Hidden away in the Herefordshire countryside is Arthur’s Stone, a magnificent ancient burial chamber. I cannot better the information provided by the sign within its enclosure by English Heritage so here it is:
You can get up to the Stone by car from the village of Dorstone but we did it the hard way. Starting from the bridge at Bredwardine we crossed the road, with the Red Lion pub on our left. The narrow lane quickly becomes a steep hill. We passed some local houses whose gardens contained some attractive (and ferocious!) residents
After wending our way up through some undeniably stunning countryside, we turned left down a smaller track which eventually comes out at a couple of houses and a stile into a field which is impossible steep!
Onward and upward ! We crossed another few fields and negotiated stiles and gates, saying hello to a lone horse and myriad sheep – to eventually reach our goal
There is something undeniably pleasing about the placement of the stones. Apparently this burial chamber has never been excavated so the many legends that surround it are pure conjecture. Whatever you may believe it is worth a visit – but take my advice – go by car!!
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!
Remembrance Sunday 2018– the centenary of Armistice Day – the end of the First World War, and for some of us a day to remember for different reasons. I had always wanted to learn the skill of bell ringing, so with that aim in mind, in May of this year I made my way to Hereford Cathedral where local bell ringers had set up a mini – ring to demonstrate what actually happens when you pull on that rope and the bell, which is usually hidden in a chamber above your head, turns through 360 + degrees and chimes out. I was invited by the tower captain, Karen Powell, of St. Bartholomew’s, Holmer, to start my apprenticeship under the watchful eye of her husband, Dave, whose career in bell ringing spans some 30 + years. I practised every Tuesday, from June to October, and eventually joined the regular ringers for their practice on a Thursday evening. I learned to ring handstroke and backstroke unaided and was just getting the hang of learning to ring rounds with the others when disaster struck – I was forced to take a break due to a car accident.
The regular ringers continued with their preparations. Experienced ringer, Hayley Clarke, had been given the task of ensuring that all the local churches which had ringable bells also had a full complement of ringers on Remembrance Sunday – no mean feat as it turned out ! But she succeeded and on Sunday November 11th church bells across the county rang out from 12.30 onwards.
Before this the team had already rung the bells muffled for the service at Holmer, before ringing open at 12.30. Then, after a photo call,
we three apprentices, Jayne Morgan, Laura Simpson, and myself joined the regular Holmer bellringers on a ride round the lanes of Herefordshire to call in on four other churches. starting at Vowchurch, in the west of the county, which has a ring of 3 bells.
Next stop was just down the road at Peterchurch. First impressions? it was so warm and cosy ! With the aid of Heritage funding, the church has become an important social space for local residents, with a café, comfy sofas to sit on, a library cum bell tower on the first floor, as well as some lovely traditional stained glass windows.
We then visited Tyberton, a small village about 3 miles west of Madley. Tyberton has an unusual red brick built church with plain windows. See if you can spot the other unusual feature in the next few photos!
Yes, that’s him – the dummy vicar who resides in the bell tower! Anyway, here we are, apprentices and old hands alike, marking the day. After Tyberton we called at Holme Lacy, a beautiful, but sadly, redundant church. When you decide to learn to ring church bells one thing you realise is that there are ladders or spiral staircases to be negotiated to get up to the ringing chambers in some churches – in Holmer we are spoilt because it is a ground tower – and I am told Herefordshire has a disproportionate number of ground towers, but eventually you face a scary ladder. Luckily, Holme Lacy’s looked scary -but wasn’t !
Holme Lacy, a beautiful church, set in the lovely Herefordshire countryside near the River Wye, boasts some unusual stained glass windows.
Our last stop was Wellington, a village, just north of Hereford, off the A49. This time it did mean wending our way up a stone spiral staircase but quite an amenable one.
This day was special – It was special to be part of it and special when you realise that this anniversary will never be repeated -the Centenary of the end of a war which happened at the beginning of the last century. My grandfather would remember it as he was one of those boy soldiers who ran away to fight, to serve his country. But with each passing generation it becomes harder to recall the sacrifice and suffering that those men endured to guarantee peace for ensuing generations. But remember we must!
It was special for me too because I am starting to achieve something I had wanted to do – to acquire a skill and help maintain a tradition which is so quintessentially English – when you hear bells ring out on a Sunday morning you think of everything that is good about England.