and the town of the same name lie on a loop in the River Coquet.

Historians seem uncertain as to whether it was originally built by Prince Henry of Scotland of Henry II of England but they do know it belonged to the fitz Richards and the de Claverings before eventually becoming the property of that Percy family again. Definite property magnates specialising in castles were the Percys.

Alan Percy, 8th Duke of Northumberland, gave the property to the crown in 1922 and there it has stayed.

So, there you have it, a whirlwind tour of nine castles of Northumberland. According to my list of castles, there are 21 in the county so I am still 12 short.

I’m just going to have to go back … damn :)







522bBerwick-upon-Tweed, the most northerly town in England, and what a beautiful historic town it is.

On our recent visit to Northumberland Man and I decided we would start at the top, so we drove from Nottingham straight to Berwick.

501bThis is a town on the mouth of the river Tweed and among the first things we noticed were the bridges.

This viaduct takes the railway from England to Scotland. This is the Royal Border Bridge, built by Robert Stevenson and Berwick’s most famous landmark.

514bYou can see it in the background here. In the middle of the photo is the modern road bridge over the river and in the foreground, the older bridge.

It was at the foot of the old bridge that Man and I came across a fellow photographer who told us you could walk all the way around the walls of this border town. Nice guy, very enthusiastic about the delights the town had to offer.

Walls have been important to the people of Berwick. It has been in the firing line on more occasions than most towns.

Captured or sacked 13 times before it finally fell to the English, the Elizabethans built walls around the town to keep the marauding Scots out.


They built them well and they have stood the test of time for the most part, giving Berwick one of the most complete bastioned town defences in northern Europe. And from these walls you get some great views across the estuary.


And below the walls is a great place to sit and gaze out to sea.


This is also the home of England’s first purpose-built barracks, now owned by English Heritage.

530bBuilt in the eighteenth century, it houses museums, buttresses, batteries and a Russian canon.

525bThe surroundings of other fortifications in the centre of town have been turned into a car park – park at your own risk, the seagulls have a habit of ‘decorating’ the vehicles :)

516bEverywhere there is evidence of old architecture.

543bThis looked to me like an old church wall. Interesting how just one single wall of whatever this was was allowed to remain when all other traces of the building have disappeared.

529bAnd this has to be the most picturesque setting for allotments that I’ve ever seen … and they were all so beautifully kept.

545bBut although the town walls are incredibly preserved, the same cannot be said of the castle. Just ruins remain, but I have seen those ruins, so that is another castle knocked off the list for my Fifty before Fifty challenge.

542bThis sign was everywhere and it made me smile. In one image it looks as though the dog is weeing up the tree and in the other, well you can see. Struck me as quite appropriate for the Urban Sanitary Authority.

We found a highly unusual church, but that merits a post all of it’s own. And we checked off a pub from Man’s Good Pub Guide.

503bThis was the old schoolhouse. Now it is The Leaping Salmon where you can (and we did) purchase a large black coffee and a pint of the finest Hobgoblin for the bargainous price of just £2.75. Now that is worth driving to Berwick for.


There aren’t so many battles in Berwick-upon-Tweed any more. Now it is just a bustling, friendly market town with a lot of history.

But, if and when the Scots gain independence from the union, well who knows. Berwick will once again take its place in history as a border town.

243bYou know you can’t get lucky all the time and there was one minor disappointment during our recent trip to Northumberland.

While there I wanted to check off some castles for my Fifty before Fifty challenge, but there are also two Churches Coservation Trust churches in the area that I wanted to see as part of the same challenge. One is actually in Northumberland and one on the border with Durham.

We thought we’d check them out on our way home and make a day of the journey.

So I checked the website, both were listed as being open daily and off we went.

This is the first one, St Andrew’s at Bywell, Northumberland.

We found it without too much difficulty. It was closed.

I looked on the noticeboards to see if there was any information about a keyholder but there wasn’t.



So we walked around a bit.

This church is old, Saxon in fact and built around 850. It was once part of a thriving market town by the Tyne, though not much remains now.



This is a great example of a Saxon tower though.

Inside St Andrew’s is apparently a ‘glittering reredos’, a mosaic sanctuary floor and some fine Victorian stained glass, but I didn’t get to see any of those.

But what I most wanted to see were the ‘magnificent early Medieval grave slabs’ that the CTC website told me about.



Luckily, some of them were set into the outside walls, although there are, I believe, more inside.


239bBut those I did see were lovely. I love early Medieval carvings and the carvings of these are meant to depict the occupations of the people on whose grave they lay.

Now St Andrew’s sits next to, and by next to I mean within a few yards of, another Saxon church, the church of St Peter’s. Quite frankly having two Saxon churches in such lovely condition in one village is a little greedy methinks :)

232bThis one was closed too.

This church is still a fully functioning parish church.234b

I tried to call the Revd. Bill Rigby whose phone number was further down the sign, to see if he knew who held the keys to St Andrew’s but he was on another call and though ‘the person you are trying to contact knows you are waiting’, he was obviously busy and didn’t answer.

It seemed strange to me that two churches had been built at roughly the same time in such close proximity. A little research told me that St Peter’s was in fact built as the parish church of Bywell and St Andrew’s may originally have been the parish church for the long-since vanished village of Styford.

In between the two churches stands a market cross.

231bMaybe this was the meeting place that marked the boundaries of the villages of Bywell and Styford? Who knows?

So that was the minor disappointment of our trip – and it didn’t turn out to be that much of a disaster after all. Although I would like to see inside St Andrew’s and I am not sure when I am going to be able to return to Northumberland.

The clock is ticking… only 2.2 years until I’m fifty :)

(The second CTC church of that day will feature in another post all of it’s own)