Apologies for the very long delay over the 2022 chronicle of our annual walk for the Norfolk Churches Trust, notching up 12 churches in 12 miles on the second Saturday in September, but I needed time as ever to do it justice, and that's been in short supply recently. This will be as lengthy as the others, and just as picture-stocked, so if you find the text too much, just whizz through the images. This might be the best place to give you the link to NCT's JustGiving page if you still have anything to give. Just note 'for J & D & friends'.
The start was the best send-off we've had: friends Katherine and Andy, whom I haven't seen since we went to a fabulous concert in their Loddon barn back in 2009, since which time all the children have grown up and none was at home this time, welcomed us with such kindness and enthusiasm, gave us all good strong coffees to kickstart the walk and wished they could join us: they will next year, I hope. This was our largest group yet, in any case: to add to the original four - Cally, Jill, Jeremy and myself - we had Kate and Fairless, who've become regulars, and another happy team member, Jane, for the first time. I won't label us all in the below line-up, except to say that Katherine is on my left (right as you look) and Andy next to her. The six walkers apart from myself are seen approaching the porch at Carleton St Peter up top.
After a Friday of storms and heavy downpours, Saturday was sunny, the horizon full of cumulo-nimbus clouds that mercifully never got closer. Holy Trinity Loddon shone in the light, albeit at a distance from the main road across the west end of its vast churchyard.
Despite Victorian restoration, it's mostly of a piece, generously endowed by the Hobart family from the late 15th century through to the early 16th. The south porch, perhaps its greatest glory, was completed in the 1530s.
The flushwork panelling is handsome, complete with battlements, and the second storey has two-light windows and what Pevsner says is a group of the Trinity, but doesn't look at all like it to me, between them.
Normally the font would be the first point of interest within the nave, but this was the weekend following the death of the Queen, so each church had its portrait (some went better still and had two or three) on a table with a condolences book.
I'd seen the first the day before taking shelter from a downpour in Norwich's St Peter Mancroft (I also spent more time than before studying the glories of the east window's glass).
The lady signing our own sheets was going to be taking part in the special peal, as her late husband had done on several occasions. Anyway, while the faces on the pulpit are defaced, it still has its signs of the Evangelists, some animals around the base and even a bit of original colouring.
The dado of the chancel screen is painted with 1530s scenes from the life of Christ, curiously cartoonish with their black outlines (Annunciation central in the first image, Adoration of the Magi in the centre of the second), and the martydom of St William of Norwich.
and one panel depicting the martyrdom of St William of Norwich. I didn't snap that, and my photos of the Hobart brasses aren't very good, but let's make do with the semi-reclining Lady Williamson, died 1684 - a benefactor of St Paul's rebuilding after the Great Fire of London, and of other City churches.
The Jacobean pulpit is also rather fine.
We also ticked off the Methodist Church, manned by friendly folk as all such institutions seem to be, a handsome mix of red brick and terracotta, of 1887-9 (the Town Hall is similar but slightly earlier).
Before we could set off on the route, cars needed to be driven and deposited in relays; we had with us two semi-invalids who were determined to walk as much as they could but needed a safety net in case they couldn't complete the route. The first stretch was tiny, merely crossing the river Chet with a view of the mill which is part of the building which Katherine and Andy occupy.
All Saints Chedgrave is a hotchpotch of different eras, from Norman to 1990,
with some pleasing headstones in the cemetery.
I was so keen to get at the glass, and the porch was so crowded, that I forgot to look at the Norman door within the porch, which you can just catch a glimpse of here.
I did snap the fine door, with 1819 in Roman numerals, the year a major restoration took place.
The east window is quite a surprise, an arrangement of mostly French glass, some of it from Rouen Cathedral, bought after the French Revolution from Norwich weaver and merchant John Christopher Hampp by Lady Beauchamp Proctor.
There was a detailed booklet about it in the church, but not for sale - frustrating as it's not online. Fortunately the excellent Norfolk Stained Glass website has similar detail. I include some of the individual panels here. God overlooks all - surely earlier than the rest?
At the centre of the first row's main lights is a later figure than the rest, but I like it.
NSG on right and left: 'a scene from The Book of Revelations where the Devil appears as a “great red dragon with seven heads.”
'The theme is carried to the third panel which includes a banner bearing the words “macula non est” – which refers to Mary’s Immaculate Conception.'
Other details - angels and the Virgin on a chariot.
Older, and original, is the medieval painted decoration around a tiny window in the vestry/tower.
The 15th century font, not mentioned in my Pevsner, apparently came from the church of St Julian in Norwich.
Chedgrave feels like a suburb of Loddon, but you soon walk out of it into familiar Norfolk countryside. A mostly shady lane looked across to this, enhanced by the cloudscape, on our right,
before we turned left, along an even leafier track,
to St Michael Langley, secluded in the grounds of Langley Park near the lodge which is now a private school.
Our very enthusiastic guide here, who took our signatures in front of the porch, seemed unusually well-informed, so it came as no surprise to learn that he's a master at the school.
It's a very long church, with perhaps most interest in the details of all we visited on this walk. The 14th century nave's arch-braced roof (above, looking west) is handsome, and the chancel was remodelled in 1803.
Work has begun on recovering and restoring the early neo-Gothic ceiling decoration - I wish I'd taken notes as our schoolmaster informed us about this, because I can't track down any more information on the web.
Beneath this are 18th and 19th century monuments to the Beauchamp family.
As at Chedgrave, the east window has more treasures from Hampp's hoard, also installed at the command of Lady Beauchamp.
Of the four panels, perhaps the loveliest is an Adoration of the Magi.
The nave windows are also enriched with diverse roundels/coats of arms etc, not all from the French hoard - we were to see the tortoise in a floor slab later in the walk.
Our guide pointed out another historic point of interest relating to a handsome brass of Robert Berney, who died in 1628,
namely that this dates from towards the very end of the brass tradition, so that his wife, who died 24 years later, just gets a plain slab.
The font is 'big, simple, Perp. Panelled stem, bowl with quatrefoils' (Pevsner).
The war memorial on the wall is both lovely and significant. We immediately recognised the angels on the outer panels as reproductions of figures from the marvellous - and famous - rood screen in St Michael and All Angels, Barton Turf.
Within, one notes two things - so many losses from a small parish, but how touching and heartening that the insides of the left and right panels list 'those who came back' - very much a majority.
This seems somehow of greater interest than what Pevsner notes as 'a very strange oblong recess with a C14 hood-mould on heap-stops. It is secured by an iron grille'.
It was a surprising distance to Langley Abbey, which I'd assumed would be in the vicinity. We passed a finely thatched barn,
a curiously striking specimen of nature morte,
and, along a green lane between fields, our first clusters of dragonflies which the sunny day seemed to have brought forth - you can just see a couple flying around here, though obviously the settled ones further down are more striking.
At the entrance to the abbey, across a main road, there was a big 'private - keep out' sign, but as the gate was open, we thought, hell, this is the one day in the year when you should be admitting visitors (the schoolteacher told us that the owner had been given money to open it to the public but had done nothing; it now houses a stables and an area for big wedding receptions). At least we got to see one side of the 13th century cellerarium,
and what I think must be the north wall of the gatehouse range, very much restored to include a shelter for a vintage car collection (Fairless is peeping in thought the window).
Eventually a woman on a horse looking after the stables told us to be on our way, whch was fine, since at least we'd caught a peek which we wouldn't have done from the main entrance.
It was lunchtime and we decided to walk across the polo field on the other side of the road, on our route, to eat our picnics in the shade.
After this, the river-valley ups and downs of the area - like that to the north of Norwich, not at all answering to the 'very flat, Norfolk' perception - made for very pleasant walking, even if the map-reading went awry for a bit, allowing for observation of dragonflies in lush foliage at the edge of a copse.
Eventually we descended via more farm buildings, having an interesting conversation with a nice old gent as we did so - I've forgotten what we talked about now, though - and watching the swallows flying in and out of this harvest-containing construction.
We were now in the secluded valley of Carleton St Peter, the church of the same name approachable either across a field or up a green lane.
The church is, apparently, always open, because there's nothing left to steal, and only a few touches of individuality, like the screen, another striking door,
a few old bench ends, a 19th century organ case with its painted angels,
and this memorial on the chancel wall to five children of the Sallett family (click to enlarge and read).
Yet the overall ensemble is so pleasing in its simplicity
and the building seems to fit so harmoniously in its surroundings, handsome from every aspect.
We now did some looping around, following first one of many oak-fringed paths
up to Ashby St Mary and the church of St Mary the Virgin with its Perpendicular tower more recent than the rest.
The south doorway is a fairly impressive Norman specimen, with (Pevsner) 'two orders of colonettes, and in the arch zigzag, bobbins, stars, etc.'
The late afternoon light through the east window was striking.
The Swiss roundel is elegantly placed. Simon Knott in his excellent Norfolk Churches website describes it as 'a Flemish marriage glass, an angel holding shields depicting the crests of the two families and the inscription Deus Ambo 1604 ("God has joined, 1604") underneath.
Knott also neatly links this to another married couple buried side by side in the churchyard. Their headstones show different farm activities: Anne Basey is feeding the geese on the left, her husband George on the right the turkeys.
At this point the car needed to kick in to help our valiant convalescent, while the majority of us took a lovely path above the Yare valley, looking back down on Carleton St Peter (this is a zoom-in, so you don't get the sense of relative height),
before we turned to the left and saw the tower of our next church, St Andrew Claxton.
As we were heading up to it, having descended, we met a lady with a dog who'd just come from doing her stint there. This was now the time when we'd expect to find our last churches locked, but she told us it was still open - and, unique for the churches walk, so were the rest. The church looks modest from this approach
and some work was being done to it, but the charming thatched roof of the nave showed without
and looked even better within, handsomely offset by the whitewashed arches beneath on the north side.
There's a fine octagonal font with lions, shields and rosettes
a simple monument to Henry Gawdy, erected in 1637, 17 years after his death,
and a piscina from about 1300 in the 1867 chancel,
It was high time for tea, including consumption of the home-made cake which Kate valiantly carries with her every year.
Then the car and the walking party each set off for our next destination - via an especially grand and then pretty stretch of the route.
Our next destination, St John Baptist Hellington on the hill, showed its tower to us from a lovely valley,
and revealed itself to best advantage in the late afternoon light.
The porch is a glory in itself, not just for the doorway - Norman, like the round tower -
but also rather surprising in its six Decorated openings, which looked Victorian from a distance but are the real thing (four of them featured here),
and some startling stone carving.
The building is in the tender loving care of the Churches Conservation Trust, which always means a pleasing simplicity (though Yaxton had that too).
The bench ends are handsome, though may not be that old, since I don't see them noted anywhere - but the oak leaf design here is worth showing, anyway.
The decorated east window is filled with bright Victorian glass, but these two were more striking, the roundel bottle bottoms (yes, that's what they're called) turning the outside scene upside down
and the lushness beyond so inviting through this one.
As for the tortoises in that window roundel at Langley, they would seem to belong to Sir Anthony Gaudy. Click on the first image to enlarge and read the poetic inscription.
From Hellington, a new formulation of walkers headed to Rockland St Mary, offering two approaches (glad we took another oak-lined path up and down), cloudscapes changing in the early evening light
As we passed the vicarage on the way to the church of St Mary, we heard a sweet voice singing Fauré's 'Pie Jesu'. It turned out to be the daughter of the vicar, who was in the church, preparing for a memorial service in honour of QE2.
There wasn't a lot to see inside, other than the octagonal font, re-cut but handsome with its angels holding shields,
but the embedding of two early Victorian saints' heads in the glass was attractive.
We also managed to tick off another church, St Margaret, in reality just a few lumps of flintwork just beyond St Mary's east end with a few mushroom clumps in between.
Final destination Surlingham, which feels magically secluded but is in fact close to Norwich and the Yare. Here we should have collected another ruin, St Saviour, but in the growing darkness made do with St Mary, boasting a splendid Norman round tower with 14th century octagonal top. Curiously, the start rather than the end of our 2013 walk was at a church with a similar design, though a 15th century octagon atop a Saxon tower, that of St Mary Beechamwell.
There was more to see here than we could really make out, but glad tosee another font with lions, these ones exceptionally regal,
and the flash helped us make out one of the brasses, to John Alnwik, priest here when the church was Catholic (died 1460).
The parishioners have not been idle. This is my first taste, so to speak, of knitted cakes.
With a nod to St Saviour, and deep sunset,
we then all piled in the two cars for a well-earned supper at the Ferry House Inn by the edge of the Yare, lively with charming and brilliantly efficient service.
A nearly full moon was there for our send-off.
The Sunday coda has become a fixture, so just a few shots: of our annual post-walk dip in the sea at Overstrand (Cally swam, I was timid of the big waves and just splashed about),
complete with the usual cormorants on the breakwaters (didn't see seals this time).
Also a fixture now is our Sunday lunch at the fabulous Suffield Arms, creative art collector and local Ivor Braxton's second venture, swish and full of energetic contemporary art but perfectly affordable. Our walking crew was joined, as last year, by local resident, conductor David Parry, always such fun.
It's been a joy to review all this in the depths of winter - promise of many outdoor jaunts and discoveries to come in 2023. Meanwhile, as usual, here are the links to all previous Norfolk Churches Walk blogs: