Friday 30 October 2015
Norfolk churches 150-166: Cromer to Southrepps
The first of our annual September walks to raise money for the Norfolk Churches Trust back in 2002 focused on the area around where our cicerona Jill's mother lived, Burnham Thorpe. Since then Jill's Norfolk bases have been King's Lynn and now Southrepps, where her moving-in coincided with an astonishingly good August festival featuring top young musicians I'd met earlier in the summer. The plan this time - executed in full despite poor prognostication of the weather - was to cover 16 churches and chapels in 18 miles.
The Friday, when we travelled, was hot and sunny; Saturday, the official 'Ride and Stride' day, was scheduled to be wet until at least mid-afternoon. We persuaded Jill that we could do half of it in sunshine and the other half later on Saturday. But this plan was kiboshed - serendipitously, as it turned out - by the second of several carelessnesses which marked the long weekend: at Norwich we went straight to what looked like the platform where the branch line to Gunton and Cromer has its terminus. Or so we thought until the familiar-looking two-carriage train left five minutes earlier, and as we moved off we saw there was another platform further up to the left where the one we should have caught was sitting.
So we got out at the first stop on the way to Great Yarmouth heading east rather than north, Brundall Gardens, and found out that the next train back to Norwich was in precisely an hour. Phoned Jill, who had to drive a long way to pick us up, and had the chance of exploring two more churches I suppose I could have added to the list. The first was petite St Lawrence Brundall, with its 13th century double bellcote, its lead font and a 16th century roundel of the gridironed saint. The second was hugely impressive and, along with Trunch, the glory of the weekend, St Andrew and St Peter Blofield. Chief of its delights are a tall tower, a stupendous octagonal font with carved scenes from the life of Christ, and some fascinating 1930s windows in memory of local benefactor Margaret Harker, including a scene of fisher girls working at Great Yarmouth.
My own photos of all these treasures and of the day of the walk itself - which turned out absolutely fine much earlier than originally forecast, clear by noon - are lost along with my precious Lumix camera (precious inasmuch as there were other pictures I hadn't downloaded). The hope of its turning up has been the reason for delay in posting here. I'm hugely grateful to our fourth regular walking companion, Cally Brooke Johnson, for most of the shots featured here; I hope she'll forgive me for having fiddled around with them. Her first contribution is of the main temple in Cromer, Britain's best pier according to some poll or other, which we reached by train from Gunton.
We ticked off four Cromer chapels in the rain - one with boarded-up windows in the 'new' cemetery to the south, the one belonging to the Methodists who gave us a warm welcome as they always do, one converted into Cromer's impressive library, and a red-brick Baptist place of worship in the High Street. But the obvious religious high point, in more ways than one owing to its tower (record-breaking for Norfolk), is St Peter and St Paul. This snap courtesy of Discover Norfolk.
A busy coffee morning was in full swing inside, and I'm grateful to the kindness of the local ladies; walking backwards to snap the very odd west window with its bleeding greens, I fell over a step and bruised my spine. By this stage my three companions had exited. The ladies came rushing, sat me down, gave me a coffee and offered me some cake.
Pevsner calls the interior 'a little disappointing' after the external display, but I liked its height and light. The angel roof is Victorian, but splendid. The best glass is William Morris & Co, c.1874, with fine angels and prophets. At the time of posting I'd had no reply to my call for help from Simon Nott, whose Norfolk Churches site always has the most comprehensive images of every church he's visited (just - 1/11 - heard back that I can join Flickr and get access via that, but in the end what I have is good enough). So I settled for this one of the Morris window's lower panels (note the fine angels) posted on Twitter by Caroline Arscott. As I don't do Twitter, I couldn't ask her permission, but I hope she doesn't mind.
Two of the parishioners told me not to miss the early 20th century Catholic church on the road to Overstrand. That meant walking along a road rather than a bit of coastline, but the building's woody, airy interior was worth seeing. Overstrand itself turned out to be quite a religious centre, owing to the Christian Endeavour holiday home lodged within one of three Lutyens buildings in the village. On the way we saw St Martin, ruinous in the 18th century and well restored in the early 20th.
St Martin's one curiosity, not mentioned by Pevsner, is the bread oven in the bell tower. The curious unfolded in abundance when we walked up the drive of the aforementioned CE home, the Pleasaunce. It's an awkward conjoining of two villas into one home for Lord Battersea, the Liberal MP, and his Jewish (Rothschild) wife, a much-loved philanthropist. The family coat of arms, splendid in itself, is somewhat out of proportion to the rest of the facade, worked on by Lutyens in 1897-9, but here I've taken Cal's picture and focused in on it. The motto is 'God tendeth the flowers' - 'not, we hope', says the guide by Monica E Sykes, 'a pun on the family name', but why not?
Opposite are the stables with a massy tower that seems in harmony with the marine surroundings.
Just beyond the porch is one of the Moroccan doors Lord Battersea brought back from his travels, looking good against a background of (I presume) William De Morgan tiles.
We had the CE man in charge's permission to wander the grounds. The present planting has little to do with Gertrude Jekyll's work alongside Lutyens, though the outlines of the circuar sunken garden remain, and the so-called 'cloisters' are rather monstrous but presumably a nice shady spot to sit in the heat of summer.
Although it's not consecrated, we thought we could claim the chapel into which the rather charming gatehouse was converted, with its odd little homage to Palladio inside (no shots from Cal to give a good impression of the interior, sadly).
Returning on Sunday, we tried to see another Lutyens building, Overstrand Hall, but were warned off at the security intercom by the gates. Lutyens' only Nonconformist design, the Methodist Church of 1898, is, as Pevsner says, 'a very curious design', at least in its clerestory with its ten lunette windows, four of which you can see here..
The ladies inside were predictably delightful, and seemingly grateful that their Sunday congregation of nine sometimes got bulked up by the Christian visitors from The Pleasaunce.
Bliss it was to be in Overstrand at lunchtime, because the crab and lobster shack was open and we had lashings of both, probably the best and certainly the freshest I've ever tasted, in the little yard at the back. I had some rather detailed shots of the fare, all lost; there's the Lumix camera sitting on the table beside me as a sad reminder.
More walking frustratingly close to the coast led us to the real charmer of a church at Sidestrand, moved inland in 1880 from a site now eaten away by the sea. The tower counts in the list of round-tower pursuers - we saw their logo - despite the octagonal upper part.
The inside was so harmonious, making good use of Jacobean panelling. No shot of that, so - having dropped our plan to make an inland detour to St Mary Northrepps, which we saw the next day, in a lovely situation but with nothing to impress inside - onwards towards the coast, looking back towards Overstrand
while here we are making our way along the path to Trimingham, where it hasn't been eroded. As with the so-called 'Jurassic coast' of Dorset, the cliffs are rich in fossils, and the hunters come out in force whenever there's a landslide, which is often.
I have my own photo of the outside of the Church of St John the Baptist, since we walked here from Southrepps on our first visit (though we saved the interior for this time). Its short west tower and the well-kept, very green churchyard make an attractive ensemble.
Strictly this is the Church of the Head of John the Baptist (San Giovanni Decollato), because one such stone reproduction provided a point of pilgrimage on the way to Walsingham; where the head has gone I'm not quite sure. Jokanaan's face does feature in a tiny detail of the c.1500 rood screen with its eight saints. Cally didn't snap that, but here are four of them; note the dragon and beast detail above in the second picture.
We now retraced our summer steps up to a point by heading inland across the mildly hilly country no-one seems to associate with Norfolk - not so 'very flat', pace Coward - and after some miles passed a fine old mill to reach All Saints Gimingham. It looks alluring flanked by trees across a field in the late afternoon light
but apart from its font and a couple of benchends didn't have much to say for itself. There was no-one to sign our forms, and - worse - no refreshment, a black mark, though it seems that everyone was up the road at Trunch preparing for the concert to be led by the vicar as part of a folk band. So we moved swiftly on in the hope of finding St Botolph's open after 5, which of course it was.
And yes, the best of the churches came last. Trunch's treasure in the centre of a triangle which is part village green, notes Pevsner, 'will always remain in one's mind as the church with the font canopy. There is however much else to be enjoyed'. There certainly is: a fine rood screen of 1502 with much of the original colouring which fits into the lofty early Perpendicular whole very beautifully,
fine stalls with misericords and imaginative benchends, their backs now up against the screen
and a fine hammerbeam roof with angels.
The font itself, of 1350, can easily be overlooked, given the glory all around it, which dates, like the rood screen, from half a century earlier..
The cover is one of what Pevsner cites as only four in England, locating the others in Norwich's St Peter Mancroft, Luton and Durham Cathedral, though I'm sure the unique font cover we saw back in 2009 in Terrington St Clement with its 17th century Flemish paintings ough to count.
It seems astonishing that such a treasure of carving in oak is accessible to all within a much-visited church. The eight posts are decorated with vine, lily, thistle and the odd bird and beast - very odd in the case of the monkey holding a crozier, a dig at the vanity of bishops (though of course I praise the one in the Lords who voted against the scale of Osborne's invidious tax relief proposals).
The guide I bought, 'Trunch Miscellany: A Walk Around Guide', told us to look for the pig wearing a mitre. We did, but in vain, for he doesn't exist, as another guide we saw a bit later confirmed.Anyway, the posts rise up to 'a fan-like vault with a pendant and very much cusped fields' (Pevsner)
'The upper stage has eight big, somewhat heavy, tripartite, hanging vaulted canopies' (Pevsner again). And, as in the screen, traces of the original painting.
With the setting sun lighting up the church tower, we set off on the last, green-lane stage of the walk - always a joy, usually yielding a sunset, though we were too much in trees to catch it entirely.
A barn owl glided and swooped around a field just past the oaktree-framed signpost featured up top (I had a couple of good shots, o Weh!). We didn't actually reach St James Southrepps until 8.30pm, having freshened up back at Jill's before walking across the fields in the semi-dark to the excellent pub for supper. Candles lit up the church from within, but here's a bit more from the first visit: another outside shot to add to the one I put up in the chchugging blog notice,
more of the scallops friezed close to the base of the building (only connect, as I remarked in that other post, with the St James trail starting at the Cathedral in Le Puy)
and the one fragment of medieval glass.
Sunday morning dawned bright, and stayed so just in time for me to have a dip in the North Sea at Overstrand - childsplay compared to the waters off Fife back in July. I'd have no shame being caught at closer quarters, but the diplo-mate's usual modesty, though he was fully clothed, forbids anything nearer than this.
Then we went and spoiled the uniqueness of Saturday's crab lunch with more of the same. I look forward to more of that next year, when we strike out from Southrepps further north-east.
I've finally written this up as a belated push for more contributions. It looks as if J will surpass last year's total and put himself in line for another Prince of Wales certificate awarded for raising the most money; my offerings so far are meagre in comparison. If you want to help, you know where to find me - or you can always leave a message which I won't publish and I'll get back to you.
Mileham to Bittering, 2014
Beechamwell to Gooderstone, 2013
Ingoldisthorpe to Thornham, 2012
East Rudham to Helhoughton, 2011
Wormegay to Castle Acre, 2010
Walpoles to Wiggenhalls, 2009
King's Lynn to Sandringham, 2008
Earlier walks back to 2002 BB (Before Blog)