The lush countryside of Herefordshire is punctuated by ancient and churches, giving tantalising hints of past histories. Most of us see very few. Many are deeply embedded beyond tarmac in remote lanes and pastures. The possibility of a guided introduction to some of these gems in south Herefordshire, in the Wye reaches, Ross and Llangarron Benefices, was a chance not to be missed.
Our journey from North Herefordshire to the ‘Church Crawl’ rendezvous at St Dubricius Church Whitchurch ( the oldest church in the deanery of Ross and Archenfield) began with a car sprint to and fro on a bridge across the A40, that is until a local resident pointed us towards unobtrusive gates to a narrow lane, so well shaded that the air appeared green. The gates and lane led to the Gwillim Grave Enclosure and church. A short journey along the lane, then with a little balletic parking alongside our fellow crawlers and we were there.
The approach to the church through the graveyard is spectacularly beautiful. A medieval churchyard cross, delicately streaked with moss, stands among ancient tombstones. Many of the stones were carved with a charming cherubic face, wings by its ears, the carving softened by the weathering of centuries. A three hundred year old tulip tree shades the stones and beyond that an enormous dark yew tree spreads above.
The church interior has been reordered providing a kitchen and a loo, so we were warmly welcomed with delicious cakes and hot drinks. Tim guided our explorations of the interior which alongside considerable renovation showed some fine embroideries.
Now we decanted into two coaches and were driven off to St Giles Church Goodrich, seeing marvellous views of the sandstone remains of Goodrich Castle. The church was spied first as the most elegant slender stone spire apparently sprouting from fields. The journey on foot from the coach was indeed through wet tussocks. The interior of the church had benefitted from items from Goodrich court (demolished in the fifties) acquiring some 15th century stained glass and a fine wall of linenfold panelling. A vicar of this church was Jonathan Swift between years1625 to1658.
Our next stop was at the 12th century church of All Angels at Walford, which had been most beautifully reordered to provide a kitchen, loo and dining area all finely crafted in wood. Here we admired the Tudor font and the rood screen. Outside the church was an impressive tree lined memorial walk, and a lychgate where apparently before mortuaries were available, the bodies of the dead would be laid to await burial overseen by mourning relatives….. We enjoyed our various picnics. It was almost, but not quite Glyndebourne.
Our journey to Bishopswood down sinuous leafy lanes would have been a challenge to car drivers and certainly displayed the skills of our coach drivers.We were welcomed into a simple symmetrical space with a high arched ceiling and a wrought iron arch where once a screen would have been. The church heating had been turned on for us and we could not have had a more enthusiastic welcome. Outside, crawlers stretched their legs and climbing skills in exploring the vertiginous graveyard.
Our last visit to St Margaret’s, Welsh Bicknor was rather unexpectedly exciting. We were accessing a renovated church in a private estate belonging to the Vaughan family, built on a fifth century site by the Wye. After renovation the family plan to have it rededicated as a Roman Catholic place of worship.The lane down to the river was especially steep, and narrow enough to allow only inches above the forested drop of several hundred feet to the river. A shuttle service with the smaller coach and cars ferried all and sundry to the church. The trip down needed intense focus by drivers and passengers alike, but thankfully vehicles and passengers all arrived intact. The interior of the church was in the decorative style with busts and foliage bordering many edges and discs of colourful minerals inset in the font. I was reminded of the Natural History Museum. Outside, just a few feet away the River Wye slid by. The sun shone and we marvelled at this wonderful position for a place of worship.
Our last stop was an encore at St Dubricius Whitchurch, where again the kind parishioners provided us with delicious refreshment, which was gratefully consumed. A last short exploration inside and outside the church was the culmination of a thoroughly enjoyable informative and occasionally surprising day. By now we were discussing alternative names for our Church Crawl, and thinking of our demanding descent to St Margaret’s Welsh Bicknor ‘Church Lurch,’ was suggested.
Grateful thanks to………Tim Bridges, Lady McFarlane and Ali Haydn Jones
Bloggers: The enthusiastic participants Jo Boosey and Jean F. Heaven