Thursday, 21 April 2011

A sacred gem

We are quite spoilt for delightful little churches in the UK - almost every village and small town has an old and interesting place of worship, many of which have been around for the best part of a thousand years or more. But sometimes we find unexpected gems, often in the smallest and most tucked away of places. Such is St Andrew's in the Cotswold village of
Sevenhampton. Although it has Norman origins, the tower is of a later build, 'Early English' - or, more simply, the Medieval period. It also has a octagonal stairway running up it, which is visible from outside. You would have to be tiny - or from another century - to get up it without some discomfort.

The tower was a later addition, courtesy of a wool merchant John Camber who stipulated in his will that whatever parish he died in, there he would be buried and the church benefit. So the tower was built in his honour in 1497, but necessitated inner supports; to see flying buttresses on a church this small would be unusual - to see them inside is, in my limited opinion, nothing short of astonishing. Looking down the nave, you can just see the diagonals propping up the tower.

The South side buttress -

The North side buttress

View of both buttresses from the North side. Disused Charles 11 font (17th Century) visible -

The tower itself is small but impressive, with simple fan vaulting. This is also the bell tower, housing three bells, the earliest dating from sometime in the 15th century, the most recent on from the 18th. A mere stripling.

For me, even more fascinating than the buttresses, was the concealed mensa stone, the old original altar - many of these mensa's were removed (and hidden) during the
16th century Reformation. Some have since been replaced, but this one became part of a 'squint' - it is very low, as the floor was raised at some later date. The mensa at St Andrews forms the top of the squint -

By holding my camera inside, I was able to take a couple of (blurry) shots of two of the five consecration crosses inscribed on what would have been the altar top.

What I love about our churches is their unpretentiousness. Despite their antiquity and historic pedigree, they are still places of worship and although loved, cared for and continually restored, they are often appear somewhat 'lived in'; things are stashed away, biros and sweets left in a favourite pew, always a box of old toys tucked away to keep little ones quiet during service. Sometimes they form quite beautiful, if unintentional, still lives.

Sometimes it is as if the spirits of past worshippers look down from the very walls...

...and the gradual process of centuries of aging renders a humble, rustic Medieval stoup into something quite divine.

Now we leave St Andrews and continue our walk, looking back for a final glimpse.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Cycling to the butchers

Has it really been two months? Apologies to everyone and thank you for waiting! But spring is here and today Marjorie and I took ourselves off for a shopping trip. First we stopped to get some eggs from a nearby honesty box. Then we began our trek to the butchers, out of the village and across the way, through winding lanes - can you see the tail of this one snaking away to the background?

This stretch is a long old grind uphill, never mind that there are pretty cottages to admire (
which I could not afford the mortgage of if I sold every single on of my internal organs and then some).

There is about a mile of slog until we reach the war memorial and I dismount. A bit of gentle pushing is called for.

After a long, cold, winter, the Cotswolds are finally waking up.

Which way shall we go?

Down here? Lovely little tempting track which sadly leads nowhere in particular.

We must turn right and, oh dear, another long slope up. We walk to the summit - after all, it is a gorgeous day to be out and about.

Finally we cross a busy road and begin a mile long leisurely spin downhill all the way -

- to the pretty village where we will do our shopping.

Slatters Butchers, the best kept secret in West Oxfordshire; free range and local meat at affordable prices. For this I have cycled seven miles. Inside in the cool, I fan myself rapidly as I order a small free range chicken, home made pork sausages and some neck of lamb (thrifty), while chatting to the lovely butcher about running marathons (him) and half dying from exhaustion (me).

There is a little deli-cum-village-shop attached to it. It's a bit pricey and I have problems deciding if I do *need* anything, but it's vital to support local shops, so Marjorie's panniers end up filled with a bag of meat, the two cartons of eggs, two bottles of Hook Norton beer, Strawberry & Elderflower cordial, lemon crunch biscuits made in the village and a wodge of mature cheddar. Plus my big flask of water. My debit card is lighter though...

Laden down like a desert donkey, Marjorie and I wobble our way home.

What came down has to go up again - though mostly walking, up to the top road where the trees line the horizon.

Mercifully it's a lot easier coming back, a lot of free-wheeling downhill -

- back past the cottages.

Taking a different route back home, along a *real* road - with a warning sign. Sadly it didn't slow the cars whizzing by, though Marjorie eased up a little. Just in case.

Winding through the tiny neighbouring village.

And the last stretch home. Another hill. Did we walk or did we tackle it manfully? What do you think?

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