Category Archives: Traditions

Cycle Rides to Ten Herefordshire Churches

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 reverse order:

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!

2.   ST.CUTHBERT’S CHURCH, HOLME LACY – 8 or 9 mles away.

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

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.

And …………. bell ringing is fun! Try it!

CLICK HERE TO SEE A VIDEO of The Holmer Band at Tyberton

Christmas in Madrid

This year my sons  and I decided to spend a few days in Madrid over Christmas. Madrid is their home town so not such a random destination! Of course, the Spanish do the giving and receiving of presents part on January 6th, el Día de Reyes,  so whilst all my English relatives are busy playing Santa on December 25th, all my Spanish relatives have to wait another 12 days – in other words, we English celebrate on the first day of Christmastide and they celebrate on the last.
Barajas, Madrid’s airport,  has expanded since I was last there and we arrived at the newest terminal, 4, late in the  evening to see the unusual tubular design at its illuminated best!



We had so many relatives to catch up with that our stay turned into a bit of a culinary marathon. We arrived on December 28 so we got TWO Christmases in – first ours in the UK and then theirs!  The first big Spanish family feast we attended was on New Year’s Eve, (I had originally written New Fear’s Eve here before I proof read – which could be more accurate, actually – fear that we were going to explode with all this food!)  Anyway, in for a penny, in for a pound!
At my oldest sister-in-law’s we kicked off with a glass of cava and the customary toast and then started off gently with a consommé, quickly followed by the tenderest cutlet of hake you can imagine, served with shellfish and washed down with wine or more cava. This was a night time meal so fish was the star of the show. We also polished off platefuls of ‘gulas’ (‘angulas’ to give them their official name – elvers, or baby eel)

and to tell the truth I don’t rightly remember what pud was! It’s all a bit of a blur now but the meal would have been rounded off by the ubiquitous ‘roscón de reyes’ (kings’ cake) – a sort of giant doughnut – some are filled with cream, some not, and traditionally they contain a trinket and an ‘haba’,  a bean, which these days are made of plastic – if you are unlucky enough to break a tooth or choke on either of these it’s meant to bring good luck !! The ‘roscón’ serves the same purpose as our English Christmas cake – everyone has some tucked away in the larder in case unexpected guests drop in.
Obviously, you have to leave a bit out for the Three Kings too when they drop in on their camels with the presents on the eve of January 6th.

The next spread was the very next day – New Year’s Day. In between, the younger element went into town to La Puerta del Sol to celebrate New Year’s Eve in the traditional way, by drinking too much and falling into the fountain – much the same as Trafalgar Square in London, really. So back to the dinner table – my middle sister-in law was in charge this time (there are three of them so they spread the load!) First seafood soup, and for the main course,  ‘cochinillo asado’ (suckling pig – this family does not cater for vegetarians!!) Apart from ‘roscón’, the other traditional Christmas sweet in Spain is ‘turrón’, which these days you see made of all sorts of ingredients – chocolate, coconut, crystallised fruit – though still the most popular (and some say the ‘only authentic’ ) is the original one made traditionally from honey and almonds. They’re all delicious – so I say ‘Bring it on!’! She then brought in the most enormous pot of coffee  to finish off – or to finish us off!

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No room at the inn!
At any other time of year when we visit Madrid we stay with relatives, but as everyone had lots of their other relatives staying because it was Christmas,  we rented an apartment which was bang in the middle of the  old quarter of the city in La Latina, a stone’s throw from La Plaza Mayor. To work off a few calories, over the next few days we explored the area around our apartment, starting with the Plaza Mayor – the  beautiful, historic and atmospheric main square of Madrid – if it ain’t happenin’ around here – it ain’t happenin’!!
The Segway seems to have become the transport of choice for the more intrepid tourist.  The Tourist Information Office in the La Plaza Mayor is one of the departure points for these tours and and now that a lot of Madrid’s central streets have been pedestrianized it’s the ideal way to go  – plenty of ramps and flat surfaces to whizz down – you can be outside the Royal Palace or the Prado Museum in no time!
segway
Wherever there are visitors, there are street artists and La Plaza Mayor is no exception – very interesting to watch them work, although they usually have a zealous ‘minder’ hanging around to stop you photographing their creations – except for one here, who had left a phone number and a note saying ‘Call me if you want to buy something’ !!
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The Plaza Mayor is an architectural gem, a beautiful part of the old city, but it’s a typical tourist trap – they lure you in and are quite happy to charge 3 or 4 times the going rate even for a beer or a coffee. But you’re paying for the surroundings and to watch the world go by – this is true winter or summer.
plaza
At Christmas time, as in any big city, the square fills up with the weird and the wonderful – like Merlin here, who didn’t seem entirely sure of what he was doing!
merlin
Or would you miss this photo opportunity?
The square is lined with great shops – natty headgear – suits you, sir!

or some Toledo steel – Toledo is a town just south of Madrid famous for two things – one is the painter, El Greco,  born in Crete, but who settled in Toledo and worked there for over thirty years till his death in 1614; and the other is the production of steel, dating back to 500 BC – lots of daggers, and swords etc but since knights are a bit thin on the ground now they have taken to selling these weapons to tourists and collectors.

Below is a traditional Belén, the Nativity scene you see depicted all over Spain at Christmas in homes and public places. This particularly detailed one   was on display in a glass cabinet in the Plaza Mayor, but all the churches have one,  some much more elaborate than others – some life size, others more modest, some with moving parts, and, although younger Spaniards are not church goers, a lot take their children to see a Belén or indeed help them to build one at home.  Of course, some families have a Christmas tree instead or as well – I prefer the Belén.

The Plaza mayor was the perfect place on the way home from the hubbub in town to chill with a glass of wine or a beer  – they even put on a nightly light show and a jazz trio up in one of the balconies.


jazz2
jazz
The main shopping areas around Calle Mayor, Preciados and Gran Via were building up nicely to a last minute pre – Christmas buying frenzy, with people snapping up those last few items  – funny, this was all over and done with in the UK but here we were again – Christmas lights, wrapping paper, street stalls with seasonal food to sample, choirs singing carols, cash tills pinging – it all felt a bit Ground Hog! One of the main streets, the Gran Vía has some very swish shops – fancy some jewellery ?-  the Spanish are nothing if not ostentatious!
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or some shoes ? These were beautiful quality.
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or at the other end of the scale, despite being housed in this very grand building, I am told  you can bag a bargain here in the Mercadillo del Gato,

Or when you tire of shopping you can just admire the contours and lines of the city’s apartment buildings and urban architecture.
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sanmiguel          lights2           chocychurros
calletoledo aptblock
apt    santacoke
sunlit
Although it gets bitterly cold in Madrid in the winter, most of the time you can be assured of a brilliant blue sky which really lifts your spirits. This means, of course, that you also get a beautiful sunset, and one of the best places to appreciate it is from the Parque del Oeste, just up from the Royal Place, where you will also find El Templo de Debod (or Debod’s Temple) which was gifted to the Spanish by Egypt in the late 1960s. With the sunset as a backdrop and the strategically placed floor lights, it’s a dramatic sight and very popular with visitors – in fact, we were being elbowed out of the way by people wanting selfies or just nice pictures – but at any other time of year it’s a beautiful spot to look across to the Royal Palace and the Almudena Cathedral, which take on a fairytale quality when they are lit up at twilight.
 

       almudena
as does the esplanade in front of the Palace, where we came across this wonderful old carousel, and a very enterprising ‘musician’ getting a tune out of some wine glasses!

Of course, Christmas is all about children! I don’t have any small children of my own now as mine are grown up but that didn’t stop me going to see a brilliant exhibition of Comic Book Superheroes, all made from Lego! You have to admire the ingenuity of the exhibits.
See if you recognise anyone!
     lego13
lego11
lego10 lego7
         



I will finish with a bizarre sight that met us on our way home from the cinema on our last night there – two science bods (unless they were just two geezers who had stolen a very expensive piece of equipment!) had placed a big telescope

out in the street near Opera so that,  for a small donation obviously,  you could gaze up at the moon! And the donations disappeared into here!