Wednesday 14 September 2011
Norfolk churches 94-110: around East Rudham
That's actually West Rudham pictured above, most treasurable perhaps of the 16 churches, ruins and methodist chapels we four regular hikers collected in nine and a half hours covering 19 miles on our latest annual walk for the Norfolk Churches Trust.
East Rudham is one of the prettiest villages in Norfolk, with a rather good gastropub which was planned as our return destination, but it's unfortunately bisected by the busy King's Lynn to Fakenham main road.
The church of St Mary is abruptly berated in the Harrod/Linnell Shell Guide to Norfolk for its 'depressing pitch pine interior', but they like its 14th century porch with vaulted roof and bosses.
Inside, welcomed by a friendly lady with the usual lemon barley water and biscuits - if I were one of these dames, I'd bake a cake, but I've never had any home cooking in any of our eight walks - we admired some touching floor inscriptions
fragments of a medieval alabaster reredos kept in no great shakes in a dusty old glass case
and this fine Victorian face in Roman armour
Duly collecting the first of the Rudham methodist chapels en route, we arrived within minutes at St Peter West Rudham, a curious construction now in the hands of the wonderful institution we walk to raise funds for. Curiously, it's not yet among the 876 Norfolk churches Simon Knott has covered so lavishly and lovingly in his terrific Churches of East Anglia website. Its greatest treasure is the glass in the three north nave windows dating from 1415-35 (very grateful to the excellent leaflet provided by Norwich's Hungate Medieval Art, which I wrote about following our May trip to the city, for information). The figure of Christ displaying his wounds is surely one of the highest artistic gems in our entire stained-glass heritage
and very pretty, too, is the six-winged feathered angel in the same window.
To revert to the Hungate text: 'in the top tracery light of the central window is a figure of Christ wearing the Crown of Thorns; beneath is the Coronation of the Virgin flanked on the right by a figure of Gabriel from the Annunciation. In the head of the first main light is a canopy top.' I have treasured close ups of each, but we can't spend the entire blog entry on one church, alas.
Above St. Mark the Evangelist in the easternmost of the three windows is a lily in a pot, presumably also part of the Annunciation
and I was intrigued in quite a different way by the sinister sunken eye-sockets and nose that seems to emerge from a grubby bit of glass in the chancel; no idea what that's all about.
Everything about St Peter's is charming, thanks to the bare, unvarnished look the Norfolk Churches Trust buildings always have.
This one, though, is used about four times a year, and children had left biscuits for the forthcoming harvest festival on the octagonal perpendicular font (promise we didn't pinch any).
There are poppyheads incorporated into 17th century benches on the south side of the nave
and boards with the royal arms of George IV, the Creed and the Lord's Prayer.
As if this weren't enough, as we left we heard three very mellifluous bells rung discreetly; the two delightful ladies who greeted us were giving us a sendoff. I had to go back in and ask if they'd mind me filming them as a final memento of a special visit.
On, then, through sunny green lanes thick with cabbage white butterflies, across newly-harvested fields
and through woods past the ruins of the Augustinian priory at Coxford - this is as close as you can get, from the road -
to one of Norfolk's remotest churches, the 13th century All Saints Tattersett, first glimpsed just beyond a big farm
and surrounded by fields of dwarfish sunflowers. There's an odd homemade grave in the churchyard to one Ralph Elvis Mallet
and, on the south wall of the plain but still used interior
an atmospherically faded fresco, apparently of St Erasmus's martyrdom (how do they know?), not noted in my early-edition Pevsner.
A long stretch, then, past the Victorian Catholic church of St Margaret of Antioch (at last, a sainted departure from the norm) under scaffolding, and with time for a windy lunch. Crossing a bridge over a very beautiful stream, we headed up over open country to the splendidly-named Toftrees, where All Saints is so handsomely located on the top of a hill (yes, Norfolk does have 'em, pace Private Lives).
What a shock, then, to step inside. The bats have taken over, and it seems there's nothing the church conservators can do about it other than to cover all the furnishings in shit-covered, ammonia-stinking plastic sheeting.
A notice in the porch dated July 2010 tells us that there's to be a pilot project working with the Diocese of Norwich to find out how to mitigate the problem. So it comes down to nature-lovers versus church conservationists, and in this instance I'm afraid I know whose side I support. Especially when Toftrees' light and airy building houses one of Norfolk's gems, this superb purbeck-marble Norman font.
Its four beasts reminded me of the almost as fine specimen we'd seen in South Wootton, and the hunch was later to be confirmed that it was the same artist (though that must be a guess too).
Next we passed through hilly country, with Fakenham's grand tower, which we've yet to visit, gleaming in the far-distant valley
and past venerable oaks to St Mary Colkirk, redeeming feature of an unattractive village. You enter by the 14th century porch-tower to an over-restored interior with an 1871 north aisle. There's a simpler Norman font here
and a rather unusual Victorian collage of medieval glass
as well as a 17th century monument anagramming its subject, Samuell Smithe. I'll spare you the 48 ensuing lines of doggerel poetry.
It comes from nearby All Saints Oxwick, abandoned in the 1940s and now a picturesque ruin.
The light was shifting dramatically as we headed for the woods before entering the Raynham estate.
Not much joy with the Raynhams, I'm afraid, which at least allows a bit of fast-forwarding. St Martin South Raynham seemed a bit gloomy under skies threatening rain (which never happened) - and deserted, just when we were very much in need of waterbottle refills. I completely missed the stone mensa apparently in use as an altar table, but I like the Victorian St Peter which the leaflet fails to mention.
The Townshends of Raynham Hall, a fine building which we only glimpsed through trees, are famous for the second Viscount who introduced turnips for stock feeding: the name 'Turnip' Townshend still resonates from our dull history lessons at school.
St Mary East Raynham looks grand and is pure Victorian mock antique.
By then it was gone 6pm and the lockup meant we couldn't get in to see its Tudor Easter Sepulchre. An avenue of curiously pollarded giant limes led us to West Raynham with handsome 1801 Methodist chapel and more ruins in the form of St Margaret.
Weariness was now bucked up by the sudden re-emergence of the early evening sun, casting our shadows long across the fields
and lighting up our last major church, 14th century All Saints Helhoughton - also shut.
It wasn't the hardly edifying sight of the last two Methodist chapels which kept us going on the final, three mile leg back to East Rudham, but the company of an eccentric cyclist who decided to walk with us - and the sunset.
Just as magical was the darkening lane with crossing froglets, owls hooting in the distance, lit-up hares and herons (J and Jill saw these, Cally and I didn't) and a funny white cat as we reached habitation by 8pm. And so to supper at the classy and not at all bad Crown Inn, where J bumped in to the Finnish Ambassador fresh from a concert at lovely South Creake, and then back to Lynn for the night.
Fallout? Blisters on my soles for the first time, but otherwise no aches and pains the next morning - which is no pretext for knocking a couple of quid off your donation. Frankly I wouldn't have had the time to work this up at such excruciating length had I not missed my flight to Bucharest yesterday owing to a concatenation of unfortunate events...but that's a whole different story. Now I need to get back to work.