For me one of the most beautiful forms of artistic expression there is is stained glass.
Wander round your local area and you will come across some stunning examples of stained glass. Most are in churches, some in private dwellings, some in schools: some modern, some ancient , some abstract, some telling a story, some just revelling in a juxtaposition of brilliant colours to form a glorious design. I love them all. Here are some of my favourites:
Stained glass images reflect the artist’s skill, imagination and his desire to represent the human condition – the triumphs, the tribulations, the suffering and the celebration.
As a relative newbie to the bewildering world of bell ringing I was asked to write something about our winter outing to 4 churches in the Cheltenham area – all in urban settings and, for me, each one a challenge! Our itinerary listed the weights of the bells in each tower – just one more thing to get to grips with – but even I thought the second lot of weights looked odd – (0 – 2 – 7). But no, it was right.
Anyway, let’s start at the beginning. First stop – Cheltenham Minster Church of St. Mary in the middle of town with 12 bells. The technique it seems would involve holding your bell up, pausing and then pulling on that rope to keep in time with the rest – in other words, ring slower. I’ve got the theory – I just can’t put it into practice at will – yet! Hearing those who can is a great experience – there were a lot of ringers present – 30 or thereabouts, some from Holmer, Hereford, and some from Bodicote, Banbury, all at different stages of their development – so all levels of ability.
So on to Stop 2 – St. Christopher’s at Warden Hill, a little church masquerading as a house, built in the 1960s in the middle of a 1950s housing estate. So, as I mention above, our itinerary told us that the weight of these bells is (0-2-7) – in layman’s terms zero hundredweight, 2 quarters (that’s 56 lbs or 4 stone) and 7 lbs. The metric system is so much easier!! Anyway, given that the weights for the third tower were (16-1-2), you can see that this second ring of 6 bells were going to be tiny – and so they proved! The look of bemusement, bewilderment and general puzzlement is evident on the faces of the ringers in the next couple of photos.
To ring these bells successfully meant using only one hand on each stroke to avoid using too much force and break the stays – the action of the ringers, with alternate arms swinging rhythmically to gingerly grab the rope, reminded me of sailors climbing the rigging of a ship.
I decided I would be better off going downstairs to admire the stained glass. There were 10 triptych panels altogether along both sides of the nave, created by artist Tom Denny, who is also responsible for the beautiful Traherne window in Hereford Cathedral. Here at Warden Hill, the panels depict Jesus’s parables from the Bible with a reference to the book and chapter they are taken from.
We stopped for lunch, which was a welcome break, and then resumed our ringing at St.Mark’s. Unfortunately, the church itself was closed. The set up in this tower was more like Withington, where the Holmer ringers regularly ring: so 8 bells with a longer draught – the rope is (and feels!) a lot longer. What they had here, which Withington doesn’t have, is a metal frame to guide the ropes. It was a bit of a squeeze with so many people but Dave and Karen made sure that everyone had a ring and personally I think I rang better in the afternoon than the morning – although both towers had 8 bells, 2 more than I have been used to, that is still closer to 6 than 12, so I felt on more familiar ground.
The fourth and last church (I was flagging by now!) at Charlton Kings was open and whilst we waited to be let into the tower we were treated to a brief impromptu concert – a male singer plus pianist were rehearsing for a performance. And this church boasted all the traditional features I like to see – wall hangings, statues, stained glass and the like.
The bell tower was also traditional – through the little hobbit door and up the winding stone spiral staircase till you’re dizzy!
But do you know what? There was another welcome sight – a pub directly opposite the church !!
Blogging’s the aim and cycling’s the game. Within a 15 mile radius of my house there are so many delightful country churches. I decided to pick just a few and rate them according to these criteria – the first one being the most important to the weary cyclist:
a comfy bench in a quiet spot to refuel and enjoy a few minutes’ quiet contemplation
an interesting setting and a beautiful view – hereabouts that’s easy – the stunning Herefordshire countryside
is the church open?
what architectural jewels and decorative features are to be found inside and out?
does the church have any stained glass windows ? a universal characteristic of religious buildings, dating back many centuries, so it would be disappointing not to find some nice ones
and finally, the bell towers and the bells themselves – there is no sound more quintessentially English than church bells on a Sunday morning or pealing out in celebration for a wedding
I set about this personal survey last summer (2018) and of the 20 or so churches I have visited so far I have short listed the ten below.
Here they are in reverseorder:
10. ST. MICHAEL’S CHURCH, BREINTON – although Google tells me this church is only 2.4 miles away from me, I cycle this loop a lot and I can tell you the scenic route is nine miles.
Hidden away in the narrow lanes of lower Breinton – a small church with a feature I especially liked – a lyche gate which looks a bit odd as it stands in isolation now but it opens out onto an apple orchard, which, in the Spring, must look glorious. Apparently, this was the original entrance but now the church has a wide sweep of grass bordered by a shrubbery and a gravel drive up to the entrance from the opposite side – and a handily placed bench where you can get your breath back. There are only two bells here which are not often rung, but the church is still regularly used by the local community.
9. ST. MARY’S, MARDEN (a round trip of 12 miles)
A very substantial building with TWO fine benches to the right of the main entrance!
The day I visited was a Saturday and there was a lot of activity inside and out – this is clearly a church open for business! The bell tower was also open – no danger to the public – the bells are safely locked behind a grille but easily visible. There are six bells which were refurbished in 2016. I have discovered that churches have some very quirky access points to their bells and this one has what the locals call ‘the fireplace’ – a sort of stone mantle that you have to duck underneath.
Inside felt very community and child centred – obviously, attracting the punters of tomorrow is of the essence!
8. ST. MARY, TYBERTON – the round trip can vary between 20 and 25 miles depending on my route and that depends on the weather!
Tyberton is a small village so has a small church to match. It was built within the grounds of Tyberton Court in around 1719 – comparatively recently for a church. Personally, I prefer my churches to look more traditional. This one lacks any interesting architectural flourishes – it is of red brick with plain glass windows. What it does have, which I have not come across anywhere else is a resident vicar, albeit a dummy one! who lurks in the belfry – quite scary when you first come across him in the gloom. Bell ringers from other towers are aware of his presence but no one has yet explained to me why he is there!!
7. ST. ANDREWS at HAMPTON BISHOP – a 15 mile round trip, going out on the B2442 and back over the river bridge onto the B4399 and through Holme Lacy – there are intermittent bits of bike lane through the Industrial Estate and towards home.
First impressions of Hampton Bishop church? Well, the churchyard struck me as very unkempt, but I was told by one who knows that the idea was to create a wildlife sanctuary – so there!
You are still able to make your way up through the headstones. Despite the long grass, the all important bench is the first thing you see to the right of the gate, slightly raised so ideal to survey those who come and go .
This church dates back to the 12th century and has a black and white timbered belfry atop a Norman tower.
Inside I found this lovely stained glass window.
6. ST.PETER’S at PETERCHURCH – this church is the furthest away from me of the 10 on this list – a round trip of 28 miles, so not one I undertake regularly!! My loss, as it turns out, as it has become ‘dual purpose’ along with many other churches in their battle not only to survive but to attract new blood. Now a community based social hub with a library cum bell tower on the first floor, which you reach via a set of user friendly steps rather than the usual narrow, cobwebby, dark, spiral staircase. Downstairs are comfy sofas and tables and chairs where you can have a coffee and something to eat – in the warm.
5. ALL SAINTS’ CHURCH, BROCKHAMPTON – a round trip of 22 miles – as the crow flies! A doddle on the flat. However, to reach this gem of a building there is a serious climb up through Capler Wood,
or maybe straight through Fownhope and round the back, or maybe even through Woolhope – but that way lies Haugh Wood! Whichever way you choose there is no avoiding a few hills!
But great on the way back down!
And the reward? The setting is spectacular – rolling countryside with the River Wye in the valley below,
then a picture perfect village and then ….. as stunning an example of an Arts and Crafts building as you will find anywhere. Brockhampton church is as gorgeous inside as it is out, chock a block with special features, especially, for me at least, the lighting, and all topped off outside with a thatched roof – very unusual.
So why did this church only make number 5 on my list? Simply because it is not the easiest church to get to by bike – unless you’re Chris Froome! And I don’t remember seeing a bench outside either.
4. ST.PETER’S CHURCH, WITHINGTON – on a triangular ride through (Hampton Bishop) > Mordiford > (Dormington) > (Bartestree) > (Withington) >Sutton > (Lyde )> Holmer and home it would be the best part of 20 miles. If I wanted to brave the main Hereford to Worcester road (the A4103) it would be 12 out and back.
This church had to feature on my list as it has many family connections. My mother came from Withington and she and my father are now buried in the churchyard there, along with many of mum’s relatives. As well as that, I was christened there at the grand old age of 19 – so I do remember it! This was because my husband to be, who was a practising Catholic, wanted to be married in the Roman Catholic church in Hereford and the priest was horrified to discover that let alone not being Catholic myself I hadn’t even been christened as a baby!! So we set about amending that asap.
Withington church is a regular pit stop on my cycle rides and from the bench round the back you can sit undisturbed and look out over the fields adjacent to Withington Court, the farm where my grandfather and at least three of his sons worked – so the village and the church have lots of happy childhood associations for me.
3. ST.PETER’S CHURCH, DORMINGTON – 8 miles away
This is a very appealing church, Norman in origin but greatly renovated in the 18th century – the outside space as attractive as the interior: – a pristine lawned area with immaculate borders and a beautiful tree providing shade for the bench nearby.
if you walk along the lane to the left of the church you will come to two burial grounds where you can sit and rest in absolute quiet.
And in front of the church is another bench, a bit uncomfortable to sit on but with a bin attached so there is no excuse to litter the churchyard!
Inside are these lovely stained glass windows
I could only see three bell ropes so I am assuming the church has a ring of three bells – whether they are rung regularly I don’t know. The afternoon sun produced a magical effect on this statue on one of the tombstones at the front of the church.
Many people don’t even realise this church is here, tucked away as it is between the houses and set back a little from the road. Most cars that use this road are speeding along this ‘rat run’ from Mordiford to reach the main Hereford to Ledbury road – the A438. They should slow down and take a look!
You could be forgiven for missing this church – it’s down a long country lane which veers off to the left of the smart entrance to Holme Lacy House Hotel.
So here’s our bench ………….. so far, so good.
but what’s this?
So, sadly, a redundant church – but, as with all things which we want to keep alive, the Churches Conservation Trust has diversified! This church is near the River Wye and ideal for …………… ‘champing’ !
I wondered what these were for! They look a bit spartan here but when you visit the Churches Conservation Trust website you can see how inviting they look all decked out in comfy throws and pillows and such for a good night’s kip!!
The Scudamore family were great patrons of this church and John Scudamore, who died in 1571, is buried here alongside his wife in an impressive tomb.
The beauty of this historical church is reflected through its stained glass, historic 17th century font, organ – all the things you would expect to see in a church
and a couple you might not! Like this outside loo complete with tiny gargoyle!
Even though this historic church with its beautiful interior is no longer used for worship, it has a ring of eight bells which pealed out on November 11th, 2018, along with many other churches nationwide to mark the Centenary of Armistice Day.
And finally, top of my list is ……………….
ST. MARY & ST.DAVID CHURCH at KILPECK
Its reputation precedes it.
This church nestles at the end of a lane off the Hereford to Abergavenny section of Route 46 of the national cycle network. I have only cycled along a tiny part of it – it runs from Droitwich to Neath – 80 miles! – a bit beyond me!
A building of well documented historical and architectural importance and a smart building! the lights come on for you as you advance towards the altar – I don’t know how many churches are ‘smart’ but what a good idea – after all, they are often dark, cold uninviting places. There are a couple of benches outside, the views across the fields are not very exciting but it is a quiet place to sit and rest.
As I left Kilpeck church I saw this familiar vehicle parked outside! Hope the lead is still on the roof!